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The piping world is true family

By Liza Mulholland

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Something completely magical came winging its way from Kansas to our home this week. No, it wasn’t two shiny red shoes and not from the Wizard of Oz, but a beautiful set of bagpipes from a wizard of piping!

When my son left school just over a year ago, he had to hand back his pipes and has been pipe-less since then. Benefitting from High Life Highland’s musical instrument tuition programme in schools, he’d started chanter in primary and throughout secondary had been learning the pipes under the fine tutelage of Louise MacBain.

Louise’s tireless enthusiasm brought many fantastic opportunities for her piping students, with their pipe band playing at the opening of the new Inverness Royal Academy building, as well as Christmas concerts, prize-givings and many other school events. However, on leaving school he of course had to return the set of pipes, for use by another lucky youngster.

Roddy loved his piping and, my goodness, did it do my heart good to hear him play! Apart from my late uncle who was a piper, most of my family were pianists, fiddlers and singers, and I must confess, as a lover of pipe music, I harboured a wee romantic longing that my boy might one day play. I used to take him into town as a toddler to see pipers on the High Street, hoping that his fascination might lead to a desire to play. It seemed to work!

Pipers from around the world gathered at the Northern Meeting Park this summer for Piping Inverness. Picture: Alasdair Allen/SPP
Pipers from around the world gathered at the Northern Meeting Park this summer for Piping Inverness. Picture: Alasdair Allen/SPP

My son’s biggest passion is football and, though he’s now full-time with Caley Thistle FC, he loves music too. Youngsters’ careers (and wish for a secure salary!) might lead them elsewhere but music brings a lifetime of pleasure, social enjoyment and satisfaction, regardless of ever going down the professional route. He still plays piano but there’s undoubtedly been a big bagpipe-sized hole in our lives this last year.

When old friend and top piper Donald McBride heard some months ago that Roddy was without pipes, he at once offered to send a spare set of his. He messaged from his home in Kansas to say he’d boxed them up, sent them off and would be with me in several weeks. This is where the bagpipe journey gets interesting!

They arrived into an importation warehouse in Coventry, from where I started to receive paperwork requesting detailed confirmation of what was in the box, who had sent them and why. I completed the same form at least three times, but each time I got another back asking why, if the pipes were a gift, wasn’t there a receipt to accompany them? Clearly the concept of gifting an old set of bagpipes, whose original receipt was lost in the mists of time, was beyond the understanding of the bureaucrats!

A trail of paperwork later, the suits in Coventry decided this would not do and sent the pipes back to Kansas! Donald was not to be beaten, however, and immediately arranged to post them to a friend in St Louis, who was coming to Scotland for the season’s piping competitions and who would deliver them to me.

I duly met with Matt at Inverness’s Northern Meeting and took delivery of the pipes. A happy moment indeed! Needing a new chanter and bag cover, I popped them into Cabarfeidh Bagpipe Supplies shop in the city's Victorian Market, who saw to all that and fixed them up ready to play.

What has struck me throughout this saga, is the unflinching generosity and determination of pipers, thousands of miles away, to help a young player. No money changed hands (my offer was met with stout refusal) and at its heart, musicians with real passion for sharing the long continuum of pipe music.

I always knew the world of piping was a close-knit community, but it’s more than that. It’s a true family; not blood relations but kin who genuinely care about the passing on of traditional music to our young people and will go out of their way to do it.

With the sound of the pipes once more skirling around the homestead, there is really no place like home!

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