Robert MacCrimmon

2008 Jun

Robert MacCrimmonSome say that the finest pipers in Scotland were MacCrimmons. In keeping with the ancient tradition, one of Glengarry’s finest pipers is a MacCrimmon from McCrimmon’s Corners- Bob, the son of Stanford and Bertie (MacKinnon) MacCrimmon.

A major influence on Bob’s desire to play the bagpipes began at an early age when he heard pipers such as Beverly Campbell, Connie Kippen, Cathy MacLeod, (Bob’s first cousin) and his grand uncle D.D. MacKinnon, a piper with the Black Watch.

At public school he took lessons from Angus “Katie” MacDonald in Alexandria. Angus brought him to the SD&G band where he played along with several close friends and older pipers. From approximately 1955 to 1963, Bob played with the S.D.&G. Highlanders in Alexandria and Cornwall. He was encouraged by requests to play at various functions, not only at lawn socials, but at events such as the annual St. Andrew’s concert in Alexandria, hosted by Father John MacPhail. While in high school in Alexandria, he moved on from the SD&Gs to the Glengarry Pipe Band under Pipe Major Connie Kippen Blaney and by doing that, he was able to get lessons from her and from Sandy Boyd, from Scotland, who spent some time in Glengarry.

At the same time, there were plenty of house parties where the sound of the pipes, often accompanied by piano, was part of the song and dance. This was rather unique in Glengarry, and probably not heard elsewhere either. Bagpipes with accompaniment and vice versa, have now become a phenomenon, but are “old hat” to many who heard Bob in the ’60s and ’70s.

Bob is well known in the Glengarry area for his generosity with his music, having played at dances, church socials, funerals, Christmas Trees, numerous house parties and ceilidhs ; he was the piper of choice for highland dancing, mostly due to the necessary steady tempo, borne he is sure, of all the music that he was exposed to from day one. Beverly MacQueen, Donald Ian MacLeod, the MacDonald Brothers and Hugh Allen MacMillan were favorite accompanists or collaborators in all sorts of joyous events.

While in school in Ottawa he played with the Campbell Pipe Band. From 1963 to 1967 he played with the Rockcliffe RCAF band in Ottawa where he was exposed to two famous pipers, Archie Cairns and J.T. MacKenzie who later became the pipe major of the Glengarry Pipe Band. Pipe-Major Cairns took a considerable amount of time to give him one on one tuition to help improve tone and his ability to play in unison in a band. In 1967, the RCAF pipe band actually won the piping in the Grade 1 contest at Maxville, a proud moment, indeed.

Upon graduating from Queen’s where he played with the Queen’s University Pipe Band, Bob chose to accept a job offer in Niagara Falls and joined the Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band which at that time was on an unprecedented winning streak in the Grade 1 contests. In 1971 Pipe-Major Ken Eller. asked for Bob’s assistance in leading the band and in 1972, in a landmark contest, they defeated the reigning World Champion Edinburgh Police Pipe Band at the Fergus Highland Games. Bob became the Pipe Sergeant in 1972 and remained in that capacity until his retirement.

His Glengarry background in music contributed to his ability to advise and implement the music of the band. Orchestral and tonal decisions were never made without consulting Bob MacCrimmon. Although modest and unassuming, when necessary, he always was able to accurately make decisions to improve band performance. And that he did, for the Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band with Bob as Pipe Sergeant in fact, won eight North American Championships (an unprecedented five in a row) at the Glengarry Highland Games. They won numerous other Canadian and US titles as well and competed successfully in Scotland.

Robert MacCrimmonBob is very proud of his contribution to the band at the height of its world-class success, as not only was he the Pipe Sergeant, but on most occasions, the pipe section was tuned to his pipes. He had two sets of pipes: one set that belonged to Jimmy Penny MacCrimmon, his former neighbor and a newer set of pipes that was one of the last made by Peter Henderson of Glasgow. This newer set, with its ivory and sterling silver mountings, has been played at one time or another by many notable pipers in the country. He retired from the band in the early 1980s, taught piping in St Catharines where he lived and concentrated on his family and career.

In the late ’90s, he started playing recreationally with the Niagara Regional Police Pipe Band and shortly after, acted as Pipe Sergeant as that Band sought to improve the standard of play. This effort culminated with a strong second place finish in Grade 2 at the 2001 World Pipe Band Championship in Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2003, Bob retired from active pipe band competition, but he still plays for pleasure. He has been an active judge since the mid 1980s and adjudicates about six games each summer, holding an “A” certificate for pipe band adjudication and a Level II certificate for solo piping. He is also a member of the Pipers and Pipe Band Society of Ontario’s music board where his wise counsel has been of great value.

By his own admission, he was never of a mind to compete in solos, preferring the camaraderie of the pipe band and the fun of social functions. Although his ancestors were storied players and composers of the ceol mor (piobaireachd) or “big music,” his interest was not kindled in his formative years save for hearing Jimmy “Penny” MacCrimmon playing from a nearby farm a form of music that seemed strange, not suited for marching or dancing.

Bob is married to Andrene Thomson of Glasgow, Scotland and they have two daughters, Caroline and Wendy. He has a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering from Queen’s University and has designed light and heavy buildings, crane-carrying steel structures, steel-making facilities, alterations to power plants, site works, bridges, dry docks and wharfs projects across Canada, the USA and abroad. He is a member of the Canadian Standards Association Technical Committee on Steel Structures for Buildings, AIST Subcommittee No.13 for the Design and Construction of Mill Buildings, and is co-author of numerous papers and the Crane-Supporting Steel Structures Design Guide.

He’s been active on the world – piping scene for 50 years and has chalked up nearly as much experience as an engineer and structural steel specialist.

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