William Caudill is Director of the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, an academic, and Instructor of the St. Andrews Pipe Band. These are his reflections of a (not so) old piper. (For more information on the Scottish Heritage Center, which houses the Fiona Ritchie Radio Archive go to www.sapc.edu)
I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my own reflections as a piper, competitor, and now an adjudicator on the changes which are rocking the piping world.
I was brought up in a traditional piping atmosphere at a young age. I had the opportunity to work with a very good instructor long before many of today's streamlined tutoring methods were printed.
As I became more proficient, and began entering solo competitions and making more numerous public performances I began to see the true potential of this rich musical tradition.
Although I still enjoyed listening to pipe band recordings, I was exposed to groups such as The Battlefield Band and The Tannahill Weavers by my young teen years. Battlefield Band's Home Is Where The Van Is and The Tannahill Weavers' self titled album in the early '80s had a great deal of influence on my own music.
I found myself learning tunes off of these albums for the competition boards long before today's players had ever heard of the term "kitchenpiping" and the growing popularity of folk-band inspired playing.
Today, young or novice players have been influenced to a great degree by recordings. Some young players want to learn "The Clumsy Lover" or the latest hornpipe from the pen of P/M Robert Mathieson before they can play a fully correct rendition of Scotland the Brave. Such is the influence of recording.
Nonetheless, one cannot say that this is a completely negative influence. Today, the Scottish Highland Bagpipe is at the zenith of its popularity. More and more people are making an effort to learn the instrument in part due to the fact that there are certainly more recordings available which serve to "hook" the listener and send them down the long road to becoming a proficient player themselves.
Nonetheless, many novice players seem to want to become a cloned version of Robert Mathieson or Gordon Duncan overnight. There is no substitute for a good instructor, hard work, and perseverance.
The repertoire among pipers and pipe bands has also been influenced to a great degree by other traditional musicians in recent years. Whereas 20 years ago it would have been unusual to find non-traditional, or non-Highland music in a pipe band setting, today's pipe bands are definitely broadening their musical horizons.
One has only to listen to the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band, who have recently won a world championship playing mostly compositions of their reknown Pipe Major Robert Mathieson (of Ebb Tide and Gracenotes fame, available on Lismor Recordings); or the classic playing of the 78th Fraser Highlanders from Canada who obviously had an appreciation for The Bothy Band in their inclusion of "Farewell to Erin" and "The Old Hag at the Churn" into their repertoire, to see these influences coming to light.
Though I tend toward the more "purist" side of things when it comes to solo piping, one can only marvel at the flying fingers and terrific arrangements created by today's superstars such as Fred Morrison (The Broken Chanter Lismor) and Gordon Duncan (Just for Seamus Greentrax).
Morrison has taken his share of prizes in the major competitions in Scotland, but has devoted much of his recent efforts toward what some would term "folk piping." I had the opportunity to study with Fred's father "Old Fred" Morrison during the summer of 1988. His father, a staunch traditional player from South Uist, would no doubt utter his famous phrase, "Oh, My God!" at some of the changes and inspirations that seem to be taking the piping world by storm these days.
Upon listening to Gordon Duncan, one can only wonder how he harnessed his flying fingers in order to be Pipe Sergeant of the Grade I Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. His progressive musical influences can certainly be heard in the band's recordings.
In 22 years of being a part of the Highland piping scene, I have been witness to a great deal of change. Pipe bands have sprung up like weeds throughout North America, and players and the sound of their instruments are at a higher calibre than ever before.
In summary, Highland piping can certainly be considered a "living tradition" today. We can certainly see this here in North America. The U.S. now has its own winner of the ultimate Gold medal prizes at Inverness and Oban, Mike Cusack, as well as others who have the potential to do well in the major contests in Scotland.
Canada has been a great influence on piping as well, not only with its older piping tradition and many world class soloists such as Bill Livingston, Jim McGillivray, Colin MacLellan and others, but with the World Championship wins of the 78th Fraser Highlanders and Simon Fraser University Pipe Band. North America is truly developing a thriving piping tradition which is "on par" with the mother country.
Whether you prefer listening to the subtleties of a beautiful piobaireachd presented by Donald MacPherson or Colin MacLellan, or the stirring sounds of the Field Marshal Montgomery or Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia pipe bands, there is a great deal to appreciate when one considers the large amount of good recordings available these days. Listen to the "Living Tradition" of Highland piping. Perhaps you may get hooked just as I did.
William Caudill is Director of the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and Instructor of the St. Andrews Pipe Band (pictured at the top of the page). For more information on the Scottish Heritage Center, visit their website: