Piping workshops established for Stornoway’s Donald Macleod competition weekend

Roddy Macleod, playing at the 2018 PM Donald Macleod Memorial Competition (picture by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos).
Roddy Macleod, playing at the 2018 PM Donald Macleod Memorial Competition (picture by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos).

World-class pipers will be holding workshops for island players when they come to Stornoway next month for the prestigious Pipe Major Donald Macleod MBE Memorial Competition.

The competition – sponsored by community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust to the tune of £5,000 a year – will be taking place on Friday, April 5.

It is the 26th year of the competition and a few of the pipers who will be taking part will be staying on an extra day, to pass on some skills and tips to up-and-coming local pipers.

The workshops will be open to youth and adult players and are being organised by the Lewis Pipe Band in partnership with the Lewis and Harris Piping Society, which runs the PM Donald Macleod MBE Memorial Competition.

The competition itself is one of the most prestigious events in the piping calendar and has been secured in its home town of Stornoway for the next few years thanks to the sponsorship from Point and Sandwick Trust, which runs the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm for the benefit of the community.

Before this sponsorship was secured, there were fears the Piping Society would be forced to move the annual competition to the mainland to cut costs as it foots the bill for the air fares and accommodation of all the pipers taking part, as well as the judges.

The competition costs around £11,000 to stage but is held in high regard internationally. Eight pipers are invited to take part, based on their successes throughout the year at other events on the piping circuit, and the competition itself is a living memorial to one of the most famous pipers of the last century – and, crucially, held in his home town.

Donald John MacSween, Point and Sandwick Trust general manager, said: “This competition is now a major event in the piping calendar and the PM Donald Macleod Memorial Competition are to be congratulated on their achievement and hard work in developing the event over the years – and, more importantly from the PST view, in ensuring the event is firmly rooted in Stornoway.”

Pipe Major Donald Macleod from Stornoway was an outstanding player and won all the major competitions, some of them several times over. He was also a tutor and a Seaforth Highlander but it was for his prolific compositions, including 26 piobaireachds such as the Lament for the Iolaire, that he is best remembered.

The Donald Macleod Memorial Competition was created to honour his memory and celebrate his music.

The competition is split into two sections – the Cèol Mòr (piobaireachd) and the Cèol Beag (march, strathspey and reel) – and most of the tunes to be played have to be Donald Macleod ones.

The pipers taking part this year are Willie McCallum, Roddy Macleod MBE, Callum Beaumont, Stuart Liddell, Glenn Brown, Finlay Johnston, Iain Speirs and Dr Peter McCallister.

The judges will be Dr Angus MacDonald, John Wilson and Rhona Lightfoot. Fear an Tighe is Dr John Smith, who has also recently taken over from John Kennedy as chairman of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society.

The competition will be taking place in the Caladh Hotel during the day on April 5 and be followed by a ceilidh at night and the workshops on the Saturday.

A piping workshop was held for the first time last year as part of a specially-extended programme, to mark the competition’s 25th anniversary.

That workshop, taken by Roddy Macleod MBE, who is Principal of the National Piping Centre, had been intended as a one-off, but proved so popular that the Piping Society decided to try to incorporate it as a more permanent feature of the PM Donald Macleod MBE Memorial Competition weekend.

The workshops tie in with the constitution of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society which declares that the object of the society “shall be to promote, in the interests of social welfare, the encouragement of piping in all of its aspects with particular emphasis in the fields of tuition, competition and recital”.

The Piping Society’s new chairman, Dr John Smith, said: “We’re hoping to build this year on what we established last year by taking advantage of the presence of world-class pipers in Stornoway to promote one of the aims of the society, which is to support the tuition of both youngsters and adults.

“There’s a view that perhaps world-class pipers coming to a world-class competition shouldn’t be given any additional tasks – but, as far as we can gauge from the pipers themselves, they are more than willing to share their skills with those who are trying to advance their performance locally and we will be running workshops for both youngsters and adult pipers on the Saturday.”

Dr Smith, who served as chairman of the Piping Society previously, has not been involved with the committee for a few years due to a spell of illness, but was “persuaded this year to rejoin”.

He paid tribute to his predecessor.

“I’m very indebted to John Kennedy for his commitment to the society since its inception and for the past decade serving as chairman. He has served the committee extremely well in many roles and responsibilities and is totally committed to pursing the aims of the society. He is one of the two surviving members of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society, along with Norman S Morrison.”

Looking forward to the competition, Dr Smith said: “As the new chairman, I am particularly pleased to be welcoming a medical colleague to the Donald Macleod competition this year. Dr Peter McCallister, who still works as a GP in Dunblane, has combined a successful medical career with a very successful career as a piper and achieved the supreme accolade of winning the Gold Medal in Inverness last year.

“I spoke to him at the Uist and Barra competition two weeks ago and he is very much looking forward to coming to Stornoway to play at the competition.”

Roddy Macleod MBE, renowned as Pipe Major of the Scottish Power Pipe Band, will be giving a workshop again this year, but this time as one of several competitors doing so. He will be tutoring the youth pipers.

He said: “I’m going up anyway and the pipe band want to tap into me being there, having had a lot of pipe band experience, and I was more than happy to help them.

“Last year was a positive experience for the band and me too. We managed to cover a lot of detail in terms of music and technique and then we got up onto the pipes and tuning of the pipes.

“I felt by the end of it that we all had a really good time together. The guys seemed quite motivated to press on with what they learned and get out competing.

“It’s only natural, when you’ve got some of the world’s top pipers coming to Stornoway, that there’s an opportunity for people to access them – not just listen to them – for educational purposes.

“To give of their experience for a couple of hours outwith the competition seemed a positive thing – and I was very happy to do it.

“I really do believe it’s about trying to help the kids get on and why not give them a bit of a hand if you can, for a couple of hours?”

The competition starts at 10.15am. Entry is £15 and under-18s go free. Tickets for the ceilidh are £5 with doors opening at 9pm.