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The Highland Bagpipe by Robert Wallace

I want to begin this column by paying tribute to the late Scott MacAulay who passed away recently aged only 52. Scott had been Principal and Director of the College of Piping on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and did much to firmly establish its reputation as a seat of excellence for bagpipe teaching. The trustees will have a hard job finding a replacement with such exceptional talent and personality. Although he learned his piping in Ontario, Scott was from a Hebridean family and never forgot his roots back in the old country. Indeed, he has been laid to rest near his family's home village of Dalmore on the island of Lewis.

I first met him back in the 1970s when, like so many young Canadians eager to learn, he traveled to Scotland and signed up with one of the best pipe bands around at the time, Muirhead and Sons. Under its formidable pipe major, Robert G. Hardie, Muirheads had built up a superb pedigree, winning the World Championship title five times in a row -- still a record for a civilian pipe band. Hardie was a great player and teacher but could be a cantankerous old devil to us twenty-somethings. He demanded, and usually got, our total loyalty and dedication. We seldom missed a band practice. We were scarcely ever late. We practiced hard the pieces we knew we were going to rehearse. Our respect for the pipe major was boundless.

Things loosened off, however, once the Highland games season came round. Scott and I, and a few others in the band, fancied our chances on the solo competition boards and would take every opportunity to head north in my old banger to try to make a name for ourselves -- even missing a practice if it suited us. And we wouldn't tell P/M Hardie of our intentions in case he objected. On one occasion, I think it was the first week in August, we left Glasgow on a dry Sunday and made for the Road to the Isles between Fort William and Mallaig. The weather was glorious and the west coast scenery proved intoxicating to Glasgow city boy and North American alike. We didn't give a hoot for the band as we roared along between passing places and caravans. Hardie would be fine without us. We were good enough to slot back in as we pleased when we returned. Back then the road was nothing like as good as it is today and we arrived in the village of Morar late on. In the darkness we could just make out the white outline of the judges' tents ready pitched on the games field for the following day's competitions. We threw our sleeping bags into one and headed to the local bar.

The full text of this column is available in the Winter 2008 issue of Scottish Life.

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