School's In

Celtic Arts Winter School
This past week I had the pleasure of instructing and performing at the Celtic Arts Foundation Winter School, and Masters of Scottish Arts Concert in Seabeck and Seattle Washington. For years the CAF school has had the reputation as the best in the business. A great location, best in the world instruction, and staff that takes the utmost care of students and instructors alike. I was not disappointed. Everything operated like clock work, and much credit must go to Director Skye Richendrfer, and Beth Sato who spend a whole year planning, making these events the best they can be.

I arrived in Seattle at noon on Wednesday. My brother Blair who had driven up from Portland, got me at the airport and we were off to Seabeck. It's a small village with a poulation of 1015 people. What they lack in humans they do however make up in wildlife. Ducks are everywhere and the deer seem completely at home. I didn't get to see a Sea Otter, but from some of the stories this may have been a good thing (they smell).


The winter school runs in two sessions, with the first having smallpipes and fiddle, and the second pipes and drums. The Friday night between the two sessions is the concert. So, Thursday was our first day of practicing for the show. The line up was impressive. From the pipe band side:

Roddy MacLeod

Willie McCallum

Murray Henderson

Brian Donaldson

Bruce Gandy

Stuart Liddell

Jack Lee

Angus MacColl

Tyler Fry

Mike Cole

Blair Brown

Arthur Cook

Your humble author

and from the smallpipe and fiddle side:

Gary West

Finlay MacDonald

Katie McNally

Wendy MacIssac

Troy MacGillivray

If you don't know who Troy is, I'm going to leave this right here. I think I have half the views on this video.

Concert Practice 1

Concert Practice 2

The concert itself is held at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. So, Friday after lunch we piled on the bus for the couple hour drive. Home to the Seattle Symphony, Benaroya is a gorgeous, state of the art facility. It's not every day that us pipers and drummers get to take such a stage.

Benaroya Hall
Benaroya Hall inside
Concert Sound Check
Concert Group.jpg

Being the new face on the drumming faculty, I was tasked with performing the drum solo. Playing a slightly modified Shotts fanfare, things went fairly well, including no dropped sticks during the flips. Phew! Our group performance of "Salute to Max Rayne" by Alex Duthart also went very well, with many in the audience who've attended multiple CAF concerts saying it was the cleanest one they'd heard.

Saturday morning we finally got down to the business of instruction. My building was "Reeser House". Comfy and cozy, it was like teaching in my living room (which, granted, I do every day) and was a perfect size for the number of students.


I should mention, all of the snare students were energetic, attentive, respectful to each other, and an absolute pleasure to work with. Made my weekend easy.

Saturday night was the student ceilidh. In between having a cigar with "Mista" Mike Cole, it was nice to hear so many students, young and old, getting up in front of the group and having a go. Even school director Skye got the smallpipes out.

Skye Smallpipes

Sunday's teaching was again very smooth. Some more full group work in the morning before splitting up into smaller rotating classes for the afternoon. Sunday night was massed bands and the drum instructor recital. Brian Donaldson was the perfect leader for the massed bands. A commanding presence, while at the same time encouraging, Brian took the group through marches as well as some small strathspeys and reels.

Massed Bands

Stuart Liddell agreed to play pipes for all the drum instructors. Pretty nice playing with someone that seeminly knows every tune ever written, and legitimately doesn't mind playing for drummers.

Arthur and Stuart

It's not much of a secret anymore that Stuart has some drumming chops himself, and we got him up to play the Duthart salute with us.

Monday morning it was back home to dry Las Vegas (it may have rained a lot in Seabeck). My first experience with the Celtic Arts Foundation school was overwhelmingly positive. As an instructor, or a student I don't think there's much more you could ask for from a program. Productive days, and busy nights, always something keeping everyone involved. A great way for the piping and drumming community to kick off a new year. So next February you all know where you need to be

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