KSPB takes top prize in national music competition

A screenshot from Kintyre Schools Pipe Band's entry to the Scottish Schools Freestyle Championships.
A screenshot from Kintyre Schools Pipe Band's entry to the Scottish Schools Freestyle Championships.

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Kintyre Schools Pipe Band (KSPB) has landed a top prize at a national competition despite it being a year since members last performed together.

The band’s talented young musicians impressed the judges at the Scottish Schools Freestyle Championships with their rendition of Ravens Rocketman, featuring traditional reels and an arrangement of Elton John’s hit song Rocket Man, earning themselves second place and £400 in prize money.

In a bid to help beat lockdown and keep youngsters focused on their music whilst learning from home, the competition moved online this year.

This meant band members had to record their performances individually, some from school and some at home, before Campbeltown Grammar School (CGS) teacher James Murdoch, head of music, put it all together.

As well as the band’s pipers and drummers, the submission featured keyboard players and guitarists, while five members of James McCorkindale’s School of Dancing also featured in the video.

KSPB Pipe Major Fiona Mitchell said she was ‘extremely proud’ of the young musicians, adding: ‘It’s such a fantastic result for such a small community as there were bands competing from all over Scotland.

‘With the majority of the major championships cancelled for this year, this competition gave the band members something good to focus on.’

The result is even more impressive, given that the youngsters have been unable to practise or perform together for a year – their last public performance was a concert at CGS just days before the UK went into lockdown in March 2020.

The young musicians have continued lessons with Ian McKerral and Campbell Anderson throughout lockdown via Google Classroom, and have only recently had some face-to-face tuition, but it is unclear when full band practises will resume.

Alex Duncan, Scottish Schools Freestyle Championships chief executive, described the response to the event as ‘outstanding’ with 16 bands and musicians from 46 schools taking part.

He said: ‘This was not just a musical challenge on the part of pupils, but a technical feat on the part of tutors: pupils had to practise solo and film their individual part, in time and in tune, in their own home, after which tutors had to combine all the pupils’ films into one performance using technical mixing platforms.’

Red Hot Chilli Piper and judge Craig Munro said: ‘Line-ups included keyboard, voice, guitar, violin or anything – so long as at least two bagpipes were at the heart of it. We were blown away by the talent of the young people and it was hard to choose the winners.’

Fellow judges were Finlay MacDonald, director of piping at the National Piping Centre, and composer, broadcaster and musician Gary Innes.

The event was played out over three nights last week on the Pipe Bands for Pupils Facebook page, attracting thousands of viewers, who also got a chance to vote for their favourite band.

The championships are run by the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust which has supported piping and drumming in 24 local education authority areas with thousands of pupils getting lessons each week.

The trust helps expand piping and drumming in Scotland’s state schools with cash grants for tuition. It also runs a free bagpipe and concert chanter lending service, and supports paid internships for aspiring tutors.