Published: April 30, 2003

Dr. John MacAskill Dies

We are sad to report the passing of Dr. John MacAskill in Fort William, Scotland, on April 26, 2003, after a lengthy illness.

One of the leading pipers, composers and teachers of the latter part of the last century, MacAskill won the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1972. He was known for many compositions that have stood up well over time, including the reel “Lexy MacAskill” and the jig “Alena MacAskill.”

MacAskill was a teacher of note, an instructor with Seumas MacNeill at the College of Piping in Glasgow. He brought his respected piping knowledge to summer schools in the United States and Canada in the 1970s, teaching hundreds of aspiring pipers.

John MacAskill was from a Berneray family and was brought up, like many islanders, in the Gaelic community of Glasgow. He was started piping relatively late, taught initially by Seumas MacNeill and later Donald MacLeod.

Known as a great scholar of piobaireachd, while living in Lairg he got many tunes from Angus MacPherson and was a great friend of Andrew MacNeill of Colonsay, thus giving him aspects of both Cameron and MacPherson styles. He stopped competing after winning the Gold Medal in 1972, enabling him to concentate on his career in medicine in Fort William. He reorganized the Lochaber Pipe Band in the 1970s.

His approach as a judge was to know and to be able to play the set tunes himself, criteria which he felt was essential to judge at the highest level. He taught the notable pipers Johndon Mackenzie and Leslie Hutt. He was known as a thorough and meticulous tutor, keen to pass on his knowledge of the styles and prepared to look at tunes afresh. He would listen to the music of the piobaireachd and emphasize the need for the bigger picture, the whole tune not a series of variations.

MacAskill was also a keen football fan, and was involved with the Fort William, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and the Scotland international teams, travelling throughout Europe and often astounding his charges by acquiring a set of pipes and showing his virtuoisty. He still appears in footage of Inverness Caledonian Thistle celebrating their win against Celtic three years ago.

On behalf of pipers everywhere, we extend our condolences to Dr. John MacAskill’s family and friends.

– Information provided by Leslie Hutt, Fort William

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