#MyBiosphere: Dr John Struthers

In our regular feature in Business 365 magazine, authors from different walks of Manx life offer a personal perspective on #MyBiosphere. This month, Dr John Struthers writes:

In our regular feature in Business 365 magazine, authors from different walks of Manx life offer a personal perspective on #MyBiosphere. This month, Dr John Struthers writes:

This is a brief account reflecting the similarities of being a piper to that of maintaining a UNESCO Biosphere.

I have been on the Isle of Man for 25 years and more than 20 of those years have been with the Ellan Vannin Pipes and Drums.

I started on the practice chanter and learned to play the bagpipes on the Isle of Man just after turning 40. Being involved in learning to play a musical instrument offers many tensions associated with the balance of air pressure, starting and stopping, length of notes, tempo and timing, all under the piper’s control.

This balance of control must be learned and then co-ordinated with other pipers and drummers. Too much of any one technique upsets the balance of some other aspect of playing. Too much air pressure on the bag causes the drones or reed to squeal. This results in a tension associated with of performance, experienced by most musicians.

I draw the comparison to the tensions which hold the many ecosystems in the Biosphere together.

Dr Struthers out and about in the Manx Biosphere 

The tension of rainfall - too much results in a flood, too little results in a drought or, even worse, a hosepipe ban. Likewise, the beauty of the sea and tides giving life to the vast array of creatures and plants in the intertidal region in a tension with coastal erosion. The balance of food chains and the upset caused by removing quantities of one species.

The common factor in these comparisons is the human. The piper controls the bagpipes with its internal constituent manufactured parts, while people often have control of many aspects of factors which impact on environments and their natural flora and fauna.

The skill is to maintain a balance which appears to create a constant state of stability. However, what appears as a constant stability is usually the accumulation of many tensions together opposing each other simultaneously.

The piper plays the steady tune as musically written from a well-maintained set of bag pipes. Similarly, the choughs fly along the safety of the sheer rocky coastline, seeking accessible food supplies on the shoreline or field. But one small change in either scenario impacts on the relative stability. This change can be catastrophic, the piping becomes distorted, or the chough numbers fall due to failing to find its food in an interrupted food chain.

Synergises of playing in a pipe band often merge with components of the Island’s Biosphere. As the pipe band plays in the evening on Tynwald Hill to close the Tynwald Day ceremonies, there is a tension that 12 sets of bagpipes will be in collective harmony, drummers will see the pipe major as the day light fades, overtaken by the intensity of the spotlights.

The gathering of people vital to any community, the acknowledgement of the historical political system. The atmosphere adjusts the ambient temperature so vital in maintaining a steady drones sound on the bagpipe. Meanwhile, the midges decide to make an appearance and upset the balance.

For me, tensions of performing Manx music within its cultural and natural habitat embed me within the Biosphere, creating a sense of belonging. A feeling of living in the Isle of Man, rather than on it.

Ellan Vannin Pipes and Drums drawing a close to Tynwald celebrations at dusk

Posted up on 17th February 2023


If you love the Isle of Man and want to help keep it special, there are a variety of ways to get involved in UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man projects. Here are a few suggestions.

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