By Scott Williams

      With his victory at the George Sherriff Invitational Amateur Solo Piping Competition in Hamilton, Ontario in November, 2001, Hector Macquarrie of Halifax, Nova Scotia was suddenly catapulted into the piping limelight. Those of us who knew this young man, and knew his family, were not surprised; we were already aware of his exceptional talent and his amazing dedication to the music which has been played by pipers in his family for at least eleven generations.
         Angus Hector Macquarrie was born on February 14th, 1985 to Angus M. (Marcie) and Cabrini (MacIsaac) Macquarrie of Halifax, but both with family roots firmly planted in Antigonish County soil. A piper in his own right, Marcie is the founder and publisher of the Celtic Heritage magazine. He is also a partner with one of his brothers in Precision Concrete, of Halifax. Cabrini, a school teacher, also comes from a very musical family. “Mom’s brother Hector is an amazing singer,” says his piper namesake. “There is always music when the family gets together.”
         Two of Hector’s sisters are Highland dancers and all three of them are pianists. One of them is also learning to play the fiddle. Hector himself plays piano, guitar, and a drum kit, but the bagpipe is his principle musical instrument. He was an avid hockey player, having started skating at age three. “I played Triple A all through the age categories,” says Hector, “and I played on Provincial teams from Novice through to Pee Wee. We went to tournaments in Boston, Quebec, and throughout the Maritimes playing against other Provincial teams from across the country. Once I took a year off from the pipe band because of hockey.” Last year, though, Hector refocused his priorities and chose to sacrifice hockey to concentrate on his piping.
         Hector took his first piping lesson at age ten from Ian MacIsaac, formerly from New Glasgow and then living in Halifax. “Ian hauled out the College of Piping Tutor and we worked right through to the section on gracenotes in the first lesson. The next week, when I came back, I had gone through all the lessons by myself. Ian started me on lots of other tunes right away. He really taught me a lot and got me started off on the right track. Probably one of the most important things I ever learned in piping was how to make it enjoyable, which I learned through my lessons with Iain.”
         Hector stayed with Ian for three years and by then was playing in the Dartmouth Junior’s Grade 5 Pipe Band. He also started going to John MacLean for lessons that year. “I was really scared of him the first few lessons,” recalls Hector, “but he is an amazing teacher. He stresses accuracy of technique, which is very important, but he is also strongly focused on the music.
         “John is one of the most musical players I’ve ever heard. And he has lots of stories about the old players, and of the fiddlers too. He played his pipes for me regularly, which helped me fix in my head what a great set of bagpipes should sound like. I try to get my own to sound just like his.
         “John taught me both styles of piping,” continues Hector, “the old style played by the Highland pioneers, and the newer, more military style usually heard in competitions today. We sort of alternated between them, the old music one lesson, the competitive stuff the next.”
         In addition to light music, John had been his principle teacher of Piobaireachd. “At first I just learned Piobaireachd so I could play it in competitions,” admits Hector. “The first tune he gave me was ‘The Glen Is Mine’ and he had to push me to keep at it. He would tell me once I became more developed as a piper, and I understood the music better, it would suddenly click and I would be hooked. And that’s just exactly what happened! I think I might have been competing in Grade 2 when I started to really like Piobaireachd.”
         There have been other influences on Hector’s development as a piper. He attended summer sessions at St. Ann’s Gaelic College a number of times. “Bob Worrall and Ed Neigh both taught me at summer schools. They were terrific. The Gaelic College is a great place for kids who are into music. We had some terrific jam sessions - the kids would all get together in one of the studios. There were a couple of pianos there, and the fiddlers and the pipers would bring their instruments, and we’d jam - fiddles, small pipes, guitars, bodhrans and pianos for hours at a time. It was terrific.”
         During this period, Hector also went for several lessons to Bruce Gandy in PEI and Bruce worked with him prior to the major international competitions he had been invited to enter. Hector’s father, Marcie is quick to point out, “The Nova Scotian piping community is extremely fortunate that Bruce decided to come and live in the Halifax area”, and Hector agrees. “After the Nicol-Brown and George Sherriff competitions,” he says, “I started going to Bruce regularly every two weeks or so and before long I was seeing him every week. As we got closer to the time for the big competitions, he started taking me twice and even occasionally three times a week. Early on, the lessons were mostly on the practice chanter but, as the year progressed, more time was spent on the pipes. By the end of the year, the entire lesson was on pipes every time.
         “Bruce is a pretty amazing teacher,” continues Hector. “He makes every lesson count. He makes it seem like I’m at the competition, playing before the judges. Getting ready to go to Scotland, he would time me while I was tuning, so I would get used to the three light system they use over there.” (Note: when the competitor gives the judge the name of his tune and starts to blow up his pipes, a green light goes on. Four minutes later, the light changes to amber. The competitor has only one minute left to complete his tuning and begin to play. If the light turns red, the competitor is disqualified.)
         “Bruce is very demanding,” says Hector. “He does not tolerate so much as a missed gracenote! In the big competitions, you see, where all the pipers are in top form and playing on well-tuned instruments, errors are deadly. You have to train yourself to play perfectly. You have to be dedicated to it. But Bruce also stresses the music. Both are important. Proper execution of all the movements and musical expression go hand in hand.
         “Since I’ve been going to Bruce, I find I’m more critical about my own playing,” Hector continues. “When I’m practicing, if I miss something, I know to go back and correct it immediately, and to get it right. I find now I can evaluate my playing, based on the criteria Bruce taught me, and I get more out of my time between lessons.”
         It has all certainly paid off. Over the short span of his piping career to date, Hector won a large number of awards. Among the most prestigious were the Atlantic Canada Champion Supreme titles he won in Grades 4, 3, and 2, and also the titles for Junior Amateur Piobaireachd and Junior Amateur Jig.  Competing in Grade 1 in 2001, and doing well in both light music and piobaireachd, Hector was invited to participate in the Nicol-Brown Invitational Amateur Solo Piping Competition at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Competing against some of North America’s finest amateur players, he placed second in both the Piobaireachd and the March, Strathspey and Reel events, and third in the 6/8 March event to finish in second place overall. About five weeks later, he was in Hamilton, Ontario to take part in the George Sherriff Invitational Amateur Solo Piping Competition where he took first places in the Piobaireachd and the March, Strathspey and Reel, and a second in the 6/8 March to finish first overall. His prize included a round trip to Scotland, which he took in 2002.
         Hector remembers these competitions for more than just the prizes won, however. “Going on the ferry from Yarmouth to attend the Nicol-Brown,” he says, “I was practicing my pipes on the deck and, when I turned around, there was a big crowd gathered there listening to me. That was pretty cool. And on the return trip, which was shortly after 9/11, the customs officer was going through our stuff when he saw my pipes. He asked if I could play ‘Amazing Grace’ and I picked up my chanter and played it for him. His face lit up in a grin from ear to ear. When I finished, he waved us all through.
         “It was a great honour to be invited to the Nicol-Brown,” he continues. “I’d heard so much about the Queen’s pipers, Bob Nicol and Bob Brown, and all that they had done to keep Piobaireachd alive, and this competition has been held in their memory for a number of years. I was speechless when I got into the prizes my first time there, and speechless too. People asked me how I felt, and I just couldn’t find the words to tell them. It was awesome!”
         Five weeks later, Hector was on a plane to Toronto and on to Hamilton for the George Sherriff competition held in the Officers Mess of the James Street Armoury. “On the Friday night, we were all invited to a reception at Bob Worrall’s home in Burlington,” reports Hector. “All the competitors got to meet each other and the judges, and we had a great time. During the actual competition the next day, every time we had a break, we were taken to a nearby pub for something to eat and, after the awards were presented, we were all taken out to dinner together. The whole atmosphere was wonderful, and everyone was so friendly and helpful.”
         Hector has begun to try his hand at composing. “The first tune I wrote was for my grandfather,” says Hector. “Actually, Allan MacKenzie was getting ready to publish a book and he called and asked me if I had any tunes. He sort of pushed me to finish the one I was working on, ‘Angus Macquarrie’s Reel’, and he put it in his book. I also wrote a 6/8 March called ‘Judy Kit, The College Mom’ for one of the house mothers at the Gaelic College. Mostly, though, I do a bit of arranging. In the band’s medley last year, for example, I arranged the last tune where we break from a reel into the same tune played as a jig. I’ve done some other arranging for the band, harmonies and stuff like that.”
         The band is the Dartmouth and District Pipe Band, the Grade 2 contingent of the Dartmouth Pipe Band’s organization, under the direction of Pipe Major Doug Boyd, formerly of Antigonish. “Doug is great!” says Hector. “Amazing! He can get such a wonderful sound out of the band, and he’s able to draw the music out of us. He’s an exceptional leader and he knows how far to push us to get the most out of us. He really knows what he is doing. For example, on competition day, he knows how much to make us play - enough to get the pipes and our nerves settled, but not too much. Competition day is a relaxing day for us, believe it or not. Doug really pushes proper technique, and he pushes us to play musically too.” 
         As I was interviewing Hector for the first time, his proud grandfather, Angus, a lifelong fisherman and the former warden of Antigonish County, sat with us in Doctor’s Brook, on a beautiful sunny March day, overlooking the clear blue waters of the Northumberland Strait. Angus was the one who noticed the two deer casually wandering across the clearing in front of the cottage, between us and the water. He was also the one who filled in bits and pieces of Hector’s amazing piping lineage.
         “We know Lauchlin Macquarrie was a piper on the Isle of Rhum,” Angus said, “and there may have been others before him that we don’t know about. Then there were the three Donalds, one after the other, all pipers, the third one being Am Piobaire Mor, The Big Piper of the Isle of Eigg. I visited Eigg in 1972 and added a stone to his cairn. My father had done that in 1889, almost one hundred years before me. After Am Piobaire Mor came another Lauchlin and yet another Donald, my great-grandfather who is buried on River Deny’s Mountain, before you get to my grandfather, John the pioneer. Then there was my father Angus Hector, then me, then my son Marcie, and then Hector. Eleven generations of pipers. It’s quite a lot to live up to.”
         Hector got off to a fine start in the 2002 season with a first place finish at the ACPBA Silver Medal Piobaireachd Challenge held in Antigonish in May. At the Nicol-Brown, he had some bagpipe trouble but still managed to take a third place finish. While in Maxville, he won first prize in the Grade 1 March event. “I was up and down all summer, though,” Hector recalls. “For some reason, I was more nervous, and broke down more often than I had ever done before. I could tell my own mistakes, you see, and they shook me, I guess. I knew how important it was to play error free.”
         This past August, grandfather Angus joined sons Marcie and Paul and grandson Hector in their travel to Scotland. Angus watched and listened with justifiable pride as the young man vied for top honours among some of the best young pipers in the world. “I was able to play in the Under 18 events in some places,” Hector recalls, “but in others, such as at Glenfinnan, I found myself up against experienced pipers I had only read about before. It was a terrifying experience, but a rewarding one too.” Rewarding in more than once sense of the word, for Hector came home with first and third prizes from the Lonach Games, and first and second prizes in the March, Strathspey and Reel, and Piobaireachd events from the Cowal Games. He also competed at the MacGregor Cup Invitational Competition at Oban. A tour of the land of their ancestors brought the four Macquarrie men to Fort William, Glenfinnan, Mull, Ulva, Arisaig, Morar, Mallaig, Skye, and on to their ancestral home on the Isle of Eigg. Hector, Marcie and Paul laid their stones beside Angus’s, and his father’s before him, on the cairn of their ancestor, Donald Macquarrie, Am Piobaire Mor, the tradition continued into yet another generation.
         Back home in Halifax Nova Scotia, Hector, now a Grade 12 student at the Halifax Grammar School, was preparing to defend his title at the George Sherriff competition when his 84 year old grandfather was suddenly rushed to the hospital. As his condition worsened, Angus was transferred from Antigonish to the QE2 Health Science Centre in Halifax where Hector spent many hours at his bedside, playing all the old tunes for him on his practice chanter. Angus would drift in and out of consciousness and occasionally would comment. “Port Math”, he would say in Gaelic, “good tune”.
         Consequently, Hector was unable to play at the George Sherriff this year, but there will be other opportunities. Angus passed away peacefully on November 10th and was buried in Arisaig’s St. Margaret of Scotland Parish Cemetery on the 13th. As he watched over his grandson in life, Angus, no doubt surrounded by his many piper ancestors, continues to watch over him, and to listen proudly. To be sure, there may be a lot of pressure, being the eleventh in a line of Macquarrie pipers, but Hector’s young shoulders are broad and strong, and he will do just fine.



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