About Pipetunes – History & Acknowledgments

About pipetunes.ca

A Note From History: Peter Henderson Bagpipe Store. Henderson Bagpipes are one of the most sought-after pipes in the world.
The Peter Henderson shop, Glasgow, circa 1930s. More superb pipes were made at this shop than anywhere else in the world.

This website has been a labour of love for me since I started working on it in the fall of 2005. It had struck me for some years that pipers were lagging behind much of the musical world in terms of being able legally to acquire individual tunes in sheet-music form. Thus was born pipetunes.ca: I’m proud to say the first legitimate, high-quality Highland bagpipe sheet music website.

There are a couple other websites where users upload settings of tunes. However, not only are these sites stealing from living composers, the settings are rife with errors and in many cases simply diabolical. Perhaps their story is best realized by the fact that the creators of these sites make it virtually impossible to track them down. It’s the only case of ongoing theft and deception that I know of in the otherwise extremely honest world of piping.

My hope is that this site will support itself financially in such a way as to allow me over time to expand the number of tunes and composers, the number of settings of individual tunes, the type of music and the nature of the recordings offered.

I have typeset all of the tunes myself using a wonderful piece of software called Sibelius. This was a tremendous education in music for me. I have recorded the majority of the MP3 files myself. Those recorded by others are identified as such. Far from being onerous (well, maybe a bit) it gave me even more reasons than I already have to play regularly and maintain my playing standard.

I offer my thanks to the many composers who jumped on board with me when this was just an idea. I don’t know if they will make any money, but I do know that if our clientele circumvents the ‘honour system’ of this site by emailing the tune files to all their friends it will not survive and we’ll all be back to buying a $35 book of music for the two good tunes it might contain.

The quest for accurate composer bios

Notes From History: John MacDonald (of the Glasgow Police) with his son after arriving in France. John had a long and storied career.
At right, a young John MacDonald (South Uist/Glasgow Police) with his father after arriving in France. John had a long and storied piping career and his biography is on this site.

I make every effort to maintain accurate information in the composers’ biographies. Reliable information on the great composers of the past can be hard to come by. I have made liberal and legal use of back issues of every piping magazine I could get my hands on and have credited those publications accordingly. The facts those magazines have set forth are public domain, but the publications deserve credit for making them available.

I am particularly indebted to Dr. William Donaldson, formerly of Aberdeen University and now at MIT in Massachusetts, who has been most generous with the fruits of his own painstaking research over the years. This is a man who doesn’t trust what he reads about a composer’s date of birth; he goes and finds the grave, and then finds the birth certificate. He has offered information I would otherwise not have found, and has corrected erroneous information that all too often gets passed from one piping publication to another.

I hope this site will become a public repository for biographical information and photos on composers and pipers in general. The piping world is full of people who have access to information on pipers’ lives that needs to be recorded before it disappears forever. New information or photos on old or current composers is much appreciated, and contributions will be acknowledged on the site. Feel free to email me with information at any time or to correct any mistakes I may have made.


A Note From History: George McLennan is widely regarded as the best piper the world has ever known. Sadly, he died at age 46 in 1929 with his only book of music just off the presses.
George McLennan is regarded by many as the best piper the world has ever known. Sadly, he died at age 46 in 1929 with his only book of music just off the presses.

While the idea for this website has percolated in my mind for some years, it started to take shape only after I began to exchange ideas and make plans with Stuart Lowe, a long-time friend and former piping student. Ultimately, Stuart and I decided not to partner in the site, but I’m grateful for his help and the ideas we worked through over some months at the start of this project.

Janette Montague came on board to help with typesetting at a time when my life was becoming spread too thinly for me to keep up. Her knowledge of the Sibelius software, her top-notch musical training and taste, her care with the scores, and her willingness to run new ideas past me have been a godsend. Her brilliant harmonies and some of her original tunes are also now an important part of the catalogue.

For much of the biographical information contained here I am indebted to present and past editors of piping magazines, in particular The Piping Times, The Piper and Drummer (now pipes|drums), Piping Today, The International Piper, The Piper and Dancer Bulletin, The North American Scotsman and The EUSPBA Voice. As mentioned above, the facts these publications contain are public domain, so the biographical information provided here is offered free of charge and sources have been cited wherever they are known.

Professor Ross Anderson of the University of Cambridge provided invaluable help around the very difficult issue of copyright of pipe tunes. I approached him one day with an email out of the blue and he generously answered my every question.

Pipers Doug Walton and Peter Walen both offered to test the site before it went public and their feedback meant a great deal to the site and to me personally. Doug in particular spent countless hours downloading files for me to make sure they work.

My gratitude also goes out to Kris Plazek and Darlene Snow of Fusion Studios Inc. in Newmarket, Ontario for their creativity, enthusiasm, patience and humour in creating a new type of website from my pencilled scribblings and hopeful smile.