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est. 1948 I

T will be difficult in this short appreciation to do justice to the life of Donald MacPherson who

has died aged 89. The statistics show that he was, without question, a staggeringly successful competitor with a record of wins at the two most important gatherings, Oban and Inverness, which is unlikely ever to be beaten. But his list of achievement does not tell the whole story. From humble Clydeside beginnings and taught solely by his father a devotee of MacDougall Gillies, he became master of the bagpipe universe. He made a game changing contribution to the world of solo piping. In his day Donald was supreme in both ceol beag and ceol mor. Possessor of a magical technique, an even more magical instrument and a gift of music most can only dream of, he carried all before him breaking records wherever he played. Those of us fortunate enough to have heard him at his best in recital and competition will be in no doubt as to the glorious harmonics of his bagpipe. Recordings do not really do it justice.There is no sense of the instrument’s room filling quality, its depth of timbre, its pure sonority. It provided the ideal medium on which Donald’s exemplary technique could flourish and his music enthral. Here was the man’s soul manifest. He spoke once of playing at the games at Glenfinnan.The tune was Lament for the Children and he felt that that day the perfection in his music chimed so well with the perfection in the landscape that he found it difficult not


to weep. His listeners struggled like- wise and we will not burden you with yet another first prize statistic. General Richardson once said he would travel 10 miles to hear a piobaireachd;100 to hear Donald MacPherson.We know what he meant. Who among those who heard him will forget his Big Spree, his Lady MacDonald’s Lament at the Argyllshire or the march, strathspey and reel he played before a packed Caledonian Hotel ballroom at the Northern Meeting 1977, first on with all the greats lining up to follow and first prize once more. Donald bought his pipes from a

work colleague in the early 1950s for £15 [$25US approx.].We have all read of stories of old master paintings discovered in attics realising millions at auction.Well, Donald’s good fortune must rank alongside the best of them. Mind you he was such a gifted musician that we are sure he would have been just as successful had he been playing some other set.The man could get a tone out of a frying pan. Blessed with an immaculate ear, he tuned all three drones together, even as boy. This was the practice he used on the boards. We never saw him touch off a tenor.A quarter turn here, a half turn there and off he would go into his march, strathspey and reel twice through, or his piobaireachd, sure in the knowledge that nothing was going to alter until he finished. And this in the days before synthetic reeds, fancy water traps and all the modern paraphernalia that makes the present day piper’s job so much

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