Starting an instrument loan scheme

Starting an instrument loan scheme
Na Píobairí Uilleann's CEO Gay Mc Keon offers helpful tips for organisations wishing to start their own instrument loan scheme.

Na Píobairí Uilleann has offered a Pipes on Loan Scheme for more than thirty years. Many of today’s leading pipers began piping with instruments provided by Na Píobairí Uilleann (NPU) through the Scheme and in recent years it has rapidly expanded to meet increasing demand for tuition.

The uilleann pipes are perhaps the most complex form of bagpipe. The chanter (the tube on which the player creates the melody) has a full two octave range, and a full set of pipes has seven reeds that must be balanced to allow the player to simultaneously play the chanter, drones and regulators. Maintaining a full set of pipes in good playing order requires a degree of understanding and experience.

The chanter is the tube on which the uilleann pipe player creates the melody
The challenge

When a child expresses an interest in learning the pipes, parents may struggle to find information on how to source an affordable and reliable starter instrument. There are no cheap, mass-market uilleann pipes that will serve a beginner well. Instruments are made by skilled makers who have spent thousands of hours learning the craft. Creating the most simple practice set of pipes requires a unique set of skills that include wood turning, metal working, leather work and instrument tuning. Also the reeds are made by hand and fitted to every instrument individually.

Students start with a practice set of pipes which comprises bag, bellows and chanter. A typical practice set of pipes will cost in the range of €1,200 to €1,500. This initial financial outlay can prove to be a barrier and may prevent or discourage an emerging interest.

The Pipes on Loan Scheme offers an opportunity for learners to overcome information and financial barriers. Na Píobairí Uilleann offer quality practice sets to beginners for an initial period of 12 months.

Straightforward, transparent loan agreements

The terms and conditions are quite simple. We request that learners sign up as members of the organisation and we ask that they have regular lessons with an experienced piper. If possible, we ask that they attend regular lessons at one of the nineteen locations throughout Ireland where NPU offers classes. We can provide details for teachers who provide local tuition in almost all parts of the country. There is a refundable security deposit of €400 and an annual rental charge of €100. The rental charge assists with maintenance of instruments and administration of the Scheme.

The conditions of the Scheme are practical; as a member of Na Píobairí Uilleann, the student will receive An Píobaire, the newsletter of NPU four times a year. An Píobaire contains details about upcoming workshops, scholarship opportunities and local piping events and provides a connection to the wider piping community. Due to the demand for pipes on loan, lessons with an experienced teacher are essential. Experienced tutors are able to provide a student with the best chance to make good progress in the period that the set is on loan. The uilleann pipes have a reputation for being difficult to play but with access to a quality instrument and good tuition students can make rapid progress with sufficient practice and dedication.

There are currently over 120 practice sets in the Na Píobairí Uilleann Pipes on Loan Scheme. They are loaned to students in all parts of Ireland. Many of the sets were purchased through the Music Network Music Capital Scheme. The support of Music Network has been vital to allow NPU to expand the geographical spread of tuition and classes.

Meeting the needs of the individual

When a child has been signed up as a member, has tuition arranged and a set becomes available, we ask that they come to our building in Henrietta Street with a parent to collect the instrument. A child needs to have sufficient hand span to cover the chanter. The youngest students are usually around eight years old. When the new student tries the loan instrument we ensure that they are a good fit; waist and arm belts need to be the correct size, blow pipes may need to be adjusted and the neck of the bag has to be an appropriate length.

Loan agreement forms and record management

Parents are asked to sign the loan agreement before the instrument leaves the building. The form is a single page and includes the full terms and conditions of the agreement. The loan agreement form requires parents to provide their address and contact details and the student’s name. The form is signed by the parent and by a member of staff. A copy of the paperwork and payment receipts are issued at this time. The original agreement is held on file by the organisation. A database of all loans is also maintained. Information in the database includes:

  • Student Name
  • Parental Contact and Contact Details
  • Instrument loaned
  • Loan date
  • Loan expiry date

Loan deposits and rental fees are banked. Deposits are ring-fenced on our accounting system. The schedule of loan deposits is reconciled to our balance sheet on a monthly basis and audited at year end.

Managing instruments

All elements of the pipes are marked with individual tracking numbers. All new instruments are photographed and details are entered into the Pipes on Loan asset register. Chanters are engraved with unique identifiers. The pipes come in a suitably sized hard case which is also identifiable as part of the Scheme.

If there are any issues with the pipes at any stage during the loan, we ask that the pipes are returned for repair or replacement.

Effective follow-up communications

After 11 months from the start of the loan period, NPU staff contact the parents of the student for an update. If the child is progressing well, the parents are encouraged to purchase an instrument for the student. If the student is waiting for their own instrument to be made, the loan will be renewed for a further 12 months.

Most recent figures show that seven out of ten loans result in the purchase of a set of pipes.

Return of instruments

When pipes are returned to our building, security deposits are refunded via cheque or bank transfer and copies of the completed loan form and deposit receipts are issued to the deposit provider.

The Pipes on Loan Scheme is limited to practice sets, we do not currently offer drones and regulators on loan to students. If a student has progressed enough to be able to play drones, we will encourage parents to purchase an instrument. Most piping students will purchase a practice set and add drones and regulators as they make progress.

Planning: determine the parameters
Target audience
Type of instrument loaned
Length of loan term
Security deposit amount
Rental fee
Ensure instrumentalists and instrumental teachers are aware of the scheme
Provide a means for potential students to contact the organisation for information
Develop and refine instrument specifications
Purchase high quality instruments
Maintain database of instruments with photographs of all instruments
Repair instruments when required
Create loan agreement form
Maintain administrative records
Regularly update loan database
Follow financial procedures
Dedicate staff with responsibility for day-to-day management
Communication - Actively manage loans
Contact parents at 11 months
Ask parents to plan purchase or return of instruments
Ensure instruments are returned on completion of loan
Meeting the needs of pipers

The Pipes on Loan Scheme has been essential to service the increased interest in piping that we have seen in Ireland in recent years. The Scheme removes economic barriers to getting started and provides access to quality instruments that are well maintained, for pipers in all parts of Ireland.

Successfully managing an instrument bank requires a clear plan; in our case to provide high quality starter instruments to students for 12 months. Communication with scheme participants is vital; to keep track of instruments, determine student’s progress and to encourage parents to plan ahead to purchase an instrument. Administrative records and financial deposits need to be correctly maintained to ensure the scheme runs efficiently. Assets need to be actively managed; undertaking necessary repairs and purchase of replacement elements where necessary.

Gay Mc Keon is CEO of Na Píobairí Uilleann

If you or your child is interested in learning to play uilleann pipes, you can contact Na Píobairí Uilleann at:

15 Henrietta St., Dublin 1
Tel: +353 1 8730093