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Scotland in music

Review by Edward Scott Pearlman

As I watched piper Ross Ainslie flawlessly playing a wild, syncopated tune based on the AC/DC rock song "Thunderstruck," I reflected that this was a pretty nice tribute to his mentor, the late Gordon Duncan. For a CD released in 2003, Duncan had arranged the same song for bagpipes and recorded it as his title track.

Until Ainslie met the legendary piper and composer Gordon Duncan, he had been a reluctant student of the bagpipes. There were not many pipers in his home area near Perth; he was the only piper in his school. His good friend Ali Hutton was likewise the only piper in his school. Both boys joined the juvenile level of the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band in Pitlochry, a half hour north, in order to participate in the band's excellent feeder system, which accommodated nearly a hundred players, from teenage beginners to Grade 1 pipers.

At the time, the juvenile level band was led by Gordon Duncan, whose quiet and intense musicianship fostered respect and commitment from the young players, paving the way for juvenile world championships.

Duncan used to take Ross aside at each band rehearsal for a half hour of instruction to bring him up to speed. Often Ross would spend time at Gordon's house, where he was exposed to all sorts of music -- Scottish, Irish, rock, blues and more. Gordon's musical mind was always switched on. As they listened to music, Gordon would challenge the boys to imagine how they might play along if they were a banjo player...or a fiddler. He encouraged them to learn guitar, whistle or cittern, and showed them that music was about more than being in a pipe band. Sometimes he would get them to play along with rock bands like AC/DC and let them struggle to make the notes work, even if they were playing an instrument tuned to the wrong key.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2016 issue of Scottish Life.

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