Piping enthusiasts in the Western Isles and beyond are looking forward with eager anticipation to Friday 1st of April. The occasion is the 18th P. M. Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition and the venuue is the Caladh Hotel Stornoway.
Donald Macleod was born in Stornoway in 1916 and died in Glasgow in 1982. Throughout his illustrious career firstly in the Army and subsequently with Grainger and Campbell in Glasgow he established a reputation as one of the top pipers of the 20th century. Not only could he play the pipes better than most, as evidenced by the eight Clasps to the Gold Medal at the Northern Meetings in Inverness that he won, he also composed many fine tunes for the pipes. And he was a most encouraging and supportive tutor to those learning the pipes, both in the Army and in civilian life.
It is now nearly twenty years since the Lewis and Harris Piping Society decided to organise an invitational competition to commemorate the man and his music. Eight of the current best pipers in the world are invited to play some of Donald MacLeod’s compositions together with some of their own choice of tunes.
Donald Macleod composed over 20 Piobaireachds, and the judges select one of them for each piper to play in the morning. The tunes are all extremely melodic and pleasant to listen to even if you don’t really understand the intricacies of the genre. His inspiration for the compositions came from events eg the Iolaire disaster, or individuals eg The Garden of Roses composed for his wife Winnie whose maiden name was Garden. Others reflect his love of nature eg Field of Gold inspired by a field of buttercups.
Mrs MacLeod was the custodian of the musical heritage left by her husband and through her efforts his collection of tuition tapes was published on CDs a few years ago, a veritable treasure trove for any serious student of piobaireachd. She was a keen supporter of the competition to commemorate her husband, and travelled to Stornoway for the competition each year until her health deteriorated. Sadly she passed away last year, but their two daughters Fiona and Susan, both of them immortalised by tunes composed by their father will be in attendance.
In the light music section of the competition the pipers are asked to play two marches two strathspeys and two reels. One of each has to be a tune composed by Donald Macleod. The competition is rounded off with a hornpipe and jig of the pipers own choosing.
The committee choose the pipers to be invited on the basis of their success at various premier competitions in the past year. All the pipers attending this year have taken part in the competition on previous occasions with one exception, Andrew Hayes from Canada who won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meetings last year. Indeed the Canadians have tended to dominate the Solo competitions in recent years, and interestingly many of them are members of the legal profession in Canada.
The committee of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society face a stiff challenge in continuing to promote this annual competition in the current tough economic climate where corporate sponsorship is difficult to find. But with the help of private sponsorship, and the support of the friends of the society in Inverness, hopefully the competition can keep going.
To give them your full support make your way to the Caladh Hotel for 10.30 on Friday 1st April. You can be assured of a good days entertainment, and an enjoyable ceilidh in the evening when you will hear more piping in a more informal setting.