When band members, soloists or judges get into high dudgeon, personal grievances in piping and drumming have a knack of being treated as if they were end-of-the-world issues. These affairs are occasionally of interest as curiosities to tabloids that exploit the quirkiness of the piping and drumming world as seen by outsiders.
pipes|drums tends to avoid stories better suited for the mainstream press, such as stereotypical tongue-in-cheek pieces on bagpipes and hearing loss, or a quasi-invented disease like “Bagpipe Lung,” and, most recently, a dispute between piping judge Barry Donaldson; the Glasgow College of Piping; and the famous piper, judge and association leader Colin MacLellan, recently reported on by the Scottish Daily Mail tabloid newspaper.
Some in the piping and drumming world outside of the Scottish scene might not be familiar with Donaldson. As a piper, he played with several bands in the 1970s and ’80s, including the now-defunct Grade 2 Monktonhall and the Grade 1 Strathclyde Police (now Glasgow Police) under Pipe-Major Iain MacLellan. He served as pipe-major of the City of Edinburgh Pipe Band for several years before leaving after the 2016 season. Donaldson also competed for several years in top-tier solo light music competitions
, including the Former Winners March, Strathspey & Reel at the Northern Meeting. His greatest success was winning the Jigs at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1993. He is a retired Strathclyde Police inspector.
The gist of the dispute is that Donaldson was upset when he learned that the Glasgow College of Piping would not accept him as a teacher at a College of Piping-endorsed summer school in Lohheide, Germany. Though the school had had College of Piping endorsement, it is not organized by the College, but by a small group of pipers in Germany.
The organizers proactively invited Donaldson to teach at their school, reportedly without consulting the College of Piping. When MacLellan, the College’s then Director of Piping, was made aware that Donaldson had been invited, he informed the school that it would lose the endorsement of the College unless they withdrew the offer. The school elected to keep Donaldson on its staff, and the College withdrew its endorsement, although Donaldson contends that their withdrawal had nothing to do with him teaching. The Lohheide school went ahead independently with Donaldson, Robert Wallace, Brian Lamond, Jim Semple and others doing the teaching.
“The reasons why the College pulled out of Lohheide has [sic] absolutely nothing to do with my suitability, that’s on record,” Donaldson said when asked to comment. “It was to do with the difficulty the College had in providing for two German schools scheduled months apart (Homburg which is CoP school and Lohheide which is an independent school). The main concern was that the Lohheide School was in competition with Homburg and the [College of Piping] Board wanted to pull out of Lohheide for these reasons (all on record). The Director of Piping [MacLellan] was tasked with resolving this and for whatever reason, chose to use me as the scapegoat and thereafter referenced me in various communications in the manner in which he did.”
According to published statements by Donaldson, he was not provided with a reason for the College not accepting him, but, according to MacLellan, Donaldson also never asked.
Donaldson also complained to the Solo Piping Judges Association, of which he and MacLellan are members, inferring that SPJA members must always respect each other, inferring that he was disrespected by MacLellan. The organization rejected Donaldson’s request for action, contending that the matter had nothing to do with judging and was not within its remit as an organization.
This evidently did not sit well with Barry Donaldson, who then sent an email to the approximately 60 members of the SPJA, obtained by pipes|drums, saying, “I consider much of what has transpired as suspicious and questionable . . . In all these circumstances, I deem any decision incompetent.”
Donaldson remains a member of the SPJA as a light music judge.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that MacLellan was elected Chair of the SPJA in a vote of 16-1 by members attending the organization’s annual general meeting in November. MacLellan said that he recused himself from the SPJA’s decision regarding Donaldson’s complaint.
before after MacLellan left the College of Piping, the organization published an apology to Donaldson. Despite media reports that MacLellan’s decision to leave the College was based on or in part the Donaldson matter, MacLellan maintains that his resignation had nothing to do with the College’s apology, and that he was not aware of it until weeks after he left.
According to his summary, MacLellan reached out to Donaldson with an offer to explain the reasons for Donaldson not being endorsed by the College of Piping. The two were to meet face-to-face in Edinburgh on January 3, 2018, but, according to MacLellan, Donaldson did not appear after MacLellan waited an hour for him.
MacLellan shortly after published a summary of the matter on his website.
With written permission to pipes|drums to use any or all of the copyright material, MacLellan meticulously outlined his side of the story . . .