Rob Crabtree was born in 1966 in North York, Ontario, a suburb that is now part of the city of Toronto. Early musical influences included the classical and jazz music his parents loved, the sixties and seventies pop that dominated the airwaves in his childhood, and the folk songs he was exposed to in his French-immersion education.
At age seven, a year after his family relocated to the Ottawa area, his parents enrolled him for recorder lessons, and in these early years he showed enough talent in city-wide auditions to be chosen for some select ensembles. He was also a member of two winning recorder quartets at the Ottawa Music Festival.
Rob made up his mind to become a piper at age eight, although it took a while longer to convince his family to let him do it! Beyond the sound and spectacle of the instrument, Rob figures it appealed to him because of its connection to his mother’s home province of Nova Scotia and its connection to the military, which fascinated Rob the way sports fascinated many other youngsters.
By the time he was in middle school, Rob was a member of an Ottawa-area Grade IV pipe band led by Morag Jamieson, a pioneering female pipe major who developed the skills of her musicians through her high performance standards and the extra instruction she sought out for the band. This included trips to the Northern School of Piping in Timmins, Ontario, to be taught by luminaries like Jimmy McIntosh, Seumas MacNeill, Harry McNulty and, for drummers, the great Alex Duthart.
As a soloist, Rob scaled the amateur grades and in 1986 was overall North American Amateur Champion at Maxville. Throughout his eighteen years of professional solo piping, Rob was a regular performer and prizewinner at the world’s foremost competitions and reached some lofty peaks such as the 1997 Crystal Chalice, an invitational MSR competition held on the 50th anniversary of the Glengarry Highland Games at Maxville, and the 1998 Gold Medal for Piobaireachd at Braemar, Scotland.
A major goal of Rob’s piping career has been to extend the appeal of the bagpipe to new audiences. His Juno-nominated, Gold-selling 1999 album, The Piper’s Legacy, went a long way toward achieving this, with its unique brand of pipe music accompanied by piano, guitar, fiddle, bass, percussion and other familiar instruments. Rob went on to record three other popular albums in the same genre and, throughout the early and middle part of the past decade, he delighted many an audience with live presentations of his music at such venues as the River Run Centre in Guelph, the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts in Brantford and the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. Rob also authored, scored, co-produced and directed the music of the inaugural season of “Highland Storm” at the College of Piping in Summerside, PEI, which ran for 12 weeks at the College’s amphitheatre before moving to Charlottetown for a season finale performance at the Confederation Centre.
Rob cites two of Canada’s foremost pipers as his principal instructors and mentors: Jim McGillivray of Aurora, Ontario and Scott MacAulay, the founding Director of the College of Piping in Summerside, PEI, whose passing in the summer of 2008 was mourned across the piping world. Over the years, Rob became himself a leader in the instructional arena, co-founding and eventually directing the Ontario School of Piping and Drumming at St. Andrew’s College, co-authoring and producing the Rhythmic Fingerwork series of instructional DVDs with Jim McGillivray and teaching many private students in the Toronto area.
Rob has two degrees in engineering and currently works in the public sector in Toronto, where he also makes his home with his wife Dorothy Carson and their three children. Beside music, Rob has a parallel creative interest in creative writing and devotes much of his spare time to works he plans one day to publish.