June 20, 2020

Grand all together! A salute to piping and drumming fathers worldwide

Gordon and Tom Brown: a legendary son and father team.

It’s good fortune that June 21st is one of the longest days of the year. There are a lot of dads to celebrate and honour as it’s also Father’s Day around the world.

We paid homage to prominent piping and drumming moms of notable pipers and drummers last month for Mother’s Day. Now it’s the dads’ turn.

“My dad over the years has been more than just a father,” says Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Lead-Drummer Gordon Brown, whose father, Tom, is also one of the all-time legends of the art. “Yes, he is a dad first, but he’s also my drum teacher, my drumming coach, my lead-drummer, my inspiration and, more importantly, my friend.”

The father and son Browns are united in drumming. Both have earned a multitude of pipe band drumming championships of the years, Gordon has won the World Solo Drumming Championship, and, together, they own and operate TG Drumming, a hub for teaching and equipment.

“Whether it is advice with the drum corps or maybe just about teaching and coaching, he is always there if I need to chat.” – Gordon Brown

Emily and John Gaudet, celebrating success with the Toronto Police.

“I have learned so much from him since I started my drumming journey,” the younger Brown continues. “From him teaching me how to hold my first pair of sticks through to winning the first World Drum Corps title under his leadership. His support, guidance, and advice when I took over as lead-drummer of the corps, learning teaching and coaching skills from him. Whether it is advice with the drum corps or maybe just about teaching and coaching, he is always there if I need to chat.”

Similar words might have come from any of the Brown clan. Elle Brown, Melissa Brown, and Rebecca Brown are each also part of the drumming family, each with the massively successful Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia operation, and each indebted to the patriarch, Tom.

Four thousand miles away, Emily Gaudet, a tenor drummer who has played for many years with the Grade 1 Toronto Police, looks to her dad, John, as an inspiration. Originally from New Brunswick and now living in the Toronto area, John Gaudet has dedicated much of his life to pipe band drumming.

“My dad has been the biggest influence on my pipe band drumming career through and through,” Emily says. “I’m very lucky to have grown up in a pipe band family, with an accomplished bagpiper for a mother, and an accomplished side drummer for a father. Both of my parents’ fathers played in a pipe band together, and my mum later became the pipe-major of the Grade 2 Jervis Bay Memorial out east with my dad as lead-drummer.”

Indeed, Emily Gaudet could well have been part of our Mother’s Day feature. Lori Gaudet has a similar litany of commitment and experience in piping at the top level.

“He leads with positivity, he teaches with a kind heart and always believes in the folks in his corps.” – Emily Gaudet

“I grew up hearing a lot of great stories about them teaching together, and a lot of good stories about my grandfathers as well,” their daughter continues. “I learned the most from my dad by watching how he runs his drum corps. He leads with positivity, he teaches with a kind heart and always believes in the folks in his corps. I always watched him root for the guy who’s maybe struggling the most, and he would spend extra time working with that person at the dinner table with my mum close by to hum some tunes or get her chanter out to help too. That was moving for me because he wanted everyone to play, but he wanted them to be ready, so he would show up early to practice, stay late, meet for extra lessons, and so on. I watched him mentor people who would later follow him to any band he was in because of how he runs things. And the best part was, he got great results. To put it simply, he taught me how it is to be a team player, how to encourage those around you, how to accept help, to pass knowledge on, and how positivity is contagious and makes everyone want to work hard.”

Margaret Dunn is one of the world’s most recognized pipers. A teacher with the National Piping Centre for more than a decade, she has won tons of prizes in solo piping, including the Silver Medal and A-Grade Strathspey & Reel at the Argyllshire Gathering in 2003, and the Strachan Cup at London in 2000. Her father, Con Houlihan, is a legend in his own right in Margaret’s native Ireland.

“My father is the main reason that I started piping,” she says. “When I was growing up he was, and still is, the pipe-major of the local village pipe band in Cullen, Co. Cork. He encouraged my siblings and me to learn to play the pipes, and I was taken along to the local pipe band to learn the chanter when I was nine years old.”

“He has dedicated over 40 years to teaching youngsters in the community and as the pipe-major of Cullen.” – Margaret Dunn

As a professional teacher now, Margaret Dunn credits her father for stressing the importance of good teaching, mainly because he wasn’t provided with much when he was younger.

Margaret Dunn and Con Houlihan.

“My father didn’t receive good tuition when he was young,” she continues. “When he became pipe-major of the band, he made sure that any young person who joined the band received good tuition and learned correctly, whether they were a piper or drummer. He has dedicated over 40 years to teaching youngsters in the community and as the pipe-major of Cullen. Latterly, it has been nice that he has dedicated some time to his solo playing and is a regular competitor in the Grade 1 CLASP.”

Calum MacDonald has piping coursing through his veins, and it comes from his father’s heart. Originally from Dunoon, Scotland, Roderick “Roddy” MacDonald was a piper with the fabled Grade 1 Invergordon Distillery in the 1960s, one of the few players selected by Pipe-Major Donald Shaw Ramsay to make up an all-star pipe section.

Roddy MacDonald would immigrate to the eastern United States in the late-1960s. There he would be one of the founders of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association, now the world’s biggest piping and drumming organization by direct members and geography. For four decades, he was in many ways the face of US piping and drumming.

Calum MacDonald has had a long and successful career as a piper. He’s won many solo prizes in North America. After moving from his native Delaware to Ontario, he played with top bands like the 78th Fraser Highlanders and was pipe-major of the Grade 3 Grand Celtic. He now serves as a judge with the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario and has proudly played his father’s 19th century Duncan MacDougall drones since his dad stopped competing.

“My dad lived life to the fullest,” Calum says. “He was a very social person, a hoot to be around but, most importantly, a good father and grandfather. When it came to music, his knowledge and competitive abilities were incredible, probably cut a little too short due to his involvement in the EUSPBA.”

“My dad lived life to the fullest. He was a very social person, a hoot to be around but, most importantly, a good father and grandfather.” – Calum MacDonald

The MacDonald piping blood has coursed further, with Calum’s son Liam now an ascending solo piping star, continuing the family tradition.

“Liam and I were very lucky to have had the privilege of having a master teacher in the same house, down the road and finally a phone call away. He would drop whatever he was doing to hear a tune, make stern comments, critiques and be very excited to hear it again and again and again. It didn’t matter what games/workshops/social gatherings we would go to; Roddy had his entertainment with him in either me or Liam. A few people, a wee dram, some good piping and ‘it was grand altogether’ – his beloved saying.”

A raconteur through and through, Roddy MacDonald loved a good song and a good piobaireachd.

The late Roddy MacDonald, son Calum, and grandson Liam in the 2000s.

“He was quite the all-around piper,” Calum adds. “His passion was piobaireachd, and was he ever an inspiration for both Liam and me. A student of Donald MacLeod and a few others along the way gave him a terrific knowledge of the classical music that he would share with anyone who would sit and talk to him. Funny thing, when bedtime would come, most people would have a book read or a lullaby sung to them. Not me, I got piobaireachd every night, and with the singing sound off those Duncan MacDougall drones – a beautifully phrased tune with solid technique. It was hard to stay awake past the urlar. Sláinte, pop.”

In terms of solo piping success, there’s probably no more significant father-son combination than that of Tom and Iain Speirs of Edinburgh. Each Speirs won both Highland Society of London Gold Medals and the Clasp. Both have been regular competitors at the Glenfiddich Championships. Both are all-round great guys.

“Put simply, without him and my grandfather, I wouldn’t be a piper, and everything I do or strive to do is down to the example they have set.” – Iain Speirs

The Speirs legacy of pipers now spans four generations. Including Iain Speirs’ brother, Gregor, a gifted piper in his own right, Tom Speirs’ father, John “Jock” Speirs, was accomplished and celebrated in the piping world from the 1930s until his passing in 1990. Today, Iain Speirs’ son, John – named after his grandfather – carries on the family tradition as a young piper in the George Heriots School program in Edinburgh.

Tom Speirs (left) with sons Iain and Gregor, and the late Jock Speirs, c. 1975.

“My dad’s love for piping is infectious,” Iain Speirs says. “He caught it from his dad, and neither could talk about anything else. Most impressive to me, my dad’s commitment to piping has gone far beyond playing. In his career as a banker, he would often organize sponsorship for piping events, and numerous pipers can thank him (or not!) for getting jobs in the bank. He also served for many years as treasurer for different societies, and it would be impossible to count all the people, particularly overseas players and enthusiasts, that he invited to the house for his (and my long-suffering mum’s) hospitality. Now, he gives back through teaching and judging. Put simply, without him and my grandfather, I wouldn’t be a piper, and everything I do or strive to do is down to the example they have set.”

There are countless other examples of the sons and daughters of pipers and drummers carrying on the musical tradition of their fathers. We wish we could highlight them all.

Suffice it to say, fathers should be honoured every day, but Father’s Day is a time to say thank you to all of them. We hope you can use every minute of the long day to celebrate your dad.

Happy Father’s Day!



For the moms: six accomplished players and their celebrated mothers
May 10, 2020

A dynasty of Speirs pipers
September 10, 2019

Roderick W. “Roddy” MacDonald, 1941-2012
October 31, 2012

10 Questions With . . . Margaret Houlihan
March 31, 2006





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