November 01, 2021

Carnoustie’s Katie Robertson overcomes challenges to kickstart a piping life

Katie Robertson

The Highland pipes are among the most physically demanding of instruments, but Katie Robertson has overcome scoliosis and arthritis to get on her way to winning prizes in competition after only five months on the full pipes.

She just took a first- and a second-prize at the National Mod competitions, only a week before undergoing major spinal surgery to alleviate her condition.

Her first thought when scheduling the surgery was being able to get the contest in first.

“I have always loved the bagpipes and started learning the chanter at school,” Robertson said. “After about a year I was ready to progress to the pipes, however, I couldn’t progress in school due to Covid, as blowing instruments were not allowed, but I was desperate to progress as I knew I had major spinal surgery coming up and I wouldn’t be able to blow until a while after as recovery would be long.”

Playing from her wheelchair, she has adapted her own fingering, enabling her to play at a high standard.

“A music teacher had concerns that I would not manage to play the pipes because I couldn’t manage them, despite playing other blowing instruments, especially because I’m sitting down,” she added. “Furthermore, I have chronic pain, so I learned to play with my hands reversed as I cannot use my right index finger, I have arthritis in multiple joints in my fingers, too.”

On her top hand, she doesn’t use her index finger, but moves up the other three, including her little finger to cover the F, E and D holes.

A few days later he messaged my mum saying he’d found me pipes. He has been giving me lessons ever since and piping is my life!

In nearby Dundee Katie Robertson’s piping life changed when she encountered busker Liam Eaton playing the pipes. She struck up a conversation, and Eaton promised he’d find her a set of pipes.

“A few days later he messaged my mum saying he’d found me pipes. He has been giving me lessons ever since and piping is my life!”

X-rays of Katie Robertson’s spine before (left) and after the operation to alleviate her scoliosis condition.

Her surgery was successful, and her recovery time will be long but, again, her first thought is piping.

“The surgery I had was to straighten my back . . . meaning that once I’m recovered I shall have more room to get air in my lungs to pipe, which is my priority, of course.”

While convalescing, she’s committing time to learning new tunes, even tapping out the notes on the rail of her hospital bed.

“I am using my time wisely to learn even more tunes, so when I go out busking again I will hopefully impress the audience with some exciting new stuff!”

Now a member of the Dundee City Pipe band, Katie Robertson has clearly caught the competitive piping bug, and her success at The Mod has motivated her further. “When I received the results I couldn’t believe it and thought I was dreaming!”

Robertson is active on social media, and her Katie Thewheeledpiper page on Facebook has attracted a worldwide following and the local and national mainstream media have covered her story.

Katie Robertson’s story is one of perseverance and commitment, and pipes|drums salutes her for her indomitable determination.



G1 helps to put Grade 1 piper back on the pipes
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  1. I listened to Katie’s National Mod presentation on YouTube and was simply blown away. She’s so good and a birl to die for to boot. Now knowing her physical limitations makes her playing all the more remarkable. What a special person and inspiration – You Go Girl!



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