• From the February 2014 Piping Times

Unsurpassed as a tutor, renowned on both sides of the Atlantic, let’s celebrate 70 years of piping and teaching in the company of Jimmy McIntosh

What age are you now and where do you live?
I am 88 years of age. I was born in Broughty Ferry near Dundee in 1925, the second oldest of five children. For the last 30 years, I have lived in the USA. Most of that time was spent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I also lived for short periods in Maryland and Delaware. My hone now is in Anderson, South Carolina, a smallish city that was originally settled by Scots and Ulster Scots.

Jimmy receives the Grade 2 trophy at Dunblane Highland Games on behalf of the NCR Pipe Band. Date unknown.
Jimmy receives the Grade 2 trophy at Dunblane Highland Games on behalf of the NCR Pipe Band. Date unknown.

Are you still actively teaching?
Yes, I am still teaching. When we moved 600 miles south of Pittsburgh at the end of 2011 it was my intention to retire, but that has not happened. I have five or six students that I see on a regular basis, and I have a few advanced students whom I help via iPad recordings and comments. I also do a one-day piobaireachd workshop bi-monthly in my home during the winter months for advanced students. In addition, I introduced a Learning Channel on the EUSPBA website that anybody can access (free), and I have 15 instructional piobaireachd videos on there. This has greatly improved the standard of beginners and is being used all over the world. A big change indeed from 1936 when I started with Logan’s Tutor Book 1!

What do you consider to have been your greatest achievements in piping?
This is something I had not considered before, and in contemplating the question I would have to admit that things I did that benefited piping in general, and piobaireachd in particular, have given me the greatest sense of achievement and satisfaction. Some of my predecessors had been continually striving to get recognition for the bagpipe as a musical instrument, so I would think that getting Carnegie Mellon University to be the first higher education institution in the world to introduce its Four-Year Music Degree programme, with the bagpipe as the major instrument, and consequently the addition of the Two-Year Master’s Degree programme, would be my proudest achievement for the advancement of piping.

My formation of the CPA in 1976 and the initial grading of the pipers have been of immense benefit to Oban/Inverness and all the competing pipers from around the world who go to Scotland each year to compete. Without grading it would be very difficult to control the upsurge in competitors and be sure they were competing in the correct category.

Receiving the Oban Gold Medal in 1976 from judges Ronnie MacCallum, Dr. Colin Caird and Seumas MacNeill.
Receiving the Oban Gold Medal in 1976 from judges Ronnie MacCallum, Dr. Colin Caird and Seumas MacNeill.

Helping others to achieve also gives me great satisfaction, so I think the success I have had with so many Gold and Silver Medallists has been very pleasing, and I am still involved teaching and preparing pupils at this level.

When I came to the USA, the standard of playing was not advanced. Today it is totally different and the part I have played in changing this situation gives me great satisfaction. Apart from the teaching/playing aspect, the work | did writing and administering the judge’s examinations for the EUSPBA significantly improved the standard in our Association and encouraged other geographic areas to follow. I suppose my Gold Medals and winning the first Grant’s/ Glenfiddich Championship must be one of my main achievements on the playing side, and, along with the MBE and Balvenie Medals, are certainly honours of which I am very proud.

It is very satisfying for me today, to hear people say they are still playing, and prefer, the old Naill chanter which I was responsible for developing (see below).

For personal satisfaction, after the deaths of my teachers, Bob Brown and Bob Nicol, my mission was to preserve and carry on their teaching. I feel I have fulfilled that mission, so perhaps this is my greatest achievement.

Can you name the outstanding pupils you have taught?
My first success with teaching was a young boy, Ian Larg. When he turned 16,1 took him to Oban and he was third in the Gold Medal.

Murray Henderson came to me from New Zealand and was a very good student. He was a young lad who became part of my family and had all his piobaireachd teaching from me for 12 years. I also showed him how to make reeds. After I had taught him one or two tunes, I took him up to meet and play for Bob Nicol. When we left to drive home, Murray said he’d rather I continued teaching him and I did that for the next 12 years, and he certainly became an outstanding competitor.

Michael Cusack was the first American to reach the top. I would say he was a natural musician with a crisp, clean finger. Some tunes I would not have given others, Mike would excel at. He was a very musical, all-round player.

Amy (Goble) Garson, whom I met when she was a youngster at the piping school in Timmins, Ontario, was a great pupil. She was one of the first women to win the Silver Medal when she played the Park Piobaireachd #2. She has won numerous other top prizes, and was also the first woman to play in the Glenfiddich Championship. Amy visited me last year and played four or five tunes of Gold Medal/Clasp standard, so she is still playing very well. Michael Rogers: I had three 15-year-olds in a beginner’s piobaireachd class at a summer piping school in the US. These were Mike Rogers, Donald McPhee, and Calum MacDonald. Two of these are now Gold Medallists. Mike was a dedicated student, quiet, serious, and very sincere, and a good advert for American piping. Others whom I have worked with but did not teach as young students are: Jack Lee (Gold Medal and MSR in 1981), Robert Barnes (Silver Medal and runner-up in the Gold Medal), Tom Speirs, Bruce Gandy, John Hanning, NZ, Alasdair Gillies and Ian Hines, NZ.

My main student at present is Andrew Carlisle, who is an outstanding pupil and player.

At a summer school in Dingwall in the 1970s with (back row) John MacDougall, Jimmy MacGregor, Duncan Johnstone and John D. Burgess and front, Donald MaCPherson, Ronnie MacCallum, John MacKenzie and Fred Morrison Snr.
At a summer school in Dingwall in the 1970s with (back row) John MacDougall, Jimmy MacGregor, Duncan Johnstone and John D. Burgess and front, Donald MaCPherson, Ronnie MacCallum, John MacKenzie and Fred Morrison Snr.

How did the tie-up with pipemaker D. Naill & Co. come about?
This is interesting. I was living in Broughty Ferry near Dundee, making reeds after being made redundant from engineering at NCR [National Cash Register]. I got a call from Les Cowell of D. Nail, whom I did not know, ordering 24 sets of drone reeds. He then asked me if I would sell his pipes. I replied that I would have to see them first.

The next thing, John Roe, the ex-Scots Guards Pipe Major, arrives at the door with two sets! This led to Les calling me again. I told him what I thought, and then said the chanter could be improved. So he said, “Will you fix it for me?” I said I would try. (My mind is always working on ideas). I approached a friend who had worked in the same engineering place and we came up with a drawing for the bore, etc. I took this drawing to a small shop, and asked them to make reamers for me. I got three sets made and I arranged to go down to Les’s place in England.

We drove around but couldn’t see any bagpipe shop. Then on this corner was a sewing machines repair shop. This was it! Les had a lathe in the back room, and this is where we set to work. I gave Les a set of reamers, and he turned off a chanter. Murray Henderson had come down with me and played the chanter in his pipes. I kept asking Les to change the low A until he had the pitch I was looking for. Then I balanced the scale from that low A. Murray would put it in his pipes until we got the entire scale pitched and were happy with it. We spent the weekend at it, and Les produced two chanters.

Shortly after this, was, I think, the Eagle Pipers’ competition in Edinburgh. I won the Piobaireachd, and Murray was second. I then announced that we both had been playing the new Naill pipe chanter. No money exchanged hands between Les and myself. The rest is history. The chanter’s popularity took off.

• Part 2: How the business ended and my favourite pipers and tunes.