April 26, 2012

A pipe for the people?

Truly humble.The death of the “fabulous Donald MacPherson” (as Seumas MacNeill described him) was made even more poignant by the announcement of the available-for-sale of the Lawrie drones and Hardie chanter with which he won just about all of his prizes. If John Wilson’s dilapidated MacDougall drones went for $13,000, who knows what price MacPherson’s instrument will realize? $15,000? $20,000?

The truth is that the instrument is not just a bagpipe of one well-off piper’s dreams, but a historical piece that would be better shared by as many people as possible, whether as part of a permanent museum collection, or, even better, an instrument that could be loaned out to deserving and needy players.

I know that some organizations in the classical music world purchase world-class violins and cellos and then rent or loan them to artists who otherwise could not possibly afford to purchase such an instrument. Now, these instruments I believe are generally valued at hundreds-of-thousands, if not millions, of dollars. We all know that a decent violin bow can cost $10,000 or more, so the parallels with Highland pipes perhaps separate there.

But wouldn’t it be great if the late, great Donald MacPherson’s pipes could be acquired by a venerable organization like, say, the National Piping Centre, and then loaned each year to a deserving young piper? “The MacPherson Prize Pipe” could become the most meaningful award going in the piping world, making a true difference to a young player’s career. The MacPherson family could realize the value of the instrument in monetary terms that they truly deserve, but the piping world becomes the true beneficiary.

In truth, a bagpipe is only as good as the player. No one will ever again attain the distinct sound that Donald MacPherson achieved and, chances are, the highest bidder will be a player who can only dream of having the ability to walk on a professional-grade competition platform.

Donald MacPherson’s piping legacy will live in the memory of his performances, the standard he set with his sound, and the tunes that he wrote. Making his pipes accessible to deserving players would be a true reflection of his humble and giving character.


  1. Excellent post. I think we just need to respect the will of the owner of the pipes. He sent them to market. There was no intention to pass them to a relative, friend or pupil – and surely with good reason. Who knows? These pipes will find their own way.

  2. Yes!! A week ago, sitting in a local establishment with three other pipers, we discussed the pipes, and how it would be great to put a consortium together, along with a major sponsor, to offer the pipes as a prize to the Inverness Silver Medallist every other year, or something along those lines. We also discussed the classical music world, and the universities and associations who award use of [for example] a Stradivarius violin to a young professional who could make the most of it musically, but who could never afford if financially. Whatever the outcome of the auction, I’m happy to have heard the pipes live in MacPherson’s hands.

  3. As far as I know, Stradivarius violins have been meticulously analysed and attempts made to reproduce them to achieve their splendid sound. Despite modern technology and analytical techniques, to date this has not been achieved successfully. No one knows exactly how these instruments were made with the secrets of the craftmanship seeming lost forever. This by default cuases the remaining examples to skyrocket in value since there is a limited supply vs demand.
    In the case of bagpipes, this should not be the same. We do know how they were made and I would argue that today we can actually make them better if we choose to. Surely someone is able to reproduce almost exactly a particular instrument through careful analysis and reproduction. Would it not make more sense to try to duplicate Donald MacPherson’s instrument and make many more available to the masses? Granted not every productom model will be equal, but some of them should be truly outstanding at least. This way, availability is not limited to one person at a time and the danger of losing truly oustanding instruments to accidents or neglect is greatly reduced by numbers.

  4. Was it the instrument or the man that made these pipes so special? The man, of course. But if being allowed them for a year, spurred some aspiring player on to greater things, this would be a great use of the idea that the pipes in themselves were the thing, or a big part of it, which no doubt they were. What would be the point of them sitting in a glass case? That would seem a waste. Equally someone ending up with them who has the money to buy them, and thinks that by having the pipes they will sound like their prevous owner!! Shame there isn’t a charitable organisation to buy them, then do something really creative with them. If I were 89 and parting with my precious (to me) violin, I’d want it to live on in some new innovative creative way. But at the same time, I can just about also imagine that in the grand scale of things–life and death etc, these instruments are bits of wood, man made, they’ve done their bit, they coud likely be replicated etc etc etc. Mind you, the glass half full bit of me would still prefer that the bits of wood live on in a new incarnation, carrying with them, something of the great spirit and music of a previous owner. Let’s hope destiny makes a good choice in this case.

  5. I agree, it would be great for some organization to loan these pipes out to talented prize winning young players. Although a nice sounding pipe is more common today than it was 40 or more years ago it remains a MAJOR factor to the ears of a judge and, more importantly, I think it is a huge factor for the confidence of a very good but relatively inexperienced young player.
    On the other hand, I lent my prize winning (Inverness, 1980 silver medal, 2nd place) pipe chanter to a student of mine and it was returned broken…
    Still despite the risks, I am still idealistic enough to dream/wish these pipes could end up being lent to the next Donald MacPherson(s), the reality is it will probably be purchased by an “anonymous” buyer who has more money than gracenotes.

  6. Bagpipe players, like guitar players, have a certain sound that is unique to them. This pipe will only sound as we have come to know it in Donald’s hands. It would be nice to see it played at the highest levels, but it can be enjoyed, cared for, and loved by just about any level of player. It may not reach it’s full potential in those hands, but it will give no less joy to the individual lucky enough to have the quid to buy it. It would be more of a shame if a reseller bought it with the sole purpose of flipping it for profit. To me that would be a real travesty, and not what any of us would hope for I’m sure.

  7. It is a Lawrie pipe and there are many of them out there with the exact same bores/specs as Donald MacPherson’s pipe. Many of the great pipes made today combined with some high tech drone reeds can produce a world class sound. This sale is all about the history of this pipe and making money. I hope whoever wins them enjoys them regardless of their playing level.

  8. Are they more than a good set of pipes? The pedigree of course tells an amazing story but would they come out on top by todays standards? The chanter would be difficult to reed unless you know your way round reed making.
    Would a consortium allow only the drones to be used or the instrument as a whole?

    @bagpiperman. The Strads has been copied with a convincing result by a german violin maker



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