Tue 15 Apr 2003
By Angie Brown
Edinburgh Evening News
SCOTLANDíS first electronic bagpipe band for multiple sclerosis suffers has been launched in the Lothians.
Piping Hot was set up by a group of MS sufferers after the debilitating condition forced them to give up playing conventional instruments.
People with the disability suffer from severe tiredness but because the lightweight pipes are powered by electricity, they can rest them on their knee and donít have to blow into a bag.
Now the band of six, who are looking for extra members, are being taught by a professional bagpipe player and hope to perform live at a gig next year.
Today MS charities commended the "ingenuity" of the band and predicted the new idea would be copied elsewhere across the country.
Electronic bagpipes, which consist of a chanter and box without the pipes, are usually used when practising to play traditional Highland pipes because the sound can be turned down.
The group, with members from both Edinburgh and East Lothian, was formed following a £4000 lottery grant, which was awarded under the condition they would perform to an audience once they had learned their skill. The classes are held at Prestonpans Community Centre.
Iris Howitt, 53, of Portobello, a former finance officer, said she was forced to stop playing the organ after being diagnosed with MS in 1995.
"My husband is learning to play the bagpipes and I said: ĎIt would be lovely to play those tunes as well.í The idea grew from there because I wanted to play those catchy Scottish tunes.
"I get tired easily and couldnít blow or hold Highland pipes so when I heard about electronic ones I was really excited.
"We do have to take rests during our classes and we will probably wonít be able to play fast tunes but we will be able to do Strathspeys which have a nice lilt."
The electronic pipes are fingered like a conventional bagpipe chanter but use metal pads instead of blow holes.
They produce a lower tone than conventional pipes, with experts likening the difference to that between a piano and an electric keyboard.
Andrew Warren, 36, a professional Highland bagpipe tutor for 18 years, who owns The Pencaet Workshop in Pencaitland, said he had never had an electronic pipes class before.
"To play the Highland pipes you need to have total finger control and dexterity, which can cause problems for people with MS.
"The classes, which started about eight weeks ago, have been going really well. Some members of the class canít play certain notes so I have blended the sounds so that different notes are written in for them.
"Itís a great idea because it opens up the instrument to groups of people who would not normally be able to consider playing the pipes.
"It also has the potential for other people with MS to set up groups ."
Mark Hazelwood, MS Society Scotland director, said: "This is a fantastic idea and I look forward to hearing their music.
"MS can cause lots of different symptoms including fatigue, stiffness, spasms, and loss of mobility and balance. People usually are diagnosed with the condition between the ages of 20 and 40.
"When people are diagnosed they have to adapt and change and try new things and this is one of those strokes of ingenuity.
"I think a lot of people will be very interested to join the class."
The group hopes to play at a nursing home on Burns Night next year following
the weekly hour-long classes.
© 2003 scotsman.com