Roderick “Roddy” MacDonald, one of the most important figures in the evolution of piping and drumming in the United States, died after an illness on October 23, 2012, in Sarasota, Florida. His was a life of a rare all-rounder whose career spanned solo piping, pipe bands, pipe-majoring, teaching, adjudicating, composing, publishing, political administration and organizing.
Born April 20, 1941, in Dunoon, Scotland, MacDonald made a mark first in the United Kingdom. He began piping at age nine, originally taught by Neil Henderson, a nephew of the legendary John McLellan of Dunoon. After completing his national service with the 8th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in the 1960s, he joined the legendary Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band under Pipe-Major Donald Shaw Ramsay. During Invergordon’s fleeting years of success, the band won every championship except the World’s before the group of all-star players essentially imploded after sponsorship ceased.
Roddy MacDonald immigrated to the United States in 1967, settling first in Massachusetts and then in Wilmington, Delaware. He was pipe-major of the City of Wilmington Pipe Band, which rose to international success in Grade 2 with former Invergordon Distillery drummer Kit Reynolds of Northern Ireland in the leading-drummer post. MacDonald had convinced Reynolds to immigrate to the United States as well. The band won Grade 2 at the North American Championships at Maxville, Ontario, in 1968 and ’69, where MacDonald also in both years won the aggregate professional solo piping prize.
MacDonald competed in solo competition until the 1980s when a nerve problem in his right hand caused him to retire.
He was also a successful composer, authoring the reel “Calum Ian” and other well-played tunes. He published The GrandAltogether Collection of bagpipe music, named for the catch-phrase for which he was famous in an inimitably friendly and fun-loving style.
MacDonald was played an instrumental role in establishing the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association, of which he served as president from 1974-’75. He latterly served with the EUSPBA’s Music Board and was chairman of its Education Board, working to develop the organization’s “Progressive Certification Program,” its adjudication accreditation system, and a more sophisticated grading system for soloists, which is today used in almost every area of the world. Roddy MacDonald is credited with spearheading the branch system with the organization, which today is, by members and geography is by far the largest in the world.
He was a prodigious teacher, his most successful pupils being his son, Calum; Jim Stack of Pequannock, New Jersey; and Scot Walker of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In retirement, Roddy MacDonald moved to Florida and continued his teaching and political involvement, tirelessly working to establish high quality piping in the southern United States. He adjudicated bands and soloist regularly for nearly 50 years and, despite no rules prohibiting it, never judged his son or grandson in band or solo competition.
“My recollections of his band leadership are nothing but superlative,” said the well-known piper Al McMullin, who played under MacDonald in City of Wilmington. “He had a ‘golden ear’ well before the electronic tuner age. He taught the band that playing in a musical manner was accomplished by singing and phrasing. I will miss him greatly.”
Roddy MacDonald is survived by his wife, Gladys; son; Calum; and Liam, his grandson, a rapidly rising young piper in the Ontario solo scene.
On behalf of the piping and drumming community, we extend our condolences to Roddy MacDonald’s family and his many friends worldwide.