Norman Matheson, 1932-2022

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Norman Matheson, the well known piper and piping judge, died in hospital in Aberdeen on Monday. He was 89 and had been ill for some time.

Matheson, who was a surgeon by profession, was born in Inverness but lived in Aberdeenshire for much of his life. He also had family connections to Skye.

Norman’s biggest contribution to piping was in ceòl mòr in which he was highly knowledgable. He was a pupil of Robert B. Nicol in particular but also of Robert U. Brown – the ‘Bobs of Balmoral’. Matheson recorded many of his lessons and the recordings were eventually released in a ten-volume CD series, the Masters of Piobaireachd. A member of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society, he never competed professionally.

Malcolm McRae, a fellow judge and a friend over many years, said: “Norman’s passing is a great loss to piping, and to piobaireachd in particular. A devoted pupil of Bob Nicol over many decades, he was steeped in the ways of the tunes as Nicol had them from John Macdonald of Inverness. He was an excellent player, and a knowledgeable and discerning judge, with a broad appreciation of the music which lay beneath the bare written scores.

Norman judging with Donald MacPherson at Braemar in 2004.

“In the 1970’s he had the foresight to record Nicol’s singing of most of the tunes in the Piobaireachd Society Collection, many of which are available on the Masters of Piobaireachd CD’s. He corresponded at length with James Campbell, and those exchanges are a valuable record of their examination of various matters that might otherwise have gone unexplored.

“As a surgeon, he was reputed to demand the highest standards from his staff, and so it was when he was on the judging bench. His notes were meticulous, and those privileged to judge with him learned much from his analysis and discussion of each performance.

He had a wry sense of humour, and a sympathetic and kindly attitude towards competitors. He was always to be found on the benches at the Aberdeenshire games until fairly recently, and he previously judged often at the principal events further south. He will be missed.”

Norman’s other great love was salmon fishing. He knew the Spey like the back of his hand, after spending much of his childhood on the upper river (Glenlivet and Tomintoul) during the Second World War and was introduced to the art of fishing for salmon. Norman loved salmon fishing so much that he named his house Head of Wood after a salmon fishing pool on the Spey.

In 2019 he penned the popular book, Speyside Memories. He also painted more than 40 watercolour illustrations of sea creatures, birds, wildlife, natural flowers and, of course, the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) to illustrate it. The Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles, wrote the Foreword and profits from sales went to the conservation body, the Atlantic Salmon Trust.

On behalf of the National Piping Centre we extend our condolences to Norman’s friends and family.