June 27 2014 won’t be any old day for Pipe Major Ian Duncan. It will be the day he is tasked with a very important job; leading thousands of stalwarts of Scottish tradition as they march through the gates of Stirling Castle and through the historic city for Pipefest.
The pipe major is considered by many as being one of the leading figures in the modern pipe band movement and an inspirational piping tutor. Notably in his career, he has worked with the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band, helping them progress up through the band grades to achieve titles of Grade-1 pipe band champions, as well as stints with Scottish Power Pipe Band, Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band, and Drambuie Kirkliston Pipe Band.
As well as being an extremely talented solo piper, Aberdeenshire-born Ian has been nurturing future generations of pipers, providing tuition to learners for four decades. His dedication and enthusiasm towards teaching was recognised by his peers when he was awarded the Music Tutor of the Year title at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2009.
We caught up with him to find out a bit more about the man who will be heading up the Pipefest proceedings.
Question: Pipe Major Ian, you will be leading the parade at Pipefest – which parts of this event are you looking forward to, and why?
Pipe Major Ian Duncan: Being at the front of the parade will be a unique and exciting experience and we will be lifted by the initial reaction of the crowd. And of course, when we get to the end, we will be able to watch the rest of the parade coming behind us!
Q: A mass of pipers, drummers, Highland dancers and clan representatives will be set to gather at Pipefest. How does the scale of this event compare to others that you’ve been involved with?
ID: I’ve played at parades all over the world but the significance, occasion and timing of this one will make it special.
Q: From 1974, you were Pipe Major of the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. I’ve heard that the band gained a worldwide reputation for its experimental concert repertoire, performing arrangements of Irish, Bulgarian, Mexican, Spanish, classical and contemporary Scottish music on overseas tours. Will what we hear at Pipefest be in the traditional Scottish vein, or can we expect a fusion of genres?
ID: When I was with the Vale of Atholl, we did indeed gain a reputation for pushing the boundaries. However, the Atholl Highlanders play very traditional marching tunes. We have to, with the soldiers marching behind us! I think you may hear some more extrovert tunes from some of the bands following us. We may do a static performance of more exciting tunes at the end.
Q: Stirling Castle and the ancient streets of the city will make a dramatic backdrop for the parade, but where is the most unusual place in Scotland that you have piped?
ID: I was asked to pipe at a Sikh wedding once. An amazing experience – and the food was brilliant.
Q: Which part of piping do you enjoy most – live, public displays or providing tuition for learners?
ID: In my younger days, live concerts were definitely a highlight, but as I get older, I prefer teaching.
Q: Of all the songs you’ve played on the pipes, is there one particular piece of music that is your all-time favourite, and why?
ID: Not really. Favourite pieces come and go, but I get more excited by any new composition that is unique musically.
Q: If you could choose one highlight from your piping career to date, what would it be?
ID: Winning the European Championship in Grade-1 with The Vale, just 11 years after being at the bottom of Grade-4.
Q: You were born in Aberdeenshire and have lived in Pitlochry and Dundee , but is there one part of Scotland which you have a particular fondness for and, if so, why?
Q: What advice would you give to anyone who is inspired by the sights and sounds of Pipefest and are keen to learn how to play the bagpipes or the drums?
ID: I can assure you children will be desperate to learn pipes after our parade but it is important to have a good teacher. Many schools now have a bagpipe instructor, but if not contact The College of Piping or The National Piping Centre in Glasgow for suggestions. Your local pipe band may also be running a training scheme.
Q: And finally, in three words, what can those who have never seen a pipe band procession expect from Pipefest?
ID: Colour, spectacle, excitement!