CLASP profile: Aaron Malcomb

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• Where are you from and how did you get into piping?
I am from the United States, living in Washington state for the last 17 years. I got into piping as a teenager after listening to Scottish folk bands like The Tannahill Weavers and Capercaillie and got a practice chanter at the first Highland Games I ever went to.

• How has the pandemic affected your piping personally?
Like most pipers it has meant no ‘live’ competitions or traveling. I had planned to go to the Worlds and Piping Live! in 2020 where I wanted to play in the CLASP event but I had to opt for the online contests instead.

• Is there anything you can’t leave home without?
When I travel, I almost always bring a chanter of some kind if I am not bringing pipes.

• What’s your favourite international food?
East Indian food is probably my favourite non-Western cuisine.

• What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I tried all kinds of street food during a trip to China in 2015 so (of what I know of) either the random, deep-fried duck parts or the deep-fried crab – shell and all.

• When you travel is there something you particularly miss when away? Mainly friends and family and a space to call my own.

• Do you have a set practice routine you could share with readers?

The ‘five minute rule’ is my only set routine (give or take a few minutes). This just means if I am not feeling a strong drive to play I just give myself five minutes on the chanter or 15-20 minutes on the pipes to play through something specific. That either makes for a brief but productive practice or the drive to play more is sparked and I have a longer, productive session.

• What’s your most memorable performance you’ve taken part in, either band or solo?
Played with a pipe band in a parade in Shanghai in 2015 where there were hundreds of thousands of spectators. As we were queued up waiting to step off we got to meet people from all over the world in bands of various genres.

• What’s your most memorable performance you’ve heard – band or soloist?
Dr. Angus MacDonald winning the 1997 Silver Chanter at Dunvegan Castle playing Lament for the Children with immaculate tone and phrasing.

• Who has been the biggest influence on your piping? 
Probably Fred Morrison; I had his albums in constant rotation and was inspired to take up border pipes before he first came to Washington state for workshops which he has now done several times. I have had huge encouragement and help from Fred both with both bellows pipes and Highland pipes.

• How do you relax and do you have other interests or hobbies?
My other interests are still mainly music but lately have been doing some language lessons and trying prop-making. Otherwise it’s streaming movies and TV online.

• Have you taken part in any show, concerts or recitals this year?
Unfortunately, no.

• What’s your favourite destination, either for a holiday or on a piping trip? Definitely Scotland but I had a fantastic experience at the William Kennedy festival in Armagh. I hope to get to Lorient when travel opens back up.

• Do you have a go at the local language when abroad?
Yes, even if it’s just the basics.

• Favourite piece of music – any music?
Hard to pick but maybe Martyn Bennet’s Blackbird as an overall favourite.

• Was piping something you wanted to do from an early age?
No. I am originally from North Dakota where piping is very scarce and I was a teenager before ever hearing bagpipes in person.

• Which pipers did you aspire to, if any?
Even before the 1997 Silver Chanter the title track of Dr. Angus MacDonald’s À Sireadh Spòrs album was the first bit of solo piping I heard that made a big impression on me. Then as I heard more piping it was players like Roddy MacLeod, Pipe Major Angus MacDonald, Stuart Liddell, Fred Morrison, and Allan MacDonald who made the biggest impressions.

• Do you recall the very first competition you competed in?
My first ever competition was in a bagad. I was doing French immersion in Le Havre – which is not in Brittany but has a strong connection, similar to Liverpool with Ireland – and because of that it has a bagad. We went to Paris to compete against other bands from outside of Brittany. Bagad music has strong ties to social dances and the judges factor in how well the performance is suited for dancing. We placed second overall with a first in ‘danceability’.

• Favourite piobaireachd?
… a close tie between Lament for the Children and the Laird of Anapool’s Lament but have had some of my best performances with The Piper’s Warning to His Master and Sir Ewin Cameron of Lochiel’s Salute.

• Any humorous piping anecdote you can relate to the readers (keep it clean!)?
The 2011 Montréal Highland Games was a medley contest and the bands had to play in concert formation on an outdoor stage. I was playing with New Westminster Police and we had won the Grade 2 North American Championships the day before. We were in good form in spite of the celebrations the night before and the tone was ringing like bells as we played up to the stage. The stage itself was metal so the sound was bouncing a lot during our performance and I was hyper-focused on the Pipe Major when I saw a drumstick roll out from behind the line of pipers. Then suddenly I saw a couple pipers get nudged to the side as the Drum Sergeant squeezed between them to grab the drumstick. Strangely, nobody was distracted by it; we just carried on to finish the medley. We got docked a placing in the drumming but still won the contest. In the video of the performance there’s no audible disruption, only the visual.

• Thank you, Aaron!