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ME &
MY PIPING

I am Stewart Nimmo...

That's me...

Click to have a better look.
(On parade, July 1, 1997)

 

 That's me too...

Click to have a better look.
(Warming up for my son's wedding.)

...a piper in the
Brockville Pipes & Drums.

and my band...(without me)... Click for large photo.

Click to go to the band web-site..
(I was absent for this photo.)

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An Abbreviated Life History

Childhood

IndentBorn in Scotland in 1944 (in a castle, even), I emigrated to Canada in December 1953 with my family. I have a picture of me as a young boy – in my kilt with my brothers shortly before we left Scotland. My father had been a Church of Scotland minister and joined the United Church of Canada in Nova Scotia. In so doing, he was given little choice of where his pastoral charge would be, and we were sent to Port Hood, which is a village of about 600 people on the west side of Cape Breton Island. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, many of the residents are descendants of Scottish highlanders, and are mainly Roman Catholic. I remember an incident whereby my father identified a man’s accent as being characteristic of residents of the Isle of Skye in Scotland; it turned out the man’s great-great-great-grandfather had come from Skye! Although we stayed only 2½ years in Port Hood, they were very formative years for me and in that short time I absorbed a great deal of “Cape Breton culture.”

Introduction to Piping

IndentIn 1956 we moved to the “richer” province of Ontario, to the town of Kapuskasing -- “the Model Town of the North”. I completed high school there in 1960, after which I attended Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario. It was there that I became interested in piping and I took chanter lessons from the Queen’s University Pipe Band for one year (instructor’s name remembered but I'll pretend it is blissfully forgotten). At the end of the university year I was loaned a set of pipes (because I was “one of the better students”) and invited to learn to play them over the summer. And that invitation was the sum total of instruction on the pipes, not another word! Well, at the end of my summer working in Kapuskasing (with nary a piper to help) I had not been able to play a single tune on the pipes; I cannot recall ever having all of the drones going either. I returned to university, gave back the pipes and hightailed it in embarrassment. I concluded I was not capable of playing the bagpipe.

The Intervening Years...

IndentAfter graduation I entered the teaching profession, married and eventually had two children. I taught in Kapuskasing for several years then moved to Brockville in 1974, and am now living just outside of Brockville, near the village of Maitland. In Brockville there was a pipe band, piping instruction and for several years, a summer piping school (featuring Seamus MacNeill, I now understand), but, remember, I was not capable of playing the bagpipe, so no action on my part....

Try, Try Again

IndentIn 1994 I attended a retirement dinner and the guest of honour was piped in by one of my teaching colleagues – I didn’t know he was a piper. While talking to him that evening, he told me he had started piping just a few years before. I decided that if that old fart, Dob, could learn to pipe at his age, then so could I!! That September the local pipe band, the City of Brockville Pipe Band – Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 96, advertised free lessons for beginners and I responded. Having played piano, pipe organ, and chanter (for that one year some 30 years previously) I quickly (or so I thought) learned to play the chanter again that winter. Just as I was getting ready to go on pipes my wife and I took our younger son out of high school in February and we toured the South Pacific rim for two months (by the way, our son passed his year and became a better student than previously!). Have a look at us having a fabulous dinner riding the rails in a converted tramcar through the city of Melbourne, Australia.

Success!

IndentIn late spring the band loaned me a set of pipes and I struggled to learn to play them. Frankly, I didn’t get any better help than I had had 30+ years previously, plus I had two competing opinions thrown at me: learn to play with no drones going, and learn to play with all drones going. Of the 12 or so piping students who started that year, 3 actually started on pipes, and I am the only one to survive.

IndentEventually I had my piping debut on parade, April 13, 1996, when several bands in the region massed in Brockville to play a Lament to the Children of Dunblane. I played Amazing Grace and faked the rest of the tunes. And the local newspaper published a photo in which I was rather front and centre!

IndentOne of the more pleasant results of my having attempted piping so many years previously was that I had purchased piping music books then and I had kept them. This included amongst others, the Scots Guards, now known as Volume I, which had cost me $3.25 (now selling for $70-90, depending on who is selling it).

Return to Cape Breton Island

IndentThat summer  I decided to attend one of the adult instruction weeks at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. I added a few days on each end and made a holiday of it. So in August 1996, I returned to Cape Breton Island after an absence of 40 years. I went back to Port Hood to see the community and the house where I had lived, and to see the church where my father had been minister. I knew I couldn’t see the school I had attended, because it had burned down many years previously -- five rooms, twelve grades. I decided to go to the church for Sunday morning service. There was a guest preacher that day and he was having various members of the congregation make announcements, so I stuck up my hand and he called on me. “I doubt if any of you know me, but I have been in this church many, many times. The last time was forty years ago, in June of 1956. My father, the Reverend David Nimmo, was minister here from 1953 to 1956. It is a pleasure to be here after such a long absence.” (You’ll note that I didn’t give my own name.)

IndentAfter the service, three people came up to me. One asked: “Which of the three boys are you, Andrew, David or Stewart?” This was the organist, Eva Hart; she had been the organist ever since our family had resided there – over 40 years ! !  The other two people, Rosemary Guest and Aubrey Hawley, had been in my class in school ! !

IndentBack to the piping... At the Gaelic College that summer, I quickly realized that the technique I had learned during the band instruction left a great deal to be desired, and I have been fighting ever since to re-learn to play my doublings, grips, taorluaths, etc. with much more openness. I’ve now attended the Gaelic College summer schools three times and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in piping, fiddling, speaking Gaelic, Celtic harp, Cape Breton culture, etc. The classes, instructors and instruction are good, but the informal ceilidhs in the evenings are fabulous!!! And the weekly dance at Glencoe is absolutely not to be missed.....

IndentRetiring in June 1998, I thought I would have lots of time to practice, but... With time being less structured, I find it more difficult to set aside a specific time as practice time. Oh, oh....... and in September 1999, I went back to work part-time at a local private school – what a lark, I thought! . . . How stupid could I be! . . .  I finished out the school year and retired again for the second and FINAL time!

Family Connection

IndentAs it happens, one of my older brothers, David, who lives in Dartmouth, NS, had taken up piping two or three years before I did. So we met at the Gaelic College for a couple of summers – neither of us has attended recently. And he has gone on to "bigger" things — he has been the Drum Major of several Halifax area bands and plays bass drum for a few bands occasionally.

IndentIn the summer of 1999, I attended the Summer School organized by the Rob Roy Pipe Band in Kingston, Ontario, just for a change of venue and instructors. At the end of the week – Friday afternoon – there was a piping contest within each section of the course. Now I’m not interested in competing, so I thought I just might head home early but I stayed. As I stood in front of the judge, Rob Crabtree, I decided what I would play – Highland Cathedral. Well, damned if I didn’t take first place! However, the evenings in Kingston weren’t as much fun as in St. Ann’s..... 

Indent In the summer of 2000, I attended the Kingston school, (because Bob Worrall was one of the instructors) and the Gaelic College (because of the fun evenings and because Ann Gray was instructing). I really indulged myself that year!

IndentAnd hey, (pat, pat myself on the back) Lindsay Kirkwood awarded me the first place in my class again in Kingston! But I’m not that good a piper,... keep in mind — it was the “Old Farts and Hacks Class”!!

IndentI've attended Kingston eight times now – superb school, I would recommend it, but it has now gone down the tubes.

Getting ready to play for a wedding,
Ogdensburg, NY, USA,
June 2003
 

IndentYou can see us practicing in the evening in my brother’s residence room – the infamous Room 101 – at the Gaelic College, Nova Scotia, in the summer of ’98.... I’m the silver-grey-haired chap on the left, just behind one of our piping instructors, Ann Gray; my brother, David, is on the far right, below the bar.... I’m sure Annie was explaining the intricacies of a particular movement at that point in time . . . . :-) :-) She has since written a tune called The Boys of 101 and she autographed her book to me as “a Boy of 101 at heart!”

The Gaelic College Adult Session – Group 3B – in the summer of 2000.

I'm the tallest --with the red hackle; my brother is far right, and Braveheart is far left!!!!

IndentMy elder son’s fiancée asked me to play at their wedding, May 20, 2000, so here’s a wedding photo of my wife and my two sons with the bride standing between them, and me – I’m the good-looking guy in the kilt. I don’t think I’ll get to play when son #2 marries — OK, it has happened now, son #2 married an Italian girl — no bagpipes!!!!!

My Philosophy of Piping

IndentThe Brockville Pipes & Drums (new name for the City of Brockville Pipe Band) is a street band and I enjoy that. At my age, I’m not ever going to become a really good piper. As long as I can play respectably with the band, and as long as I can play solo such that the uninitiated can enjoy my playing, I’m happy. I know that a good piper could pick my playing to pieces, but when you start piping at age 52, when the brain and the fingers are becoming increasingly inflexible, what do you expect? I’m out there to enjoy myself and hopefully provide enjoyment to others.

IndentI’ll always be a hack piper!! But I do want to do the best I can! So I work at it, and attend summer schools, ten so far.... During the 2000-01 year I also practiced with the Spencerville Legion Pipe Band where I received some really good instruction. I did play a few parades with the Band in the summer of 2001, but medical problems and a trip to Scotland intervened. I couldn’t keep up with the young pipers, and I would not commit myself to that Band as my primary band, so I had to say good-bye with a great deal of regret. Two years later I returned to Spencerville on their terms; I played with them for a couple of years but unfortunately the Band has gone into hiatus for an indeterminate time — I still have their uniform and still have hopes the band will be resurrected..

IndentI went to Scotland in the summer of 2001 with an Canadian Massed Band – and played with the Band in several performances and parades including the Edinburgh Tattoo in Edinburgh Castle and the Braemar Games, in the presence of the Queen. The trip was very enjoyable.

IndentIn 2005, I “temporarily joined” my brother’s band,, 33rd Halifax P&D, and went with them to Holland to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of Holland. I have to drop a few names here: we played for the Dutch royal family and the Governor-General of Canada. More importantly, we paraded and played for many Dutch people, old and young, who really showed their thanks and appreciation for what the Canadians did in 1945. I will always carry this mental picture of an elderly Dutch lady, probably in her late 80’s, wrapped in a plastic raincoat, sitting in a wheelchair, watching the parade in the driving rain and hail, waving a Canadian flag and shouting, as loudly as she could (barely above a whisper), “Thank you! Thank you!” Click on the photo for a larger picture in the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens..

Enjoying the tulips
after playing a parade
 in Keukenhof Gardens

IndentAs I was retiring in 1998, I found out I had bladder cancer. Treatments over a period of 4 years controlled the disease but it would not go away. So my bladder was finally removed in May 2002 and replaced by a piece of my intestine. Some pretty fancy sewing by one of my urologists!! Unfortunately the urologists always seemed to mess up a good part of each piping season with their treatments and surgeries. However the problem seems to be solved, and all that is now behind me!

Click for larger photo...Here I am leading the Victory Lap for cancer survivors in the 2007 Brockville Relay for Life. Click on the photo for a larger picture.

 

In this photo you can see me leading the Commencement parade at SUNY Canton in May 2008. Click on the photo for a larger picture.

 

In the spring of 2009 I was appointed as the Pipe Major of the Brockville Pipes & Drums. I still have lots to learn, but I guess I'm not all that bad!

Here I am in my PM uniform for the first time (sash, dirk, badge and pins) at Saint Lawrence University Commencement in Canton, NY, 2009 May 17 — screenshot from SLU's web-site. Click on the photo for a larger picture.

 

The moral of my story is: You're never too old to learn; if you enjoy it, go for it!
I've helped teach a 70+ year-old-lady to play bagpipes — she's enjoying herself too.

I hope you found my story of interest, and I invite you to sign my GuestBook.

Stewart Nimmo
Maitland, Ontario
Canada    K0E 1P0
613-348-3948

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Last Update: Wednesday, March 06, 2013
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