April 10, 2024

Alistair Hanning, 1962-2024

Alistair Hanning

Alistair Hanning, the accomplished and popular piper from Wellington, New Zealand, died from cancer on April 9, 2024, in his sixty-second year.

From one of the country’s great family of pipers, he received instruction from his famous father, John, and later Ian McKay, Donald Bain and Lewis Turrell, when Hanning joined the Grade 1 City of Wellington, of which Turrell was pipe-major.

Alistair Hanning was pipe-sergeant of the band from 1980 to 1984, and joined the Grade 1 Wellington Police in 1986 where his father was musical director. The younger Hanning became pipe-major in 1990, quickly transforming the group into a New Zealand powerhouse by attracting many of the country’s best players and top-flight guest pipers from North America and Australia, rising to win the New Zealand Pipe Band Championship in 1992. The band would go on to win five more titles under his leadership.

The Wellington Police competed successfully at the World Championships from 1995 to 1999 with top-10 finishes when the entry in the top grade was more than double what it is today. Inspired by personal trips to North America, the Wellington Police toured the United States, resulting in Doing Time in America, comprising live recordings from the tour and in New Zealand.

The band innovated with adventurous new music and arrangements. It was probably the first in the world to have teams for particular tasks, including a Sound Committee and a Music Committee, delegating many responsibilities that typically fell solely on the pipe major’s shoulders.

In 2004, his career took him to Auckland and then Melbourne, Australia, causing him to leave the Wellington Police Pipe Band. He was the piping tutor for the Auckland Police Pipe Band for several years.

He was a successful composer and a frequent judge around the New Zealand circuit, including of many of the country’s top solo piping competitions.

Alistair “Al” Hanning was renowned for his quick wit, occasional irreverence, and love for all things piping and drumming.

A celebration of his life is scheduled for 2 p.m., April 13th, at St. John’s Church, 170 Willis St., Wellington. Pipers wishing to attend are encouraged to bring their pipes for a call of the pipes at 1:45 p.m.

We extend our sympathies to Alistair Hanning’s family and many friends at this difficult time.



  1. Really great article about Alistair Hanning. I had 4 years with him in the New Zealand Police in the “Sound Committee”. He was incredibly kind, respectful, competitive and crazy innovative – with tunes, arrangements and was willing to “see what if”. He chose a tune I wrote for my daughter for the medley opener (the Sabattical) and he told me how much he enjoyed playing it. I remember my first trip to Wellington – he showed me his “Hoover” that he had rigged to use to blow in the “gut buster” MacAllister chanter reeds the pipers needed to play. He had a chanter that fit the hose, picked a reed, gave it a lick and turned on the machine and stuck the chanter between the mattress (of the bed I would be sleeping on later) and it sounded like someone screaming… We left the house to do some shopping, sight seeing or dinner – came back home and repeated things until they were all “broken in”. He was so proud of that set up. Saved him the job of blowing them in himself.
    His presence in the world will be missed – for sure though, the level of music on “the other side of the veil” has risen a lot.
    Blessings to Alistair and to his dear family.



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