October 28, 2009

Foot forward

Free kicks.Coincidental to the “Family time” post of a few weeks back, some recent events got me to think further on the topic of passing down hobbies and skills. This is going to be a bit of a gush, but stay with it. My 17-year-old nephew, Daniel (to his family, anyway, but “Danny” professionally), made his debut as a starting player with Glasgow Rangers’ first team last night. He played the entire Scottish Cup quarter-final match against Dundee, making several nice clearances helping the ‘Gers to a 3-1 victory.

Daniel’s dad, my brother-in-law, John Wilson, played professional football as a goalkeeper for Celtic and Hearts until a knee injury forced him to settle into a great career with the Lothian & Borders Police force. John also played – pipes – for a spell with his school band, Craigmount, working with the famous Jennifer Hutcheon, as did my other brother-in-law, Martin Jr., and my wife, Julie.

Their dad, my father-in-law, Martin Wilson, was a piper with one of the first truly world-famous pipe bands, the Edinburgh City Police, being a part of five World’s victories under Pipe-Major Iain McLeod. Piping and football run in the family.

But why is it that piping and drumming so often have not been passed along? If one considers the greats from the 1950s to 1970s, relatively few (pun intended) sons and daughters of the leading pipers and drummers of that era seemed to become equally good or better players, and more often than not didn’t bother to take up the instruments at all.

Donald MacLeod, John Burgess, Hugh MacCallum, John MacDougall, John MacFadyen, Seumas MacNeill, Ronnie Lawrie, Donald MacPherson, Iain MacLellan, Willie Ross, G.S. McLennan, Hector MacFadyen . . . none of these greats, I believe, had a son or daughter who pursued piping in a major way. There are exceptions, of course – John A. MacLellan, Tom Speirs, Alex Duthart . . . but these examples are in the small minority.

But I have a feeling that things are changing. Perhaps it’s the rising popularity of piping and drumming outside of the UK since the 1970s, or maybe it’s the “family time” factor, that’s spurring more kids to take up the instrument that dad or mom plays, and then become as good as or even better – the Gandys, the Lees, the Hawkes, the Hendersons, the Maxwells, the Troys . . . just a few examples, and, yes, there are exceptions.

It’s good to see that that talent, in past generations so often not passed along to sons and daughters, is now more than ever the cool and fun thing to do. Anyway, there’s hardly a better feeling than seeing family follow in family footsteps, and take even bigger leaps.


  1. Interesting story Andrew.

    As a second generation piper to my father, with my wee sprug now playing and competing at the age of 8, completing a third generation in our family, I have asked the same question many times over. Why have we been able to pass it along and others as you mentioned have not.

    I think the reason is due to the marketing/commercialization of the Scottish Arts on this side of the water as well as the many instructors out there today, such as my father for example, who have given more of there time to teach, work and develope these up and comers. Some are already there kicking our older butts. It has turned into an activity that is cool and popular. You can be a rock star as in the “Mud Men”, you can play with and for popular stars, politicains, and high profile events that appear on the tele and maybe even play for your favorite hockey team(s) opening night in more than one city. The pay isn’t bad either for a kid.

    I think you’re right, family time and the economic constraints require more families to stay together in an activity instead of everyone doing there own thing.

    Slainte, Calum

  2. As one of the offending offspring perhaps I can shed some light?! It’s a difficult position to be in! I love pipe music, I loved going to sleep at night listening to my Dad ( how lucky was I!), I love the craic and stories at piping events and I’m very very proud of my Dads achievements but, as a little girl I was not encouraged to play the pipes. I was encouraged to sing and to play the violin. My father taught me how to phrase a march but on the fiddle not the pipes! It’s always been said in our house that if my brother and I had played the pressure would have been immense. If we had been any good…” well what would you expect” …and if we’d been rubbish ” you’d have thought they’d have been better” . So saying my son, on his 6th birthday, has just received his first practice chanter …. Perhaps in time he will grow to love our music as I do but take the next step? We’ll see……



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