Heartfelt Tributes for the Late Jimmy McIntosh

There has been a considerable number of tributes paid to Jimmy McIntosh who passed away yesterday aged 95 and we thought it sensible to group them together so that they could be better appreciated. There are messages from former pupils and many others who knew him well throughout his long life.

Gary Hanley: ‘Good bye my old friend. You changed bagpiping in America with a steady hand and soft voice. I will miss you.’

Amy Garson: ‘Like so many others, I owe so much to Jimmy McIntosh for his support, kindness, generosity and willingness to share his knowledge of piobaireachd with me. I was on the verge of quitting piping when I attended a summer school in Timmins, Ontario, in the mid-1970s.

‘It was Jimmy’s teaching that introduced me to piobaireachd and motivated me to continue piping. Jimmy favoured teaching students in pairs, such that collectively the music that he taught would not be lost. Jimmy paired me with another young piper, Ken Garson, who later became my husband and life partner. Ken and I have remained close friends and loyal students of Jimmy for over 45 years.

‘Many times over the years, Jimmy and his wife Joyce opened their home to us and other pupils, always providing a healthy dose of kind hospitality while ensuring there was lots of time to learn and review tunes. I cannot put into words the positive impact that Jimmy had on my life and how dearly I miss him now that he has passed away. Not only have I lost a dear friend, but the world of piping has lost a great master. Get your pipes out and play a piobaireachd to honour Jimmy’s legacy! Long may it live on! Sincere condolences to his beloved wife Joyce and children Cameron, Roddy, Moira, Margaret and their families.’

Bethany Bisaillion: ‘Attending the summer schools in Timmins, Ontario, I was introduced to the teachings of Jimmy McIntosh and learned so much from him, as so many of us truly did. He gave so many of us our first piobaireachd which has never left us, and we have always played it with the pride that he instilled in us. A great man, a great player, and truly a great supporter of the pipes whose dedication will last generations.  

‘Thank you Jimmy, for everything you gave us and continue to give us, and to Joyce and Cameron for being such a wonderful part of his life. I wish you all the very best.’

Bernie Leigh: ‘I knew Jimmy well and did much work for him over many years. It was always a pleasure to talk to him; a lovely man for whom I had so much respect.

‘I remember playing MacNeil of Barra’s March for Jimmy at Ligonier Games many years back. He was delighted with it and later that day asked if I’d like to join his workshops at CMU. I was quite chuffed at the prospect. Drove all night to get to the first weekend workshop… Upon arrival, I could not for the life of me find the ‘Navy’ building. Remember my frantic call Joyce? I didn’t want to be late!

‘I ended up attending GSIA, now Tepper Business School at CMU. Enjoyed every moment I was able to learn something new about a tune’s presentation from Jimmy. Joyce, prayers for you and Cameron. God speed Jimmy, you will be sorely missed.’

Joyce and Jimmy on their last cruise in January 2020

Ian Larg: ‘I was very sad to read this news today. I was taught by Peter Forbes, and then by Jimmy in Dundee where he was a leading light in the Tayside Pipers Society. He gave his time freely to many pupils at a class held on Wednesday nights in the home of Bob Leitch. The TPS met on Saturday nights in Broughty Ferry and the format was that those who wanted to play were given every encouragement.

‘Jimmy guided me through the junior contests, Highland games and into the daunting realms of indoor professional contests when I turned 16. We toured many games together and even provided a recital for an estate owner near Kinloch Rannoch who had arrived too late for the games. Willie Dickson, Bill Wotherspoon, Jimmy and I had travelled together from Dundee, competed at the games and we were then invited to play for the estate owner and his family who had just arrived from their London home. Great days indeed!

‘I met Jimmy on his last visit to Scotland at Fort George; a place which for which he didn’t have fond memories. I met him again at his daughter’s house in Fife where we compared notes of good and bad competition days, special tunes, etc. This was only a year or two ago and he was still playing three piobaireachd a day which was no mean feat for someone who appeared to defy the passage of time.

‘My heartfelt condolences to Joyce and the rest of Jimmy’s family. It was a pleasure to have spent so much time with him and I can still hear him sing as he taught me yet another piobaireachd. Thanks for everything.’

Andrew Carlisle: ‘What a character!? What a player!? What a scholar!? What a teacher!? The list goes on and on. Jimmy was not only a mentor to me for the last eleven years, he was one of my closest friends. A very generous and kind person that was all about trying to do best for piping and for the promotion and preservation of the playing of our ceòl mòr.

‘It was always a real pleasure to play for Jimmy. He had the unique ability to make the dots on the page sing and pass that knowledge along to his students at every level. He also wouldn’t hesitate to give me a well deserved kick up the backside! In turn, he would always play a tune or two for me on the pipes… the last time I heard him play was in May 2020… he was 94 (a month shy of 95) and picked a wee small tune to play with Patrick Og. The music pouring out of him, his high G singing and what a crunluath (better than mine, and I was 60 years his junior). 

‘Just under a month ago, I had the pleasure of sharing my last visit with Carnegie Mellon graduate and good friend Nick Hudson. The 95 year old was still in good form and put the two of us through our paces. With COVID-19 restrictions, the visit itself was complicated with multiple negative tests required, but it was well worth it. We managed to play the maestro 16 tunes in the course of two days – eight big tunes each. Jimmy sang and fingered along the entire way. A lasting memory will be me hitting a wrong note in line two of the taorluath doubling of the Unjust and the eye roll I got as a result. ‘Oh deary me!’ Even at 95, his piobaireachd memory was razor sharp.

‘A real character; very quick witted. He regularly drank coffee until 5pm, followed by wine until bedtime (although it often was already ‘5 o’clock somewhere’ with Jimmy). ‘Water’s for camels’ was another common expression of his (resulting from a WW2 illness in Aden from drinking the water there – he would never drink water again). Everywhere he went, he was the life of the party, even amongst young pipers 70, 80 or even 85 years his junior.

‘Another memory was at the Atlanta workshop a few years ago – many of the piping and drumming greats were in attendance as instructors. For the instructor concert on the Saturday night, already in his 90s… he wasn’t at all shy of performing. He played Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod and Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran along with me and Chris Apps (tunes were his suggestions)… and when there was any suggestion that some instructors were too old to play (yes, Ken Eller and Richard Parkes) – he reminded us all that he was in his 90s and if he was playing, they had zero excuse for not playing a tune… which they did and did tremendously well. His response was actually to play a full piobaireachd, Lament for Alasdair Dearg MacDonnell of Glengarry, including a crunluath-a-mach. A lot of solo piping and pipe band stars of the modern era performed that evening, Jimmy the talking point as always, leaving the audience with a standing ovation.

‘Jimmy lived, ate, slept and breathed piobaireachd! Averaging three or four full piobaireachd on his old Lawrie or Robertson bagpipe each and every day, well into his mid-90s, he must have come close to the individual that played the most piobaireachd in history. His teachings, inherited from P/M Bob Brown, P/M Bob Nicol (and earlier from P/M Willie Ross and P/M Donald MacLeod from his time in the Cameron Highlanders) will be passed down by the hundreds of pipers he has taught. He will be sorely missed by all that knew him, but his amazing legacy will live on. 

‘We have lost one of our greats. Thoughts and prayers with his dear wife Joyce, sons Roddy and Cameron, daughters Margaret and Moira and all of his extended family, friends and hundreds of fellow students.’

  • Space precludes the insertion of all tributes. Please read them in our Comments section.

6 thoughts on “Heartfelt Tributes for the Late Jimmy McIntosh

  1. We join pipers worldwide in mourning the passing of James H. McIntosh, M.B.E. He was one of Scotland’s top pipers who brought American piping to the attention of the piping community in Scotland, primarily by his teaching talented young North American pipers to win top prizes as solo pipers. He did this during his summers in the USA and Canada, starting in the 1970s and lasting until his recent passing early this year.

    Beyond the distinguished career highlights already mentioned on PP, Jimmy directly taught over 2000 Americans to improve their skills on the Great Highland Bagpipe. It is not an exaggeration at all to say that he has had the profound impact on raising the standard of American piping both in the international competitive arena and domestically.

    His high standards in reed making, bagpipe design, developing piping organizations, teaching, and performance have been an inspiration to many, many pipers throughout the world. From Scotland to the USA, to Canada, Brittany, Australia, & New Zealand, Jim McIntosh’s name has been synonymous with excellence in piping throughout his entire playing lifetime, 80 years of piping!

    We send our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to Joyce, their son Cameron, and to the many people, pipers and non-pipers alike, whose lives have been touched by this extraordinary man.
    -G. Balderose, Director, The Balmoral School of Highland Piping

  2. All of the wonderful tributes are exactly what I experienced and I see threads of Jimmy’s dedication to piping, his generosity with his students, and “Determination” to see a vision through. When Nancy said: “it’s time for you to go see Jimmy” I had no idea it would lead to over 10 years of travel to Pittsburgh (5-6 times a year, mostly in the winter) where we would go over tunes, make notes and recordings, play and listen to each other. Jimmy and Joyce would host a student until they figured out who to connect with to share rooms in a hotel near the CMU campus. Jimmy delighted seeing his students succeed and I was never more proud that to sit with him as a Judge at the Stone Mountain Games Professional contest a couple years ago. We actually judged the events separately but I took the opportunity to get his insight one more time. I had to make a difficult decision and asked Jimmy his thoughts. He said: “the competitors expect you to make the right decision”. I am so grateful he was there to nudge me into the decision I didn’t want to make but knew I should.

    He had a talent for bringing out the best in each player and knew how to build on their strengths.

    Thank You Jimmy for all that you have done for us here. Your legacy of music will continue for the long-haul because of your vision and determination. My heartfelt condolences to Joyce and his entire family. I so wish we could have a Ceilidh and tell the many many stories we have about Jimmy.

    1. Thank you for capturing the essence of Jimmy in this lovely message, Maureen. No ordinary teacher was he, and may I say, no ordinary man.

      We are indeed planning to have a big Ceilidh, in Jimmy’s honor, when the time is safe for folks to travel. Having plenty of time for piping, and telling stories about him will be the ideal way to remember and honor him.

      Word usually travels quickly in these instances, but perhaps I can enlist Rob’s help to notify interested parties when a date has been set.

      Thank you again.

  3. The piping world has lost a giant. Jimmy was a tireless advocate for expressive, musical playing of the Great Music, always striving to bring the very best out of his students and to keep the music alive and thriving through the medium of singing the tunes in the old style. Always enthusiastic, generous and kind, he led by example as a person, teacher and performer. He always had a project (or two, or three) going, always for the betterment of piping in his adopted country. And all this well into his 90s.
    I first met Jimmy and heard him play in 1977. I had only been playing four years at that point and had very little understanding of piobaireachd. In fact, I found the Great Music completely mystifying, until I heard Jimmy play it. Suddenly the music jumped off the page and made musical sense. There were phrases and commas and periods, there was flow and lights and shades. It told a story and set a mood. I was hooked. Jimmy’s playing set me on the road of piobaireachd study, and in so doing changed my life. It’s a huge privilege to have been his student all these years. He has been teacher, mentor, and dear friend, and my hero.

  4. As Andrew Carlisle says, “A very generous and kind person that was all about trying to do best for piping …” — Jimmy’s influence, his presence, touched the entire piping community in the Easter U.S. (and obviously beyond). I came by late, but was privileged to have Jimmy as a judge on many occasions, and a workshop teacher. He was indeed sharp, generous and kind, focused on the music and how to help you find and play the music, no matter what level you were. I was fortunate to be at the workshop in Atlanta a few years ago for that Saturday night instructor’s concert. His piobaireachd amazed us all that night, and tears were seen in the hall. Peace, Jimmy, and God bless Joyce & the family.

  5. Dear Jimmy,
    We will miss you very much! Each one of us had a different experience with you and received your kindness and precious knowledge of your wonderful teachings! You taught each one of us, regardless of ages, experiences with the same enthusiasm and dedication. We are all indebted to you for the generosity of your time with us.

    Your contributions to the world of piping are enormous. Your most recent publication of “CEOL MOR” for the Great Highland Bagpipe simplifies the learning of Piobaireachd. It makes a new approach to enjoying this art form of the world.
    Your scholarship of carrying on Robert Urquhart Brown and Robert Bell Nicol’s teachings enriches us all. You have many other numerous achievements we would read from the soon to be published, Jimmy’s memoirs. We are grateful to Joyce, she worked so hard to the fruition.

    Each one of us kept important, vivid memories with us. Here are a few of mine recalls that I first met you at the highland game at the Altamont fairground in New York. Second, the day that I received my set of old cocus-wood P. Henderson pipes. Third, my fond memories of lessons (your soft singings of Piobaireachd) in Pittsburg and your Anderson home in SC. You and Joyce were great hosts that made the lessons much more pleasurable! Last, but not least, when I received the (there was a note from you) last batch of chanter reeds before Jimmy close his reed-making operation. It was kind of emotional then.

    We will miss you. Your students in the World would celebrate your achievements and carry on your mission for a better tomorrow!

    Joyce and Cameron,
    We together walk with you!

    Michael Mui

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