LAURINBURG — Though he has won dozens of bagpiping competitions in Scotland, Canada, and the U.S., Bruce Gandy will be the first to admit that the journey to recognition as one of the world’s eminent pipers has not all been his own.
His father Ray Gandy was a notable piper in his own right, having started the cadet band of the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria, British Columbia in 1939.
“There were pipes in the house all the time and I just kind of took a liking to it and had a good memory for patterns and stuff like that, so I picked up on it really quick,” Gandy said.
Also a piping instructor and director of the piping program at the Halifax Citadel in Nova Scotia, Gandy travels about 10 times per year to give concerts and compete. On Friday, he gave a recital at St. Andrews University to some 150 people — some who are pipers competing in the Highland Games and some who simply appreciate the music.
“He just got invited to do the Glenfiddich Championships which is the top pipers in the world,” said Joseph Calvo, a St. Andrews freshman and pipe band member. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything. He’s judging tomorrow at the competition, so he’ll be judging one of my tunes — it’ll be nice to see how he plays before I go and play.”
As one of eight children, Gandy relied heavily upon the support of those outside of his family to further his piping education.
“We were just a regular family, there was no money basically,” he said. “People in the band area always found a way to raise money for me to get to schools and scholarships and guys would drive me to practice and make sure I got to Highland Games and got to compete.”
Due to the side effects of being six years old, namely having a short attention span, Gandy’s initial piping training was interrupted for all of a year until he started work with a local university student, Hal Senyk. When Senyk moved to Scotland to further his own training, Gandy began 10 years of late-night dinner and bagpiping sessions with James Troy, practicing until nearly midnight even before he reached his teenage years.
Because of that support network, Gandy now tries to educate others, both casual listeners and aspiring bagpipers. Gandy said that, due to the potency of bagpipes as a symbol of Scottish heritage, sometimes the art of piping can get lost in the translation.
“It’s such a powerful image for people because it’s led infantries, it’s led weddings, it’s led funerals,” said Gandy. “As soon as someone strikes up, before you can even tell if they’re good or not, people let that go by because they’re remembering their cousin’s wedding or their grandpa that played with the infantry and did the parades, so it’s got all of that stuff in it.”
In addition to helping listeners distinguish quality from inferior piping, Gandy also pieces together his performances with oral accounts of the music’s history.
“With our classical music, there are often laments, battles, gatherings, marches for events that happened 300 years ago, so you can put the people there, Gandy said. “It’s not about Braveheart all the time, but there is the essence of that — if they can see that vision and they can see that piper play for his chief who’s dying, they can see that it is a sad piece.”
In 2010, Gandy founded the Bruce Gandy Bagpiping Development Society to provide tuition assistance to bagpiping schools and clinics. In turn, recipients are asked to demonstrate their intention to pay it forward by offering youth instruction or free performances.
He also invites budding local bagpipers to join his recitals, in the hope of encouraging the future generation. On Friday night, St. Andrews piper Cameron Dixon contributed to the performance.
“Hopefully him playing with me and doing a good job will inspire him and other kids will realize that with a bit of work they can all get good at it,” Gandy said.