Delaware to New England – Editor’s Letter from America

We are now well into the week at the New England Pipe & Drum Academy. Small but perfectly formed, with friendship, wonderful food and hard study the unfailing mix for a successful week.

Tonight Tommy (Johnston) and I are off to the Stuart Highlanders band for a workshop. This is the band which recently had a Grade 1 standing but who are now down in Grade 5. How things can change within a few years in the pipe band world. Whilst we are away for the evening the students are preparing for their exams and we leave them in the capable hands of our co-instructor Matt Pantaleoni. Incidentally Matt has started his own band in St Louis and hopes to have them competing within a couple of years, so good luck to him with that. The NEPADA instructors are pictured above.

My trip began, as you may have read, at the USPF championship down at the University of Delaware. I got there on United Airlines and and if they were less than accommodating as regards flight changes, Peter Kent, a member of the USPF board, could not have been more so. When I landed late evening and unscheduled at Washington Dulles there was Peter ready to whisk me off to his home for a welcome overnight. In the morning we had a couple of tunes with Peter, a pupil of Jimmy McIntosh’s, playing Lament for the Only Son.

Peter playing Lament for the Only Son in his lounge

I hadn’t realised what a good player he was. Bag troubles have been curtailing his playing recently but you would never have known it from the quality of his music. One always feels one has to compliment one’s host in these situations but I think readers know me well enough by now.

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That evening it was off to Newark (pronounced, I was reliably informed, New Ark as opposed to the NJ version which is Noo-erk) and a meeting with the USPF committee and the other judges. Federation President Arthur McAra and I swapped stories of his native city (he hasn’t lost his Glasgow accent). Bill Livingstone was there and was looking forward to sharing the former winners’ bench at Oban with Iain MacFadyen and Murray Henderson. I asked him if a follow-up book was in the works following the success of ‘Preposterous’ but it seems not.

Albert McMullin, now of Sarasota, Florida, spoke of the early days of the Balmoral Schools, his creation, and of his work for top US politicians. Albert learned the pipes in Wilmington, Delaware. His teacher was Bill Gilchrist who arrived in the US in the 50s off the boat. His pal was George Bell. Both had been in the Kenmure’s band in Bishopbriggs with Bob Hardie. Bill took nothing for his lessons. They were conducted in the local Orange Halls, all religions welcome.

USPF 2018 competitors and judges

Sun up and onto the competition passing the ‘New Ark’ Chrysler assembly works where reggae man Bob Marley toiled before returning to Jamaica and fame.

The contest is held in the Amy DuPont building at the University. Maclean Macleod, the man behind the formation of the USPF, was from Ullapool, and came to the US after service in the RAF in WW2. A tree surgeon, his skill brought him into contact with the seriously wealthy DuPont family. The cosmetics giant backed him in his local work for piping and Highland games.

A Miss DuPont married Ellice MacDonald and between them they endowed the Clan Donald Lands Trust on Sleat in Skye. It is now home to the Donald MacDonald Quaich contest (or Cuach as we must now call it), so the piping circle has been squared as it were.

Andrew Carlisle receives the Champion’s Silver Buckle from USPF president Arthur McAra

Andrew Carlisle, you will have read, was the 2018 USPF winner – the fourth year in a row he has come out on top. Andrew’s pipes are now much sweeter than hitherto; he could sometimes be guilty of the ‘band guy playing solo’ sound. Not any more, and all things being equal, I think he will do well when he comes over to compete later in the summer. The same goes for Derek Midgley and Nick Hudson, both high quality pipers. Look out Scotland; the Yanks are coming. 

Sunday, and a seven hour drive up interstate 95 in the company of NEPADA committee man Bruce Beavis. Fortunately traffic was light as we crossed the George Washington bridge, skirting Yonkers thence through Connecticut to the tranquility of the Massachusetts woods where the sun shone, pipes blew and birds sang. 

Read there Editor’s review of the USPF contest here.

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