“Murdo’s Wedding” – melody, simplicity married

Published: February 10, 2016

Major Gavin Stoddart competing at the Scotway competition in Glasgow City Chambers, December 1989, his last competition appearance.

For pipers of all abilities, “Murdo’s Wedding” is a staple. The two-part 4/4 march is at least as popular and played as “Flett From Flotta,” and probably approaches even “Scotland the Brave” for its ubiquity in repertoires.

It’s a simple tune with a memorable melody: common hallmarks of music with staying-power. But how did it come about? Many will know that “Murdo” is a fairly common male name in Scotland, especially in the Highlands and islands. So, who was this Murdo, and what was so important about the guy’s wedding?

The tune was written by Major Gavin Stoddart BEM, one of the great competitive solo pipers of the latter half of the twentieth century. Among many big prizes, Stoddart won both Highland Society of London Gold Medals and the Silver Star Former Winners MSR at the Northern Meeting.

Now retired from his esteemed career with the military, during which he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to his country and to piping, we contacted the always congenial and humble Gavin Stoddart to ask if he could enlighten us on the roots of and reasons for “Murdo’s Wedding.”

Here’s what he returned:

“In 1964 I was playing the practice chanter in the back of my father’s shop in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. I was really just messing around and killing time before it was time for my lesson with Captain John MacLellan. I was using a tape recorder and when I replayed the tape a musical phrase stuck out – this consisted of the first two bars of the tune. It was quite easy from there to develop it further and the first part was completed fairly quickly. I was stuck on the start of the second part and when my father heard what I was playing he said the tune had something going for it and helped out with the first bar for the second part and the remainder of the tune flowed from there.

Murdo Murray, 1966 – then a married man.

“I didn’t have a name in mind for the tune and it wasn’t until Murdo Murray, a tenor drummer with the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band asked my father to play at his wedding and if he would compose a tune. Murdo came from Laxdale just outside Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. He was a ‘beat’ policeman on the Royal Mile and used to pop in to my father’s shop. Murdo married Catherine Anne Maciver on the 17th March 1965 at the Free Church in Stornoway.

“Around this time Iain McLeod, Pipe-Major of the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band, included ‘Murdo’s Wedding’ on a recording and it quickly became popular.

“I was aged 16 when I wrote ‘Murdo’s Wedding.’ I had lessons from Captain John from 1961 and until 1965, and in August 1966 I enlisted as a piper with the Scots Guards.”

A photo taken in 1966 when Gavin Stoddart was a guest piper with the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band on a trip to Moscow, which coincided with Stoddart’s eighteenth birthday. The band was there for a British trade fair and the band threw a surprise birthday party for him. L-R: Ronnie Ackroyd, Chris Anderson, Chief Inspector and Band Secretary Willie Orr, George Lumsden, Jimmy Orr, Tam Richie (looking up), L-D Bob Montgomery, Gavin Stoddart, Bob Gibson (his left eye), Neil Sumner, P-M Iain McLeod, Harry McNulty (his left eye), David Laird, Murdo Murray, Alex Shand, D-M Jimmy Hermiston, Lawrie Gillespie.

“Murdo’s Wedding” is a simple tune with humble origins, for a humble tenor drummer, from the imagination of one of the piping world’s most humble personalities, Gavin Stoddart.

For a beautifully set manuscript of “Murdo’s Wedding,” go to Jim McGillivray’s where you can download music for a small cost, with proceeds shared with the composers who own copyright.


RSPBA expands list of accredited judges

Published: February 8, 2016

The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association has widened its pool of accredited judges with at least five new judges joining its panel, including British Columbia resident Terry Lee, the former Simon Fraser University Pipe Band Pipe-Major who led the group to six World Championship titles during his thirty-plus-years tenure with the band.

In addition to Lee, Paul Brown, Stuart Coils, Alvis Kerr and John Moneagle have been brought into the fold. Brown was a snare drummer with Grade 1 St. Laurence O’Toole, Coils was a snare drummer with the Grade 1 Strathclyde Police for many years, Kerr was Pipe-Sergeant with Grade 1 Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia and Moneagle served for many years as Leading-Drummer with the Grade 1 Vale of Atholl Pipe Band.

It is believed but not confirmed that former Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe-Major Ross Walker amd SFU and Inveraray & District snare drummer Ian Lawson will also be brought onto the RSPBA panel.

“I am very pleased and honoured to be joining the panel,” Lee said. “It seems to be the next logical step for me in pipe bands and I hope to give back to the association.”

With the RSPBA’s adoption of a policy that prohibits adjudicators judging family members playing in bands competing in the finals at championships, the deeper accredited panel is expected to provide more flexibility at majors. Under the new policy, Lee would not be assigned to a Grade 1 final in which SFU is competing due to family members in the band.

RSPBA Adjudicators Panel Management Group Convenor John Wilson. [Photo copyright pipes|drums]

RSPBA Adjudicators Panel Management Group Convenor John Wilson. [Photo copyright pipes|drums]

Accreditation for judges is managed by the RSPBA’s Adjudicators Panel Management Group, which is headed by John Wilson as convenor, with Joe Noble vice-convener, Robert Mathieson secretary and Gordon Lawrie and Gordon Craig leading adjudicator training and development.

Each of the new judges proactively applied to go through the RSPBA’s accreditation process, according to a source within the RSPBA.


Wheel of Fortune adds new tune to fundraising


The eleventh annual Pipe-Majors Wheel of Fortune invitational solo piping competition has taken its fundraising novelty to another level with an online auction in which the winner will receive a tune composed especially for him/her by famed piper and music creator Allan MacDonald.

The winner will receive and be allowed to name a two-part tune by MacDonald “in any idiom” in return for being the highest bidder.

The popular Pipe-Majors Wheel of Fortune contest calls for contestants to compete in a variety of creative events, where a wheel is spun to determine what the player has to perform, in addition to having to tell a joke to the audience.

Organized by the Grade 2 City of Edinburgh Pipe Band, the event will be held at noon on February 13th at the Danderhall Miners Club on Edmonstone Road in Danderhall, near Edinburgh.

Competitors at the 2016 event will be:

  • Chris Armstrong, Glasgow
  • Callum Beaumont, Linlithgow, Scotland
  • Jonathan Greenlees, Glasgow
  • Alasdair Henderson, Dunoon, Scotland
  • Finlay Johnston, Glasgow
  • Brian Lamond, Inverkeithing, Scotland (2015 winner)
  • Douglas Murray, Cupar, Scotland (2014 winner)
  • Angus Nicholson
2015 Pipe-Majors Wheel of Fortune winner Brian Lamond in full joke mode at last year's event.

2015 Pipe-Majors Wheel of Fortune winner Brian Lamond in full joke mode at last year’s event.

The band said that the idea for an original tune being made a prize came about when MacDonald visited a band practice looking for a chanter reed from Pipe-Major Barry Donaldson.

Tickets for the fundraising competition is £15 for adults and £5 for those younger than 16.


RSPBA adjudicators can no longer judge family in finals

Published: February 7, 2016

The Board of Directors of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association have reportedly passed a resolution that will prohibit adjudicators from judging bands that have a relative of the judge, with the rule coming into effect starting in 2016.

The motion was reportedly made by the RSPBA’s Adjudicators Panel Management Group and then presented at the Adjudicators’ AGM in November, where it was debated and then approved unanimously by those in attendance, before it was sent to the RSPBA’s Board of Directors for approval. The organization’s Adjudicators Panel Management Group comprises Gordon Craig, Gordon Lawrie, Robert Mathieson, Joe Noble, Peter Snaddon, John Wilson and two directors.

At least 10 current adjudicators potentially would be impacted by the policy, including Tom Brown, J. Campbell, David Barnes, Terry Lee, Ciaran Mordaunt, John Nevans, Gordon Parkes, Winston Pollock, Alan Ronaldson and George Wilson and many more could be affected, depending on how extensive the definition of “relative” is and whether it includes cousins and in-laws.

According to several sources who asked that their names not be used, the rule will mean that “immediate family members” will not be allowed to judge their relative’s band, but only in the finals of the organization’s five major championships, including the World’s. The policy will apply to the finals of all grades.

“I disagree with the decision,” said one RSPBA adjudicator who asked to remain anonymous. “If I didn’t think I could do it fairly I would not have. From a personal perspective this decision implies that I have been biased in my decisions over the years! I will be asking for evidence of this. If judges cannot be trusted to judge fairly due to family connections then the same must apply to commercial connections and close friendship connections also. In my opinion it’s better to have strong monitoring and trust judges until they prove that they should not be trusted through evidence of inconsistent results. I want to challenge this face to face with those who made the decision and that might take some time.”

The selection of judges for championship finals has reportedly been based on the new criteria. Judging allocations for 2016 had not been announced by the RSPBA at publication, but was released a few hours later by the organization.

At championships where final competitions are known to be talking place, judges with family connections in bands in a specific grade will not be assigned to that grade’s final event. Every championship contest without a qualifier would be considered a “final,” meaning that judges affected by the rule would not be able to judge the grade in which a band has a family member on its roster unless it is a qualifying round.

The availability form that adjudicators complete now includes a family member declaration clause.

Enacting the “no judging relatives” rule across the board was deemed to be impractical if it were applied to all competitions and heats

The RSBA’s Adjudicators Committee might still put together an appeal of the decision.

“Some toys may be thrown out of the pram, but that’s life,” said one source.

The rule would come after decades of controversy, essentially dating back to the inception of the association in 1930. The topic is a sensitive one for every piping and drumming organization that coordinates competitions. The only association with a formal rule is the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario, which brought in a measure in the 1990s to stop adjudicators from judging “close relatives,” including in-laws, in both band and solo competition.

The Competing Pipers Association in the UK has a policy that strongly advises competitors not to compete before any judges who are considered relatives.

RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton had not responded to a request for comment at publication time.

pipes|drums predicted that such a policy would be enacted in the magazine’s Ten headlines we could be writing in 2016 article of January 5th.


All-star lineup prepping for Uist & Barra

Published: February 6, 2016

Nearly every major UK solo contest prizewinner in 2015 has confirmed attendance at the annual Uist & Barra Invitational Solo Piping Competition on March 5th at the College of Piping. Fifteen of the world’s best will vie for awards in the Piobaireachd, MSR and Hornpipe & Jig events throughout the day:

  • Callum Beaumont, Linlithgow, Scotland
  • Glenn Brown, Glasgow
  • Cameron Drummond, Edinburgh
  • Bill Geddes, Glasgow
  • Alasdair Henderson, Dunoon, Scotland
  • Faye Henderson, Kirriemuir, Scotland
  • Finlay Johnston, Glasgow
  • Stuart Liddell, Inveraray, Scotland
  • Angus MacColl, Benderloch, Scotland
  • Roddy MacLeod, Glasgow
  • Willie McCallum, Bearsden, Scotland
  • Gordon McCready, Renfrew, Scotland
  • Iain Speirs, Edinburgh
  • Niall Stewart, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland
  • Gordon Walker, Galston, Scotland

Last year’s Uist & Barra saw Faye Henderson, Gordon Walker and Alasdair Henderson win the Piobaireachd, MSR and Hornpipe & Jig events, respectively.

The Uist & Barra is traditionally the first significant solo event of the UK season, and its history goes back almost a century. The competition is put on by the Glasgow Uist & Barra Association.

Tickets are available in advance from the College of Piping and are priced at £12.

Judges for each of the three events are Ian Duncan, Stuart Shedden and Andrew Wright.


Flett From Flotta – the man of the march


William Arnot Flett, probably taken at Fort George barracks, ca. 1942.

Just about every piper knows “Flett From Flotta,” the flowing 4/4 of two parts by the great Donald MacLeod. Like many of the repertory’s best tunes, it carries a simple and memorable melody and, as with many of MacLeod’s finest compositions, rides along in the major key.

But what’s a “Flett” and what’s a “Flotta”?

It appears that the tune is named for one William Arnot Flett, who – you guessed it – was from a place named Flotta in Orkney, the islands at the very north of Scotland. He went by his middle name.

Flett is a relatively common surname in those parts, and Arnot Flett was, like Donald MacLeod, a soldier with the Seaforth Highlanders. Probably in the 1940s, MacLeod was assigned to guard and accompany the regimental silver on a train from Inverness, Scotland, to London, apparently for a significant function where the pieces would be on display.

MacLeod and another soldier sat atop the wooden crates in which the silver was packed, and to pass the time he played his practice chanter. Another piper soldier was with him, and they decided that they would compose a tune. When the sweet 4/4 was complete, MacLeod purportedly asked the other soldier what his name and where he was from, and it was, of course, Flett, from Flotta.


The Flett family in Flotta, ca.1974, taken at Finstown, Flotta, Orkney, at a family gathering when Arnot Flett, back right, and his wife, Joyce, returned to visit from Australia. In the wheelchair is Malcolm Flett, Arnot Flett’s brother, along with other members of the Flett family. [Photo: Stuart Flett]

The story might well be apocryphal, but the tune is thought to have been inspired by Flett’s unique gate, so a march was in order.

Arnot Flett apparently later worked with the Orkney County Council in Flotta and later immigrated to Australia.

(Our thanks to Reay Mackay for alerting us to this story.)


New children’s book features overloaded piper

Published: February 4, 2016

Award-winning Canadian children’s author and illustrator Ashley Spires recently published a new book featuring a very busy young piper. Over-Scheduled Andrew tells the story of a boy who loves to be involved in many activities, including piping and pipe bands, but struggles with an overloaded schedule.

Most piping and drumming teachers will be able to think of a pupil or two like that: “I couldn’t practice because I had basketball two days, then a soccer tournament on the weekend, and my piano exam on Monday, and then I do Irish dance on Tuesday.”

Spires is based in Vancouver and her previous book, The Most Magnificent Thing, has sold more than 100,000 copies and has now been published in seven languages, adding to critical and sales success going back over a dozen books and shelves full of awards.

It’s no accident that piping becomes a topic in this book, because Spires was a member of British Columbia’s vibrant piping community, hauled in through family connections, like many of us are.

“Piping was a family thing,” said Spires. “Both my cousins were pipers and my sister and I were Highland dancers before we got into bands. My step-cousin taught me the tenor drum and I played with the White Spot Pipe Band and the Vancouver Ladies.”

As she progressed through high school and developed her interest in illustration, Spires eventually had to choose between art and pipe bands, and she left pipe bands to pursue a career in art school. Now back in Vancouver after stops in Toronto and Saskatoon, Spires is happy to be able to bring her pipe band experience into her work.

Although, not all of it. When asked to describe a memorable band experience, Spires remembered: “White Spot [Pipe Band] went up to Penticton Games one year and our hotel was ground zero for a city-wide riot. We had towels under the doors to stop the tear gas, and we listened to helicopters sweeping the city above us all night. One of the boys even woke up with a stranger passed out in his room the next morning. Good times.”

Spires now avoids pipe band riots, but can occasionally be seen at Highland games in BC, supporting friends and relatives who still play.

Over-Scheduled Andrew is published by Tundra Books and is available in good bookstores, and online.

87 78: reflections on the past

Published: January 31, 2016

Andrew Bova reviews the “Live In Ireland In Scotland” concert . . .

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New online hub for “progressive” piping coming

Published: January 28, 2016

Jason Briscoe, the web developer, graphic designer and piper with the Grade 1 ScottishPower Pipe Band, along with web developer Maël Sicard-Cras, a piper with ScottishPower, and graphic designer and Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia drummer Gleren Meneghin have recognized a worldwide appetite for “progressive” style pipe music – material not typically heard in traditional piping and pipe band contests – so they plan to launch an online hub that they hope will be popular with composers and listeners alike. will have no revenue stream planned and costs nothing to use. The developers hope to have go live online in February, but he says could be March.

So far he has several well-known composers on board, but currently wants to make public only Matt MacIsaac of Canada as a music-maker whose tunes and arrangements will be available at launch.

“Currently there’s no direct hub for a progressive style of bagpipe music, which the next generation is keen to listen to these days – unique, un-traditional, bold and brave,” Briscoe said. “The talent is out there as is the music – Lincoln Hilton as an example, but no centralized location packaged, designed and delivered beautifully.”

While the site is under construction currently, it is open for anyone to add their information to so that they can receive updates when new content is added. Briscoe said that he is working with several well known artists to record and post their music.

“[I’m] purely doing this as a passion project to inspire and engage a larger audience and younger generation,” Briscoe added. “The idea is to start discovering new talent through submission – less ‘big names’ in time but at the core focusing on innovative, tasteful approaches to bagpipe music.”

Since the late-1980s and the popularity of original music by pipers like the late Gordon Duncan, Allan MacDonald and Fred Morrison, there has been a growing trend toward unconventional music not made strictly for competitions in familiar structures and time signatures, geared almost strictly for entertaining performance. Today it is no longer assumed that young Highland pipers will focus on competing as the primary outlet for their music.

Originally from Ontario, Canada, Briscoe now lives in London and works as a graphic designer, and has worked on the brand identities of various piping products, such as ScottishPower Pipe-Major Chris Armstrong’s X-Treme line of reeds and publications.


Colin Miller, 1947-2016

Published: January 27, 2016

Colin Miller

Pipe bandsmen in Ontario were saddened to hear of the passing of Colin Miller on January 10, 2016, at age 68 after a long series of illnesses. Perhaps best known as the leading-drummer of Ontario’s Grade 1 now defunct Toronto & District Pipe Band in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Colin was a veteran of the drumming scene from the mid-1960s until he and wife Rose (Watt) moved to Scotland in 1990.

Colin played with the City or Toronto band that placed fifth in the World Pipe Band Championship at Inverness in 1966 under Pipe-Major Chris Anderson and Leading-Drummer Tim Orr. He subsequently became leading-drummer of the 400 Squadron, from which the Toronto & District band evolved in 1976.

Born in 1947, Colin came with his parents from Greenock, Scotland, in 1954, settling in Galt (now Cambridge) near Kitchener, Ontario. Later, he joined his piping father Colin Sr. in playing with the Galt HLI before joining the City of Toronto, while his father went on to become Pipe-Major of the successful Kitchener Legion Grade 3 band. Young Colin would also become lead drummer of the Hespeler Legion Grade 3 band when they won Ontario Championship Supreme for that grade in 1987.

In 1990, after noticing how hard it was to find a good grilled hamburger in Scotland, he and Rose – a piper – moved to Livingston, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with their children Colin and Mandy and founded a fleet of mobile burger wagons. The family played together in local pipe bands until Colin finally drifted away from the scene around 2000. Few colleagues even knew they had returned to Cambridge in 2004.

Former Toronto & District Pipe-Major John Elliott remembers Colin Miller as “a piper’s drummer.” Well known for his supportive ensemble playing, he was a pleasure to watch, a master of light and shade with a very expressive musical and visual style. “He could always put together a good corps that made playing the pipe tunes easier,” Elliott recalled. “That’s what was important to him.”

Pat Furlong of Kitchener played with the Kitchener Legion band in the 1960s when Colin helped teach the drum corps, and later with the City of Toronto. “Colin was my mentor with Kitchener Legion Pipe Band and then with City of Toronto,” Pat recalls. “He was like an older brother to me and his dad like a wonderful uncle. Colin always insisted l play with expression and dynamics. I have carried that with me in all my musical endeavours.”

Sadly, Colin was dogged by ill health during his last few years and did not frequent the pipe band scene.

Condolences go out to Rose, Colin, Mandy and several grandchildren.

– Contributed by Jim McGillivray


Seasoning dispute could get messy

Published: January 26, 2016

The iconic R.G. Hardie Airtight seasoning “tin” (now a plastic container) in its current form. [Image used with permission of R.G. Hardie]

There are relatively few truly iconic brand identities in the business of Highland piping, but few would dispute that the red-and-black tartan container that has held R.G. Hardie’s Airtight Seasoning, as well as the distinct odoriferous smell of the creamy viscous stuff itself, is one of the most identifiable products on the market – that’s clear.

Clear as mud.

David Ogilvie, who has been a piper with various bands since the 1990s, including posts as pipe-major of two now defunct Grade 2 bands, Barron of Lee and Chivas Regal, is currently marketing a seasoning product that is remarkably similar to Airtight Seasoning, both in terms of ingredients and branding. He recently purchased the product from Sharp & Co., which in many ways is where the plot becomes as thick as the seasoning itself.

Ogilvie’s seasoning is called “Robertson’s Original” – a product he said Sharp & Co. has made and sold since 2006.

“Airtight” is a brand name owned by R.G. Hardie & Co., which is in turn owned by Gaelic Themes, a company that acquired Hardie and all of its assets in the 2000s, after Hardie had been owned by The Band Room, which itself had gone through a few ownership changes.

“It was not common practice in the 1960s and ’70s for companies to trademark or copyright and ‘Airtight,’ R.G. Hardie, Robertsons were never registered, but ownership was in the public domain and has never been disputed,” said Alastair Dunn, managing director of R.G. Hardie & Co. Ltd., in an exclusive statement to pipes|drums.

A nephew of John Weatherston, who was a partner in the Hardie business, Ogilvie has been marketing his product via social media, complete . . .


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Brian Niven receives Medal of the Order of Australia

Published: January 25, 2016

Niven_Brian_2013Brian Niven, the pipe-sergeant of the 1998 World Championship-winning Victoria Police Pipe Band of Australia, has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the country’s annual Australia Day honours, “for service to the pipe band movement, and to the community.”

Niven was a member of the band and a serving officer in the Victoria Police force from 1988 to 2013 when the band was folded due to budget cuts.

He served as President of the Victorian Pipe Bands Association since 1993, was Vice-President, Piping, Pipe Bands Victoria from 2011 to 2013, and is one of few approved “international” adjudicators with the RSPBA, although he has never travelled to the UK to judge.

The Victoria Police Pipe Band never returned to defend its 1998 World’s title, and travel time allowances were quickly reduced for band members serving in the police force, which many of them did. Funding for the pipe band gradually declined and was ultimately cut completely.

The pipe-major of the band, Nat Russell, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2007.

The Order of Australia is described as “the principal and most prestigious means of recognizing outstanding members of the community at a national level and nominations are encouraged from all members of the Australian public.”

Coincidentally, Niven was cited as an example in a piping blog post last week on the important but often unrecognized role that pipe band pipe-sergeants play.


Unused pipes “amnesty” launches for students


The Scottish Schools Pipes & Drums Trust knows that there are untold sets of bagpipes lying unplayed and unwanted under beds and in cupboards around Scotland, the UK and the world, so the organization is declaring an “amnesty” for those who want to put their dormant instruments to good use for kids in need.

The Trust today – on Robert Burns Day – launched a charity appeal for old bagpipes to be donated “to give new young players a better chance in life.”

The Scottish Schools Pipes & Drums Trust provides free tuition to more than a thousand students in schools across Scotland, many in disadvantaged areas where families can’t afford to purchase new or even used instruments.

Taking the cue from familiar police amnesty initiatives for gun owners, organization’s Bagpipe Amnesty – “Old Pipes for New Players” – enables those with unused pipes to be handed in to any of 66 designated fire stations across Scotland.

Instruments in need of repair will be refurbished by Wallace Bagpipes of Scotland, which has stepped up to provide its services for free. Scottish telecommunications company Genius PPT is providing a free-of-charge “Freephone” service for anyone interested in donating their pipes but can’t make it to a designated fire station.

“We have a feeling that there may be lots of unused instruments lying round in lofts and cupboards, perhaps someone’s given up or even died,” said David Johnston, an organizer of the Fair Play for Pipes Campaign. “Wallace Bagpipes have generously offered to refurbish and we can get these pipes singing again for the next generation. The opportunities provided by pipes are well known to pipes|drums readers and we think it will be wonderful if people are prepared to donate unused pipes to us to give young people that opportunity.

“We are hugely grateful to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for supporting this campaign and to Craig Munro and the team of Wallace Bagpipes for their commitment to helping the next generation of pipers.”

Donations can be made from February 1st to 14th. Information on where and how to donate pipes can be obtained by phoning 0808-281-9405 toll-free or visiting the Scottish Schools Pipes & Drums Trust’s website.

Johnston said that his organization plans to track each set it receives to allow donors to see where the pipes end up and “the good that their generosity is doing.”


First Boney Music Invitational Feb. 13th

Published: January 24, 2016

The well-known Vancouver-based piper Andrew Bonar has partnered with the British Columbia Pipers Association to create the first Boney Music Invitational Piping Competition and Recital on February 13th, where the top five top-grade competitors on the BCPA circuit from last year will vie for the Boney Music Invitational trophy.

Admission to the 6:30 pm event at the Halpern Centre, Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, BC, is by donation, recommended at $10, with any profits going to the BC Cancer Foundation, a cause close to Bonar, who is currently undergoing treatment for a rare type of brain cancer.

Each piper will have to deliver a 20-minute recital, including tuning, of whatever they want to play, provided they include a piobaireachd urlar, at least two two-part strathspeys, at least one four-part 6/8 march, a tune composed by a member of the BCPA, and a tune by a Canadian not from British Columbia.

Andrew Bonar, centre, receiving an Honourary Life Membership to the BCPA from former SFU Pipe-Major Terry (left) and BCPA President Rob MacNeil, in June 2015.

Qualifying and invited to the 2016 Boney Music Invitational are Jori Chisholm, Alastair Lee, Andrew Lee, Brittney Otto and James P. Troy.

Bonar said that he hopes that the competition becomes an annual event if the inaugural contest is well attended.

Andrew Bonar is a member of the Grade 1 Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, which held a highly successful concert and sponsored head-shaving last year that raised nearly $35,000 for the BC Cancer Foundation. Among many professional solo prizes, Bonar won the 2010 Silver Medal at the Northern Meeting in his career.


Sandy Grant Gordon: the pipes|drums Interview

Published: January 23, 2016

Sandy Grant Gordon, August 2015.

There can be no doubt that no one in history has contributed more in terms of financial assistance to Highland piping than Sandy Grant Gordon. For more than 40 years, the patriarch of William Grant & Sons Ltd., one of the UK’s last independent, family-owned distillers of spirits, has contributed funds to assist many of solo piping’s premier events.

The marquee event is the Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championships, which Grant Gordon has underwritten since 1974 when the idea for a year-ending premier invitational competition was dreamed up by the famous Seumas MacNeill, who used his connections to get the attention of the head of the Grant’s business.

Originally known as “The Grant’s Championship,” the competition at Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Scotland, eventually was renamed The Glenfiddich so as to better showcase the single malt whisky that is in many ways the hallmark brand of the company, which also carries the Balvenie single malt, the Grant’s blended whisky, the Tullamore Dew Irish blended whisky, and Hendrick’s Gin under its umbrella, in addition to support brands such as Gibson’s Canadian rye whisky, Sailor Jerry Spiced rum and many others.

In addition to sponsoring the Glenfiddich, the Glenfiddich brand is attached to other solo piping competitions, including:

  • The Atholl Gathering
  • The Silver Chanter
  • The Senior Piobaireachd at the Argyllshire Gathering
  • The Captain John A. MacLellan MBE Recital-Competition
  • The Scottish Piping Society of London’s annual competition
  • The CPA B- & C-Grade contests in Scotland

Grant Gordon also sponsored the Donald Macdonald Quaich for 27 years until 2015 and has been a sponsor of Piping Live! since its inception, and next month is a sponsor of the 2016 International Bagpipe Conference being held at the National Piping Centre.

The day after the Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championship, the Glenfiddich Scottish Fiddling Championship is also held at Blair Castle each year.

A younger Sandy Grant Gordon.

Relatively few people know that it is not, strictly speaking, William Grant & Sons the company that sponsors piping and fiddle causes, it is Sandy Grant Gordon himself, from his own financial resources, who has made them happen. There is no direct support from any of the operational budgets of the company and, only in the last few years, funding comes through the William Grant Foundation, set up by him directly.

Sandy Grant Gordon also contributed to the establishment of the National Piping Centre, and the entire project in the 1990s might never have come to fruition without his financial support.

One might assume that such a successful man of business might expect a financial return from his investments in piping, but one would be wrong. Despite the untold sums that he has poured into piping, he only hopes that they will help to raise the stature of the . . .


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Redirection for ACPBA promised with new leadership

Published: January 22, 2016

In October 2015 at the organization’s annual general meeting Kevin Dugas was elected President of the Atlantic Canada Pipe Band Association, and the professional-grade solo piper and member of the 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) has plans to make significant improvements under his tenure. He was previously Vice-President on the ACPBA executive, and took over the Presidency from snare drummer David Kershaw.

Among the progress that the organization plans to make is the resurrection of the organization’s Music Committee, which Dugas will also chair. He thus holds a rare combination of leadership power to evoke change.

Member-for-member, the ACPBA’s Music Committee is among the world’s most accomplished in terms of playing prowess and experience at the highest levels.

The ACPBA Music Committee plans to accredit new piping and drumming judges by the spring/summer of 2016, and hold piping and drumming workshops and seminars for the membership and the community at-large. Within the Music Committee is a newly formed Music & Grading Sub-committee, and Dugas said that there have been early discussions on adjudicator workshops, preparatory judging seminars and adjudicator examination dates for spring 2016.

Dugas added that members of the organization can expect to see an improved online presence with a more up-to-date website and the re-instatement of semi-annual online newsletter.

The ACPBA looks after pipers, drummers and pipe bands in the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador. Approximately 22 bands are listed as members. In 2015 five Highland games were directly sanctioned by the organization.


#TBT: “The Winter of Our Discontent”

Published: January 21, 2016

By Iain MacDonald, Regina

[Originally published in the old print Piper & Drummer magazine in March 2005, the precursor to pipes|drums.]

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
[Shakespeare; Richard III]

Richard III should’ve tried a winter of discontent in Saskatchewan. Here, the winter of our discontent is enhanced by the early daffodils in Vancouver, the soon-to-blossom cherry trees along their city streets, and reports of Highland games well underway in the sunny southern states of the USA. Saskatchewan registered the coldest temperature on the planet recently. You can practically hear blackwood cracking at band practice, and the reeds that played so robustly in the summer are but shriveled tonal skeletons of their former selves, clever containers notwithstanding.

Casting an eye back and forth at the same time, we see what has just past, and what is to come, as we survive yet another winter of piping hilarity in Saskatchewan.

Hogmanay, the traditional Scottish celebration of New Year is now well past. Pipers awoke from their holiday sloth to get the pipes out for a blast at New Year. This custom is very important in many parts of the world, and especially in Saskatchewan. It proves the piper’s unshakeable faith in the powers of alcohol and haggis to make the hands work in any conditions, and it proves that sheepskin, simulated elk hide, Gore-tex, rubber duckie bags, plastic and carbon fibre can all sound crappy in the cold.

Old haggis, you have killed me.

Just when head clears from Hogmanay, we lurch into preparations for the annual round of Burns Suppers. This is when people everywhere don Highland dress, play Highland bagpipes, and Highland dance to celebrate the life of a Lowland poet who spoke a different language, wore trews his whole life, and whose main attraction to the Highlands was a lassie named Mary.

Still, facts aside, it’s a great night for all Scots, and pipers play a special role in these celebrations. You’ll be called upon to “pipe in the haggis,” or possibly the head table . . . or both! Following that, you must drain a quaich of really cheap bar scotch, and pretend that it was a rewarding cultural experience. The big question as you fire up the bagpipe for your annual trip to the head table: Is it heavy or light D-throws this year in “A Man’s a Man?” If you’re really unsure, start a new topic on the Bagpipe Forum [the now dead wretched early online cesspool for anonymous haters], and the world’s top 5000+ experts will be there with the answers.

My first experience at a Burns Night was at the Legion in Regina, when I was about 10. My mother gave the reply to the “Toast to the Lassies” and I was there with the junior pipe band. I remember . . .


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International Bagpipe Conference coming to Glasgow


It’s held every two years and the third edition of the Annual International Bagpipe Conference is coming to Glasgow February 26-28, with the National Piping Centre the host venue.

The event is put on by the International Bagpipe Organization, “a platform where bagpipe studies and music can be shared on an international level,” according to its own descriptor. “Academic and non-academic studies of bagpipes have been carried out in many different parts of the world but the knowledge is often constrained to a geographical area. The IBO, with the organization of a biannual International Bagpipe Conference, wishes to remedy this and bring the study of bagpipes to the world.”

The Highland bagpipe and its music will be represented by delegates Andy Clark, Jack Taylor, president of the Piobaireachd Society, and Simon McKerrell, head of music at Newcastle University. Taylor will deliver a talk entitled “Piobaireachd. An Oral Tradition Preserved,” while McKerrell’s session is called “What Is the Value of Piping?”

A total of 17 papers will be delivered as part of sessions during the three-day conference, including “The Key Bagpipe from Southern Italy: Organology, Manufacture and Analysis of Repertory”; “The Maltese Zaqq – a Little-known European Bagpipe”; and “The 250 Years’ Evolution of the Monoxyle Drones Musette: Historical & Organological Study.”

The previous two International Bagpipe Conferences have been held in London, and up to 100 delegates are expected to attend, and tickets are available to the general public for the sessions and various performances, such as the Belgian ensemble Bourdon Collectief with two baroque musettes, the Scott Wood Trio, and a Bulgarian kaba gaida on the opening night. There’s a ceilidh on the Saturday night.


Winter Storm considering 2017 live streaming expansion

Published: January 20, 2016

As if the success of the competitions, workshops and performances at last weekend’s annual Midwest Highland Arts Fund Winter Storm in Kansas City, Missouri, weren’t enough good news for the event, organizers today revealed that they achieved their crowdfunding goal of US$5,000 with six full days left in the campaign.

The crowdfunding is designed to offset the cost of livestreaming the major competitions and concert, which is further underwritten by donated gear and manpower by the Dojo University, a Winter Storm sponsor.

It’s the second straight year that the crowdfunding goal was met and, with the success, organizers say that there are already preliminary discussions about simultaneous streaming of multiple contest events at the 2017 Winter Storm.

“Winter Storm is very grateful for the generosity of the hundreds of people that have contributed to make the live streaming a reality,” said Beth Wilson, MHAF president.

Screen capture from the 2015 Winter Storm live stream, Jack Lee performing.

The MHAF is not-for-profit, and is run by a volunteer board of directors, and more than 20 piping and drumming luminaries were flown in from the UK, Ireland, Canada and the USA to teach and judge at the event.

Crowdfunding has become a familiar means to support piping and drumming projects and pipe band travel expenses, with widely varying degrees of success. At publication time, some 256 donations had been made. Depending on the amount, those who donate receive items ranging from recognition on the website for contributing $1 to those at the Platinum level who give $150 receiving a gift card, a t-shirt and a tie worn by an instructor/performer at the event.


Vale ends long L-D search at Lee Lawson

Published: January 18, 2016

Lee Lawson when with Field Marshal Montgomery.

The Grade 1 Vale of Atholl of Pitlochry, Scotland, ended its four-month search for a leading-drummer with the appointment of Grade 1 veteran Lee Lawson to the role, making her the first female and the second named “Lawson” to become a leading-drummer in Grade 1 in the UK since the end of the 2015 season.

A native of Northern Ireland, Lawson played with Vale of Atholl at various times when Paul Turner was the band’s leading-drummer in the 2000s, and she has also been a corps member with Grade 1 Field Marshal Montgomery and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Pipe Band (now Police Service of Northern Ireland).

She resides in Northern Ireland and plans to remain there, bringing other Northern Irish drummers, as well as a few from England and Scotland, for what will be a rebuilt corps. The band’s drum section will maintain two practice bases, one in Northern Ireland and another in Scotland, and Lawson-Irwin will travel to Scotland “as often as possible” for practices there.

The double practice locations follows an apparent trend with top-grade bands. Field Marshal Montgomery has held practices in both its home ground of Belfast and in Glasgow for its members based in Scotland. In the fall, the Grade 1 Dowco Triumph Street of Vancouver announced that it would maintain a UK unit, with Pipe-Major David Hilder travelling regularly to Glasgow for practices there.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be returning to The Vale and taking on the role of leading-drummer,” Lawson said. “It has been an ambition of mine for some time to be able to lead a corps in Grade 1, so to be able to make my debut with a band I loved being a member of in the past is an honour, a privilege and a dream come true. It’s my aim to rejuvenate the drum corps and have them established as a worthy competitor in the grade and hopefully achieve some top-six placings once again. I will be bringing some new players with me to add to those already there. We will be putting in a lot of hard work over the next few months to be the best we can be to hit the grass in May. There are definitely fun and exciting times ahead and I am very much looking forward to the upcoming season and many more happy years with the Vale.”

Lawson has leading-drummer experience with the Grade 2 Howard Memorial in 2012, and in 2015 was L-D of the Grade 4A Marlacoo & District, which won the RSPBA’s Champion of Champions drumming title for that grade.

During Lawson’s drumming career she has gained Ulster, All-Ireland and World championship wins in various solo grades from Juvenile to Senior.

Vale of Atholl had been searching for a lead-tip after the departure of Alistair McNab, who had led the band’s drum corps since 2013.

Rumours had been rampant over the fall that former Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia L-D Jim Kilpatrick was to join Vale of Atholl. Though reportedly very close to being finalized, the deal did not transpire, and Kilpatrick subsequently joined the resurrected Grade 1 Spirit of Scotland along with the five former Shotts snare drummers who departed with him.

Late last year the Grade 1 Los Angeles Scots appointed Molly Steuber to its leading-drummer post, making her the third female ever in that role in Grade 1. Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia made Andrew Lawson its leading-drummer in November 2015.

The first female leading-drummer to compete in Grade 1 was Kyla Richdale (nee MacNeil) of New Westminster, British Columbia, who ran the now defunct Abbotsford Police Pipe Band corps for a few seasons, including competing at the World Pipe Band Championships in 1997. Strictly speaking, Allison Savage was the first female L-D with a Grade 1 band, but the Deeside Ladies Pipe Band never competed in the top grade after being upgraded following the 1987 season.

Lawson is also a piper. In addition to Turner, Vale of Atholl has had several notable leading-drummers since becoming Grade 1 in the early 1980s, including he late James King and John Moneagle.

Troy, Gandy, Cooper on top of storm

Published: January 16, 2016

James Troy

Kansas City, Missouri – January 15, 2016 – James P. Troy and Alex Gandy won the Gold Medal Piobaireachd and Gold Medal MSR professional solo piping events, respectively, at the annual Midwest Highland Arts Fund Winter Storm Competitions held at the Marriott Hotel Grand Ballroom, Country Club Plaza. Andrew Lee gained an invitation to the 2016 Metro Cup contest in New Jersey in February, having the best result of those not already invited to the event. More than 100 contestants entered for the various professional and amateur piping and drumming competitions.

Professional Solo Piping
Gold Medal
1st James P. Troy, Victoria, British Columbia
2nd Glenn Brown, Glasgow
3rd Alex Gandy, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Judges: Colin MacLellan, Roddy MacLeod

Silver Medal
1st Andrew Lewis, St. Paul, Minnesota
2nd John Lee, Surrey, British Columbia
3rd Dan Lyden, Timonium, Maryland
4th James Dyson, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
5th Teddy Krogh, Anchorage, Alaska
Judges: Callum Beaumont, Brian Donaldson

1st Alex Gandy
2nd Andrew Hayes, Ottawa
3rd Andrew Lee Port, Coquitlam, British Columbia
Judges: Fred Morrison, Terry Tully

Professional Solo Drumming
Snare Gold Medal
1st Derek Cooper, Warminster, Pennsylvania
2nd Craig Lawrie, Paisley, Scotland
3rd Grant Maxwell Surrey, British Columbia
4th Richard Baughman, Pittsburgh
5th Eli Fugate, San Diego
6th Scott Fletcher, South Easton, Massachusetts
Judges: Duncan Millar, Doug Stronach, Paul Turner

Gold Medal Bass
1st Brian Morgan, Hudson, New Hampshire
2nd Bhreagh MacDonald, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia
3rd Kyle Heaney, Toronto
Judges: Kahlil Cappuccino, Johnny Rowe

Tenor Gold Medal
1st Jordan Bailie, Newtownards, Northern Ireland
2nd Michelle Blam, Chicago
3rd Sam Johnson Parkville, Maryland
Judges: Steven McQuillan, Michael O’Neil

Kingston-PPBSO sanctioning talks break down

Published: January 14, 2016

The independently run Kingston Scottish Festival in Kingston, Ontario, will not be sanctioned by the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario in 2016 after the association’s board of directors decided, reportedly unanimously, not to renew the designation for solo competitions.

The Kingston festival has operated for more than 10 years without official affiliation with any association, but last year was granted sanctioned status so that prize-winning competitors could gain points towards the PPBSO’s annual Champion Supreme aggregate awards, and thus potentially be more attractive to pipers and drummers.

Rather than use the PPBSO’s fully turnkey approach to running competitions, where the association provides all stewards and judges and administers entries and prizes, collecting entry fees for each event a competitors enters, the Kingston Scottish Festival has organized the entire competition on its own, but, for the last few years, adhered to PPBSO rules. The first years of the festival had used its own more creative rules at times, including having each of the four pipe band judges assessing ensemble.

PPBSOlogo“As one of the organizers of the Kingston Scottish Festival I am very disappointed by this unexpected announcement,” said Scott Bell, the event’s co-founder and the Pipe-Major of the Grade 3 Rob Roy Pipe Band of Kingston. “Our event abides by all rules and regulations of the PPBSO, hires PPBSO-certified adjudicators, uses the PPBSO chief steward, reports all results to the PPBSO in a timely manner, and best of all, it costs the Society nothing in terms of either time or money. We have been running the Kingston Scottish Festival for the past 10 years. We have developed a successful and risk-free model.  Our income comes from . . .


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Flint sparks century anniversary in 2016

Published: January 13, 2016

The Grade 4 Flint Scottish of Flint, Michigan, is the longest-running pipe band in a state with several of North America’s oldest bands, and the group will celebrate its one-hundredth birthday at a special ceilidh on February 27th in the nearby town of Davison.

The band was started in 1916 by Scottish immigrants keen on preserving their culture, and since then has been a staple throughout the Midwest in performances, parades and competitions, actively and consistently teaching new pipers and drummers to sustain itself continually year after year when many other bands have had to go on hiatus or have vanished altogether.

Flint Scottish, 1916.

Flint Scottish currently boasts a roster of more than 40 players, with both a competing and parade corps of pipers and drummers. According to the band, its constant success for the last century is a direct result of its tradition as a “solid, fun-loving, family” band.

The big party is open to all who wish to attend, and tickets are US$18 in advance or $20 at the door. Five other area pipe bands and a Celtic folk group will perform, and raffles and a whiskey tasting will also be part of the “once every 100 years” celebration. Details are available at the Flint Scottish web site.

Flint Scottish, 2015.

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  • Memories
    Sun, 7 Feb 2016
    I was reminded to remember a topic I’d forgotten to write about: memory. Specifically, the unwritten rule or tradition that pipers and drummers must memorize music. As far as I know, there is no specific rule with any association …
Read more »
UPCOMING EVENTS February 13, 2016Queen Mary Scottish FestivalQueen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway • Long Beach, CA

February 20, 2016The Metro Cup Solo Invitational CompetitionRamada Inn 160A Frontage Road Newark NJ

February 27, 2016More Ceol Mor! Piobaireachd WorkshopToronto Ontario

February 27, 2016Piping the Desert Layton Christian Academy 2352 UT

February 27, 2016Northeast Florida Scottish Games and FestivalClay County Fairgrounds 2497 State Road 16 West West Green Cove Springs FL 32043

The lifecycle of a piper or drummer: Learning to play; Studying the instrument and the music; Passing on this knowledge by teaching.
Sandy Keith, Dunedin, Florida