History: Pipe Major Donald MacLeod Piping Profile from 50 Years Ago

The following is taken from the September 1967 edition of ‘Piping World’ an American-based magazine edited by the late Donald Varella…..

So often we hear someone or other referred to as ‘being a piper’. And in most cases the person spoken of could equally well be described a being a philatelist, a gardener, or a missionary; for although he can’t lay his hands on it just now, he began his stamp collection when he was twelve years old, he sprays his lawn with a weed-killer annually, and has never put his envelope in the plate without a little something in the other half. 

But, there are a few unusual men who are pipers in the sense that De Gaulle is a Frenchman and Einstein was a scien­tist. To divorce them from their ‘set­tings’ is impossible and the ‘settings’ themselves have changed in response to their influence. Among the handful of pipers who are pipers in this strict sense Donald MacLeod enjoys rare stature.

At the age of five he was given his first lessons by his father; before long John Morrison of Assynt House joined the elder MacLeod (also Donald) in training the boy. When he was nine years old, Donald came under the guidance of Pipe Major William Ross MBE, and for three seasons profited greatly from instruction by this master teacher.



Then, at the age of twelve, Donald entered into an association which was to endure for some twenty-five years; he began study under the tutelage of Pipe Major John MacDonald MBE of In­verness. Although he joined the Seaforth Highlanders (and within four years be­came pipe major) he continued his study with John MacDonald, who is widely accepted as one of the masters of all time.

Today Pipe Major MacLeod is an outstanding practical authority on ceol mor. He is gifted with a remarkable memory and in addition to vast repertoire of light music of all kinds, he has committed to memory the four hundred or so known piobaireachdan. He has won
every top award in piping, and most of them more than once. Awarded the Gold Medal at Inverness when a young man, he won the Clasp eight times, a record achieved only by one other – Donald’s
boyhood teacher William Ross.

This historic picture was taken during WW2. It shows P/M Willie Ross instructing a class at the Army School with Donald MacLeod sitting (left) and demonstrating the piobaireachd high G

One hears many anecdotes concerning his technical facility. He is said to be able to ‘reverse hands’ on the chanter, to play with either left or right as top hand. Others tell of his ability  to blow
continuously on the practice chanter. Still another story tells of an infection in his E finger while he was studying with Ross. This infirmity didn’t impair Donald’s fingering in the least; he simply
used his little finger in its stead. Ross delighted in ‘showing-off’ this feature to visitors.

In World War II, however, he received a serious injury to his left hand; a bullet nearly severed his thumb. This very nearly ended his career as a piper. With determination and perseverance, he restored his hand to usefulness by almost constant exercise.

After 25 years with the Seaforths, Pipe Major MacLeod is now the manager of a well known bagpipe manufacturing house in Glasgow. He broadcasts fre­quently on the BBC and gives con­certs in many parts of the world. He will appear in the United States early in October, and plans an extensive tour of New Zealand next year.

He devotes con­siderable time to the preparation of his books. (Book 4 of his collection will be released shortly.) Many of the selections in this book will be played by MacLeod himself on a series of records soon to be released. Having withdrawn from competition he finds himself very much in demand as a judge and adjudicated at most major gatherings this summer.

• Read more about Pipe Major Donald MacLeod here. Check with Piping Press for intimation of the Memorial Competition held each year in Stornoway on his native isle of Lewis.