By Wilson Brown (NPC Piping Instructor and Tuition Co-ordinator)

Wilson Brown

On March 20, 2020, the National Piping Centre (NPC) closed its doors to students and, like most of the world, went into lockdown. The last student to be taught in person was Lou Lanaro, a 72-year-old piper from Collingwood, Ontario. Lou had attended the NPC for a weeklong intensive course.

Lou managed to board one of the last flights to Canada before borders were closed and the pandemic began to impact our lives. It seems fitting, therefore, that we welcomed Lou back to the NPC in October this year for another intensive course. Lou was our first of hopefully many more students to attend these popular courses.

Lou started to learn the pipes in 2017 with lessons from his friend and neighbour, Sheila Stewart. He had been inspired to take up the pipes when he saw a video of the famous Paul McCartney hit, Mull of Kintyre. Lou retired a couple of years ago following a career as a software developer. He had a number of other instructors including Ellen Mole, Matt MacIsaac and Jim McGillvray, and he was a regular at the annual Seattle Celtic Arts Festival. It was here that he first met Finlay McDonald and received tuition in both small pipes and highland pipes. He also met fellow student, Michael Hensley and by coincidence discovered they were attending the NPC for an intensive course on the exact same week.

Then and now. Left, Lou with Dan Nevans, Michael Hensley and Wilson Brown in March 2020. Right, Dan, Lou and Wilson two weeks ago.

Lou’s love of the pipes and his determination to learn and develop his piping was not going to be deterred by some pandemic. He signed up as a member of the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (CLASP), attending online workshops and competing in the online competitions, gaining firstoverall in the Grade 4 competition in June 2021. He also signed up for a number of the NPC’s online Adult Gatherings – four days of group and individual tuition, workshops by NPC staff and guest teachers, and an opportunity to meet other pipers online. He also became a regular student of Margaret Dunn, one of the NPC’s most experienced teachers, and has continued with his weekly lessons throughout this period.

Sheila Stewart, Lou and Daniel Carr with NPC instructor, Willie McCallum.

Not content with this, Lou and his good friend Daniel Carr, who is a professional piper from Ontario, came up with the idea of a ‘Global Piping Tour’. They wanted to have weekly tuition from as many of the biggest piping names in the world and so they started contacting pipers across the globe. This tuition was to take place over 40 consecutive weeks and consisted of two hour sessions during which time Lou and Daniel would play their tunes for the ‘who’s who’ of piping and receive their critique.

Lou with Jack Lee.

The list of pipers involved is too long to name them all in this piece but they included most of this year’s Glenfiddich competitors, and in particular the overall winner, Jack Lee. Lou and Daniel received invaluable feedback, advice and tips but it was the opportunity to be involved with pipers of this stature that was the real bonus.

A couple of weeks ago, on October 25, we welcomed Lou back to the NPC. During his five-day intensive course he received tuition in both smallpipes and highland pipes from most of the staff including Finlay McDonald and Ross Ainslie. He then travelled to Blair Castle for the Glenfiddich where he had the opportunity to meet in person many of the competitors who had given him instruction during his ‘global tour’.

Lou with Finlay McDonald.

We are now welcoming back students to the NPC and can once again deliver ‘in person’ tuition. We have been fortunate that so many pipers have supported us through online tuition, intensive courses, seasonal schools and as members of the CLASP. We’re grateful for the continued support from students such as Lou. He continually strives to learn and improve, and we look forward to Lou being involved in many more NPC events in the years to come.

• For more information on intensive courses and the range of tuition available at the National Piping Centre.