For over 50 years, piping in Glengarry and Connie Kippen Blaney have been synonymous. As a piper, teacher and executive in many piping organizations she has been a leader in the promotion and conservation of Celtic Music.
Connie has spent most of her life in Maxville, Ontario where she attended both Public School and High School.
Connie’s father was a piper and she took her first chanter lessons from him. She took more formal lessons from Pipe Major Steve MacKinnon of the CNR Pipe Band in Montreal.
Connie had a natural talent for playing the “pipes” and as a teenager won many awards. Connie first learned her tunes by ear and within a short time had some twenty-five pieces memorized. She was Pipe Major of the Maxville High School Pipe Band and helped the cadets keep their pace.
The first Glengarry Highland Games were held in 1948. Connie, at age fifteen, took first prize in the under-eighteen competition. She continued to compete at Maxville in the under-eighteen competitions for the next few years and then ventured into the over-eighteen grades. As well as being successful at Maxville, she was also a very successful competitor at games in Montreal, Fergus, Embro, Syracuse and Schenectady, winning many trophies.
It was during this period of her career that she was acknowledged and recognized as being one of the best lady pipers in North America. It was also about this same time that Connie affectionately became known as “Glengarry’s Sweetheart”. Following her years in competition, Connie played primarily for dancing competitions.
She was engaged by the Clan MacLeod Society to teach piping when they organized their first lessons in 1955. This was the start of Connie’s role in tutoring piping where the skills she had learned as a schoolteacher would stand her in good stead. She continued to teach piping for the next twelve years in Maxville and in Alexandria, with hundreds of local students benefiting from her knowledge and experience.
When the Glengarry Highlanders Pipe Band was formed in 1961 her pupils were well prepared to play in that band. Connie was a founding member of this band and was Pipe Major from 1965 to 1968. Connie also served as a director of the band in 1974 and 1975. In 1964, a girls’ pipe band competition was inaugurated at the Glengarry Games with Glengarry’s own Girls Pipe Band under Pipe Major Connie Kippen Blaney taking first place. Although she wasn’t a member of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders Connie was also a frequent guest player with that band, much to their delight.
After graduating from Ottawa Teachers College Connie taught school for thirty five years in area schools, the last twenty of these years were spent at the Maxville Public School.
Connie Kippen married Walter Blaney in 1955. They have two sons, Allan and Bruce, both pipers. She was still an active competitor when the young couple moved to the Blaney farm immediately south of Maxville (the Blaney family has operated the farm since 1908). Despite the requirements of managing a household, helping to run a farm and raise a family, and teaching school Connie still found time to practice, teach, compete and play with the Glengarry Pipe Band.
The Highland Games
Connie was involved with the Glengarry Highland Games from their beginning in 1948; first as a competitor, as a member of the Glengarry Pipe Band, an accompanist for dance competitions, and then later with the administration of the Games. Her first administrative position was with the Band Committee. In 1981 Connie became the Secretary for the Games Committee and she remained in that position for fifteen years. In 1988-89 she served as a Vice-President and 1991 she became the President.
She holds the “unofficial” record of participating in every Glengarry Highland Games since the first. During her tenure as President, Connie worked closely with the Pipers’ and Pipe Band Society of Ontario, to ensure that piping/drumming and band events were run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. During this era, the Highland Games grew in stature to its present place as one the finest Highland Gatherings in the world and in no short measure due to the work and leadership of Connie. She remains a Director of the Games and is the liaison to the Pipers’ and Pipe Band Society of Ontario.
In an on-going series of profiles of pipers and drummers who have made a significant contribution to the pipe band community, the Pipers’ and Pipe Band Society of Ontario recently concluded that few, if any, have equaled Connie’s contributions to the piping scene in Glengarry.
But even though now retired, Connie will, on a warm summer’s evening still take her place on the porch and play her electronic pipe – to keep in practice just in case!