Open Letter to pipers and others who might be interested in the
promotion and preservation of the playing of Piobaireachd.
a span of eleven years before his return to his native Scotland in 1993,
world renowned piper Dr. Angus MacDonald conducted a series of
Piobaireachd workshops at the Antigonish Highland Society office. These
workshops attracted a large number of young players from Cape Breton,
Antigonish and Metro Halifax/Dartmouth. A few came all the way from
Fredericton, New Brunswick and other distant points to benefit from his
instruction in this ancient musical art form.
Dr. MacDonald’s advice and financial support, the Nova Scotia Pipers and
Pipe Band Association (now the Atlantic Canada Pipe Band Association)
began hosting annually a Silver Medal Piobaireachd Challenge Cup
Competition which, only a few short years later, attracted more than
twenty entries. The response was so good in fact that a decision was made
to offer a separate event - the Bronze Medal Piobaireachd Challenge - for
the junior amateur pipers.
Dr. MacDonald’s departure, however, Piobaireachd instruction in Nova
Scotia has been drastically cut back. This has resulted in a serious
decline in the number of pipers playing Piobaireachd at all competitions,
including the Silver and Bronze Medal Piobaireachd Challenges which, in
1996, attracted only three entries in each event. This prompted the judge,
Gold Medalist (Inverness, Oban) and Clasp winner Mr. Jim McGillivray of
Aurora, Ontario, to write an article for the ACPBA Newsletter (Vol. 1,
Issue 3) which was titled: Lament For Piobaireachd: Is This Another
“Species” On the Road to Extinction?
continued promotion and preservation of Piobaireachd must find new
shoulders upon which to lean for support. With this in mind, I propose the
founding of a Piobaireachd Society made up of piobaireachd players,
learners, other pipers, and non-piping supporters who will come together
once each month to devise ways of furthering the goals it will set, and to
enjoy the playing of bagpipe music, each meeting featuring the performance
of at least one Piobaireachd. Such a Society could provide financial and
moral support for Piobaireachd workshops to be conducted by prominent
players from within/without our region with evening recitals by the
instructor(s) open to the general public. It could help support the annual
Silver and Bronze Medal Piobaireachd Challenges, and, perhaps at some
point in the future, assist the best of our young pipers to travel to
competitions of national and/or international significance. It could
disseminate information about piobaireachd through a newsletter and/or
other mailings to members and could assemble and house a library of
materials related to piobaireachd.
would like to call all those interested in forming a Piobaireachd Society
to a foundation meeting to be held at the Antigonish Highland Society
Office, 2nd Floor, 274 Main Street, Antigonish on Saturday afternoon,
November 16th, at 2 PM. I will try to have a piper on hand to play for us
- a piobaireachd to be part of the presentation, of course - and will
arrange for coffee and doughnuts. Any new undertaking such as this will
need some up-front money, so I suggest that you might come prepared to pay
an interim membership fee at the first meeting. I suggest $25.00 with a
junior membership for those 16 and under of $10.00. This is a suggestion
only, however, so don’t stay away just because of the suggested interim
fee. Your participation is more important than your money!
first meeting might elect a slate of officers - President, Vice President,
Secretary and Treasurer - and might lay the groundwork for what would
eventually become a constitution and by-laws. It should begin the task of
determining the needs of pipers young and old who are interested in
learning/playing piobaireachd and come up with some strategies which might
help the Society meet these needs.
try to attend this very important foundation meeting, and bring as many
others with you as you can. Let me know that you are coming, and how many
in your party so I can have refreshments ready for you when you arrive.
(My phone number is at the top of this letter.)
And bring along your pipes if you are a player. Perhaps you might
give us a tune or two?
look forward to hearing from you soon and seeing you on November 16th.
p.m., November 16, 1996
by Scott Williams, Director
afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you for coming out today
in support of this effort to found a Piobaireachd Society for the
preservation and promotion of this ancient and most splendid of musical
is the music which stirred the blood of our Highland ancestors, which
honoured their heroes and mourned their dead, and which followed them to
the four corners of the world in the aftermath of the defeat at Culloden
and the Clearances. In that sense, piobaireachd is our music - the music
of our own people. Would that we could hear it more often and not be
forced to listen to the music of our neighbours to the south
twenty-three hours a day on the radio (‘Ray Mac’s Ceilidh’
being the welcomed exception). Indeed, American music has taken such a
strong hold on our society that it is even taught in place of our own
music at our local schools and university.
should report that I’ve had a number of phone calls from people who wish
to assure us that they are in support of this great effort today, but are
unable to attend this meeting due to prior commitments. I would also like
to take a moment to thank Iain MacInnes for coming out to be our first
official guest piper. I am sure you will all enjoy his performance a bit
concept of a Piobaireachd Society is not a new one.
The Piobaireachd Society of Scotland was founded on January 19th,
1903 following a series of articles which appeared in the Oban Times
predicting the end of piobaireachd playing in Scotland. The article stated
that almost all knowledge of piobaireachd rested with four men and if they
should pass away before their knowledge could be passed on, that tenuous
connection with the past would be severed forever. It is interesting to
note that the anonymous articles were likely written by Archibald Kenneth
Campbell of Kilberry, brother of Captain John Campbell who founded the
Piobaireachd Society. Whether or not this is true, the articles certainly
helped stimulate people to action, and on January 19th, fourteen men sat
together and founded the Piobaireachd Society which has, over the past 90
years, worked long and arduously to save piobaireachd playing from its
predicted demise. Indeed, the Society can be credited with the growth of
interest in the music which has seen it spread to all corners of the world
to such an extent that many of the most famous exponents of the art are to
be found in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
we draw a parallel with our own situation here in Antigonish? The Casket tells
us that the Antigonish Highland Games held piobaireachd events at
infrequent intervals from 1863 into the 1970’s and annually from then
on. In 1919, first prize went to George Dey of Halifax. In 1952 it was P\M
Mitchelson of the NB Scottish, with our own Andrew Braid placing second.
In 1953, Peter Morrison of Sydney won the top honours and in 1956 the
premier prize went to Archie Cairns. In the 1960’s, piobaireachd prizes
went to Alexander Sinclair of Massachusetts and William Gilmour of
Oromocto, NB. Billy Gilmour tied with a young Scot, Angus MacDonald of
Glenuig, in 1970, the first we heard of the young man who would later lead
us into what might be called the ‘Golden Age’ of piobaireachd in Nova
Angus MacDonald came to live in Cape Breton in 1982, already a recognized
world-class piobaireachd player. Finding little or no piobaireachd played
by local pipers, except those taught at St. Ann’s Gaelic College during
their summer schools, he agreed to begin a series of workshops with the
hopes of interesting some of the region’s young players in the music.
The workshops were usually held in the Antigonish Highland Society Office
and were a tremendous success. In all, he offered more than forty
workshops during his eleven-year stay in Nova Scotia. He was the driving
force and principle supporter of the NSPPBA’s Silver Medal Piobaireachd
Challenge Competition which has been held for a number of years in
conjunction with the Antigonish Indoor Meet and which, a few short years
ago, attracted 20 entrants. So successful was it that, two years ago, the
event was divided into two sections - the Silver Medal for Senior Amateur
and Open players, and the Bronze Medal for Junior Amateur players. Dr.
Angus returned to Scotland in 1993 and, sad to say, piobaireachd began its
rapid decline. In 1996, the Silver and Bronze Medal Piobaireachd Challenge
Competitions attracted only three entrants each which prompted the judge,
Jim McGillivray, to report that Piobaireachd may well become extinct in
sorry picture, it is true, but the situation is not really that bad. The
Gaelic College summer schools are attracting larger and larger numbers of
young pipers who are being introduced to, and becoming proficient in the
playing of piobaireachd under the capable guidance of Bob Worrall. Scott
MacAulay is teaching piobaireachd in Prince Edward Island, John MacLean
and Robyn Whitty have students in Metro Halifax, and we have a thriving
program of piobaireachd instruction here in Antigonish. Piobaireachd is
surviving, but does it have a future?
own experience in piobaireachd is rather limited. Though I competed and
won prizes in the 1970’s, my own tuition was not consistent. I studied
briefly with P/M Bill Magennis, and then for several summers with Finlay
MacNeill at St. Ann’s. As local organizer for Dr. Angus’ workshops, I
attended all of them with my students and was put through, altogether,
about three dozen tunes - not a great number, and certainly not enough to
make me an expert by anyone’s measuring stick. While living and working
in Scotland (1993-94), I attended a great number of competitions, concerts
and recitals and managed to acquire a rather comprehensive library of
piobaireachd tapes. I used them to create a Piobaireachd Tape Library for
the NSPPBA with 172 tunes played by a number of the great masters of the
going to Scotland for the year, I had been teaching piobaireachd to some
of my students at the Antigonish Highland Society School of Piping. Upon
my return, I picked up again with considerable success. Heather MacIsaac,
for example, won the Jr. Amateur Champion Supreme title for both 1995 and
1996. Charles Baldner won the Bronze Medal Piobaireachd Challenge in 1996,
and Andrea Boyd, entering piobaireachd competition for the first time at
St. Ann’s, placed 2nd against seven more experienced players. This year,
eleven students of the AHS School are studying piobaireachd. At the Annual
General Meeting of the ACPBA in October, I put forward a motion that the
Association offer a Grade 5 piobaireachd event where these beginning
pipers would play a ground only. This received the unanimous support of
the meeting and will be offered by Highland Games across the region in
is my hope that we will be able to form a Piobaireachd Society this
afternoon that will serve the piping community in the following ways:
provide an opportunity for piobaireachd to be played in a
non-competitive atmosphere before persons interested and supportive of
this ancient musical art form.
provide an opportunity for patrons and others interested in
learning more about piobaireachd and pipe music in general to hear it
being played on a regular basis.
provide a body of interested individuals who will help to arrange
and finance piobaireachd workshops and piping recitals by the finest
players and teachers from across the region and beyond.
help make it possible for young pipers who are successful in
advancing their knowledge and skill in piobaireachd to attend courses of
instruction and/or competitions of regional, national and international
importance, with the long term goal of producing a Gold Medalist from
among our charges.
gather together and make accessible to our members and piping
students a library of books, reports, article, magazines, records, tapes
and videos of piping with a special emphasis on piobaireachd.
list could go on and on, but I’d better cut it off there before I
frighten you all away. The task is a large one, but we can take small
steps and perhaps we will ultimately reach these and other goals that the
Society might set from time to time.
entertaining any motions, I would like now to open the floor to discussion
on the points I have raised or any others that you might think are
doing so, however, I would like you to think about the Society we hope to
form and whether it should be local, regional or provincial in scope.
now open the floor for discussion.
of Officers: President: