Lockdown Piping Club Hits Four Figures/ More on Willie MacDonald in Rhodesia

An update from the Lockdown Piping Club project, writes Craig Muirhead.  Going by my calculations, over a thousand people have now had their first chanter lesson with me in lockdown either via the live classes or the pre-existing online tutorials – I am seriously chuffed!

We are working through a few pages of a little PDF I’ve put together. Not the most conventional way of teaching bagpipes, but the idea behind the classes was complete inclusivity, so those without a chanter in the first few sessions could grab a pen or a pencil and learn the basic finger work on there!  

My favourite story so far is about two brothers who did their first lesson on a pair of hockey sticks and have now invested in McCallum practice chanters to give the second lesson a go properly. 

I think many in the piping community have adapted well throughout the pandemic and managed to put on lessons and activities for people who already play. My concern was that we could miss out on a couple of years’ worth of new starts with local pipe bands unable to meet and the disruption to teaching in schools.  

To my mind, people taking up the chanter is so important for us all in trying to preserve our tradition. The other side of it is giving people of all ages a bit of a focus, some fun each week and an online community to be a part of where we can all communicate with one another. 

Hopefully a few of the participants in the Lockdown Piping Club stick with it. It just shows how many people are interested in learning to play the pipes! 

Willie MacDonald Sums Up Peplow Winter School 1974

Neil Thain writes: I have done the best I can to provide a transcription from the poor recording of Willie MacDonald summing up the 1974 Peplow Winter Piping School. The mic was some distance from him and he was very softly spoken – miracles did not happen there!

It will help readers to get the message Willie was doing his best to put across. Firstly he apologises for being surprised and unprepared to speak, but says he will do his best, then:

‘This has been a tremendous school, it really has. It ended up today, with five days of piobaireachd playing, including I should say about…(looks to Jimmy Dunn) can we say it was 58? Fifty eight piobaireachd altogether, were played over the five days. I am really delighted with the standard of playing now in the ceòl beag. (I don’t suppose anyone knows this now…) Ceòl beag means the light music of march, strathspeys and reels, and ceòl mòr is of course piobaireachd. 

‘Now, I would like to say that… the improvement since the Salisbury Games has been tremendous. I would say about five hundred percent improvement – at least five hundred per cent in the ceòl beag and in the piobaireachd. So, that in fact we have done something, I have done something, and I am including the boys that I’ve been delighted to be along with. And they’ve recorded all these piobaireachd on tape so they can’t get lost and they must hold to that taping. 

‘I would just like to say how very pleased I am (I think I’m going to cry in a minute…) I would say that Anne, my wife, is up in Salisbury at the moment. She didn’t come to the school – she thought she might upset me and my teachings you see… my wife does get to me sometimes, (all laugh) teaching wise and piping.

‘So she is very pleased to be up here, and she is with me tonight. On behalf of my wife and myself, we absolutely are in awe of the full pleasure of this company. We were talking about it tonight before we left Sandy’s house (old Sandy Denholm…) and she says, ‘You know Bill…’ (she calls me Bill… she’s an Aussie, she’s a Melbourne girl, and she calls me Bill). ‘You know Bill,’ she says, ‘I don’t want to go back to Scotland… I think we should stay here.’ 

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