September 30, 2008

Willie Connell, 1931-2008

The famous piper, pipe-maker, adjudicator and teacher Willie Connell died on September 10, 2008, after a long bout with cancer. He was 77.
Born in Glasgow to a non-piping family, Connell started the pipes at age 14, receiving tuition from David Panton, an acquaintance of his father. After only three months, Connell won his first amateur competition on the pipes and continued a sterling amateur career going head-to-head with, among others, John D. Burgess. Willie Connell is said to have been the only piper ever to beat Burgess in an amateur contest.
He is perhaps best known for his knowledge of piobaireachd, after studying ceol mor with the legendary Robert Reid, and for 14 years he received almost daily instruction from Reid while working as a turner at Reid’s bagpipe-making business on George Street in Glasgow.
Having never won the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal, Connell holds the distinction of winning the Clasp at the Northern Meeting when he captured the award in 1957 at a time when non-medlallists were allowed to compete due to low numbers after World War II. He also won the Strathspey & Reel at Inverness in 1958 and was runner-up in the Gold Medal several times.
In 1965 Willie Connell became Pipe-Major of the Milngavie Pipe Band, which he took to a Grade 2 victory at the 1966 World Championships. In 1968 Connell helped to resurrect the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band, and then later was persuaded by Leading-Drummer Joe Noble to take over the Grade 1 Renfrew Pipe Band.
In 1973 Connell immigrated to Canada, settling in London, Ontario. He quickly became one of the most recognized and respected judges on the Ontario circuit, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Pipers’ Society’s first ever judging examinations. SexeDate He contributed at various levels to the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario’s political side, serving most recently as Vice-President of the organization in 2005.
Willie Connell was a prolific teacher and, unlike many of Robert Reid’s pupils, shared his knowledge readily and happily. His more well known pupils include Bob Worrall and, more recently, Jacob Dicker.
A full-length interview with Willie Connell appeared in the Piper & Drummer magazine in 1996, and a shorter one was published in 1985.
On behalf of the world piping and drumming community, we extend our sympathy to Willie Connell’s friends and family at this sad time.
The funeral service will be at 11 am on Monday, September 15th, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Chapel, 1997 Dundas St E, London, Ontario. 519.455.9343


  1. This is a very sad day for the piping world, with immeasurable losses. My condolences to the Connell family. I had the fortune of receiving some tuition from Willie over the past few years, mostly through the exchange of cassettes. He was not quick to abandon the old mono player. I have spent hours and hours replaying these treasured recordings, listening to his unnecessary apologies for his crummy crunluaths”

  2. What a terrible day for news. Willie was the piping instructor of my first band back in 1987. He was an inspirational teacher and a fine gentleman with a gift for understatement. I remember my first pipe band practice, Willie was there and afterwards, being a bit intimidated, I approached him saying something along the lines of, Gee

  3. What a damned awful day for people. Willie Connell, Scott MacAulay – gone. Great people. But, hells bells, wouldn’t they both get a kick out of the timing – their timing! R I P you two! Michael Grey

  4. Having watch Jacob Dicker grow musically over the last 8 years is a legacy to Willie’s knowledge of the music. The Ontario piping scene was fortunate to have him in their presence. God speed.

  5. I always admired Willie’s courage. He was outspoken at times, and he wasn’t afraid to come out with unpopular opinions or go against the familiar and accepted. That came through in his judging. He wasn’t afraid to stick his neck out and give the prize to the newcomer or put an unfamiliar name in a list. I benefited from his intelligent courage in a big way in 1979, and will never forget it. If pressed to rank them, I would certainly place Willie Connell’s 1996 interview in the top five. Why? Because he was so refreshingly candid and knowledgeable. We met at his impressive home in London, both of us with trepidations about the other, but he made me feel totally welcome, and he settled into a two-hour free-flowing interview that was of the most enlightening and frank ever. I think Willie met his illness with the same courage. He wasn’t afraid of anything, and he kept on keeping on, as they say, in his trademark style. We are so much poorer without him, but so much richer having had him for 77 years.



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