The presentation of the 2019 Balvenie Medal to Anne Spalding
The big non-piping highlight of the Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championships is always the presentation of the Balvenie Medal for Services to Piping. This year’s recipient was Anne Spalding of Broughty Ferry, Scotland, who has dedicated almost all of her life to the art.
The medal was presented between the piping performances and the announcement of the prizes, as the light music judges were deliberating behind the scenes.
The nomination of Anne Spalding and the presentation of the medal to her were made by pipes|drums editor Andrew Berthoff, who has known Spalding since 1983. The identity of the recipient of the medal is kept top-secret, with only Liz Maxwell, primary organizer of the competition, and the nominator knowing.
As is generally the case with recipients of awards like these, the most deserving expect it the least. Spalding was genuinely left speechless when it was presented to her.
Following are Andrew Berthoff’s comments made at the ceremony after being introduced by Glenfiddich fear-an-tighe Gary West.
Thank you, Gary, and well done today as emcee of this great event. It’s a difficult job, and you really elevated the occasion.
It is my honour to speak to everyone here at Blair Castle and to everyone watching around the world.
The Glenfiddich is an incredible event, appreciated by pipers, drummers and piping enthusiasts globally, with a marketing impact that perfectly aligns one of Scotland’s greatest brands with the world’s greatest pipers.
Thank you to the William Grant Foundation for your support of piping, and everyone hopes that this mutually beneficial relationship continues for the next 50 years and more.
The organization’s commitment to piping transitions nicely to the theme of the Balvenie Medal.
Commitment is the key word here, and the recipient of this year’s Balvenie Medal for services to piping has been committed to piping, pipers and pipe bands for more than 50 years.
As a mother’s pupil first, and then a student of the great Bert Barron and the legendary Robert Urquhart Brown, this year’s recipient formed an understanding and love of our music, combined with great musical talent, that placed her at the top-tier of solo piping.
Against all odds, together with other pioneering pipers, she would resolutely continue to challenge the wrong-headed notions of the day.
In 1976, she and this trail-blazing group would become the first to compete in the major competitions, breaking down walls of inequality and unfairness, opening doors for other pipers, leading by example.
This year’s recipient has been confronted with bias, yet, with great commitment, pushed forward.
She was once told by a judge at Braemar that she “played awfully well . . . for a woman.”
Standing in the pouring rain at Oban she was told “It’s a man’s world, you know,” by a judge just before she was to compete in the A-Grade Marches.
Today we might be amazed that these things happened at all. But back then it was common for a female piper to have to put up with those kinds of comments. We can only hope that things are much different now.
While she was a pioneering female piper, she should not be seen simply as a female piper. She is a piper, full stop. Her greatest contributions are to piping.
She has taught hundreds of young pipers, including many who have gone on to enjoy great success with the art, many now continuing a tradition of passing along their knowledge through teaching.
She could have joined any band on earth, but she has been a committed member of her local MacKenzie Caledonian Pipe Band organization for more than 30 years.
What’s more, she has taught virtually every local piper who has come through the band’s ranks.
For decades, she led the MacKenzie Caledonian Novice Juvenile band – the Mini-Macs – charismatically coaxing her very young charges to appreciate first, before mere winning, the music and the camaraderie that are by far the greatest benefits of piping.
When not teaching, she’s travelled all over Scotland administering piping exams for the schools. Her commitment to piping is generally without monetary compensation. She does it simply because it is the right thing to do.
Commitment is in her nature.
Not only is she committed to piping, she is committed to her husband and daughters and friends. I am particularly appreciative of her commitment to her friends.
And she has hundreds of them who love and admire her.
Her contributions to piping and pipe bands are legendary. While she has won her share of important prizes, these are not what have created her legend. Her legend is the result of her commitment to and her success in everything that she sets out to do.
She has positively influenced and changed the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of pipers worldwide. Many are here today.
Though she is famous and she would count herself fortunate as a piper, she’s not after that. She’s not after lucrative judging and teaching gigs around the world, though she might easily have them. She is just as happy to have a week’s holiday with her practice chanter and a dram at her caravan in the Scottish Highlands.
Yes, she generally likes to unwind from the rigours of piping with . . . more piping.
She is also happy simply to be among piping and pipers. She is invariably at just about every major piping event, just to appreciate the music.
It is perhaps ironic that the most dedicated contributors to piping often expect the least in return. They do what they do simply because it is the right thing to do. They lead because, if they don’t, then, who will? They enjoy pushing the art forward, leading by example.
She is exceptional. She is exceptionally talented, exceptionally kind, and exceptionally committed.
Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, there is no one more deserving of this honour.
The recipient of the 2019 Balvenie Medal for services to piping is someone who I am honoured to know, Anne Spalding.
Mac-Cals salute Spalding in final performance
February 2, 2019
Spalding hands over MacKenzie Novices to Falconer
January 22, 2019
10 Questions With . . . Anne Spalding
March 31, 2004