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Relationship of the week: Finlay MacDonald, piper and Iain MacDonald, piper

Finlay MacDonald has a worldwide reputation as an innovative piper, but his greatest influence has always been his father Iain, pipe major of Neilston Pipe Band.

Finlay MacDonald, 32, piper and tutor on RSAMD/National Piping Centre degree course.

When I was growing up in Neilston near Glasgow, my dad was the pipe major of the local band. We travelled all over with the band, to places like Portugal, Czechoslovakia and Spain.

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Pipes and going to festivals were just part of my childhood. At that time, Dad was still working at Glasgow Royal Infirmary as an analyst in the anaesthetics research lab. Holidays were sparse so my parents thought it would be good to take the kids with them to festivals.

My dad didn’t force me to play the bagpipes. He started me off at eight or nine but I wasn’t much into it. When I stopped playing he didn’t make me continue. But about a year later, I changed my mind. My dad was into the folk music side of things and I thought it looked like fun.

Competing has never been my motivation. I play for music’s sake. My dad always maintained that you have to enjoy playing, and I think I got that from him. Dad was always fun and had different sides to his piping, not just the militaristic style.

We’re both pretty keen cooks and that’s another channel for creativity. Dad taught me to cook. We also enjoy spending time with the rest of the family. I have a young son of my own and two nephews.

I think Dad and I are quite similar. He’s quite disorganised, like me, thinking about tunes most of the time.

We’re both quite open people. With Dad, I always noticed that if someone wasn’t up to standard he would try to make sure they felt included and part of the team. I think I’m quite like that – there are lots of great players out there but it should be about being part of a team.

We both enjoy the craic. The friendship and camaraderie is such a big part of the piping scene. And we both love music, which is the main link. I admire Dad’s willingness to give time and effort to people, his encouragement and his inclusiveness – those things are really important. He’s so committed. He’s never lost the excitement, which can be hard when you do something for so long. I think that’s admirable.

Iain MacDonald, 60, piper and piping tutor.

I’ve been piping since I was eight or nine. I started teaching Finlay at around the same age – I think that’s the optimum age. I recognised that Finlay had a very special talent from early on. As a matter of course, I started teaching him but it wasn’t always easy, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes fathers and sons will clash or disagree, which is only natural. He went through a bit of a rebellious stage, but I don’t know whether his lack of interest in piping was part of that or not.

If a child doesn’t want to learn, I think you’ve just got to let things take their course. I believe that people who have natural talent will come back to their music.

As a young piper, Finlay was a great source of inspiration for me because he was very creative. When he was 14 or 15 years old he started to compose and make arrangements of tunes and became very aware of the types of music I was interested in, which were not necessarily mainstream Scottish piping. From being a young man, I had an interest in piping from different countries. I was very fortunate in the early 1970s to be given a collection of Irish, Spanish, French and Northumbrian pipes. So Finlay had different pipes at his disposal. With the establishment of the National Piping Centre and the BA Scottish Music (piping) degree course in conjunction with RSAMD, he had a goal to aim for.

We’ve always got on well, though at times we disagree about musical instruments. When it comes to teaching, we both have a degree of patience, which is a virtue in teaching any instrument. We are also able to look at musical situations and adapt them.

Naturally, I’m extremely proud of his achievements. I can see from the outside he is popular with the students of the degree course he teaches on.

I’ve learned and been able to appreciate some of the more contemporary pieces he’s composed or arranged, which I might otherwise have ignored or sidestepped. We still play together. At my recent 60th birthday, we had a whole bunch of session musicians and we were playing the Border pipes together. It was either that or go up in a helicopter – I’d much rather just play music.

Finlay MacDonald will perform with fiddler Chris Stout at the Pipes & Strings night, on August 11. Visit www.pipinglive.co.uk

Rebecca McQuillan

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