By Scott Williams

Bruce Gandy was born on August 10th, 1962 in Victoria B.C. to the late Ray Gandy and his wife, Frances. He was sort of destined to become a piper. Ray Gandy was an accountant with the B.C. government, and a piper of high standard. He started the cadet band of the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria B.C. in 1939. Bruce’s family lived in Victoria for generations, and his mother’s family were O’Neill’s from Ireland. His grandmother was born in Motherwell, Scotland.

         “My father was a keen piper,” Bruce recalls. “He was a Chief Warrant Officer in the Reserves of the Canadian Scottish Regiment and played with the pipe band for over 35 years, serving for many of those years as pipe sergeant and the last few as pipe major. He felt that exposure to good piping and instruction were invaluable tools to learning to play the pipes, and made every effort possible to ensure that I got to recitals and events as well as receiving the highest quality instruction.”
         Upon completing his high school education, Bruce studied carpentry, and served an apprenticeship in the craft. He worked for the Kinross Building Group for about ten years, and later as a self-employed carpenter for the Can-Wide Building Group in Ontario for about five more. He was very interested in sports as a youth, playing soccer, road hockey, and a lot of golf. “I almost considered trying to make golf a career,” he says.
         Presently, Bruce is working as a bagpipe instructor, teaching students and bands around the Maritimes and doing workshops throughout the United States. “This November, I will begin a new job at the Halifax Citadel concentrating on expanding the current program of piping being offered there. I hope to establish, through a series of lectures, workshops, and lessons, a program to educate and train pipers in the Piobaireachd art form. This is something that has been lacking in the Maritimes in general, the teaching of theory and construction of the music so the students can gain a better understanding of what it is that they are playing.”
         Bruce had been making his home in Summerside, PEI for several years, but he relocated to the Dartmouth area in late October. His wife, the former Beverley Rollo, is also a piper. “Our son Alex, aged 12, is now playing,” says Bruce. “He is doing quite well, actually. After being named the ACPBA Grade 5 Champion Supreme in 2000, he won the overall title in Grade 4 at the Vancouver Indoor Meet last April, whereupon he decided to move up another grade and has had a very successful run in Grade 3 while spending most of the summer with his grandparents in Ontario. Fraser, at 8 years of age, has just started to play recently and seems interested in learning. Time will tell. We are in no hurry to push him into something.”
         Bruce’s first teacher was Pipe Major Hal Senyk of Vancouver. “I stayed with him for about a year until he went to Scotland to play with the famous Muirhead and Sons and study piobaireachd under Bob Hardie. Then I went to James Troy and spent the next 10 years with him studying both light music and piobaireachd. James Troy had a huge influence on my playing and still does to this day. He gave me a terrific grounding, was very tough on accuracy, and instilled a passion for the music for which I will always be in great debt to him.”
         Bruce also attended summer schools in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho where he received tuition from well-known Scottish instructors Bob Hardie and Andrew Wright. “They gave me a different perspective about things,” Bruce says. “They taught me about the importance of a good bagpipe with drones that stayed in tune. I remember one day asking Andrew Wright if I could try his pipes. He thought this was great to get someone to blow his pipes in for him for a wee while and I will never forget the quality and balance of the sound combined with the fact that I had not blown a pipe that easy in quite some time. I felt as if I could take the pipe off my shoulder and pass it to the next person and it wouldn’t go out of tune. I never forgot that, and it was a real turning point for me.”
         Bruce joined the Grade 1 City of Victoria Pipe Band at age 12 and played with them from 1974 until 1982. “That was a terrific experience,” he recalls. “I was very young to be in the big band, but their junior band was not active at that time. In 1979, we travelled to Nottingham, England for the World championships and I had my first taste of Scotland. The band placed 6th which was terrific but more rewarding was the talk of how many of the great players of the day who were present believed that we should have won. The prize wasn’t the big thing; it was knowing that people thought we could maybe come back and actually win the World Championship!
         “In 1982 I moved to Toronto and began to play with the 78th Fraser Highlanders, a move that changed my life. This innovative band, with precision playing and a will to play good music and push the envelope, was very inspirational. It allowed me to explore my creative side. My wife and I played together there for many years which was wonderful and she still continues to play occasionally and be a big supporter of the band.”
         During his time with the 78th Frasers, they were named Grade 1 North American Champions thirteen times. The band’s crowning glory, though, came in 1987, when they won the World Pipe Band Championship, the first North American band ever to do so. “We were fortunate enough to have a good draw as we were the last band on,” Bruce remembers. “We played as good as we could and played a very innovative medley which left the judges no choice but to award us the first prize.
         “I do think, though, that the most memorable event of my band life would be playing in concert in Ballymena, Northern Ireland two days before the World’s in 1987. Never before had a band attempted to learn and play so much music in a concert forum, and it set a standard among piping recordings that is still a benchmark today. Playing in front of 900 people that we didn’t know, except for knowing that they knew what piping was about, was terrifying. The acoustics in the hall were wonderful but we could not hear the crowd and we actually thought that we were bombing until half time when we were told that the crowd was loving it. The whole idea of playing tunes in a different format than the medley, M/S/R, or parade set allowed us to be imaginative, and create the kind of music that we always wanted to do.” Bruce became the pipe sergeant of the 78th Fraser Highlanders in 1995 and continued in that position for about three years until he moved to Prince Edward Island in 1998.
         In addition to playing with some of the country’s top pipe bands, Bruce has made a name for himself as a soloist. “I have been fortunate enough to win some prizes,” he says, modestly.  That, of course, is a bit of an understatement! Bruce is a four-time winner of the MacCrimmon Memorial Cairn for Piobaireachd at the Vancouver Indoor Meet. He was also the West Coast Knockout Champion in 1982, and was the Pacific Coast Overall Champion three times in four years. Moving to Ontario, Bruce won the Ontario Knockout six times. He was North American March Champion six times and the Strathspey and Reel Champion four times. In 1996, he won the Canadian Gold Medal for Piobaireachd at Maxville, and in both 1996 and 1997 he won the Fergus Gold Medal. Moving to the East Coast, he has won the ACPBA Open Champion Supreme from 1998 to 2001. This year, he won the Merrill Lynch Gold Medal for Piobaireachd at the Summerside Highland Games for the second time in succession. Bruce has been prominent on the prize lists in several prestigious competitions in the US as well. In 1997, for example, he won the March, Strathspey and Reel event at the Dan Reid Memorial Competition in San Francisco.
         Moving on to the competitive arena in Scotland, Bruce attended the Northern Meeting in Inverness on numerous occasions, winning the B Grade March in 1985, the Jig in 1990, the Silver Medal for Piobaireachd in 1998, and both the A Grade March and A Grade Strathspey and Reel in 1999. In 2000, he placed second in the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey, and Reel, and third in the Gold Medal Piobaireachd competition. This year, he moved up one more spot to second place in the Gold Medal. Bruce has also competed at the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban where he placed third in the Silver Medal for Piobaireachd in 1988, and first in the A Grade Strathspey and Reel in 1990. In 1998, Bruce submitted an original composition which placed fourth in a contest called “A Pipe Tune for the People’s Princess” following the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
         “My most prestigious achievement would have to be winning the Silver Medal at Inverness in 1998,” Bruce explains. “I first played in that event in 1982, went through a series of injuries to my arm, and many times had to really try hard to convince myself that I could actually do it. It was rewarding as well from the teaching perspective. I always teach my kids to set goals and that if they truly ‘will’ themselves to complete the tasks, they can do it, so it was, in a sense, backing up my own teaching.
         Bruce’s most memorable achievement, however, was not his Silver Medal win at Inverness. “It has to be winning the Knockout in British Columbia in 1982,” Bruce says. “Winning first is not the memory I mean,” he explains. “The memory is that I was chosen over my teacher in the final. I think that Jamie Troy was as proud to lose as I was to win, for it assured him that he had been doing things right in guiding me and he was very happy for me. That was a very close moment for me; our relationship has always been more like ‘father and son’ rather than ‘teacher and pupil’ as it was Jamie who guided me and looked after me often from the time that my father passed away when I was 14.”
         It is, perhaps, some of Jamie Troy’s teaching that Bruce passes on to his own students today. Since 1978, when he turned professional, he has been giving private lessons. He served as an instructor at the Spokane Piobaireachd Society’s Summer School from 1978-82. In 1988 and 1990, he was the Chief Instructor at the School, overseeing class structure and the tuition given by the other instructors as well as having every single piping student for private lessons during the two-week period. In 1990, Bruce taught at St. Ann’s Gaelic College and from 1995-97 he taught at the Kingston Ontario Summer School. From 1997 to 2000, Bruce was the principle piping instructor at the College of Piping in Summerside, PEI. “I was responsible for all piping instruction,” he explains. “I set up individualized study programs and performed all administrative tasks related to the bagpipe program. I worked with other College staff members in the development of course curriculum and acted as pipe major for the College of Piping’s pipe band. As such, I chose and arranged all the music the band played.” Over the years, Bruce has also conducted weekend clinics in New Brunswick, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Portland, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Minnesota, and continues to be very much in demand.
         Bruce has been very actively involved in piping and pipe band organizations as well as being a performer and teacher. “I have served on the Toronto Branch of the PPBSO and also on the Advisory Committee while I lived in Ontario. I was the PEI Rep for a year for the ACPBA as well
as serving on the Judging Panels with both Associations. I am also currently serving on Judges’ Panels in The Prairies and in the West Coast of the United States, judging light music and piobaireachd as well as bands. Last summer, I wrote and passed the Institute of Piping’s Graduate Exam as well as the Senior Teachers’ Certificate and was rated as an examiner for the other Institute tests.”
         An avid composer, Bruce has recently released a third volume of “Contemporary and Traditional Music for the Highland Bagpipes”. He has also been extensively recorded. He played with the 78th Fraser Highlanders on recordings released in 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, and 1993. He was one of four soloists on a recording called “Piping Because We Enjoy It” which was released in 1984 and on another similar recording called “Reel to Reel”, released in 1987. In 1990, he was featured on a recording called “An Evening of Champions”. In 1996, Lismore released “Bruce Gandy, Lismore Composers Series, Volume II”. In 1997 and 1998, he was featured on recordings of the Dr. Dan Reid Memorial Invitational Piping Contests in San Francisco. His latest CD, which is expected to be available before Christmas, is full of contemporary and traditional tunes and features several other musicians.
         Bruce is a very popular recitalist. “I love to play in recitals possibly more than in competitions,” Bruce explains. “There is no better feeling than playing music for a crowd of appreciative people. It is a very rewarding experience when they come up and tell you they enjoyed your playing. That is what piping is suppose to be about. People remember a great recital for a long time but who won the March at whatever games last year, they never know.
         “The formula which I use for a recital is to mix the tunes up between big and small. The tune types should be changing so as not to bore the crowd. You must talk to them to try and inform them of the tunes - you can name them, for example, and name their composers. People like to know those things. It makes each set of tunes that much more special. I like to apply a relaxed, comfortable feeling of enjoying yourself and making it an enjoyable listening experience for the audience.”
         Bruce has been in the Maritimes long enough to take the measure of the piping and pipe band scene there. “The state of piping in the Maritimes is very good just now,” he says. “Generally speaking, the standard continues to be on the rise and the separation between session or gig playing or even the parade playing and competition seems to be becoming evident. The young kids striving to be good competitive pipers, in my opinion, seem to be taking a more serious approach to honing their craft. Not that the session players don’t, but they do it in a different way, through music and settings that have been handed down orally for years. The competitive piper must adhere to the rules and be incredibly strict with the technical side of playing to be successful.
         “To improve the standard of playing in Nova Scotia even more, however, we need more funding to provide more clinics and workshops. It should certainly be mentioned that the Piobaireachd Society of Antigonish has had a tremendous positive impact on the playing of piobaireachd in the Maritimes, but more needs to be done, and in all areas, not just in pockets here and there. Positive education, combined with more people having the necessary knowledge, especially in piobaireachd, will result in more students receiving quality education.
         “I believe that if you are going to tell your students to compete, you have to be active yourself, whether it’s by competing, judging, doing recitals and workshops, taking courses yourself, or whatever, but generally keeping current and keeping your name out there. As a comparison, you may have Joe Smith, a brilliant hockey coach teaching a hockey school, but enrollment could be low, whereas if you have Bobby Orr teaching, you’re pretty well guaranteed a winner. The point is, if you’re out on the field every Saturday doing something, the kids can see in you the future of their own efforts with the music, and will also be more likely to believe in what you are saying - sort of like, ‘do as I do’, not just ‘do as I say’. The moment you think that you know enough to not bother with lessons or recitals, etc., you’re on the downward spiral to mediocrity.”



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