Among the Best Ever Piping Events in Ontario: The 43rd Livingstone Invitational

May 15, 2023 on 12:35 pm by Michael Grey | In News, Photographs, Shout Outs! | No Comments

My first time attending the annual Livingstone Invitational piping contest was in 1980. Then I was a kid in senior amateur solo piping – “grade one”. Like now, I was a keener. Loved the piping. Like now, I thought I knew a lot more than I did. I was then taught by Bill Livingstone, Jr. – so likely had a sort of Livingstone bias: his Old Man – the founder of the gathering – was a great character, and, I have to say, I’m grateful to have known Bill, Sr. a little.


In 1980 I recall the contest as excellent – pure entertainment. Then there was no piobaireachd, simply – “simply” – a march, strathspey, reel, hornpipe and jig event. The top professional pipers were invited to play and they were full-on in their support. It was important to them. As it is today. And enthusiasts supported this event; the contest had a clear gravitas associated with it – from the get-go. There was always atmosphere. It was a place to be – and be seen to be.

In 1980 the contest was held in a cafeteria of a community college local to Hamilton, Ontario. The preponderance of arborite, linoleum and stacking chairs had zero impact to the quality of the music made. Pipers played their best. Their best was pretty great and the audience ate it up. The Livingstone event was only a few years old and yet, by 1980, had quickly become a much-loved fixture on the calendar of those many who love the sweet music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Yesterday I was lucky to have a sort of golden ticket: a free ticket to take in The Livingstone, as its now known (and you know I would have attended regardless!). How’s that possible? Well, if you find your way to volunteer and give time and yourself to a good cause – like piping and drumming – you, too, might snag a golden ticket somewhere, sometime. And. A golden ticket of any kind should never be a motivation to volunteer. I’m just using mention of the complementary pass as an excuse to promote volunteering (again: we need more volunteers or face a tragic withering).

I submit to you that yesterday’s 43rd annual Livingstone Invitational was the among the greatest piping events we have ever seen in Ontario. Yes, yes, 1970’s Scottish World Festival Tattoo at the Canadian National Exhibition; it was pretty great. Almost any of our excellent Ontario summer Highland Games – they’re pretty great, as is the Sherriff amateur invitational. But yesterday, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, we hit a high water mark of sorts: 12 from among North America’s very best pipers laid out performances of the very highest standard in an environment that exuded history and atmosphere. It is unlikely that the consistently high quality of solo piping heard across the contest has been heard in Ontario – ever. In the century-old city centre Scottish Rite building – a much-loved site for movie, TV and streaming production – the organizers – the Niagara-Hamilton branch of The Pipers’ & Pipe Band Society of Ontario provided a platform that enabled high performance. Even with no arborite or stacking chairs in sight the standard of musicianship displayed was scintillating. Invoking Mr T, I pitied the judges: they had a some hard task to create an order of merit.

I’m compelled to call this event out as many are not fully aware of how these things happen. Yes. Volunteers are integral, as mentioned. But money is needed. And, true, it is not all about money. But the right amount of moola sure can ease the way in making good things happen.

Along with commitment, dedication and a well-managed group of volunteers, money helped enable this grand platform for piping to come to life.

And, while I admit to currently having an insider track to some of these organizational things (as president of the PPBSO) I do think its important we recognize that great piping and drumming doesn’t happen alone from “thoughts and prayers”. We need cash.

Sincere thanks to Julie Stewart, organizing branch president (and her team!); along with her personal donation of said money – of a significant amount – Bill and Lillian Livingstone donated $5000 to ensure bagpipes were presented in their very best light. To say that gesture represents “giving back” would be understatement.

The seriously high quality of the contest is a testament to the worthiness of the largesse of these folks.

The performers responded. The large audience supported.

Money didn’t just talk. It sang.

An event for the ages.

M.

Overall Winner, Sean McKeown (pictured with trophy)
Piobaireachd: 1. Nick Hudson (pictured with Julie Stewart) 2. Sean McKeown 2. Ian K MacDonald
March, Strathspey, Reel, Hornpipe & Jig: 1. Ian K MacDonald 2. Sean McKeown 3. Tyler Bridge

[Thanks to Alec MacDonald for the piping photos and Trish Kirkwood for the table shot]

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