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Personal Project

Form 4.

"The magic of Celtic music"

"The highest reward from man´s toil is not what he gets for it,
but what he becomes by it"
(John Ruskin)




Areas of Interaction

Homo Faber

Health and social education

Approaches to learning

Celtic Culture and Music

Origins of the Celts

Celtic Music

The Pipe Band



Pipe Band Tennor Drum

My Experience

Interview to John Warren

Interview to Danny Stewart






My guiding question is the drums’ impact on myself and on the Celtic culture. The way in which the drums impact on myself, will also include the way it impacts on the people that surround me. At the beginning, this question was different, because it also involved the drums’ impact on the Uruguayan culture. But as I started working on the project, and researching into both cultures, I realized that I enjoyed much more listening to the Celtic drums than to Uruguayan drums, so I found it inappropriate to include in a personal production, something I am not as interested as I could be. I also think that Celtic music has some magic that can change people's lives.

I chose this theme because I found playing the drums a very creative and interesting way of expressing myself, so I want to research how important this is on the Celtic culture. As I am a tenor drummer of the Southern Cross Pipe Band, a Uruguayan band that plays the Highland Pipes and drums, I will include my experience as a drummer, and how this instrument impacts on myself and on people around me. I would also like to challenge myself to further actions such as creating some music myself so as to play it and share it with the rest of the Band. Furthermore, I could also go deeper into the concepts of effort and enjoyment because they are values that are sometimes disregarded in our society.

For approaching this, I will need to research into Celtic culture, so that I completely understand it, and most specifically, go further into its music and drums which are essential aspects of that culture. I will include characteristics about the different Pipe Bands’ drums, but will mainly focus on the tenor drum, as that is the instrument I play in the Southern Cross Pipe Band.

The materials I am going to need will be different sources of information that specify on the celtic culture, mythology, history, music and drums, so that I really get close to this subject.

It would be interesting to interview some people that know about the celts, music, drums, and bands, because I would obtain personal opinions about the subject. I think that these opinions are very valuable because they will give me a direct impression of the impact of the celtic culture in our times.


I found a direct relation of the project with three areas, which are: Homo Faber, Health and Social Education and Approaches to Learning.

. Homo Faber

I chose this specific area, because of the changes the drums produce in myself. It is unbelievable how my mind changed since I started playing. Playing this instrument, has totally improved the quality of my life. The tenor drum, is a new way of expressing myself, and playing it, has developed on me creative characteristics. For example, I learned how to play the drums, how to write and read scores, and how to play in a band. As I said before, I feel like creating my own music and profit from this experience.

Another important thing to mention, is the fact that I am the youngest member of the band and the only woman, which attracts the audience a lot. And because of this, I can say that I feel quite good, as I realize that not only me but the audience, enjoy what I play. Girls my own age are often surprised at my being the only woman in the band playing the tenor drum and I feel this has a positive impact on them. The fact that what I play is sometimes my own production, makes me feel at ease and proud.

Playing the drums fulfils me, as I feel an enormous sensation of enjoyment and satisfaction. I forget all the every-day problems, and only concentrate on the tenor drum. By doing this, I feel relaxed when I play, and this makes the band lessons quite attractive. I sometimes have to make an effort to start practising because I feel like doing something else but once I begin playing the tenor drum I concentrate on the music and devote myself entirely to the activity. It is like magic trying to find its way out.

. Health and Social Education

I found this area important, because of the impact the drums have on other people and also how I found the way to become a better human being.

On the shows for example, almost all of the audience feel quite good while listening to the band play. I can say that in a way, the music the band plays, changes not only the members’, but other people’s lives. In my case, I can say that my friends and family have changed since I am a drummer. Every time they hear of a show, they immediately tell me that they would love to go, because their approach to drums has taken a different turn in their lives and they like the way their feelings have changed. They love to see me playing the drums, and while feeling this, they say that they can be better human beings. After the shows, they feel fantastic, and they all congratulate me and the band because of the nice time they spent while listening to us.

I also found a connection in the way in which I was able to relate the drums with my own experience. I had to think on how this instrument is part of my life, and how it impacts on myself. It feels quite good when you reach to the point in which you realize how you are becoming a better human being because of the simple fact of playing the drums.

In my opinion, if I think in terms of my body, my mind and my spirit I believe I have struck a healthy balance. I feel incredible well while and after playing, and I think that by reaching to this balance I can become a better human being.

I have to say that playing the drums is not a temporary wish, because I have developed a great feeling towards this instrument and because of how I feel, is that I plan to play it for as long as I can.

. Approaches to Learning

To begin with, I chose this area because of how I learnt to organize my time. As the guide paper for this project said, it could not interfere with my studies and my personal and social life. This point was quite difficult to bear in mind, as it took a lot of time to complete the project. As I do a lot of after-school activities, I had to organize myself in a way that I could have free time for this. At the beginning it was quite complicated, but afterwards I was able to manage with my schedule.

It is important to mention the fact that I was capable to select information and include it here. I had to choose information that was relevant and that would enrich the project. For this, I had to apply certain skills, for example selecting information, understanding it, summarising it and adding it in the project.

The fact that I am studing English, allowed me to develop the language to a further extent. It is important to mention that it was my decision doing the project in English, although it was not compulsory. Most of the students do it in Spanish.


. Origins of the Celts

The origins of the Celts, are subject to debate, but by the Roman invasion Great Britain was populated by Celtic-speaking tribes. Since the 18th century, their real or imagined “Celtic” culture has seen a popular revival, often in the service of nationalism.

The word Celt was first used by Greek authors about 2.500 years ago to describe the tribal barbarian people who lived in Gaul (aproximately France) and central Europe. The Greeks, also used another name, Galatians. The Romans used a similar word, Gaul (Galli) to describe the same people. The origins of all three words are uncertain but all are likely to have been names that Celts used to describe themselves as they appear in tribal names, personal names, and even place names.

For the ancient authors, the Celts were defined by their similar languages and shared customs and beliefs. The 16th-century Scot George Buchanan believed the Celts to have been people of southern Gaul, who had migrated, via Spain, to Ireland.

The Celtic League, an influential pan-celtic organisation, defines the Celts as the inhabitants of those countries in which people speak Celtic languages or have spoken them in recent historic times, that is Scotland (Alba), Wales (Cymru), the Isle of Man (Mannin), Cornwall (Kernow), Brittany (Breizh), Ireland (Eire) and Galicia.


. Celtic Music

I believe that perhaps the main problem in the world today is that so many people have been uprooted. They have been cut off from their roots and have lost their identities and sense of connections to the world. Celtic culture can reconnect us because its roots go right back to the beginning of western civilization. In other cultures the lines have been broken, especially by imperialism. I believe this is why younger Europeans who do not live in the Celtic countires feel something deep inside whenever they hear Celtic music. (Alan Stivell, Breton Harper)

Celtic music is compounded from many elements, but the base is the traditional musical heritage of the various Celtic territories. This is then seasoned with rock, jazz, techno and trance. The quality that the music of the Celtic lands most commonly shares is a feeling or quality that develops emotions of sadness or joy, sorrow or delight. All share a Celtic spirit. My spirit rises at the sound of this music, as I feel a sensation of relaxation and joy that makes me feel very special. I had not found the answer to this feeling before, but after reading this quotation by Stivell and Harper, I have reached to the conclusion that it might be because of my Northern Spain roots that I feel attracted to this kind of music.


The modern pipe band has approximately ten pipers, three or four side drums, a couple of tenors (a more recent addition) and a bass. It is said that the pipe band was invented by the regular army in the mid 1850s’, but there is no agreement about this. In Uruguay, there are two Pipe Bands, the most important of which is the Southern Cross Pipe Band. The Southern Cross Pipe Band was founded in Montevideo, in the early 1990s, by a group of friends that shared their passion for the Great Highland Bagpipe. Now, it has more than 30 members, including pipers, drummers and highland dancers, performing in almost all English-speaking community events and others. The Band is composed by twelve pipers, three side drummers, one tenor drummer and one bass drummer. It also has highland dancers which is a difference from traditional army Pipe Bands.

. Piping

The piping tradition is of course very strong in the Celtic lands. Scotland has the Low-land pipes, the Border pipes, the small pipes and the best known, the Highland pipes. Ireland has the uillean pipes, Brittany, the biniou, and Galicia the gaita.

It would be very interesting to know what it is that draws people with no previous family or cultural connection so firmly into the world of piping. The obvious reasons are not necessarily the right ones. Bagpipes are not cheap nor easy to play. The colourful pageantry of the pipe band excites the onlooker a good deal more that the piper. Perhaps is the comment of an American piper who confessed to “a kind of addiction” to the sound of the bagpipe. Certainly a well-tuned set of pipes has a special quality of richness which is matched by few other combinations of instruments. Added to this, the technical difficulties both of playing and of sound production present a challange which is perhaps its own reward.

My own experience was of one with no family connections to Highland pipes, altough my mother’s family came from Asturias on her father’s side, which is actually highly influenced by Celtic culture. My first approach to Pipe Band music was in pre-school as I entered the Scottish Dancing class. Since then, I have always loved it.


. Drumming

The percussion instrument most associated with the Celtic culture is the bodhran, a frame drum made of cured goatskin stretched over a circular frame and played with either the hand or a beater. There are many theories of where the drum originated; in Africa and came to Ireland by way of Spain; in Central Asia and was brought to Ireland by Celtic migrants; in rural Ireland it was devised by cunning Kerry farmers to push up the price of goatskin. My present school, St Brendan’s School, is fostering the development of the Celtic-Irish culture so perhaps, some day I could start playing the bodhran. At present, there are both Scottish and Irish Dancing classes, so in my opinion it would be a future option, to include Irish music classes.

Percussion can be a mixed blessing in traditional music where flexibility and rhythm is often more important than a rigid pulse.

As I mentioned before, Pipe bands include side drums, tenor drums and a bass. As I play the tenor drum, I am going to study it in depth. A tenor drum is a low-pitched cylindrical drum. The term has different meanings in the band and orchestral contexts.


. Pipe Band Tenor Drum

Originally a rope-tensioned drum, then converted into a rod tension one, the tenor drum occupied a unique position in the drum corps of military and civilian pipe bands, being used as both timekeepers, accents to the musical ensemble, as well as spectacle.

Tenor drummers in pipe bands play the instruments with beaters on the end of long sticks, which are then tied to the wrists. Tenor drummers twirl the beaters while playing (this is called flourishing).

Three types of tenor drum are played in modern pipe bands:

Flourishing Tenor - as described above, in which the tenor drum beaters are flourished in coordinated movements, while striking the drum; to add "spectacle".Modern pipe bands of average size usually field two to six flourishing tenor drummers.

Alto Tenor - played in tandem with the bass drum to add sound and keep time. Not all bands use alto tenor drums.

Rhythm Tenor - played to accent the snare drum part. It usually is played constantly.

In a usual band formation, the tenor drummers occupy the row(s) between the bass and side drummers. It is mainly used in the "flourishing tenor" style, in beat with the bass drum.

I have to say that when I entered the Southern Cross Pipe Band, I actually started as side drummer. But after a month or two of trying it, I realized that the drum I really liked was not the side, but the tenor drum. The combination of the beating and flourishing was what caught me. I felt incredibly attracted by how the tenor drum was played. It was then, that I decided to become a tenor drummer. Now that I have become one, I realize that this was the instrument that I had to play.

. My experience as a Pipe Band Tenor drummer
As my band brought a Scottish piper called John Warren, played in grade one with the legendary Polkemmet Pipe Band, to give us some lessons, I interviewed him on the project’s topics, as I do not have the chance to talk to a Scottish piper every day!

. Interview to John Warren

1. Why did you start playing pipes? When?
Not quite sure why I started playing the pipes. I have an older brother "Stephen" that also plays. He started learning before me and watching him might have been an influence. Also my late Grandfather played the pipes, he taught himself to play from books! So piping was already part of my family before I started playing. This along with the fact that there is an excellent band in my home town of Duns that offers free tuition meant I had the opportunity and the encouragement to try the pipes and fell in love with them when I did. I was about 9 years old when I started learning

2. Why did you choose pipes instead of drums?
I actually started to learn the drums before switching to the pipes! I started to learn the snare drum with Duns Pipe Band but a lack of good tuition at the time and a lack of talent on my part meant I didn´t make much progress. Then one day I tried my brothers practise chanter and found I would do much better at the pipes instead. Looking back on the tuition at the time at Duns it was not of a high standard for the drum corps. So if that had been better at the time (and I had more talent!) I might have been a drummer instead. That was a lucky escape!(sorry, pipers joke).

3. Do you like drums? Any in particular? Why?
Since playing in grade 1 I have really learnt to appreciate the drum corps. I like the drive that the snares give to the music. This is especially true at the top level with the drum scores written to incorporate the tune as well as provide a rhythmic accompaniment to the pipes. When playing in the band I really like to listen to the bass section. I find listening to the bass section can help me keep the rhythm going throughout the piece and I love to watch a bass drummer that "dances" to the tune while he plays.

4. How do pipes and drums interact in a band?
The basic role of the drummers is to provide a rhythmic accompaniment to the tunes the pipers are playing. Meaning "from a pipers point of view" the drummers are there to help us keep the time of the tune. These days though the drummers provide so much more. The scores are written to not only accompany the tune they add to the tune. At Major contests there is an ensemble judge who judges the band as a whole. I suppose what I am saying is that the drums are like a section in an orchestra and the best bands assemble their pieces to be played like an orchestra, with the best pipe majors being the best conductors.

5. What can you tell me about your experience as a band member?
I have found playing in a pipe band has provided a wide range of experiences. There is a very social element to playing in a band. Like playing in a team at sports a pipe band is a collection of individuals trying their best for the team as a whole. As a teenager I was playing with and working alongside adults. Therefore you not only learn how to play the pipes you have to learn how to communicate and work with others who come from different backgrounds and have different lives and attitudes to your own. With the differences in ages in the band it becomes like a second family. "I like to think I´m the older, wiser brother that can still party", although others might disagree and say "I´m just a big kid and a bad influence!". The two kinds of events the band plays at are competitions and engagements. At the competitions the focus is on putting on a good musical performance for the judges, the audience and equally importantly for ourselves. During the completions you experience the pressure of being judged by everyone and the pressure to perform at your best for the rest of team. This means you learn to become disciplined in your practise and preparation in order to contribute your very most to the team. Engagements are more for playing for paying customers to help band funds or playing for Charities. Through these engagements I have helped raise money for both national and local charities. It has also given me the chance to play at Edinburgh Castle, at Murrayfield Stadium before international rugby games, Hampden Park before international Football games, has taken me to Northern Spain twice and of course helped make some great friends in Montevideo!

6. How important is celtic music in Glasgow today?
Celtic music has always been an important part of Scottish culture so Celtic music is not hard to find in Glasgow. In terms of piping, the Piping Centre in Glasgow is doing well to maintain and promote pipes and drums in Scotland.

7. How does celtic music influence your culture?
There has been a Government funded drive to promote Scottish music since the opening of the Scottish Parliament at Hollyrood. This means the opportunity to play and listen to Celtic music is getting greater and greater. With schools teaching pipes now, workshop all round Scotland being run and greater television exposure. All I can say is long may it continue!

I also interviewed Daniel Stewart, Drum Seargent of the Southern Cross Pipe Band who plays the Snare or Side Drum.

. Interview to Danny Stewart

1. How did your love for drumming begin?
I can’t actually tell you when it started, but I suppose I was always attracted by drumming. It was also circumstancial since during my first school years (I attended the Ivy Thomas Memorial School), I was assigned to play the drums during the end of the term celebrations.

2. How did you start playing Scottish drums?

My eldest brother is one of the first Uruguayans to play the “Great Highland Bagpipe”. He invited me to join the “St. Andrew´s Society of Uruguay Pipes & Drums” (1978) and afterwards the Southern Cross Pipe Band (1993). Those were the first pipe bands with drumming and Scottish dancing in Uruguay.

3. How many drums are there in a Scottish Pipe Band?
The Scottish Pipe Band has three kinds of drums: Bass Drum, Tenor Drum and the Side Drum.

The “Side” or “Snare Drum” is named after its original playing position and components. It was originally played hanging by your “side” and its metalic sound comes from the “snare”. Instead of the similar drum that is played here in Uruguay, the Scottish “side” is bigger and has a double “snare”.

4. Has there been an evolution in Scottish drumming?

Scottish drumming has evolved a lot, and in every sense: from the playing techniques to the instruments, there has always been the aim to improve sound, tuning, maintenance and durability. Some of the original materials, like leather and wood, have been substituted by modern ones, such as metal, plastic, PVC, or Kevlar.

The main evidence of this evolution is that the main pipe bands in the world, Scottish, Galician and Asturian include drumming.

5. Why did you choose the Side Drum?
Since I started playing the Scottish drums, I have actually tried different ones, and I finally decided I preferred the Side drum.

In fact, I started as a Tenor Drummer in 1978, and then I changed to the Side drum. Eventually, I also played the Bass Drum on certain occasions.

6. How do you consider that a pipe band improves when it includes drumming?
Apart from being the structure of the Band, drummers make a significant contribution as a group. Pipes don’t change their playing volume, so their musical richness is based upon the complex combination of notes and the rythm variation, where drumming becomes fundamental.

While the “Bass Drum” is the band’s heart, chore and main musical structure, the Tenor and Side Drums, dancing among its notes, set the foundation, main components and decoration to that structure.

Beside being the structure, drummers make a significant contribution to the band as a group, since only one kind of instrument (pipes in this case) can’t form a band by itself. You need both pipers and drummers. In our Southern Cross Pipe Band, it is also signficant the dancers’ contribution.

Having a group of the dancers as part of the band structure is not something traditional. Neither was it planned in the beginning of the band, it just happened, but it has given the band a special characteristic.

7. How did being part of the band influence your personal development?
Being part of the band, has had a very significant influence in my personal career, for different causes and at different levels.

Sharing time and experiences transforms the band into your second big family, with whom, in spite of personal differences, age and objectives, you can share a common objective. This interaction is sinergic, since the group capabilities’ outstand largely the sum of the individual ones.

With most of the band members you build a life lasting friendship, but among all of us we nourish a relationship based upon respect, tolerance and team spirit.

Being part of the band is an experience which has made me a better person and the interaction among us always offers me the chance of a positive lesson. I do hope that something of me remains in the Southern Cross and its members; it would be an honour and also a way to partially pay back all they always give to me.

. Conclusions

I think it is very important to mention the fact that different from John Warren that had his grandfather and his elder brother playing the pipes, I was not embedded in Celtic music, as nobody in my family plays any kind of music. I will have to say that what influenced me was the school I went to. As its founder was a Scottish woman called Mrs. Ivonne Gordon Findley, Scottish culture was always present for the students. It was because of that, that I took Scottish Dance classes for 8 years. But when I became a teenager, I decided I wanted to grow as a musician and I was fortunate enough to be accepted as one of the Southern Cross Pipe Band’s dancers. But when I went to my first lesson with them, I realized that dancing was not what I liked most, but the music the band played. So I started wondering how great it would be for me if I learned how to play an instrument. But first I had to decide which instrument I liked most from the band; their pipes or their drums. And as I always had had the dream of being a rock band drummer, I thought that becoming a Pipe Band drummer, would be so much better. It was because of what I mentioned that on the following lesson I told the band members that I had the wish of becoming one of their drummers and they happily let me in.

It is important to mention the fact that John Warren, the well-known grade one Scottish piper, started as a drummer and I started as a dancer. We both made a different choice at first from what we finally decided to do, maybe because we did not have our preferences that clear. However, we both ended playing what we really liked; John ended as a piper and me as a tenor drummer. Something similar happened to Daniel Stewart, who was one of the first Southern Cross Pipe Band members: he started as a tenor drummer, tried the different kinds of drums and finally decided that he preferred the snare drum.

While playing both pipes or drums on a band, it is important to know that what you play has to be your very best, as you are not playing alone. Playing on a band demands a lot of training, effort and groupwork so that when we all play together, we produce a perfect tune. This brings a lot of pressure, because if you make one single mistake, you are making the band sound horrible. So I have to say that, if you want to play on a pipe band, or on any other, you must be sure that you will take it seriously. I entirely agree with John Warren, who highlighted the importance of teamwork.

While playing on a pipe band, you might feel a little uneasy at first about spending time with people you do not know, who might be older than you or come from different backgrounds. You will need to be tolerant, accepting others’ different opinions from yours or being able to share your thoughts and feelings with them. When I started playing in the Southern Cross, I realized that I was the youngest member, so I would have to act in a more mature way, as they were all adults. Additionally, I am the only girl among male players. Some of them come from different places and have different opinions from mine, so I have learned how to talk to them in a respectful way, so that we could all achieve successful team-work.

The Southern Cross Pipe Band
2nd South American Pipe Band Gathering
Northlands School - Bs.As. Argentina

It is very important to mention the fact that John brought forward and that I have experienced myself. It is wonderful to make new friends while playing in a band. I had never imagined myself having friends that are between thirty and forty years old, like Daniel for example, as I am only sixteen. Not to forget that some of them are in their twenties!. Relations with many members of the band are really very good and this makes me have a great time while practising with them. As we are all friends, every Thursday night, at 10pm after the lessons, we all go to a pub called “La Barka”, where we spend a good time together, playing pool and having something to eat and drink. As we go every week, we have organised a pool annual competition, drummers versus pipers, and it is really fun.

As one of the first band members, Daniel’s opinion is very important to me when he says that being part of the band has made him a better person and that the interaction among us always offers him the chance of a positive lesson. I feel exactly the same, and I hope this will be a long-lasting experience.

Finally I would like to present the production I carried out together with Marcelo Rodríguez, the bass drummer. The score is written for the bass and tenor drum, for the tune called “Jack’s Welcome”, one of the three tunes that form the “March Medley”.

“Each of us has something truly unique to offer the world if only we have the courage to dream and the determination to make our dreams come true.”

. Scores

. Bibliography

“The high history of celtic music” by Winnie Czulinski
“Celtic music: A complete guide” by June Skinner Sawyers
“Celtic music”, edited by Kenny Mathieson
“Ireland, a sacred journey” by Michael Dames
“Pipers: a guide to the players and music of the highland bagpipe” by William Donaldson
“The book of the bagpipe” by Hugh Cheape
“The highland bagpipe and its music” by Roderick D. Cannon
“BBC History magazine: Who were the Celts?” Vol. 5 no 11, November 2004

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