Yahya Hussein: Preparing to do our damndest in 2021

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2020 was to be the year I made my first appearance for the Dunvegan Medal, for which I had been preparing mightily over the last three years. My four submissions are, out of interest, Lament for the Children, Lament for the Earl of Antrim, MacSwan of Roaig and Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay with Lament of Mary MacLeod as a reserve.

Of course, it was not to be. However, on receiving the email from the Convener of the Skye Games advising of the cancellation of the event, I admit I wasn’t too put out to have to miss it this year. It’s given me another year to prepare and improve my standard.

Since my mid teens, I’ve always been a solo piper. As I will be entering my 50th year next February –and knowing the wonderful young talent I will be competing against – I have summoned every fibre of my being to do my damndest. If I do not win next year or the next, I’ll certainly endeavour to gain a place on that honoured list.

 

A few people have brought my present piping level to the standard it is today. It started off many years ago (1984) with my American piping tutor, John Bottomley. He’s been a friend for 36 years and I still seek his advice. Jack Lee is my former long distance tutor who graciously helped me (from 2001-2005 when I lived in Japan) on improving my outlook on how I approached competitive piping.

The author having a tune at a park near his home in Queens. The photo was taken earlier this year.

Since 2017 my main and only piobaireachd teacher has been Dr. Jack Taylor who for every two weeks since then has inspired me and worked me happily to the bone. The sheer repository of knowledge he possesses is extraordinary and has never ceased to make me marvel at. He’s piping’s National Treasure and more than I deserve.

Bringing up the rear – and who is a year younger than me – is my other tutor, Iain Speirs. He has given me another view of piping and always pushes me to my limits. Like Dr. Jack, he believes in me. He ends each session with tales of his tutor, the late Donald MacPherson, listening as if he was about to enter the room at any moment with his Lawrie bagpipe. 

I’d like to thank them all.

Here in the tri-state area (New York, Connecticut and New Jersey), we’ve lost over 30,000 people to this virus since the spring. As of last week in the New York City metropolitan area alone, there have been at least 395,810 cases and 24,790 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The biggest hot spots are in the South Bronx, north and southeast Queens, and much of Staten Island.

Most of my piper friends in all three states, thankfully, have not become ill with the virus nor died from it. I have recovered after catching it earlier this year. Far from being overcome, some of us have continued to play for enjoyment … and to prepare for next year. We refuse to give in to this dastardly pandemic. 

We are still here … and looking forward to 2021. I wish you a Happy New Year.

• Yahya Hussein lives in the Queens district of New York City. He is a member of the Eagle Pipers’ Society.