Published: March 24, 2021

Duncan Johnstone memory stays bright in April 10th broadcast

Duncan Johnstone with the 1964 SPA Knockout Trophy.

More than 21 years after his death, many younger pipers and drummers might know of the name Duncan Johnstone only through the annual solo piping competition for solo pipers with a B- or C-Grade from the Competing Pipers’ Association held each March at the National Piping Centre.

Johnstone, who died in 1999 at the age of 74, was in fact one of the leading lights in Highland piping for more than 50 years, celebrated for his light music dexterity, creative compositions and teaching.

Among his pupils were Roddy MacLeod and Finlay MacDonald, coincidentally, the former and current leaders, respectively, of the National Piping Centre, as well as the well-known piper, Dougie Pincock, who serves as Director of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music. Neil Dickie, who has lived in Canada since the late 1970s, was also taught by him, and the style of Dickie’s own compositions in some cases reflect that of his teacher.

With the cancellation of the competition for two straight years because of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization has produced “A Celebration of Duncan Johnstone and his Music, an evening of fantastic music and interviews with students of Duncan’s and fans of his music.”

The pay-per-view pre-recorded concert on April 10th at 19:00 GMT will feature piping performances from MacLeod and John Dew, the winner of the 2019 competition, as well as sets from Celtic folk musicians Marie Fielding, Donald Shaw, and Steve Byrne delivering ensemble performances of Johnstone’s versatile and popular compositions.

Pincock, a former member of Battlefield, delivered a performance from his home in Plockton, Scotland, and will also reflect on his memories of Johnstone.

Tickets to access the broadcast are £10, and access lasts until April 17th.

“We wanted to make sure that we continue to honour and celebrate Duncan’s contribution to the piping world,” MacDonald said in a statement. “This event showcases the depth and breadth of his music, but also gives us an opportunity to hear more about the man himself through those who had a personal connection to him and have been influenced by his body of work.”

Duncan Johnstone’s compiled three collections of his pipe music, and favoured writing and publishing in the jig and hornpipe idioms. Among his more popular compositions are the hornpipe “The Streaker” and “Farewell to Nigg,” a 3/4 march that was a remarkable exception to his penchant for faster tempos.

He served in World War II with the Submarine Surveillance Mine Sweeping Service in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. In 1964, he was the first winner of the Scottish Pipers’ Association Knockout Competition, pitted in the final against the great Donald MacLeod in what was an event for the ages. Starting in 1974, he taught at the now closed College of Piping for four years before starting his own school.

Duncan Johnstone was awarded the Balvenie Medal at the 1996 Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championships for his service to and accomplishments in piping.

 


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