From the March 2014 Piping Times.
In Part 2 of his interview with the Piping Times, Jimmy McIntosh discusses piobaireachd playing, his favourite tunes and how he’d like to be remembered
What do you think of the standard of piobaireachd playing today?
I have been isolated from Scottish piping for 30. years, teaching purely Brown and Nicol music, and most of what I have heard over here is that music. I am not hearing that when I have judged at lnverness and Oban over these last four years. I would have to say I was surprised at the playing. I heard so many poor basics, and pretty dull playing. Even in the Gold Medal, there wasn’t a standout, exciting performance that made the first prize an easy, clear decision. Good bagpipes and fast fingers for tuning up yes, but I got the impression that the people who judge on a regular basis, and hear this all the time, were not as critical as I was.
I still follow Brown and teach by singing, and this perhaps makes a difference. The lack of fluency, rhythm, and phrasing bothered me. No delicate touches, e.g. approach notes to cadences, use of cadences to end phrases, and letting the music breathe at the ends of lines, varying how echo movements are used within the melody. I also noted players cutting notes ‘surgically’, rather than rhythmically. It seems these finer points of good piobaireachd technique are being ignored. There seems to be a lack of interest/respect in how the old players presented their music. A few weeks ago, I was told by a young American player (being tutored in Scotland), that Brown would be ‘hammered’ if he played like that in Scotland today!
Were there any players of the past generation you particularly admired?
I would say that some I admired were during my Army career, and some in my solo career. I was enlisted in the Cameron Highlanders on October 26, 1939. I was 14.5 [years of age]. P/M Willie Young, a pupil of Robert Meldrum. old fashioned, write everything out, no praise, and very strict, Capt. John MacLellan, Willie McRostie, R. (Mickey) MacKay, Evan MacRae, Angus MacDonald (Glasgow Police), Malcolm Macpherson, and Hugh Fraser were some of the pipers in the Cameron Highlanders band that I played in; and I was overawed.
My solo career really commenced in 1964. I left the Army in 1949 and went into bands, so I did no solo competing from 1945 in Germany, until 1964. During this period, I admired John McDougall and Hector MacFadyen. They seemed to win all the time and were good, solid players. Roddy MacDonald (Glasgow Police) really impressed -me with his. playing, There were many really good players and very nice people, such as Donald MacPherson, lan McLellan, lain Morrison, and P/M Angus MacDonald. I don’t think anyone during this period impressed me more that Bob Brown playing piobaireachd. I was not fortunate to hear Bob Nicol it his prime, but Bob Browh Jnr. considered him a better player that his father. One person who continues to impress me is my oldest piping friend, Jakez Pincet, He us still playing very well, promoting piping and educating many Bretons especially in piobaireachd
What are your favourite tunes, and favourite performances of them?
My favourite tines would include Park Piobaireachd No, Lament for the Children, Earl of Seaforth’s Salute, Big Spree, Patrick Og, Unjust Incarceration, Beloved Scotland and Lady MacDonald’s Lament. These are tunes I play at least once a week. I think there are three performances of my own that I can honestly say I remembered. The first was playing the Park No.2 at Braemar to win. I still have a recording of it. Then when I played the same tune and was runner up to lain Morrison at Inverness, old Angus [MacPherson] was overcome, and cried. Then the Nameless, Hio Tro Tro at Inverness. I was on right after Donald McPherson, and when the steward came in to give me my tune, he said, “Oh, I gave Mr. MacPherson the wrong tune, I gave him your tune.” So Donald played it, and I followed him with it. He finished up first, and I was second!
Do you regret leaving Scotland?
I cannot say I do. I regretted leaving my family, but I had spent some time over in Canada and the US and had many students and friends over here in the US. I liked the lifestyle and the freedom to do things and the fact that you were encouraged to do them. I have been very happily married for nearly 29 years to Joyce, a champion Highland dancer, piper, and mother to Cameron. Although I have lived in the USA for over 30 years, I am still very much a Scotsman. I still take a great pride in Scotland and its achievements. I am probably more open-minded and less parochial, and have certainly had opportunities to enjoy a very pleasant and fulfilling life here. I have given America my best effort and feel it has been appreciated. No regrets
How would you like to be remembered?
I think all my life I have tried to help people. I don’t think I ever refused to help a person needing or asking help with piping. I have never been motivated by money in teaching piping. I am considerate of other peoples’ feelings and try not to offend others. As a mentor to young people, I got results through respectfulness, never through fear, abuse, or physical response. I always told the boys to be gentlemen, and the girls to be ladies, and to take pride in themselves and make good choices. I would like to be remembered as a good teacher, and as a credit to my own teachers, and to Scotland. I have always tried to be a good husband and father, to be an honest man, and a gentleman. It would be my desire to be remembered as such.