I had been teaching a large class of Scottish country dancers at Sutton College of Liberal Arts (Scola) when I was approached by the head of the faculty of music and asked if I had any other ideas for an additional class to be inserted in the new college adult education prospectus. I suggested teaching the bagpipe. She received this with not a little scepticism, asking if I thought that there was a market for it, but college chose to humour me.


The listing was duly inserted in the college’s 1998 prospectus and on enrolment day I interviewed 20 applicants. Unfortunately the most I was allowed to enrol was 14, however the remainder were held in reserve and joined the class at later dates. The evening class started with a disparate group of 14 students from a variety of backgrounds and age groups. During its formative years Schiehallion went through a myriad of changes as new people joined and others left; some to join other bands and others who succumbed to the demands made of a piper in the making. One of our number is a gentleman called Malcolm Murray who joined as the first member of our group at the age of 72 years. Malcolm approached me as tutor, clutching an aged chanter and asked if he had left it too late to learn. I regarded this sincere, well mannered, gentle and earnest man who told me that it had been his lifelong ambition to learn to play the pipes, but due to the pressures of his career as a teacher and the Royal Navy before that, he had been unable to. I said ‘Malcolm if you are prepared to put in the hard repetitive work that’s needed and you continue to be as enthusiastic as you are today, you will play the bagpipe’.
 
I am overjoyed to report that Malcolm Murray was a perfect student; he always did what was required of him in class each week and everything I ever asked of him at home. He was a joy to teach and the group was inspired and enriched by his presence in their number. Malcolm, now in his eighties, can be heard every morning at around 11:00am in his local park fulfilling his lifelong ambition, as he plays his well loved pipes to an adoring crowd of regulars, young and not so young, who always stop for a chat and to ask questions about his beautiful set of Laurie bagpipes. Malcolm’s huge success is a true reflection on the dedication and commitment he showed and the wonderful bunch of students who were so supportive of him and indeed each other. Little stories appear in the local press from time to time about Malcolm, the ‘lone piper in the park’, where among his audience are members of the borough council; who stop for a chat on their way to the civic offices.
 
Born in Sutton in Surrey, Schiehallion Pipes and Drums were a natural evolution of that group of trainee pipers that I was so privileged to work with. The group of ‘piping’ students so impressed the Ofsted inspectors (one of whom, we later learned, was a piper with a Northumberland competition band) that they were awarded a commendation during a quality inspection of all classes in the college, the only one to be awarded. As their competence grew and they had acquired their own sets of pipes, it was clear they needed to spread their wings and a vehicle was required to help them do this and the idea for the band was floated.
Schiehallion Pipes and Drums were invited to take part in an all college musical presentation at the Secombe Theatre, in the London Borough of Sutton. It was a memorable event and an early baptism of fire for the novice pipers (resplendent in their new feather bonnets, kilts and plaids) their first experience in playing in front of a large audience. The show was a great success and in no small measure due to their sterling contribution. More recently, Schiehallion Pipes and Drums, were the guest band, appearing with the Norwood Wind Ensemble at the Secombe Theatre. (See YouTube under Schiehallion).
The title ‘Schiehallion Pipes and Drums’ was chosen unanimously from a selection of proposed titles. It was felt that as the Munroe marks the geographical heart of Scotland and the sheer musicality in her name lent itself to our needs. Indeed we went on to adopt ‘Schiehallion’ by Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay, as our signature tune. (first tune introducing this website).
 
Our Band Headquarters was sourced at Addington Village near Croydon and over the past 7 years it has become home to us. We pay rent to St. Mary’s Parish Church and work hand in glove with the congregation for mutual fundraising and other events. Our record is growing and we are enjoying the experience and benefits of a highly successful tour in Italy, when we were invited by the Italian Provincial Government to lead the 90th anniversary and first ever official commemorations of the battle of the River Piave where many British and allied soldiers fell in the closing days of WW1. This concluded in St Marks Square Venice (the first Pipe Band to play there since liberation in 1945). From time to time the band also leads the WW II veterans at Arromanches on significant commemorations, playing at the Normandy landing beaches and with the buglers at the Menin Gate, Ypres Salient, and Belgium.
 
Steadily mushrooming from the tiny acorn of Bagpipe Tuition, demand has dictated diversification and growth. Services now range from presenting the history of the Great Highland Bagpipe in schools and stories from Scottish Folklore to bagpipe tuition for beginners and Traditional Scottish Entertainment for all occasions.
It has been my overwhelming privilege to work with this group of dedicated musicians and to share in their accolades. We have our troughs, but also our peaks. We are also extremely lucky to have been joined by some very accomplished pipers and drummers and are looking forward to making our presence felt in the Pipe Band community.
Do drop in and see us whenever the fancy takes you, hae a cup o’ tea and a biscuit or two? And ‘bide a wee’.
 

Drum Major Jaimie Gibb