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In Pursuit of Excellence

“Excellence is not a destination: it is a continuous journey that never ends.” –
Brian Tracy

The definition of excellence according to Oxford Dictionary is “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.” Excellence, not to be confused with perfection, is a high mark to achieve in any industry or practice. While most people aspire for excellence, many settle for good or good enough. At the inception of the Nashville Pipes and Drums in 1984, a group of like-minded members of the Nashville community came together to form the first Scottish bagpipe band in the Middle Tennessee region. As the group built its membership in those early years, a difference of opinion developed between members eager to push the band for improvement versus members that were satisfied with the current level of performance. Eventually the desire for improvement won out, and elections were held to vote in leadership that would progress the band forward. This set has the tone for the direction of the band today. Onward and Upward!
“…Our group strives for excellence within the teaching and performance of the
genre.”
Thirty three years later the Nashville Pipes and Drums, composed of all volunteers from the community of Nashville and surrounding areas, still carries the standard in Middle Tennessee for quality in performance. As Nashville grows, the local bagpipe scene has seen an increase in bagpipe options. When looking at these options, the spectator or potential customer has to decipher which is the best option for their venue or support. While we will never discourage anybody eager to learn the bagpipes or carry the heritage of the instrument into the next generation, our group strives for excellence within the teaching and performance of the genre. We do not settle for a mediocre or “good enough” performance, and neither do our members. It is essential for the torch to be passed forward, but it is also imperative that the heritage be accurately passed on and properly presented.

Here are some basic factors that set our group apart and make our members more prepared:

Structured lessons and rehearsals– The lessons we provide weekly are tracked for beginners to learn basic rudiments and the importance of musical timing and expression before they even touch a set of bagpipes. Once they have proven their dedication to learning the basics, and only then, we assist them in shopping for and purchasing a set of quality highland bagpipes. We then continue lessons on bagpipes until a minimum of five tunes are learned, a traditional requirement. The tunes must be learned and played to a level of proficiency overseen by our instructors. To do anything less is a disservice to the student. For our more experienced members, rehearsals are structured to improve our overall performance to maintain a level of professional presentation and keep moving ever forward in pursuit of excellence. Each mark of improvement is a stepping stone to the next.
Accreditation and Sanctioning- All of the instructors that teach lessons or lead rehearsals in our band are sanctioned by the Eastern United State Pipe Band Association. What does that mean?? It means that our instructors are themselves actively engaged in perfecting not only their students standard of performance, but their own. By being a sanctioned member and competitor, our members compete in solo competitions against other players from all across the Southeast region of the United States. It means that players are placed in an appropriate skill category and work to improve themselves in order to win their grade and move to the next skill level. Our members range from beginner grade 5 for advanced students to Grade 1 and Open Professional. To obtain Grade 1 or Open sanctioning signifies that those members have dedicated a large portion of their lives to perfecting their performance on this instrument, and take the art very seriously. It is the equivalent of a black belt in Karate.
Controlled Exposure-The band actively competes in Grade 4 sanctioned contests within the EUSPBA. The grade of a band is a culmination of the mixed talent found within the membership. While we strive for excellence at both the competition field and the local performance, we also work to bring in our new and growing members. By including new and ready members in events suitable for their skill level alongside seasoned and higher level members, we regulate public exposure of former students in order for them to gain experience with public performance under our direct guidance. By building them into
performances we groom them for performance under stress before exposing them to competitions. By gaining the skills from the combined experiences of group performances, group and solo competitions, the students have then grown to be fully developed members of the piping community in Middle Tennessee.
“By pushing for excellence in our rank and file, we provide life lessons to our
young students on their way to adulthood.”
Perfection is a noble goal for any musician or business providing a service. In the world of music, the goal of obtaining perfection can be never-ending. Given the business model of building and including new talent to the pool of our musicians, we do not promise perfection in our work. To do so would be discouraging to those in our ranks unable to achieve it. But we do promise a high degree of excellence in the presentation of our craft, be it at our beginner lesson program or our performance at a major name concert.
By pushing for excellence in our rank and file, we provide life lessons to our young students on their way to adulthood. One lesson to be taken away is that the goals they wish to achieve in life are accomplished through structure, determination, a strong practice/work ethic, and by never settling for “good enough”. It takes a ton of determination to learn to play bagpipes or Scottish drums proficiently. Likewise, for our adult members joining or returning, the push for excellence puts the spark back into life through a musical hobby. People need tangible results to spark a sense of accomplishment and positivity in life. That gratification through audible and tangible progress is addicting and inspiring. There’s something for everybody as long as they are in it for the challenge. In conclusion, we promise the best bagpipe performance in the area with the best talent and dedication to back it. We will always put forth our best effort and tailor to the needs of the client and our membership body, always improving on the journey to excellence.

Summer Round Up

NP&D has had a busy summer!  We competed in two highland games in May, Smoky Mountain and Greenville.  We were a little disappointed after our performance in Maryville, but after a few tweaks we managed to place 1st at Greenville!  You can watch our performance here.

Needless to say, it was great to come home with this guy:

IMG_3471

We played at a number of graduations this spring, including MBA and Lipscomb University.  Upcoming, we will march in the Nashville Hot Chicken Festival Parade on the 4th of July.  This fall we’ll be gearing up again for competition at Charleston and Stone Mountain. 

NP&D is going through a number of exciting transitions right now.  Because of fantastic growth in new players in the last few years, Nashville will field a Grade V band in addition to our Grade IV competition band.  This will allow some of our newer players to get competition experience as they continue to grow and improve.

Second, we are launching a new website and branding.  After 30 years in Nashville, we have a history here that we want to celebrate, and we hope that is reflected in our new look.

Finally, we have started this blog to share more updates with our community as we continue to preserve and develop Scottish culture and music here in Middle TN.  Come out and see us play this summer!