Bag Pipe Trophy Returns to UCR for its 7th Consecutive Year

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
November 12, 2013

When Ian Whitelaw was a child, his mother insisted that he play a musical instrument. She started him on the piano, where he struggled to match the keys with the notes while he sat in fear of being disciplined by his teacher’s ruler.  Eventually he was ready to put it aside, and was introduced to bagpipes

 in the Kiwanis club, where he played for six months only to discover that he had been taught to play incorrectly. Just when Whitelaw’s musical endeavors looked the bleakest, he encountered an incredibly inspiring bagpipe player in city hall in Ontario Canada.

 The old man happened to live about five miles away from Whitelaw and played for the highland dancers. He taught him every Friday night, and due to Whitelaw’s keenness, charged him only a dollar fifty per lesson. Whitelaw would practice for three hours every day, falling so in love with the music that if he ever were to be punished, he would have his bagpipes taken away.

Whitelaw was born in England but moved to Glasgow, Canada, and Scotland during his life until he finally moved to the United States in 1979.  Prior to moving to riverside, he had experienced a wealth of success in bag piping. He had been the pipe major in the city of San Francisco band, won the world pipe band championships in Scotland in 1999, won second place at least four times while playing for the Simon Frazer band in Canada, helped bring the New Zealand police pipe band from nowhere to being ninth in the world, and qualified for the world pipe band championships the year he played for the LA Scots. 

The most recent award was won at the Pleasanton Highland Games, which is held every Labor Day Weekend in Pleasanton, California. Whitelaw received the James Purgavie horn for his solo performance of pibroch—the classical music of highland bagpipe—which cannot be played on any other instrument. Whitelaw’s bagpipes are from 1907 and belonged to Harry Lauder, Scotland’s original song and dance man who had purchased it for his last American tour in 1910. Since he was granted the title of lecturer and music director of the pipe band at UCR, it has progressed from never earning a single prize at the games to winning entire competitions. 

Today, pipe bands are divided up into five different grades, grade one being the top and grade five being the bottom. UCR presently has bands in grade three, four, and five. For three years running, they were the western US pipe band champions for grade four, and just last year the grade five band won the champions of the pipe band associations. UCR competes around the games circuit, which includes the Queen Mary, Las Vegas, Costa Mesa, San Diego, Monterey, and Pleasanton, with the last competition of the year in Ventura. During the current off-season, Whitelaw and the band obtain new players, retool, and prepare for the subsequent competition in February.

On November 17th, Whitelaw will be competing in professional solo piping in the Angus Macdonald Western Regional Championship—which he has won seven times.

As a lecturer and director of music for the UCR pipe band, he hopes to incorporate utilizing the bag pipes in an academic setting such as his music of Scotland class, as well as developing bands in grades one, two, and three at UCR. For him, bag piping is all about bringing people together, creating, and sharing a culture. “Anybody can teach someone how to lift fingers up and down, but I try to go deeper and let their spirit out a little,” he said.

Whitelaw is looking for students to enroll in his MUS176 class, the bagpipe music ensemble, where he will teach the bagpipes, canntaireachd, the language of the great highland bagpipes, Scottish culture and some historical information that is relevant to the music.  All levels of talent and ability are welcomed and there is no pre-requisite. No bagpipes are necessary to take the class—only a practice chanter will be required—and the rest will be supplied. When asked about the significance of his work with music, he said, “deep within the cradle of your human spirit lives music - awakening at the moment of your birth and living within you always.  Music allows you to travel through your greatest imagination and inspiration, taking you places deep within yourselves along paths rarely traveled.  Music allows you to discover a greater sense of who you are, bringing you ever closer to your authentic essence.” Whitelaw’s passion, experience, and sound creation have allowed him to transform music production at UCR and inspire others within CHASS and the larger UCR community. 

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