Apart from the music itself, there is a common thread that runs through the piping and drumming world: the generosity and kindness of those in it.
Former Grade 1 Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia member Andrew Shilliday suffers from a systemic sclerosis, an autoimmune disease of the connective tissue.
The Dungannon, Northern Ireland-born piper has studied piping at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, finishing his degree in 2009, leading to him becoming bagpipe instructor for the Highland Council covering the Wester Ross region of Scotland.
Diagnosed with the disease in 2012, as part of his treatment he eventually faced the amputation of most of his fingers and part of his legs. He had to learn to walk again, and, through his sheer persistence and determination, regained his ability to play pipe music, developing an electronic chanter with holes in different positions to accommodate his amputated fingers.
But playing the full Highland pipes was an additional challenge due to the positioning of the holes on the regular pipe chanter.
John Elliott, owner of G1 Reeds in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, and a member now of Grade 1 Inveraray & District, used to play with Shilliday in Shotts. So, to help Shilliday get back on the full pipes, he developed a customized chanter for him, tuned with specially positioned holes to accommodate Shilliday’s hands.
Through continued practice and even more determination, Shilliday is back playing the full Highland pipes and will travel to the Fife region of Scotland to perform at a concert with Grade 4A Kirkcaldy & District. While in Fife, Elliott and Shilliday will work together to make further adjustments to the chanter.
“It’s been five years since I’ve blown a set of pipes, so it has taking a wee while getting the stamina back,” Shilliday said to pipes|drums. “The chanter John made to suit my fingers is awesome. I had no idea it was possible. The chanter feels good and sounds great. I’m so thankful to John and all he is doing. I’m over the moon.”
Andrew Shilliday played with Shotts & Dykehead in the 2000s, including when the band travelled to Florida to perform in a concert in 2009. The band played several of Shilliday’s compositions.
Disclosure: G1 Reeds is an advertiser with pipes|drums.