Angus Morrison piping at Topaz Park in Victoria.

Angus Morrison piping at Topaz Park in Victoria.

Angus Morrison takes on solo piping challenge

With work in the construction industry behind him Angus Morrison sets about learning to play the bagpipes.

Angus Morrison has been part of the lakecity’s construction industry since arriving in the community from his hometown of Richmond back in 1972.

He worked on many large construction projects in the region and after retiring in 2004 took on a new challenge — learning to play a set of Great Highland Bagpipes he purchased as a young man but never had the time to play.

He enjoys the freedom of being a solo player.

“About 10 per cent of pipers are solo players,” Angus says. “I was a contractor for 32 years and marched to someone else’s timetable all those years so I didn’t want to be marching to anyone else’s timetable again.”

His father Donald Morrison was from Uist, South Hebrides and his mother Elizabeth (nee McDonald) was from Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

His father was a piper in the Cameron Highlanders Military Band in the mid-1940s and a solo piper until the mid-1950s.

“I was hearing good pipe music before I could talk,” Angus says.

“There were about 10 other pipers in our family, mostly uncles. Often there was piping at family gatherings and functions.”

In his first five years of learning to pipe, Angus attended the piping summer school at Silver Star in Vernon for a week each July where some of the best pipers in the world come to teach and people from all over the world come to learn.

Angus took three levels of certification at this school, the last of which is the level three Piping Drumming Qualification Board Exam from which he achieved his level five piping certificate.

He also met Andrew Bonar at the summer school who has played with the Simon Fraser University pipe band for about 30 years and agreed to give him private lessons.

After pulling wrenches for more than 40 years, Angus says his fingers are slower some days than others depending on the weather, but he loves piping and competing as a solo piper in events around the Pacific Northwest and Alberta.

Angus and his “Honey Bunny,” Lorraine Baker, who plays guitar, clarinet and also plays piano for the Old Time Fiddlers, have a lot of fun travelling to competitions. On these trips they join up with friends and also enjoy fishing and dancing together on the trips.

A big thrill for Angus this spring was competing at the Bellingham Highland Games in Washington near where his father played back in 1943. This year he also attended Highland Games competitions in Comox, Victoria, the B.C. Games at Coquitlam, the Annual Gathering in New Westminster, and the Kamloops Games.

Still to come this year are the Calgary Games and Canmore Games in September.

Angus has also made two trips to Glasgow, Scotland to attend the World Pipe Band Championships, held in August each year.

He says about 225 pipe bands from all over the world compete in one of six different grades, and there can be 6,000 pipers and drummers on the field at one time.

Here at home he says there can be as many as 25 solo players in a single event who perform a song before an adjudicator.

The adjudicator assesses how well a tune is played compared to the original music as well as the player’s timing and how well their instrument is tuned.

Angus says he bought his pipes back in 1969 not realizing they were antiques favoured by top players.

The pipes are made of ivory and African black-wood. While pipes themselves can last a long time he says the bags need to be replaced every three or four years.

“I’ve been complimented on the tone of my pipes. They just have a very rich sound,” Angus says.

These days Angus competes in six different idioms including marches, reels, airs, and classical pipe music.

“Practice time now involves about an hour most days,” Angus says.

“It is a lifetime challenge to improve.”

He says piping is good for the whole respiratory system and the best place to practice is outside because that is where the competitions are held.

Before calling Williams Lake home 40 years ago, Angus worked as an instrument fitter for Honeywell Controls on interesting construction projects such as the SFU and BCIT buildings, two jails, hospitals and on large industrial sites.

But after enduring four labour disputes in as many years he struck out for Williams Lake to become an independent contractor.

He arrived with a journeyman plumber trade qualification with an inter-provincial qualification, also a journeyman steamfitter, pipe-fitter trade qualification and a Class B gas-fitters license.

He says the move turned out to be the right one career wise.

In the Interior he worked on some of the bigger process furnaces and equipment now in use at area sawmills,  plywood plants and mines. He has installed equipment at Boss Mountain, Black Dome, and Gibraltar mines.

He installed and serviced equipment in most mills in this area. As well there were many trips to Vanderhoof, Bear Lake, 100 Mile House and Savona.

Angus also taught Level B gas-fitting courses for about five years at Cariboo College (now Thompson Rivers University) in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Then in 1979 he upgraded to a class “A” gas-fitters license at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George and also sat and passed the Fourth Class Steam Engineers exam.

From 1994 to 1998 Angus travelled to Prince George and taught Levels B and A gas-fitting courses at a private facility.

Angus and his former wife have a daughter, Rhonda, who is the materials manager for an industrial equipment manufacturer in Sidney, and a son, Michael, who is chief of staff at the Navy base in Esquimalt.

Angus was also a Rotarian for 13 years serving a term as president, and was also a director with the Stampede Association in the 1980s.

Last November Angus received a call from the B.C. Pipers Association president Rob MacNeil asking if he would stand as a director with the organization that is the umbrella for all the sanctioned highland games in the Pacific Northwest (bcpipers.org) responsible for policy, rules, and directional change.

He feels quite “stoked” to be asked to serve as a director.

“It was kind of like the pope calling and asking a priest if he would like to be a cardinal,” says Angus, who happily accepted.

Next year, Angus says his personal piping challenge is to test for the level six piping certificate which involves playing 13 tunes in seven idioms and a written exam on music construction.

He also plans to play at 10 highland games competitions and spend a week at piping school.

Angus knows pipers who are still playing at 85 and he hopes to be playing well into his own 80s.

“You meet a lot of good people in the piping community from all over the world and walks of life and of all ages,” Angus says.

 

“Most are helpful and polite and the competitions soon become a test for your own ability. The players you compete with, many soon become your friends.”