Lionel James Tupman was born on November 10th, 1987 in St. Catharines, Ontario and grew up in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake. His mother, Beryl Tupman, is an elementary school teacher and former dancer, and his father, Jim Tupman, is a retired high school English teacher. "Dad plays pipe organ, but not pipes," says Lionel. "You can hear him on some numbers on the Niagara Regional Police Pipe Band's CD, 'Out of the Mist'. My great grandmother immigrated from Lochgelly, Scotland. My great, great grandfather, Sergeant Major Edward Kyle, was a piper with the 10th Battalion Royal Highland Light Infantry. He was killed in France during the first world war. My older brother, Lowell, a student in Dental School at the University of Toronto, played trumpet in a high school jazz band, but I was the only one who took an interest in piping."
Lionel's family has been very supportive of his music, however. "Dad would have preferred I begin on an instrument he knew something about, but nevertheless, both my parents quickly became involved, driving me to lessons and later to competitions. They both still attend the Games with me, sometimes helping out as stewards now that I can look after myself. Dad is the manager of my pipe band. "
Lionel's musical interests are not limited to his piping. He is currently in Grade Ten at Laura Secord Secondary School in St. Catharines. "I have no trouble filling my time," he says. "I'm on the student council, I sing in concert and jazz choirs and play alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones in jazz and concert bands. Outside the school, I sing in my church choir, and play in a community concert band and a jazz combo. Recently I began teaching bagpipe as well.
"It's strange to recall how it all started. I was three when I first heard bagpipes at a church strawberry festival. I stood in front of the piper and refused to move for half an hour. From then on, I declared I was going to play the pipes and I went about the house pretending to do so, with my mother's purse and a yard stick.
"Later that summer, my family drove to the Maritimes for a holiday. Along the way, I often looked at the map of Nova Scotia, which that year featured on its cover a picture of a piper introducing a young lad to his pipes. I asked my dad whether a piper in Nova Scotia would let me try his pipes. He tried not to discourage me but did not want to see me disappointed; so he was very gentle in explaining why it was unlikely. When we arrived at the Gaelic College in St. Anne's, a young woman led the new arrivals onto the grounds playing her pipes. I hopped out and followed her, diligently 'playing' the toy pipes my parents had bought me. Later she came over to talk to us and, seeing my eager gaze, asked me if I would like to try blowing her pipes. I was in Heaven! That's my best memory of Nova Scotia.
"When I was four years old, my parents tried to buy me a child's size chanter for Christmas but the local maker, Dunbar, was sold out. That summer, we took my great grandmother to the Games in Fergus where I spotted one at a concession tent. Once they bought it for me, of course, it became necessary to find a teacher. My mother did a little investigating and discovered that the Braemar band people were teaching at the Scottish Club; so off we went. She got me in by hiding my age. Fortunately, I was a tall kid and had big hands."
Lionel began chanter lessons with Jim Beattie at the age of four. Jim had begun his own piping in Glasgow in 1943 with the Boys' Brigade Pipe Band. His pipe major was James McLeod, brother to Peter McLeod who was the pipe major of the famous Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band. Jim also went to Seumas MacNeill's piping school. He immigrated to Canada in 1956 and was a founder of the Braemar band whose roots go back to the St. Catharines Scottish Club Pipe Band of 1976. Jim is still with the Braemar band today.
"I worked my way through the Logan's Tutor book with Jim," Lionel continues. "Keeping me interested was never a problem; I was the driving force. I longed to play pipes, however, and chafed at the slow progress involved in learning proper fingering, ornaments, etc.. Jim was kind, and patient, and very supportive. When I couldn't get a band goose to practice on, he brought me an old set of pipes with the reeds reversed in the drones. He told me to leave the drones alone and try to get the chanter going. A few days later I had the reeds seated and was forcing sound out of the whole instrument. Dad held the phone up for Jim to hear me and he hollered, 'He's not supposed to be doing that yet!' But it was too late. After that I seldom played without all three drones. I had just turned seven."
As Lionel developed, he reached a point where Jim wisely handed him over to a highly skilled Open level player, teacher, and judge, the late Lindsay Kirkwood, under whose tutelage his skills rapidly increased. This writer interviewed Lindsay Kirkwood some months before his sad and untimely death. "From the beginning," remembered Lindsay, "it was clearly apparent that this young fellow was not going to be your everyday student. I taught him as I had been taught - correctly and with encouragement, providing him with a foundation that will serve him a lifetime. He progressed way faster than most, and played tunes as though he had played them for years. I am talking about when he was only 7 or 8 years of age. Progressing from exercises, tunes, piobaireachd, blowing pipes and blowing tone, he has surpassed my expectations many times over. All I can say is, what a talented, polite, 'teachable' young man!! I stressed teachable because you can sometimes run into some students of piping that think they know it all, or are better than the instructor. This is certainly not the case with Lionel."
Lindsay himself had been playing pipes since he was a boy. His first teacher was Jim Gregg, ex-Pipe Major of Clan MacFarlane, Edinburgh Police, and the Black Watch. Lindsay's father, James Kirkwood, had been a drummer with the Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and had immigrated to Canada with pretty well the whole drum section in the 1950s. Lindsay later became pipe major of Clan MacFarlane, and went on to play with Metro Toronto Police and the 78th
"If memory serves me correctly," Lindsay continued, "Lionel turned 14 in November. I have taught him for the past 6-7 years and have never had one iota of bother from him. It has been and will continue to be a pleasure to teach this young man. Whatever I have asked him to do, he has done, and did it with great passion and a terrific attitude. Some adults could take a few lessons from him in this regard. I have often had to remind myself in teaching Lionel certain things. I'd say to myself, "Lindsay, this boy is only 9 (or perhaps10) years of age. He is not 18 or 19. Take it easy on him," but he would understand what I was trying to convey to him each time. "I have tried to pass along to him that he should do as well as he can every time out. His consistency, musicality and bagpipe have improved each year. I have tried to teach him how to win well and also how to lose well. Basically I didn't want him getting a swelled head. If the truth be told, however, I can't even listen to him compete at times because I get more nervous than he does."
Lionel picks up the story. "Lindsay became a judge and a respected teacher, and it was my good fortune that he lived in St. Catharines. His focus was mainly on light music, but he began my instruction in piobaireachd, and then sent me for further teaching to one of the acknowledged authorities in Ontario, P/M Ed Neigh (Celtic Heritage, Aug/Sept and Oct/Nov '98 issues). I have thus been blessed with excellent instruction from men with the grace to put my best interests first, and I shall always be grateful to all three of them. "Lindsay's death was a devastating blow to me," says Lionel. "Ours was a happy relationship; he was in many ways like a second father to me, and I shall always miss him deeply. I now continue to study piobaireachd with Ed Neigh, and have just recently begun lessons in light music with Bob Worrall (See Celtic Heritage, Oct/Nov, 1997)."
In addition to his solo work, Lionel has kept up with his pipe band development as well. "The first band I was ever in was the Braemar Pipe Band of St. Catharines which had won many competitions in Grade Four. I then played with the Niagara Regional Police for four years, during which time the band won Champion Supreme in Grade Two and competed three times at the World's, winning third place during my last trip to Glasgow with them. I'm sure I developed some of my stamina during the long and strenuous band practices, and I developed a good sense of the importance of maintaining uniform pitch and tempo. I also learned something about teamwork and the roles of pipe major, lead drummer, bass drummer, etc.. In short, I developed group playing skills and knowledge. My actual piping dexterity, however, was developed from hours of practice, my solo lessons, and competition. The band music was never as challenging as my solo work."
His dedication and hard work began paying off. "I have won the Pipers and Pipe Band Society of Ontario's Grade Two and Grade One Champion Supreme awards for both light music and piobaireachd," he says. "In 2001 and 2002, I was named Amateur Piper Of The Day at Maxville's North American Championship competition, having placed first in Grade One March, Strathspey and Reel, and Jig. The previous year I won first in Piobaireachd. Last autumn I won the MSR and the 6/8 March events as well as the Overall Champion title at the Nicol-Brown Invitational in Hartford, Connecticut, for the second consecutive year. In November of 2001, I placed second overall, winning the 6/8 March competition, at the George Sherriff Memorial competition in Hamilton. I picked up the trophy for 6/8 again in 2002 but finished a disappointing third overall.
"I was playing with the Niagara Regional Police when we placed third at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow. My highest and most memorable achievement to date, however, has been winning the Nicol-Brown, because of the high calibre of competition there. Their first prize, airfare to London to participate in the Scottish Piping Society of London competition, provided a fascinating experience, and I look forward to next year's trip.
"For the past two years I have been working with the Braemar band again. The band has been trying to develop its program for teaching young pipers, and I have been able to provide some assistance and leadership. The band picked up a second prize in its first competition at Fort Erie last summer and is growing rapidly, presently numbering about 60 members. I'm not really into composing just yet, but I have created harmony for the Niagara Regional Police band, some of which was used in their winning medley. I played about 75% of the tracks with the band when they recorded their CD "Out of the Mist," and I wrote most of the harmony heard on the disk."
I asked Lionel about his impression of the state of piping today. He was very cautious in his response. "I think that, at my age," he replied, "I would be wise to continue learning as much as possible, and reserve any opinions I may hold. I have one suggestion, however, and it is far from original, but it bears repeating. If piping is to thrive in years to come, we need more experienced pipers and bands who will take the time and trouble to introduce young people to the instrument and provide qualified instruction at a range of levels. Lindsay Kirkwood, for example, felt that the demise of the Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band was due in part to its lack of a training program. Certainly, without Jim Beattie's devotion, and that of other members of the Braemar band, I might never have known the joy of playing the instrument."
The teacher has the last word. "Like I have said to Lionel many times over," said the late Lindsay Kirkwood, "the only person that will stop Lionel is Lionel himself. The possibilities are endless. From getting an education, where he also excels, to winning Open class solo prizes, to playing with first class bands, he can just about write his own ticket!!
"Like many young players, the only worry that Lionel has ever had to deal with was belief in his own ability. At times he would ask, 'How do you think I'll do on Saturday, or in this contest, or against a certain competitor?' I would tell him not to worry, as the hard work and prizes are won in the winter time and he had certainly taken care of that. Slowly, his confidence is building, as is his reputation."