Striving for Piping
Excellence in Toronto

by Mike Paterson

Reprinted with permission from Piping Today, published out of
The National Piping Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, October 2003

It prepares its students, across grades 6-12 — “mentally, physically and spiritually”— to succeed at university, and its high achieving alumni include a string of distinguished professionals, military officers, politicians, entrepreneurs and sportsmen.

Founded in Toronto in 1899, resources rich St Andrew’s is in the final stages of a multi-million dollar building and improvements program on the expansive campus it moved to in 1926, and recently became the first Canadian school to issue each of its students with a wireless laptop computer.

It also has a thriving, recently rejuvenated piping program that involves some 20% of its 530 pupils.

The College’s director of piping and drumming, and winner of the top prizes in the piping world, Jim McGillivray, was appointed in 1998. In this role, he is supported by the school’s director of percussion, Brian McCue, who is an experienced orchestral percussionist and grade 1 pipe band drummer. Piping is now an important, validated and accredited part of the elite school’s music curriculum. The school is host to an annual high quality summer school and the school’s pipe band — one of Ontario’s oldest — recently released its first album: Quit Ye Like Men.

“As a cadet band, we are expected to do some drill and deportment but the focus is on the piping and the music,” McGillivray says.

The school’s pipes and drums originated when, 10 years after establishing a cadet corps in 1905-06 — the #142 Highland Cadet Corps — the school added a pipe band. “It makes us one of the oldest continuously operating pipe bands in Ontario, even in Canada,” says Jim. The Corps is affiliated with the 48th Highlanders in Toronto, who in turn are affiliated with the Gordon Highlanders. The Cadets wear Gordon kilts.

LEFT St. Andrew’s College Pipes and Drums’ second band in 1915-16.

“At the start, the school was given about six sets of pipes and the 48th Highlanders were teaching the boys,” explains Jim. “The pipe major of the 48th Highlanders at that time was quite a renowned piper, James Fraser, and we have lots of pictures of the band with him. I think he was here helping the band until the early 1930s”.

“A lot of the independent schools in Canada had cadet corps at that time but one by one, in the 1970s and early 1980s, they mostly dropped away. Though we’re not a military school by any means, a lot of parents quite like the idea of their sons having some of the discipline and activities of a cadet corps.”

Jim McGillivray’s involvement began in 1997 after he met Aubrey Foy, who was then responsible for the school’s piping program, though not himself a piper. “Aubrey Foy was a superb organist and pianist,” says Jim, “a wonderful musician.”

“We met thorough our church in Aurora and he seemed to have heard of me. He suggested we start to play some stuff in church services together: pipes and organ. We did some of that. He knew his music, and had obviously played with the pipes before. He asked me if I would like to come out to the school for an hour on Thursdays to help out with some of their beginner pipers during their two-hour weekly cadet sessions.”

"St. Andrew’s College — a proud and prestigious century-old boys boarding and day school in Aurora, Ontario, Canada — is not the sort of place that does things by halves."

The commitment grew. “Around that time they had just hired a new headmaster at the school, Ted Staunton, who saw the cadet program and the pipes and drums as a good marketing tool for the school. They decided to bring me on board in the fall of 1998 to try to rejuvenate and upgrade the piping and drumming programs.”

The intention to enable students to earn credits for piping was already in the air. “Once we looked into it, we found it wasn’t a particularly difficult thing to do,” Jim recalls. “As long as the boys are fulfilling Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines — basically requiring 110 hours of study a year and a music theory component — and provided it is well taught with an appropriate testing regime, students can study any instrument they want.”

Credit courses in piping are now taught in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12. “We have 20-25 students taking the academic piping program, and that’s the heart of our pipe band,” says Jim. “Classes aren’t large. They range from three to eight students. Once it gets to eight, it’s getting a bit large for the sort of teaching I like to do, which is really small group and one-on-one.”

Younger boys, in grades 6-8, can also learn piping or drumming but through a different program. “We have beginners’ classes for an hour or an hour and a half on Tuesdays through a ’Middle School arts program’. Students choose from theatre, regular band music or pipes and drums options,” says Jim. “It gives the young boys an excellent start and feeds into the Upper School program.”

RIGHT St. Andrew’s College Pipes and Drums: the band that recorded the popular CD Quit Ye Like Men.

“And students who may not want to do piping or drumming academically can still sign up to learn during the cadet periods on Thursdays. So there are lots of opportunities for the boys to learn piping and drumming, and I’m very fortunate in that I’m teaching something the boys choose to take, as opposed to something they have to take. With few exceptions I always have lots of enthusiastic students.”

Over the past four years, participation in piping and drumming has risen markedly. “At the first engagement we had with the band after I arrived, we had nine pipers and five drummers. When we played at our Annual Inspection this past spring we fielded a band with 24 pipers and 17 drummers.”

As the program has grown, teachers from outside the school are being brought in to help work with the band’s players. “Toronto is such a hotbed of good piping that I’m able to get some pretty good people,” says Jim. “On any given Thursday, I have four piping instructors here and two or three drumming instructors as well for two hours during which everyone in the program is involved. We have the students divided into various classes — six to eight piping classes at different levels, and there’s a  band practice going on as well.”

The cadet program divides pipers into five levels. “I don’t follow the exact Cadet guidelines,” says Jim. “I’ve developed some of my own. One is that, for their level 4, they have to play a competition march, strathspey and reel straight through at what would probably be a grade 3 competition level. Then for their level 5, they have to play an entire piobaireachd – the classical music of the bagpipes – very competently.”

“I have some students who started in grade 6 and will be in grade 10 this coming year and we’re going to teach them a piobaireachd because they’re ready for it. So even the program I teach is not strictly curriculum-based; it’s pretty much geared to the level of the individual students. We’ll give them as much as they can take with a view to graduating very competent, and in some cases very accomplished, pipers.”

LEFT St. Andrew’s College pipers perform at the annual Carol Service in St. Paul’s Cathedral in downtown Toronto.

“I have all the material for the Institute of Piping program and have taken the Examiner’s Certificate so we can start to incorporate that syllabus into our program. We’ll be able to give students certificates that are standardized world wide. In piping, a standardized system like this is long overdue.”

Jim McGillivray sees his role at St Andrew’s as one of “making good pipers: I like to see a piper graduate from grade 12 here and be able to try out for a top-grade 1 pipe band with a good chance of making it.”

“Not all of the students take piping that seriously but I like to at least be able to send them away as competent pipers who can tune their own pipes and play a solo engagement.”

To provide exemplars of this level of attainment, the college periodically awards bursaries to a few selected young musicians. “If we find the people who look like they can contribute to the program here and be good students as well, we will offer a bursary so their family can afford the fees,” says Jim. “In any given year, we have two or three on scholarships. And we’ve recruited some pretty good pipers.”

Cadet Pipe Major Andrew Douglas, who now plays with the SFU band.

RIGHT Andrew Douglas ’03 from Syracuse, New York. The former St. Andrew’s College Pipe Majorr is now studying and piping at Simon Fraser University. At age 20, he is a professional level soloist.

“My first year here, we recruited Andrew Douglas from Syracuse, New York, a real prodigy. He came to us in grade 8, was our pipe major for two years and graduated in 2003. Simon Fraser University Pipe Band recruited him about a year ago and flew him out to practices three or four times over the winter. He’s now attending Simon Fraser University —20 years old and a professional level soloist.”

“His brother, Alex, received a bursary for drumming.”

“Matt Mitchell of Ontario was a top-class amateur player who was our pipe major in 2004 and is now also an Open-level player. And we recently recruited a boy from Boston, James Costello, who is now in Grade 10 and has been playing for five or six years.”

Talent of this sort and the rising standard of learners inevitably generate demands for outlets and challenges. But the St Andrew’s College Pipes and Drums does not compete.

“One of the reasons is simply the timing,” says Jim: “School ends when the competition season starts. And our school keeps their students remarkably busy.” However, as school schedules permit, Jim takes individual pipers to Ontario Pipers’ Society winter solo competitions.

“It gets them going and they like competing, so we try to give them that opportunity,” he says.

And each spring, the St Andrew’s College Pipes and Drums plays a central part in the school’s annual Cadets in Concert stage show. “It is essentially a two-hour stage tattoo that we put on in February, and we include soloists, duets and mini bands in the program.”

Most of the band’s performances have been in settings such as this, at St. Andrew’s. “They might do a Santa Claus parade here or there but the band has traditionally been an inwards focused group,” says Jim. That emphasis is shifting. “We now do lots of engagements, often high profile engagements, in Toronto and we send lots of individual pipers into the community doing mostly charity events, although we accept some weddings and funerals and other bookings as well.

We do a Santa Claus parade, and several mini-band charity engagements. There’s a hospice here, for example, which looks for a piper every three or four months. That is a charity event and we send a boy up to do that.”

In Ontario, high school students have to accumulate 40 hours of volunteer community service before they graduate. “Our pipers can get those hours by helping us teach the juniors and by going out on charity events,” explains Jim. “We get lots of calls from people wondering if the band could do this or that for them,” he says. “It depends on the event. We don’t do things just for the money. But — if it’s something special and we feel the boys can enjoy a valuable experience we’ll take it on.

“In these cases, we charge, and the boy who does the job can earn the money — I want to instill in the boys the notion that, as a musician, you get paid for your services — or they can opt for the fee to come to the program while they take the community service hours.”

St Andrew’s College also raised its profile in the wider piping community of North America through the two weeks of summer schools it held for six years in June and July. “When I was hired here, the Headmaster said one of the things they wanted was too see the facilities used more in the summer, and that they would like me to run some sort of a summer camp. As it happened, a friend of mine and I had put together a summer school at York University the year before. So, when the Headmaster said this, I just happened to have a summer school in my back pocket. We moved it up here, brought in top people and ran it for the last week in June and the first week in July. It was very popular and it worked very well. This past year we had 120 pipers over the two weeks.”

“I was raised on summer schools myself in my teens and they were a very important part of my upbringing in the early 1970s. But there haven’t been many summer schools in Ontario in the last 25 years, and I like to feel we’re filling a niche there. Eighty-five per cent of our clientele are people from the United States, simply because they know good instruction is available in Ontario.”

LEFT Jim McGillivray (left), Director of Piping and Brian McCue, Director of Percussion at St. Andrew’s College, have teamed up.... “We’re discovering all sorts of fun things you can do with Scottish smallpipes, Northumbrian smallpipes, Border pipes and Highland Pipes.”

On the personal front, Jim McGillivray is exploring the potential of small pipes and Northumbrian small pipes. “Brian McCue, who plays keyboards as well as percussion, and I do quite a bit of playing together. We’re discovering all sorts of fun things you can do with smallpipes, Northumbrian small pipes and Highland pipes, and would like to pursue that a bit more with recording and performing.”

Jim also recently released DVD versions of his hugely popular instructional videos, Pipes Ready! and Pipes Up, and is currently working on a new tutor to follow on the heels of his modern classic, Rhythmic Fingerwork which has gone to a fourth print run.

So Jim McGillivray’s piping life remains busy, as it has been since he was 11 years old. But today, boys not much older than he was when he started are reaping the benefits of his nearly 40 years of experience as St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario brings piping and drumming into mainstream education.