Published: May 09, 2021

Through howling drones, chanter squeaks and sideways rain: Happy Mother’s Day

A special piece for all the pipers and drummers around the world who honour their mother this Mother’s Day.

By Meaghan Lyons

Figure skating, step dancing, swimming, piano . . . my mother Anne drove me to and from weekly lessons in all from the age of four, giving (sometimes dragging me to) every chance to become more than medium-sh*tty at something, to find my perch upon which I could shine.

Figure skating, step dancing, swimming, piano . . .

By the time I had reached my early teens, I had managed to shake off almost all of Mom’s attempts to give me a skill. A move from purely solo dancing to joining the famed MacCulloch Dancers lasted less than a year, with me unable to pick up the troupe’s dance numbers on the fly and just flailing around the various formations looking lost and hopeless.

Mom’s aspirations for me as a concert pianist crashed and burned soon after when I locked myself in the bathroom one Wednesday night in defiance and refusing to attend even one more piano lesson (WHY CAN’T I JUST PLAY BRYAN ADAMS SONGS?!). Mom exasperatingly called the piano teacher to cancel my lessons and no doubt any future hope of me acquiring a talent.

It was not long after, one early autumn Saturday morning as I dragged myself downstairs for breakfast, that Mom uttered the words that forever changed the direction of both our lives. She sipped her coffee as she rhythmically turned through the pages of a local newspaper when she stopped, hovered a moment too long over a corner of one page, and I braced myself for what fresh hell of lessons I was about to be signed up to.

Meaghan’s mom trying not to pay no nevermind to a traditional bonfire in Northern Ireland.

“I see a new term of lessons is about to start at the Maxville School of Piping & Drumming,” she said without looking up. “Do you think you would like to learn to play the bagpipes?”

I thought of the thousands of pipers we watched with awe every year at the Glengarry Highland Games, always somehow “other,” even though right in front of me.

A bolt of excitement shot through me. I thought of the thousands of pipers we watched with awe every year at the Glengarry Highland Games, always somehow “other,” even though right in front of me. Finally, lessons for something that I thought was totally cool . . .

“Mmm, sure,” I muttered, 13-year-old speak for “HELL YEAH!”

Anne Stewart, Glengarry Highland Games suprema.

Mom bought me a chanter signed me up for Saturday classes in Maxville. Simultaneously I joined the local army cadet corps, part of a highland regiment, having heard they issued you with a set of pipes once you got good enough. Lucky Mom’s Saturday mornings were now spent dragging (shouting) my backside out of bed, rushing me to lessons in Maxville, then rushing me home to do my hair in a bun and get my uniform on for an afternoon of cadeting.

After a few months, I was issued my set of pipes and signed up for cadet pipe band summer camp in Whitehorse, Yukon. I thanked Mom for her unwavering support by being unexpectedly and terrifyingly homesick, repeatedly calling in tears for her to calm me down and talk me into staying put. The same happened the following summer at band camp in Banff, Alberta. Mom visited me for a weekend both summers, and I, eternally grateful, jigged and squirmed to get back to my campmates as soon as possible.

Meaghan Lyons’s mum, Anne Stewart, taking in the coast of Northern Ireland.

Little did Mom know when she signed me up for those first lessons that it would set a course for me to move further and further away from home steadily. My last summer before university was committed to travelling Ontario to compete at various hot and thirsty Highland games. Summers during university were spent living in Kingston, Ontario, playing with the Rob Roy Pipe Band, working at Fort Henry as a bagpiper and member of the performing Guard. After that, a brief stop-off in Ottawa before relocating to the Greater Toronto Area and the Hamilton Police Pipe Band. After meeting the lucky fella at the Lord Todd Bar in Glasgow who became my husband, the most recent move was to park my pipes in Northern Ireland the last decade or so.

Mom has been my cheerleader the whole way, always coming to watch whatever exciting (debatable) and fresh (repetitive) performance I was giving in scenic (either hellfire-hot or freeze-your-a**-off cold) locations in Canada and the UK and Ireland.

Mom has been my cheerleader the whole way, always coming to watch whatever exciting (debatable) and fresh (repetitive) performance I was giving in scenic (either hellfire-hot or freeze-your-a**-off cold) locations in Canada and the UK and Ireland. To make her own mark on the piping world and be involved in something I loved (because it’s always about me), she has spent the last 20 years as a director of the Glengarry Highland Games, first taking the reins of its Patrons Program and then serving as President in recent years.

Anne Stewart with Bill Livingstone, far left, and some interloper . . . Canadian Prime-Minister Justin Trudeau.

In 2017, in a particularly poignant moment for me, I was lucky enough to be able to get home and pipe my mom, as President and the head table into the annual Tartan Ball that kicks off the Glengarry Highland Games celebrations. I was so proud of Mom and glad I could make her proud of me, too.

Happy Mother’s Day to my lovely mom, Anne, and all the other wonderful mums who have been there for their kids through howling drones, chanter squeaks and sideways rain.

Meaghan Lyons is from Maxville, Ontario, and learned piping with the Grade 2 Glengarry Pipe Band organization. She has also played with the Grade 2 Hamilton Police and the Grade 1 Bleary & District in Northern Ireland, where she lives. She is a communications and marketing professional.

 


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