Duncan’s Tune for Dominic

I recently reported that on a trip to Iona and its abbey I spotted this memorial bench (right in picture above) dedicated to a Dominic McGowan, writes the Editor.

I thought this could be the same Dominic McGowan who died at a tragically young age and for whom Duncan Johnstone wrote his melodic and poignant 6/8 march. The dates fitted and I remembered him telling me about the origins of the tune.

My hunch proved correct. Dominic’s father Andrew got in touch: ‘The photograph of the memorial bench for Dominic is at St. Oran’s Chapel on Iona. Dominic was one of my children. He died in 1982.

The plaque and inscription on the bench

‘His ashes are not far from where the bench sits. His brother and sister were pupils of Duncan at the time. We are forever grateful to him for composing the tune in memory of Dominic. My thanks for putting the photos of the bench online. I appreciate it.

‘Attached is a photo of Dominic [above, with Abbey and bench in background]. He was six years old when this was taken.



‘I came across Piping Press while I was browsing online and decided to have a look in because I saw the reference to the isle of Mull. When I came across your photos of Iona with Dominic’s bench I was very impressed.

‘It was such a nice gesture I just had to contact you and thank you for it. It was very touching to say the least. 
I don’t know if you knew that Dominic was profoundly mentally and physically handicapped. He was very special.

‘There is comfort in knowing that his name will be spoken for a long time to come thanks to Duncan Johnstone. I’m very grateful to Duncan for the tune. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of immortality. 

The first two parts of Duncan’s tune for Dominic

‘As for my other children’s time with Duncan, Andrew and Ann both found him to be an excellent tutor. Not only that, they found him to be very a friendly sociable person and easy to get on with, not forgetting that they always felt relaxed in his company. Both of them learned a lot musically from Duncan during the time they were his pupils. 

‘The evening Duncan presented us with the tune for Dominic we will never forget. He would have understood the grief that we were going through at that time regarding the passing of one of our children.

Duncan, with the Balvenie Medal for services to piping

‘When he gave us the tune we were so overwhelmed that for a few moments we were speechless. I don’t think we could have thanked him enough for such a kind gesture.

‘I am sure he knew that we appreciated what he had given us. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say Duncan’s composition ensures Dominic’s memory endures. I would like to finish by saying that Duncan Johnstone wasn’t just a nice man, he was a nice human being.’

  • Duncan’s tune can be found in ‘His Complete Compositions’ book. Unfortunately it would appear the book is out of print. If anyone has information please forward.

5 thoughts on “Duncan’s Tune for Dominic

  1. I have always liked this tune and have played it several times in 6/8 competitions. It is even more special knowing the reason for its composition.

  2. Beautiful…as obviously was Dominic.
    It has a most reflective sound by a bloke who never ceases to impress.
    Let’s get it played.

  3. I loved reading this article! What Andrew and Ann said of Duncan I also found to be true when I lived in Glasgow and studied with him a few years later on. He was magnificent and I treasure those memories. It is ironic that Duncan would also subsequently compose a tune for his own boy who died (as I recall) of leukemia. That tune is also a fabulous composition, the piobaireachd, The Lament for Alan, My Son.
    The tune for Dominic can be found here: https://thesession.org/tunes/9995

  4. Reading this and finding out about young Dominic, means a lot to me, as I have wondered who Dominic was, for many years.
    I first heard the tune on a cassette tape of BBC Radio Scotland’s “Pipeline” broadcasts from the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was played by a former Scots Guards piper and pupil of Duncan Johnstone, Simon – (sorry – I’ve forgotten his surname).
    I felt there was something special about the tune and liked it so much: I played that tape over and over, to write out the notes of the tune, and eventually committed it to memory.
    When an informal one-off competition came up, organised by the Scottish Piping Society of London and held at the Gordons School (Patron: H.M. The Queen), where I used to teach piping, I decided to play the tune in the 6/8 March contest. I came third to P/M Roger Huth and Chris Apps, both undeniably better players than myself, and was happy with the result. To be told afterwards by Roger, that I would have won that competition, had my drones been in better tune, was a surprise and meant a lot: it was not to do with me nor my playing, but in the tune itself, capturing a special feeling than Duncan Johnstone had entwined within the notes, the spirit and memory of a special boy. Now I know: rest in peace, Dominic.

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