February 28, 2010

Updated: Kenneth MacDonald, 1938-2010

The Glasgow piping community lost a wonderful player and teacher of the pipes with the death on the 25th of February 2010 of Kenny MacDonald.


Kenny MacDonald won both Gold Medals and was a musician of the highest calibre who held the unique record of winning both medals with the longest known piobaireachd, “Donald Gruamach’s March.” His other major first-prizes include, at the Argyllshire Gathering, the Strathspey & Reel (1971) and the Former Winners MSR, and, at the Northern Meeting, the Strathspey & Reel (1962).

Kenny MacDonald was born on December 11th in Glasgow in 1938 in the same year that his pipes were made and in which his teacher and mentor Roderick MacDonald (Ruairidh Roidein) won his Gold Medal for piobaireachd. He lived in Battlefield for most of his life, but had strong family roots in Tiree.


Kenny’s parents were from Tiree and his other family members still reside there. Kenny’s father was a sea captain and his decision to move the family to Glasgow enabled him to see his family and a young Kenny in between trips. Kenny’s father was a piper as were many of his relatives in Tiree where the pipes were still aurally learned. His great grand-uncle, Pipe-Major John MacDonald of Tiree, was Pipe-Major of the Camerons in the late nineteenth century and the composer of “The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar.” The other outstanding piper in his family was Kenny’s uncle, Peter MacFarquar, who was his first teacher.


Kenny began the pipes at the age of nine, and at 13 was introduced to the tuition of Roddy MacDonald in Gardiner Street in Partick, who he continued to visit for the next 25 years.


He won his first Gold Medal at Oban in 1959 and his second in 1963. He also was an occasional composer, writing tunes such as “Jimmy Boyce’s Fancy” and the tune “Angela MacEachern” published in Donald MacLeod’s Book 4.


His bagpipes were unique and one of only four sets made by Henderson’s for the famous World’s Fair in 1938 at Bellahouston Park. They were very finely turned and had solid silver mounts, and as such were extremely heavy to shoulder.


He recorded a solo piping album in the 1980s, The Sound of Kintail, while he was working for Kintail bagpipe makers.


Kenny played in various bands, notably with the Glasgow Transport, and most successfully with the Glasgow Skye Pipe Band under Pipe-Major Jimmy MacLeod whom he rated extremely highly. He was also the Tiree Association piper for many years, handing over to Donald Campbell in 1991.


Kenny was an active teacher, and his pupils include Anne Johnstone (nee Sinclair), Kenny MacLeod, Donald Campbell, Derrick Hunter, David Morgan, Craig Sked and Simon McKerrell. For many years he taught the Glasgow Academy pipe band where he will be sadly missed. As a teacher, my particular memories of Kenny focus around his insistence on musical phrasing in piobaireachd and his delight in the social aspects of piping. He leaves behind Mary and son Ruairidh, and our sincere condolences go out to them.


The funeral will be on March 5th at 10 am at Queen’s Park Baptist Church, Campbhill Avenue,  Glasgow.

– contributed by Simon McKerrell




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