February 08, 2014

Memorial Bell

My daughter’s great-great-grand-uncle is the great, great composer of grand pipe tunes and hero of the Boer War, John McLellan, DCM, of Dunoon, identified by all as the creator of some of our greatest tunes: “Lochanside,” “Southall,” “The Memorial Bells of Inveraray,” “The Highland Brigade at Magersfontein,” and “The Road to the Isles,” to name a few.

He was born in Dunoon, Scotland, in 1875, and pictured here is the bell he played with as a baby.

My father-in-law, Martin Wilson, Jock McLellan’s grand-nephew, gave it to us 13 years ago when my daughter was born. The bell has been in the family for probably 135 years, at least. It’s a cherished possession.

I was giving a lesson the other day with a very promising 11-year-old piper, and we were going over “Lochanside.” Pointing out and talking a little about the composer of the tune, I went to find his bell, and, sure enough, it produced a certain, “That’s cool!” from young Kerry.

We rang it, as one does with bells, and for the first time I realized that this bell might well have magical musical powers, considering that it was probably the first instrument that wee Jock McLellan played. Surely it imparted simple tones to him so that he would eventually compose tunes that are magical for their simplicity of melody.

There’s something to this. I wonder if John McLellan’s DNA is still on the bell, which he must have sooked on, teething in his pram around the streets of Dunoon, round the Black Park, over to the side of Loch Loskin, and down Argyll Street.

Memorial bell, indeed.


  1. Nice to see and read this. Early good quality sounds around the place are important. A baby or young person is understandably more likely to show interest in a thing that has a nice ring to it, than a bundle of plastic. I wonder what note it ‘rings’ on? Not a high A by any chance? Or high Bb I should say. Amazing to think he touched it. The museum in Dunoon knew nothing about him when I asked several years ago. They said they’d be interested in anything anyone could give them by way of information or biographical details, and that they’d make a display. I sometimes work with people chronologically older but developmentally in the first year of life. They like nice quality sounds–bells are popular, and reached for by arms and hands that struggle to move. Simply because there is something worth reaching for. A lovely sound. A rewarding sound. Maybe even a soothing sound. Visually bells are interesting too, they glint in the light. Nice to think that the bell might have acted as a sort of tuning fork, awakening his sense of music, stirring it, and igniting what we now know followed.

  2. Andrew…we have know each other for a long time, and I knew nothing about this wonderful connection. Admittedly, it proceeds not from your own complicated Scottish/ Russian heritage, but from that of the fabulous Dr. Julie Wilson … “Greyfriars Julie” herself. This is romance of the highest quality.
    It’s a grand story, all the more affecting for being true.



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