Category Archives: Tuition

Famous Pipers: More on Captain John A MacLellan MBE

Additional information on Captain John MacLellan who featured in our post last week. This is from the programme notes for last year’s ‘Captain John A MacLellan MBE Piping Championship’ produced by the Army School:

John A. Maclellan was born in Dunfermline, Fife, in July 1921. He attended Fort Augustus Abbey School and joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a boy piper in 1936. In 1941 at age 19 he was named Pipe Major of the 9th Battalion , Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, the youngest man ever named Pipe Major in the British Army.

He would subsequently serve as Pipe Major with the 1st Seaforth Highlanders, the Lowland Brigade and the 11th Seaforths. He was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 1 with his appointment in 1954 as Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st  and 11th Seaforths and served in Germany, Egypt and Gibraltar. In 1946 he attended the Pipe Major’s course under Willie Ross and graduated with a Distinguished Certificate.

Captain John MacLellan at Fort George

He would later be sent for piobaireachd instruction to John MacDonald, Inverness, then the Piobaireachd Society’s official instructor. He won all of the major prizes and to this day he remains the only piper ever to have won piping’s ‘grand slam’ – the Open Piobaireachd at Oban, the Gold Clasp at Inverness and the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey and Reel at both gatherings in the same year, 1958, a record unlikely ever to be matched.

When he took over from the great Willie Ross in 1959, the Army Piping Class was being restructured as the Army School of Piping. Over the next 17 years he ran a centre of excellence at Edinburgh Castle with a long line of superb Pipe Major candidates studying under him.

IN 1963, with much of his best work still ahead of him, he was awarded the MBE for his contribution to the improvement of Army piping. Five years later he was appointed to a commission in the Queen’s Own Highlanders, becoming the first Director of Army Bagpipe Music.

During the 1960s and 70s he published six books of bagpipe music, many containing his own compositions and arrangements. He also turned to piobaireachd composition in which he excelled being thought by many to be the best composer of piobaireachd during the latter 20th century.

His Phantom Piper of the Corrieyairick (winner of the 1969 Saltire Society Award for piobaireachd composition) has entered the repertoire as a staple along with others such as Farewell to the Queen’s Ferry, A Welcome to Patrick Struan, the Salute to the Great Pipe and the Edinburgh Piobaireachd.

From 1978 to 1981 he and his wife Christine published the popular and influential ‘International Piper’ magazine. Captain MacLellan also became a pioneer of piping summer schools, travelling to set up and teach schools in South Africa, Australia the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

One of Captain John’s books. It contains the celebrated ‘Phantom Piper of the Corrieyairick’ piobaireachd

His home in Dean Park Crescent in Edinburgh saw many piping visitors and he was a great supporter of overseas competitors attending the major events. During this time he was also a prolific performer and contributor to the BBC’s piping programmes.

In 1962 he had proposed the idea of amalgamating the Army School, the College of Piping and the Piobaireachd Society under one umbrella to form the Institute of Piping which now includes the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, the National Piping Centre and the Army Cadet Force Pipes and Drums and comes under the umbrella of the Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board offering qualifications in piping and drumming at all levels.

Shortly after retiring from competition he devoted much of his time to the Piobaireachd Society and his work would form a significant part of his piping contribution during the rest of his life. He became Honorary Secretary of the Music Committee, one of the most influential and important appointments in piping, responsible for all aspects of publication, set tunes and judging. He was awarded the Balvenie Medal for his services to piping in 1989. John MacLellan died at his home in April of 1991 at the age of 69.

• We would be interested to hear from anyone who studied under Captain John at the Army School. Email

PP Ed’s Blog: Pipe Bands Australia Appointment/ Johnstone Pipe Band/ D Throw Query/ Schools Trust Job

Congratulations to Dean Hall on being appointed Principal of Drumming for Pipe Bands Australia. Dean joins Brett Tidswell, Principal of Piping, in forging ahead with the development of piping and drumming in that country.

There does seem to be something of a boom in pipe bands down under right now and having worked with these two gentlemen in the past I am certain this will receive further impetus.

PBA President Chris Earl (pictured above far right with Brett and Dean) has come in for a fair bit of stick over various matters lately but he now has individuals with all the knowledge and experience needed to help him navigate the sometimes stormy waters of pipe band politics.

And before leaving Australia we should congratulate Brett on his new baby. Benjamin James arrived last month at 7lb 9oz and both mum Angie and baby are coping as best they can with dad’s practising:

Not a great entry for the RSPBA’s Glasgow and West of Scotland Branch indoor competition to be held in Coatbridge High School this Saturday April 29. Unfortunately it does not augur well for the future of the contest.

There are so many good bands in the branch through all grades it is surprising that they don’t take this opportunity of a run out before the outdoor season starts. Only the newly promoted Johnstone in Grade 1 where I hear former Inveraray Pipe Sergeant Douglas Campbell is doing great work helping whip the pipe corps into shape. Click here for the Coatbridge draw.

Johnstone under Pipe Major Keith Bowes

Nicholas Taitz in South Africa: ‘Have you noticed, there is a modern tendency to play the heavy D throw as simply a grip to D with no C in between?  The correct way to play the heavy D throw, so I was taught, was to play a grip to C, and then play a D.  The C was admittedly very short, but it was there. 

‘I have seen an exercise where five or six of the top players’ D throws were slowed down and they are simply grips straight to D, with no short C.  Once you are listening for this, I think you will hear it more and more.  I didn’t notice this myself until a senior piper pointed it out to me, and he actually was the one who had slowed down the recordings I refer to above, and sent them to me.  I went back and listened to Hugh MacCallum playing the heavy throw, and he definitely plays a grip to C (which is a very short C) and then onto a D to finish.    

‘Anyone else noticed this?  It actually sounds quite nice to play a grip straight to D, it has a nice effect, but it’s not really a correct embellishment, is it?  Maybe it ought to be recognised now as a correct variant, because it’s certainly very common amongst top pipers.’

Have heard this a few times Nicholas but wouldn’t say it was a common problem. Most judges are ready for it and would condemn it if heard. One pleasing development of the last several years has been the disappearance of the heavy D throw from piobaireachd and slow air playing. The extra, or ‘redundant’, low A this version of the movement employs is acceptable when played in quicker tunes but in ceol mor it offends the sensibilities. Tutor Book 1 has a good lesson on the D throw which I can recommend.

Alex Duncan of the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust: ‘SSPDT has just opened up applications for two internships – for a snare drummer and a piper – to start in August – details below.  These are great opportunities for people to gain experience prior to applying for further education courses, or for people who already have an advanced education qualification and who are considering a career as a schools instructor.

‘This is an exciting opportunity for a piper or a snare drummer to gain experience of teaching in schools alongside experienced instructors, and of developing a schools pipe band.’

The interns can opt to include charity administration as part of their portfolio.  The posts will be tailored to build on individuals’ ability and experience . The internships are paid, and can start from August 2017. Full details can be found here:

Closing date 31st May 2017.

‘Pipers Meeting’ – Breton Piper Patrick Molard Discusses New Book

Origins of A New Book of Ceol Mor

It was not before 1995 that I became interested by the Colin Campbell canntaireachd manuscript, writes Patrick Molard. Before that, the only knowledge I had of it was in the Piobaireachd Society editorial notes in the different books, and I don’t even remember my teachers Bob Brown and Bob Nicol mentioning the Campbell manuscript to me.
I was taught ceol mor through singing, but they both used their own form of canntaireachd which was probably something similar to John MacDonald‘s own canntaireachd. Then a friend of mine from Brittany, Eric Freyssinet, managed to get photocopies of the manuscript from the National Library of Scotland, and he was so excited that he started persuading me to study the manuscript in depth, learning all the vocables and the whole system with the help of the PS notes.

At first, I tried to study the pieces that I already knew in staff notation, and gradually I discovered that I was able to play tunes on my pipes straight from the canntaireachd. So the next step was to have a look at all the unpublished pieces. I worked with Eric for a while, and we tried to find solutions together, singing away different possibilities of rhythm and phrasing and even noticing and correcting little mistakes in the manuscript. Then on my own I carried on the job  for years, never happy with the results and finding new solutions for some tunes which we had left aside because they were too difficult to decipher.

From this:

to this:
to this:

In order to find the rhythm and phrasing, particularly in the urlar, I decided to use Bob Brown’s method of teaching, which he called the scansion of the tunes, trying to determine the number of beats in each bar or phrase and it helped me a lot to decipher the rhythm of all the different phrases. Also when I could not find the number of beats, I would have a look straight at the variations first, so that I could determine the construction and number of beats. It did not always work as many tunes have variations which don’t always follow the construction of the urlar.

I also discovered a lot of tunes with five or even six beats, which is not common in piobaireachd where there is a predominance of three or four beats to the phrase. The first piece among the unpublished tunes which I managed to elucidate was Failt na Misk, a strange title which is corrupted Gaelic meaning ‘Salute to Drunkenness!’ (Tune 22 in Volume 2 of the CC.) In fact this is a very good example of a tune where I was first attracted by the variations which I found beautiful, and from the variations I found the rhythm of the urlar without great difficulty.
I have recorded this piece on my album ‘The Waking of the Bridegroom’ produced by MacMeamna records in 2008.

Then I went through all the other unpublished pieces and gradually I found solutions for most of them using Bob Brown’s scansion system and my own knowledge and intuition. I also had studied the work of people like Archie Kenneth and Frans Buisman, not to mention interesting conversations with Barnaby Brown, and a huge correspondence with my good friend Ronald Smith, a pupil of the late Malcolm R. MacPherson, who helped me a lot with his precious suggestions and information about the meaning of some of the titles in the manuscript.

Patrick and Jack pictured at a sunny St Malo whilst working on the book in 2012
The next step came in March 2012  when I was invited by my friend Jack Taylor  to give a talk about my research at the Piobaireachd Society Conference. There we decided that something should be done with all this work, and Jack accepted the task of transcribing all these pieces into staff notation using music software. Jack helped me a lot with his musical suggestions which have really improved what I had already found.

We decided to transcribe the music as it is in the manuscript with no editing work apart from obvious mistakes which corrected, and always mentioning the addition of cadences which were not indicated but could be played or not according to the player’s taste. After months, or years should I say, of proofreading and corrections of all kinds, we are very happy to publish this new book of ceol mor with tunes which have not be played probably for more than 200 years.

• Check out Patrick’s other piobaireachd recording ‘Ceol Mor/ Light & Shade’ here.

Australia’s Silver Chalice/ Govan Pipes and Drums Concert

Sunday 9th April saw the New South Wales Piper’s Society hold their long running annual Silver Chalice competition at the Presbyterian Ladies College in Sydney, Australia.

Unfortunately there was a smaller than normal entry with only five competitors turning out. Despite the low turnout the guest judge, Marion Horsburgh of New Zealand, commented on the enjoyable and high standard of playing. Jason Craig was the winner for the second year in a row.

Results were:

Silver Chalice Piobaireachd
1st Jason Craig, Scarce of Fishing (pictured)
2nd Dennis Browning, Old Men of the Shells

Ron Clement March, Strathspey and Reel
1st Jason Craig, Craig-n-Darroch, P/M Hector MacLean, Sandy Cameron
2nd Sam Creed , John MacDonald of Glencoe, Dora MacLeod, Dolina MacKay 

The Easter weekend sees two other big contests in the Antipodes: The Maclean Highland Gathering in northern New South Wales, Australia, and the Hastings Highland Games in the North Island of NZ. We would ask the promoters to forward results and thus share them with our thousands of readers worldwide.

Iain White, Chairman of the Board of the Govan Schools Pipes and Drums Association, has sent this regarding the inaugural concert recital they are holding on April 22 at the College of Piping:

‘The inaugural Govan Schools Pipes and Drums Association Recital brings together the Govan Schools band, double Gold Medallist Callum Beaumont, Grade 1’s new kids on the block, Johnstone Pipe Band, and Gaelic singer Bethany Watson for an evening of Scottish traditional music in the College of Piping on Saturday 22nd April.

Callum Beaumont after his recent victory at the Uist & Barra

The idea is to give our fledgling pipers and drummers another chance to play in front of an audience whilst allowing them to hear some of the best talent that there is around in the solo and pipe band worlds today.  We are grateful to the College of Piping for granting us the use of the premises where so much good is done in the name of piping and drumming.  It will be a thrill for our young players to be on the same bill as Callum and Johnstone Pipe Band and to have their aspirations lifted by the quality performances that they hear.

We want them to leave  the recital saying ‘That could be me some day’!  Of course, any profit we make from the door, the auctions and raffles will help to fund the GSPDA tuition programme and the GSPDA band.  We hope that piping’s ‘usual suspects’ who are to be seen listening intently at all the competitions and recitals will turn out to swell the numbers who’ll be there to support the two pipe bands. 

Around 100 young people have lessons each week at the two local secondary schools and their associated primaries. The instructors – Iain Watson and Iain MacPherson in piping and Stevie Burns in drumming – are well known for their Strathclyde and Glasgow Police Pipe Band connections.  Apart from funding from the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust to help with tuition, the programme is entirely self-financing, accessing help from sponsors, charitable trusts and fund-raising events.  It costs upwards of £40,000 per year to run the programme and the Govan Schools Pipes & Drums Association band.

Entry on the evening will be by donation at the door.  There will be a couple of prizes up for auction and a grand raffle.  The College of Piping is supplying a cash bar so everything is in place for another fun evening in Otago Street.’

CITES Latest – Repairs Freed from Regulation

Overseas pipers sending broken blackwood joints back to manufacturers in the UK for repair will not have to comply with the new legislation covering the import and export of African blackwood products.

A spokesman for the UK’s regulator, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), said the European Union had issued a directive confirming the above. Other countries around the world seem to have adopted a similar stance though he said pipers overseas should check locally.

‘It makes sense that wood which has already been through the licensing procedure is exempted from further examination,’ he added.

The spokesman also reported that bagpipe manufacturers in the UK were having their licensing of shipments readily agreed and that they had reported no glitches in the system. Most new wood was coming directly into the UK from outwith Europe was coming from Indonesia and India and these countries had systems in place to handle the paperwork surrounding protected species.

It costs bagpipemakers £59 for an export licence from APHA in Bristol. For further information here are a couple of links

• Link to the EU guidance (page 5 for non-commercial trading
• Guidance on charges:
A CITES parcel from RG Hardie
RG Hardie Man
aging Director Alastair Dunn with the new trophy his sponsored last year at the Argyllshire Gathering

Alasdair Dunn, Managing Director of RG Hardie said: ‘We have been receiving permits and exporting blackwood bagpipes without any issue. They have arrived safely in North America and Australia for example.
‘It is important we communicate a positive message regarding the availability of blackwood products and also for people travelling with instruments. Serial numbers are not required, however we do engrave our pipes with the year of manufacture and in the case of Hendersons, a serial number on the bass stock.’

Background information on the mpingo African Blackwood tree: ‘The African blackwood, also known as the mpingo tree (botanical name dalbergia melanoxylon) is regarded as one of the most precious timbers in the world. Ranging from reddish to pure black, its lustrous heartwood has mechanical properties that make it  ideal for making carvings.

‘It is naturally oily, finely grained and has a unique density. Its tonal qualities are particularly valued when used in woodwind instruments mainly clarinets, oboes, bagpipes and piccolos. The African blackwood being highly durable protects the instrument from the acidity of saliva and oily hands. In addition it is environmentally stable and does not distort when exposed to increased humidity thus significantly prevents the tone and pitch of a musical instrument from altering.

Blackwood sets ready for turning…..they now have to be properly accounted for and registered

‘With all these qualities it is no wonder that African blackwood manufactures some of the world’s best woodwind instruments. In fact it is believed to be the most expensive hardwood in the world costing up to $25,000 per cubic metre.

‘Mpingo also has many traditional uses; different parts of the tree are used in medicine. The bark, leaves and pods can all be used as animal feed; the heart and sapwood can be burnt as fuel or made in to charcoal. The wood when boiled produces a broth believed to impart strength when used to bathe newborn babies.

‘Mpingo generally grows under a wide range of environmental conditions and is able to survive fires that destroy grasslands and other vegetation. It is indigenous to 26 African countries from northern Ethiopia to the south in Angola and from Senegal across to Tanzania and Mozambique. It is frequently found on dry, rocky sites from sea level to 1,200 metres. It survives on very little water; in fact once its root system is set up, the tree requires little or no rainfall to mature.’

Read more on the CITES blackwood regulations here.