Royal Conservatoire graduates making strong impact on piping scene
The positive effects of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Traditional Scottish Music degree programs continue to resonate throughout the piping world, with leaders, recording artists and teachers making an impact far beyond traditional competition music.
Increasingly, piping for competition is becoming less critical as a focus for the instrument, with the music creation and creative performance being more central.
Royal Conservatoire graduate Chris Gray of Glasgow recently released a self-titled album that features him performing his compositions and arrangements on Highland pipes, whistles, and piano, for which he received his degree. The album is co-produced by the well-known Highland piper Calum MacCrimmon, who has also excelled without having to compete.
Finlay MacDonald, who has managed the National Piping Centre’s close relationship with the Royal Conservatoire since its inception, was appointed Director of the Piping Centre and Artistic Director of Piping Live! earlier this year. MacDonald, too, has not needed to compete in either solo piping or pipe bands to make his mark with his own recordings, compositions, record producing and teaching.
In late April, Steven Blake was appointed Director of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland, a full-time role also with the National Piping Centre. Another piping degree graduate of the Conservatoire, Blake’s performance, composition and recording experience – and no significant competition experience – gained him the role, which entails preparing many of the UK’s best young pipers and drummers for creative performance, rather than pipe band contests.
There are many other examples of Scottish Traditional Music graduates influencing the piping world in non-competition ways, and many exceptions, too.
Connor Sinclair, the 2019 Highland Society of London Gold Medallist at the Northern Meeting and winner of the MSR at the Glenfiddich last year, is a graduate of the Conservatoire. He competes but puts his broader knowledge of music to use with his folk group, Gnoss, in which he plays flute, whistles and pipes.
At a time when piping and pipe band competitions as we know them are being reinvented or halted altogether, pipers are inevitably rediscovering that the music itself comes first. As it’s taken more and more seriously as a performance instrument and a field of academic study, the conditions are prime for a new era for the Highland pipe.
Connor Sinclair: just who is this piping prodigy?
November 19, 2019