Great Highland Bagpipe | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Great Highland Bagpipe

GeneralThe Highland bagpipes, which have become the most familiar of all types of bagpipe, must have been introduced to Canada by the earliest Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia and Upper Canada.

Bagpipe, Great Highland

The Highland bagpipes, which have become the most familiar of all types of bagpipe, must have been introduced to Canada by the earliest Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia and Upper Canada. Positive data, however, are lacking, and until quite recent times the story has to be told as a series of footnotes to the history of piping in Scotland. Furthermore, although undoubtedly there was much activity, it was difficult for players in isolation from the fountainhead of their tradition to maintain or improve standards, even if their enthusiasm was undimmed. The names are recorded of some Canadian pipers and of Scottish emigré pipers active around World War I; but there is no way of ascertaining their standards of performance, and no one seems to have investigated whether they may have handed down unusual variants of traditional tunes.

The Instrument and its Music

The Highland bagpipe has a single eight-holed chanter with conical bore and a double reed, producing nine notes on a basically Mixolydian scale, and three drones with single reeds (two tenor, one bass), sounding octave intervals below low A on the chanter. The chanter, drones, and stocks usually are made of African blackwood, with ivory or silver mounts (often both), and their manufacture is a skilled business for which, in Scotland, an apprenticeship of five years is required. At least two makers in Canada are so qualified: Jack Dunbar (St Catharines, Ont) and a more recent arrival, Matt Marshall (Bowmanville, Ont). Both have introduced their own chanter patterns, and Dunbar has experimented with new materials (impregnated beech and maple, and even plastic). Gordon Tuck was Pipe Major of Macnish Distillery Pipe Band, St Thomas, Ont in the early 1970s when he began manufacturing his own design of chanter at his factory, Tuck Aluminum Ltd. His chanter, now used exclusively by the band, is responsible for its unique tone. Tuck uses blackwood and plastic and produces complete bagpipes as well as chanters. Elsewhere in Ontario and in British Columbia there are good makers of practice chanters and of reeds, but in 1990 most Canadian pipers still played instruments from Scotland.

The extensive repertoire of the Highland pipes includes marches (2/4, 4/4, 6/8, 3/4), strathspeys, reels, jigs, hornpipes, slow airs, and, above all, piobaireachd (pibroch), the classical variation form. Few piobaireachdan have been composed in the late 20th century, but much light music has been written for pipes. Several published collections contain tunes by Canadian pipers. Two familiar to pipers everywhere, Colonel Robertson and The Mid-Lothian Pipe Band, were composed by Farquhar Beaton, third pipe-major of the 48th Highlanders of Canada. More recent Canadian composers whose tunes have been published include John Wilson (Toronto), George Grant (St-Hubert, Que), W.J. Watt (Winnipeg), A.M. Cairns (Rockcliffe, Ont), Neil Sutherland (Winnipeg), Donald MacNiven (Kirkland Lake, Ont), Sam Scott (Manotick, Ont), William Gilmour (Toronto), Angus Graham (Prince George, BC), Reay Mackay (Toronto), and John Knox MacKenzie (Vancouver). John Wilson's three books of pipe music contain many of his own compositions and settings, and his third volume especially includes many Canadian compositions. Other collections of bagpipe tunes have been produced by pipers Iain MacCrimmon (Alberta 1978), William Livingstone (Ontario 1986), Scott MacAuley (Ontario 1986), Michael Grey (Ontario 1989), and Robert MacNeil (British Columbia 1990)

Teaching, Solo Playing, and Competitions

Pipe bands have a long history in Canada, but good solo players have been slower to appear, partly because there have been few teachers (especially of piobaireachd). A noted Toronto teacher in the years before and after World War II was Murdo MacLeod, and other influential teachers in southern Ontario were Walter Rose and George Duncan (who both lived in Detroit but taught many Canadians). In the Montreal area leading teachers have been George Grant and Alex McNeill (still active in 1979); in the Ottawa area Sam Scott and A.M. Cairns; in the Vancouver area Malcolm Nicholson, Ian Duncan, Jimmy MacMillan, and Ed Esson (still active in 1979). However, much of the credit for the improvement of standards after World War II must go to John Wilson (1906-79), one of the most distinguished players and bagpipe composers of his generation, who emigrated from Scotland and settled in Canada in 1948 and who taught nearly all the best soloists in Ontario and elsewhere. His best-known pupils include William Gilmour, Reay Mackay, Chris Anderson, James McGillivray, James Thomson, William Livingstone, and Robert Worrall. Between 1974 and 1979 the last four, and another Ontario piper, Edward Neigh, won or placed in the most senior professional competitions in Scotland. In 1977 the first prizes at Inverness, the most important of all Scottish solo competitions, went to Canadians: Livingstone won the gold medal for piobaireachd; and Worrall won the march and the strathspey and reel competitions. Livingstone also has won the North American solo championship three times, and Worrall four times. In 1985 Ontario pipers James McGillivray, Michael Grey, and Scott MacAuley took five of the six top honours at Inverness.

British Columbia has produced good solo pipers, such as Donald Cameron, Donald MacIver, James Watt, Willie Barrie, John A. MacLeod, Archie MacIndewar, Hal Senyk, Jamie Troy, and Jack Lee.

In the late 1970s John Wilson, Reay Mackay, and other instructors formed the Ontario School of Piping in Toronto, and William Connell (a former Clasp winner at Inverness) began teaching (in London, Ont) and judging at competitions. In various parts of Canada, notably in Nelson, BC, Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask, Brockville, Ont, Antigonish, NS, Windsor, Ont, and the Gaelic College of Cape Breton in St Ann's, summer schools of piping have been held regularly, and Canadians often have been engaged as instructors, together with pipers from Scotland or the USA. In 1989 piper Scott MacAuley founded the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada in Summerside, PEI. It is affiliated with the Army School of Piping in Edinburgh and is unique in North America.

Good solo pipers in Canada can be heard most readily at the annual competitions held in every province in conjunction with Highland games (see Bands: 7/Highland pipe bands) and at the regular meetings of local piping societies, where the best soloists give recitals. At the 1973 Highland games in Ottawa a gold medal, the first of its kind in North America, began to be offered annually by the Piobaireachd Society; the set tunes for this competition are the same as those for Inverness.

Bagpipes have also been employed by contemporary celtic groups including Rare Air (Na Cabarfeidh) on their albums Stick It In Your Ear (Sometimes We Do This JAK-001), Na Cabarfeidh (Flying Fish FF-286), Mad Plaid (Flying Fish FF-333), Hard to Beat (Green Linnet SIF-1073), and Primeval (Green Linnet SIF-1073); First Draft (FD3-1000 CD); and Rawlins Cross on the cassette A Turn of the Wheel (RCP 1).

Further Reading