Published: May 12, 2021

Older, wiser and better – four elite pipers discuss competing in their later years – Part 2

We continue our exclusive panel discussion with four of the world’s greatest pipers, Bruce Gandy of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; Jack Lee, Surrey, British Columbia; Willie McCallum, Bearsden, Scotland; and Iain Speirs of Edinburgh.

These are pipers who’ve won it all. Between them are eight Highland Society of London Gold Medals, a big batch of Bratach Gorms, copious Clasps, sacks of Silver Chanters, stacks of Silver Stars, and a glut of Glenfiddichs.

They’ve also been competing at the very highest levels for more than 30, 40, and even 50 years and, with the exception of the youngster Speirs at only 48, all are at least in their late fifties.

But they’re playing every bit as technically well, and probably far better musically, than when they were in their twenties.

In Part 1, they discussed what keeps them motivated to keep pushing forward, and what might have changed in the last few decades, compared with the pre-2000s when it was a fairly rare exception to see elite solo pipers go past age 40.


Older, wiser and better – four elite pipers discuss competing in their later years – Part 1
May 7, 2021


In Part 2, they consider comparisons to athletes, where they derive satisfaction, and the risk of going too long and being conscious of going out when they’re still on top.

We hope you enjoy “Older, wiser and better – four elite pipers discuss competing in their later years – Part 2.” You have our guarantee that you will learn something from these masters of the art, still on top of the world with no sign of slowing down.

Bruce Gandy [Photo Derek Maxwell]
Bruce Gandy, at age 58, is playing at the height of his abilities. From his home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Gandy makes a living from piping with Bruce Gandy Music, providing private tuition, workshops, judging, endorsements such as the Gandy Solo Chanter from McCallum Bagpipes, and tune commissions. A prolific composer with four collections published, and the author of last year’s best-selling Performance: Delivering Your Own Awesome – winner of pipes|drums Product of the Year Award – he’s won almost everything there is, including both Highland Society of London Gold Medals, the Senior Piobaireachd at the Argyllshire Gathering, the Bratach Gorm at London, and the Silver Star MSR at the Northern Meeting. His Bruce Gandy Bagpiping Development Society is a charity that raises and distributes piping education funds to deserving young players.

Jack Lee [Photo Derek Maxwell]
Jack Lee, Surrey, British Columbia, is by far history’s most successful competing piper from North America, and at age 64, still seems unstoppable on the boards. He’s won it all, most several times: the Glenfiddich Championship, the Clasp at the Northern Meeting, the Silver Chanter, the Bratach Gorm, and the Silver Star at Inverness, to name a few. He’s committed his life to both solo piping and pipe bands, now in his fifth decade as pipe-sergeant of six times World Champions Simon Fraser University. He’s made piping his career for decades, too, running Lee & Sons Bagpipes, manufacturing pipe bags, instruments and reeds, and his BagpipeMusic.com online property is a bountiful resource of thousands of pipe music manuscripts and recordings. He’s in great demand as a teacher and judge throughout the world.

Willie McCallum [Photo Derek Maxwell]
Simply put, Willie McCallum is a piping legend. Originally from Campbeltown, Scotland, he has lived in Bearsden for many years. He is a living example of the great tradition of piping excellence from the Argyllshire region of Scotland. In terms of the total number of times awarded major prizes, McCallum most likely is untouchable in piping history. To start, he’s won the Glenfiddich Championship a record eight times, and he’s gained just about everything there is on repeat since he started competing in the 1970s. Like Jack Lee, his background is as an accountant. In the early 2000s, he gave up that relatively unexciting professional to make piping his full-time work as the namesake of Willie McCallum Piping. He offers teaching services on solo and workshop levels and has partnered with McCallum Bagpipes on the highly successful MC2 series of pipe chanters. He recently turned 60 and last October competed again at the Glenfiddich, winning the MSR event.

Iain Speirs [Photo Derek Maxwell]
Iain Speirs of Edinburgh, at only 48, is by far the youngest of the group and, like the others, by no means “old.” While the other three have made piping their career, Speirs is the last of a dwindling number who compete at an elite level but only as a pastime. That he has treated piping as still a hobby and managed to win and still compete for the world’s most significant solo prizes is remarkable. Like Gandy, Lee and McCallum, Speirs has won pretty much everything, including the Glenfiddich Championship, the Clasp at Inverness, the Senior Piobaireachd at Oban, the Silver Chanter (six times), and, of course, both Highland Society of London Gold Medals. He comes from rich piping stock as a third-generation top-flight competitor, and his son, John, is continuing the Speirs piping dynasty. He works in marketing and communications with a major financial company in Scotland.

 


Further reading:

Bruce Gandy: the p|d Interview – Part 1
August 6, 2015

Bruce Gandy: the p|d Interview – Part 2
September 14, 2015

Bruce Gandy: the p|d Interview – Part 3
October 11, 2015

Bruce Gandy: the p|d Interview – Part 4
November 8, 2015

Bruce Gandy: the p|d Interview – Part 5
December 6, 2015


Jack Lee: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 1
November 25, 2013

Jack Lee: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 2
December 8, 2013

Jack Lee: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 3
January 12, 2014

Jack Lee: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 4
February 2, 2014

Jack Lee: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 5
February 23, 2014


Willie McCallum: the pipes|drums Interview, Part 1
April 30, 2009

Willie McCallum: the pipes|drums Interview, Part 2
May 31, 2009

Willie McCallum: the pipes|drums Interview, Part 3
June 30, 2009

Willie McCallum: the pipes|drums Interview, Part 4
July 31, 2009


Iain Speirs: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 1
October 11, 2016

Iain Speirs: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 2
October 30, 2016

Iain Speirs: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 3
December 4, 2016

Iain Speirs: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 4
December 18, 2016

Iain Speirs: the pipes|drums Interview – Part 5
January

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