Quietly, confidently, Hugh MacCallum was a dominant force in world solo piping for over 25 years from the 1960s to the 1980s. While some pipers seem to attract attention to themselves through their actions, others draw tacit admiration through their playing, and Hugh MacCallum emerged from a prodigious career on the boards with many friends and much admiration from the piping world.
His competition history is staggeringly good: both Highland Society of London Gold Medals (Inverness 1967, “Donald Duaghal MacKay”; Oban 1972, “In Praise of Morag”); four Clasps at Inverness (1972, “MacNeill of Barra’s March”; 1974, “Nameless – Cherede Darievea”; 1977, “Port Urlar”; and 1986 with “Nameless – Cherede Darievea” again); the Senior Piobaireachd at the Argyllshire Gathering six times; six Silver Chanters at Dunvegan, Skye; six Clasps at Portree, Skye; a Grant’s Championship in 1978; two Gold Banners for March, Strathspey & Reel playing at the National Mod; the Former Winners MSRs at Oban and Inverness a total of five times; and the Former Winners MSR at London twice.
Indeed, Hugh MacCallum quietly established himself as perhaps the most consistent winner of prizes during his tenure on the boards, and his 14 consecutive invitations and appearances at the Grant’s / Glenfiddich Invitational at Blair Atholl is matched only by the equally great Iain MacFadyen.
Born in Campbeltown, Argyll, in 1942, Hugh MacCallum was raised in a rich tradition of family piping. His father and grandfather were both pipers, as was his cousin, the renowned Pipe major Ronnie MacCallum of the 8th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. His nephew, Willie McCallum, carries on the family tradition with his own tremendous success currently on the solo boards.
He received instruction from several sources, including John MacKenzie, Ronnie MacCallum, Willie Ross, and Captain John A. MacLellan, but never adhered to a strict style or mode of piobaireachd interpretation. While others may have occasionally pandered to judges’ perceived musical tastes, Hugh MacCallum maintains he always did his own thing in competition, proving that piobaireachd competitions need not always be won by catering to the tastes of others.
His performance of “Nameless – Cherede Darievea” to win the Clasp at the Northern Meeting in 1986 is legendary. One of the final competitors of the contest, his complete command of the 20-minute epic piece held the packed Eden Court Theatre in rapt silence. When he finished there was a brief few seconds of silence before the hall broke into thunderous applause. There was no question to any in the audience that MacCallum had achieved yet another top prize.
Since his retirement from solo competition in the late 1980s, MacCallum has remained very active in the piping world, teaching, occasionally judging, composing, and, most importantly, playing at the many recitals to which he is regularly asked to perform.
A thoughtful and relatively soft-spoken man, Hugh MacCallum lives in Dunblane, Scotland, and works as a part-time financial advisor after a long career as an accountant. He chooses his words selectively, true to his nature as one who always let his playing do most of the talking.
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