Pipe Major Ian Duncan is one of the leading figures in the modern pipe band movement, a solo piper of considerable talent and a hugely dedicated, enthusiastic and inspirational teacher who has passed on his piping skills to innumerable young pipers.
The older son of the great bothy ballad singer and tradition bearer Jock Duncan, Ian was born in Fyvie, Aberdeenshire on December 22, 1950. His father began teaching him to play the pipes when Ian was eight years old, the start of a thorough schooling in both ceol beg and ceol mor that found Ian studying with Jimmy Robertson, the composer of Farewell to the Creeks who was running Turriff Pipe Band at the time, as well as the great pibroch authority, Dr Kenneth MacKay of Laggan and the ‘two Bobs of Balmoral’, Bob Brown and Bob Nicol, the highly regarded pipers to the Queen.
When his father’s job took the family to Pitlochry in 1964, Ian joined the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band and after studying for a degree in Electrical Engineering at Aberdeen University and taking a teacher training course, he moved back to Pitlochry to teach maths at the local high school and became Pipe Major to ‘the Vale’ in 1974.
Under Ian, the band’s progress from small town pipe band to Grade 1 title-winners became the stuff of legends. Within seven seasons of competition they had won the Grade 4 and Grade 3 World Championships and were competing at the highest level, twice coming second in the Champions of Champions table and winning the European and British Championship titles in seasons 1988 and 1989 respectively.
At the same time the band gained worldwide renown for its adventurous concert repertoire, taking its arrangements of Irish, Bulgarian, Mexican, Spanish, classical and contemporary Scottish music on tours of America and Japan, winning a silver disc for worldwide sales of its No Reservations album and receiving a Herald Angel award for excellence at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1999.
As the Vale developed its concert programme with the influence of Ian’s younger brother, Gordon, and initiated a youth policy that resulted in them running three bands with over one hundred players, Ian retired from solo competition, where he’d enjoyed considerable success, to concentrate on band work. He was also busily engaged in bringing on the next piping generation – and the next – through the post of peripatetic bagpipe instructor in Dundee schools that he took up in 1979, his tireless dedication winning him the Music Tutor of the Year title at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2009.
In 2000 Ian took a break from the Vale but was tempted back to help the Scottish Power Pipe Band a year later. He then moved on to become pipe major of the Drambuie Kirkliston Pipe Band and took them to Grade 1 before the withdrawal of sponsorship caused their disbandment. Spells with Scottish Power, again, and the Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band further underlined Ian’s ability to produce pipe bands of quality and distinction and although he officially retired from Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band in 2011, his teaching skills and his love for and knowledge of bagpipe music will ensure that Ian’s influence is felt in the piping world for generations to come.