February 29, 2012

Sandy Keith, 1937-2012

Alexander “Sandy” Keith, the popular and accomplished piper, teacher and leader, died on the evening of February 1, 2012 at the age of 74. A native of Paisley, Scotland and a pupil of the great Peter MacLeod Sr., Keith made his mark in piping after he immigrated to Canada in 1952, and subsequently to the United States to settle in Dunedin, Florida, where he became synonymous with the southern U.S. piping scene and the highly successful Dunedin High School piping and drumming program.

He started piping at age 11 as one of the earliest students at the College of Piping. He had early instruction from College of Piping co-founder Seumas MacNeill, and received additional tuition from college instructors such as Bob Hardie, John Garroway and Archie MacNeill, the famous blind piper.

Sandy Keith moved to Canada at age 17, settling in Hamilton, Ontario, to work in the then-thriving steel industry. He sought ought instruction from Major Archie Cairns, and went on to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.

In Ontario he was best known for his success as Pipe-Major of the Erskine Pipe Band, taking it from struggling in Grade 3 to a Grade 1 contender. Several famous pipers played in Erskine under Sandy Keith, including the late Scott MacAulay, John Recknagel  and Ian Whitelaw.

In 1982 Keith was recruited to take over the piping and drumming program in Dunedin, Florida. As Piping Director, he oversaw the growth of the operation, building it to comprise three bands, the best of which rose to a high-standard Grade 2 band, placing well at the North American Championships and at the World Championships in Scotland. He taught hundreds of pipers, many of whom have gone on to teach many of their own pupils.

Keith was always involved with piping and drumming associations, whether in Ontario or the United States. He was President of the Southern United States Pipe Band Association for many years, and worked to establish that organization’s adjudication panel and accreditation system. He was a frequent judge in the United States and Ontario scenes until his final year.

He was the organizer of the very successful Dunedin Highland Games, and annual event that attracted most of the bands and soloists in the southern U.S. His network of friends comprised the who’s who of piping and drumming.

“Sandy Keith put Florida piping and pipe bands on the world map,” said Robert Mathieson, a long-time friend of Sandy Keith. “In terms of teaching he had a very original style that produced good pipers year after year. I will remember him as a friend, good judge and tutor. The state of Florida, and Dunedin in particular, owe it to Sandy to keep piping and the pipe band movement  moving forward.  His legacy is that he has left the foundations for this to happen.  He will be sadly missed, and our thoughts are with Mary and the family at this very sad time.”


Renowned for his no-nonsense, at times even  gruff, exterior, those who knew Sandy Keith knew a warm and friendly man, always ready with a quip or joke.

Details of the funeral are to be determined.

On behalf of the piping and drumming world, we extend our sympathies to Sandy Keith’s survivors and his many friends around the world.


  1. My Dad piped first with Sandy in the Air Force Band at Trenton in the early 60’s. When he asked Sandy if he would give lessons to his daughter, Sandy replied that no, he would not as it would be a waste of his time and talent as girls grew up and did not have time for piping. My Dad asked Sandy if he knew who had taught Willie Ross. no” “His mother” “OK

  2. Dunedin carries a heavy heart today. As a male member of his school bands and the City Band, my memory will always have a little salt and vinegar mixed with the sweetness of success and the laughs. What he provided for so many of us was an exceptional life style. All the traveling I’ve done the friends I have and the music I have is all owed to him. A few people have married fellow band members and yet it was pointed out to me today, that it’s quite possible that we also made an impression in his life too. I hope so and its with this support from all over the world this morning that I can smile and remember fondly the life of Mr. Keith””

  3. Very sad news indeed. I am a graduate of Dunedin high school and played under Sandy in both the school and city bands – a good teacher and a better Pipe Major. I remember as a wee boy listening to his Erskine band up in Ontario and became friendly with his son Donald and that’s when I first met Sandy. My Dad and Sandy were friends and competed against one another when he first moved to Ontario.Sandy was very quick witted and was definitely his own man. I am saddened today at this news because Sandy was an influence in piping career . My sincere condolences to Mary, Donald , and Heather.

  4. Great guy, and Lily and I loved him. Gruff exterior, and warmhearted under it all. Took him a long time to know how to deal with Lily’s affectionate hugs when we’d meet. He did finally get used to it. I met him when I was about 14 when Sandy came to Sudbury. There was a ceilidh and I played, and was terrified as he was one of the very best of the up and comers from Scotland. Funny how much older he seemed to be. But I was just a kid and he was a young man. He had a big hand in grooming a lot of Ontario pipers most especially Scott MacAulay. Be sad to see The Captain and Nat Russell at the Todd Bar without Sandy completing the trio. Probably one of the most well liked and genuine characters in the world of piping and pipe bands. To Mary, know that he was well loved, and leaves behind great memories for those who knew him.

  5. I did not know this man intimately. However, he taught me music theory of the bagpipe starting with the downbeat in the Ohio Scottish Arts School. This man is a great who influenced many. Cheers!

  6. Sandy Keith’s passing will leave I gigantic rupture in Florida piping. He was an ardent teacher, worker at the schools, and taught individuals at home. He was a Pipe Major who strived for excellence in every way, and his bands, and I say bands in the plural, always performed very well considering the length of time he had to spend with them. He was a fine administrator and the Dunedin Tattoo, and Games are examples of his talents. You could tell his students because they had good solid sound, and that they were taught extremely well. He was not always the most diplomatic of individuals, but his motives were always excellence. I was fortunate to have a very fine conversation with Sandy this year at Orlando Highland Games. We reminisced about many old friends, and related many stories that only a handful of pipers and Pipe Majors would remember. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Sandy gave great service to piping in Florida, and the Dunedin Community. To Mary and family, our deepest sympathy. Reay Mackay

  7. I was very sad to hear the news of Sandy’s passing. Sandy was a one-off. He was one of those few individuals who told it like it was…….you trusted his view because it was from the heart. I used to love that Sandy would come by the International Adjudicator sessions in Glasgow before the Worlds and provide the group with his opinions and experience. It was fun and I will really miss his presence at these sessions. Thanks for making me smile Sandy.



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