September 21, 2012


I stumbled across this photo that my dad took in 1978. He snapped pictures of everything. My dad used a camera then almost like we do today in the digital age. He used slide film because it was cheaper, and he’d print only the good ones. Every few weeks he’d hold a “slide show” and force us grumpy kids to suffer through his images when we would rather be outside running reckless.

This is Christmas 1978, when Jimmy Carter was President and disco raged and computers still ran on punch cards. My father always got a photo of the presents under the tree, and you’ll maybe notice here the presence of things for my sisters, an 8-track stereo, a suitcase (?!) and a piping record – specifically an LP by Donald MacLeod. I was 15 then, and had been at the pipes for three years. I didn’t have to put piping and pipe band records on any list; they’d always just appear. (Like T.J. Eckleburg eyes, MacLeod symbolically peers over the top of boxes of model trains, the other shared hobby that my dad nurtured.)

These Donald MacLeod records were hard to find then and rare today. God knows how my dad sourced them in the days of stamped letters and “surface mail.” MacLeod made two of these records on a trip to New Zealand in the ’70s, and they had very limited release. Apart from these, I don’t believe that he made any other commercial recordings, even though he might be the most recorded piper in pre-digital history through his broadcasts and instructional tapes.

At any rate, do kids in 2012 even ask for or get piping and pipe band CDs for Christmas or their birthday? Have recordings, like photos, become so throw-away and commonplace that the sheer volume of them here, there and everywhere make them undesirable? I don’t know.

I do know that I still have those Donald MacLeod vinyl records and all of the 35,000-plus slides that my dad took and meticulously saved. I’ve scanned the slides and the records to digital formats. Gifts that keep on.


  1. Great Post, I haven’t got mine all scanned but need to figure out and find time to do it. Things were not so accessible back then, as you point out, and that’s why those were so special. We try very hard here to educate the kids that way to buy books and especially buy CD’s, attend the recitals and if they’re really lucky, be able to buy their CD at a recital and get it signed, that’s a memory that lasts forever !

  2. One Antigonish Highland Games (many years ago), my father bought a concession booth’s last ’78th: Live in Ireland’ cassette for me. They were very hard to get at the time, and I even had it signed by some players (piping nerd?). That was over 20 years ago and I still have it. It’s a great memory for me.

  3. I must be about the same age as you Andrew and had the privilege, although I didn’t know how important he was at the time, of hearing Donald MacLeod play and had a lesson with him when he was in New Zealand. It’d be worth finding out about the history of those visits and how the recordings came to be made, but there were a number of pipers at the time who’d had traveled to Scotland and had lessons with Donald, so I’m guessing that those connections played a part? Lewis Turrell, Stuart Finlayson and Alistair Munro spring to mind.

  4. Donald MacLeod did, indeed, make other commercial recordings. Notably, he made 3 LP recordings on the Aragon label titled “The Piper: Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, World Famous Piper of Fort George, Scotland”, volumes 1-3 (ALP 119, 120, 121). Each of these LPs, which I purchased brand new in the early 1960s, features light music on side A and a full piobaireachd on side B. None of these recordings bears a date and the covers provide no information on where or when the recordings were made.

  5. Once I started competing at age 12, my mom always picked me up a book or cd at each of the highland games my family attended. She wanted me to have a good collection of books if I kept on doing it and it allowed me to have material at my fingertips when i got bored with what we played at the school. I went nuts when I got Mark Sauls first two books. As it stands, I still play, I still buy, and my music collection is pretty decent for someone who isn’t a pro.

  6. To answer your question, kids these days do still request pipe music, just in a different form. For my 11 year old sons birthday this year for his first piping “CD” we downloaded Donald MacPherson’s Master Pipers album from iTunes. The neat thing is I can see he must have The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute on repeat on his ipod, as it is way out in front for “times played”. He has already asked for Bill Livingstone’s World’s Greatest Pipers series album.



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