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A report on the 2003 North Hero Pipers Gathering

Michael McWilliams is a technology marketing executive and writer from Cohasset, Massa- chusetts, USA. He took up the Highland Pipes in 1999 and is currently extending his novice skills to the Scottish Smallpipes.

In the constellation of the world’s annual piping events, there is nothing quite like The North Hero Pipers Gathering, which has been going on since the first gathering in 1985.

As in previous gatherings, this year’s event featured a full curriculum of seminars and tuto- rial sessions with some of the world’s most accomplished pipers. Those instructors also provided what can only be called an all-star lineup of talent for the two evening concerts.

Veteran attendees have now come to expect the extraordinary from North Hero concerts, and this year will be noted for surpassing even that high expectation. There were much- anticipated performances across the board from a host of North Hero regulars.

  • Jerry O’Sullivan, Benedict Koehler, Deborah Quigley, and Jimmy O'Brien Moran on the Uilleann Pipes.
  • Ian MacHarg and Barry Shears on Scottish Smallpipes (SSP).
  • Ian Lawther and Chris Ormstrom on the Northumbrian Smallpipes (NSP).

In addition, the audiences enjoyed some unexpected flourishes such as Jimmy O’Brien Moran’s singing, Hilari Farrington’s harp accompaniment to her UP- playing husband Benedict Koehler, and the precise Scottish step-dancing of Barry Shears’ daughters.

Ultimately though, the 2003 gathering will likely be remembered as the point when Border Pipes (BP) emerged on the North American piping scene by virtue of dramatic concert per- formances from young Fin Moore and Graeme Mulholland. On both evenings, Fin and Graeme treated awestruck audiences to driving, musically intense BP numbers - both solo and in duo — that were roundly acclaimed with such adjectives as “riveting”, “sensational” and “mesmerizing.” They left no doubt that the border pipe is clearly coming back into its own, with the young bucks leading the charge.

Some exceptional performances were discretely embedded throughout the three- day pro- gram as well. This writer was especially impressed by several sessions that represented the sheer musical breadth of the North Hero Gathering.

  • A seminar on accompanying border pipes with guitars and citterns in which Dan Houghton - yet another phenomenal young border piper - showed his stuff while Nigel Richard - Edinburgh-based maker of BP, SSP and stringed instruments - demonstrated how it all works with some truly fine folk-jazz chords on the cittern. Ian MacHarg and Aron Garceau conducted a similar seminar earlier in the


  • A demonstration and discussion about accompanying the pipes with fiddles, entertain- ingly conducted by the pipemaking father and son team of Fin and Hamish Moore.
  • An elegantly presented depiction of the Cape Breton style of piping for step-dancing, as demonstrated by Barry Shears on the Smallpipes and the precise footwork of his tal- ented
  • A hands-on beginners session for newcomers to the Northumbrian Smallpipes, pa- tiently led by pipemaker Richard Evans and several experienced NSP
  • A standing room only seminar on basic Uilleann Pipe technique conducted by one of the instrument’s most renowned modem masters - Jerry O’Sullivan.
  • A presentation on the expansive musical possibilities of traditional double-chanter pipes, led and demonstrated by the inimitable Julian Goodacre.

A traditional hallmark of the North Hero Pipers Gathering is that it gives experienced and prospective pipers alike an uncommon opportunity to talk with pipe makers from around the world and to play their instruments before making a choice.

Pipemakers on hand with their wares this year included Richard and Anita Evans, Hamish and Fin Moore, Nigel Richard, BC Childress, Michael MacHarg, David Quinn & Benedict Koehler, Kate & Mark Cushing, Julian Goodacre, Seth Gallagher, David Boisvert, and Michael Dow.

Of the many other offerings, one stands out for its novelty and pure historic value: the ongo- ing demonstration of treadle-lathe pipemaking by woodworker George Lott. Working away continuously on a treadle of his own design, George provided an emblem of the deep sense of roots and tradition that distinguishes the North Hero event.

Since 1985, pipers have come from far and wide to savour this kind of experience. As the last sound of pipes echoed away from the 2003 event, and North Hero Island once again re- turned to its rural peace, the common refrain was “see you next year.”

For the North Hero Pipers Gathering, there’s always another Brigadoon.