Craig Meinsmith (Auckland)
Craig has been surrounded by piping all his life. His father Ian, although not a player, has been involved with bands and the band movement in an administrative capacity for many years.
It was only natural the Craig should learn the pipes and he received his first lessons as an 8-year-old in 1974 from Colin Craig in Palmerston North. He quickly showed his potential by winning many of the lower grade solo competitions.
His solo career blossomed, and he quickly moved through the grades to become an A grade soloist. In the early 1980s he won the Bill Boyle Memorial Scholarship, and the money was used to take piobaireachd lessons from Ross Edwards.
During the 1970s a number of prominent pipers from Scotland toured New Zealand and when in Palmerston North they stayed with Craig’s father and mother. Craig was indeed fortunate to receive lessons and advice from all of these fine players.
In 1978 at 11 years of age he joined the Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band and the following year played in the New Zealand Pipe Band Championships in Dunedin. Much was made of Craig’s youth and the fact that he was believed to be the youngest person to have ever played in an A Grade pipe band in New Zealand.
Colin was proud of his pupil and encouraged him to join the band and continue his learning from within the band. During Craig’s time with Manawatu, he came under the influence of Denis Pierce who quickly became his mentor.
Craig played with the band until 1984 during which time he became Pipe Sergeant. In 1985 he moved to Auckland and joined the MacLeay Duff Distillery Pipe Band (now Auckland and Districts Pipe Band) under Stuart Finlayson.
In nearly 20 years with the band, he has risen through the ranks becoming Pipe Sergeant and then in 1996 Pipe Major. He has led the band into four New Zealand championships being 2ndthree times and winning in 2000.
Player numbers are such that the band does not compete as much as it would like these days. However, this has not stopped them from performing in another area that is quickly becoming a favourite of pipe bands throughout the country; that is the concert platform.
In 1998 Craig played as a guest piper with the Victoria Police Pipe Band when they won the World Championships.
Composing did not come early to Craig. Like most pipers he was a doodler in his early years and came up with a number of promising ideas but not taking them any further. It was in the late 1980s that he started to put some of his ideas down on paper and estimates he has composed about 80 tunes in that time. Some of them have received the plaudits of his contemporaries.
His band has played about a dozen of his compositions, and some have been played by soloist in competition and in recitals. He admits to getting a buzz out of hearing one of his tunes being played by the City of Washington pipe Band at the 1999 World Championships.
Although the Internet had been around for a number of years before 1997, that was the year when I first bought a modem and connected my computer to the outside world. At first all I used it for was transmitting information, mainly to the editor of this magazine but very soon after email became the big thing in my life and what a wonderful tool this has turned out to be.
On the Internet it is possible to find out something about anything. For instance, try putting your own name into your favourite search engine. Perhaps a word of warning is appropriate as anyone who has eavesdropped other peoples’ conversations might be aware that what you hear, or see, may not be to your liking particularly if it is you, they are taking about!
Recently I tried putting my own name in and found my way into PBForum.co.nz. This is a great site that allows anyone to make comments on anything and everything to do with pipe bands. There is a lot of stuff there and it requires a fair degree of skill to navigate one’s way around, but my search took me directly to a number of discussions on Kiwi Tunes in Competition.
Most of the comments were dated 2004-2006 and the general thrust of the discussions was about why there should be more New Zealand tunes in pipe band and solo competitions. The point was made that the solo piping Claidheamhor competition in Palmerston North had recently introduced a new rule compelling each competitor to play a minimum of one New Zealand composed tune in their selections.
This, of course, is a great idea and is only to be encouraged as there are a number of very good tunes from the pens of New Zealanders and they ought to be played.
Another comment from this site is that there is a market out there for a new book like Roger Gill’s Kiwi Collection of Music for the Highland Bagpipe Book 1. In the February 2002 issue of The Pipeband magazine I ran an article on Roger and his book and he said then that anyone who wanted to use the title Kiwi Collection of Music for the Highland Bagpipe for another such collection of tunes were more that welcome to do so. Roger had no plans to publish another book so I can only suggest that if anyone out there has the time and inclination, then get stuck in and do it. Take it from me, there is no shortage of material.
And speaking of the Claidheamhor competition brings me round to my subject for this article namely Dennis Pierce of Feilding. Dennis amongst his many other attributes was one of the guiding lights in establishing this landmark event in the NZ solo piping scene.
It has been said that the success of the Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band throughout the first decade of the 21stcentury is a direct result of the teachings and input of one man – Dennis Pierce. Dennis has been involved with the band for over thirty years and nearly all present-day pipers have either been taught by him or have come under his considerable influence during his spell as Pipe Major and more recently as the Musical Director of the Development Band.
Successive pipe majors, Greg Wilson, Stewart MacKenzie and Revell MacIntyre have taken the band to significant competition achievement, but the early influences of Dennis prevail and can still be detected in the band's music.
Dennis has not always lived in the Manawatu area; he hails, like a few other well-known pipers, from the West Coast of the South Island. He was born in Westport some 58 years ago and had a good pedigree in piping by having an uncle, Frank Annan, who was a very good A Grade soloist and later pipe major of the Scottish Society of New Zealand Pipe Band. As a young boy he frequently listened to two other notable West Coast pipers, David and Bill Boyle.
When Dennis was 8 years old his interest in piping was initiated and nurtured by his grandmother who gave him a practice chanter. However, he did not learn directly from any of aforementioned pipers because in 1959 his family moved to Wellington and Dennis joined the Wellington Waterside Junior Band where he was taught by Norm Trrant.
The junior band was influenced by some members of the City of Wellington Pipe Band which ensured that Dennis's early piping career was off to a sound start. Five years later the band folded and a number of the pipers, including Dennis, went to a noncompeting band, the Pipes and Drums of Wellington City. He has fond memories of his time with this band but after another five years a move to the Hutt Valley saw him join the Hutt Valley Pipe Band under Brian Jackson.
This was his first time in a competing band and although he was studying at the Wellington School of Design there was never any problem devoting time to the band. Except for 1972 when he was in Italy furthering his design studies he competed at National Contests with the band and the highlight was winning Grade 2 in 1974. Sadly, the Hutt Valley band is no more.
In the meantime, Dennis had married Lynette and in 1975 they both moved to Christchurch to attend University and Teachers’ College. Two years later they moved to Lynette’s hometown of Feilding and both were employed at Feilding High School. Dennis is still there 32 years later and has loved every minute of it.
The Manawatu Scottish Society Pipe Band (as it was then) heard of his impending arrival in area and actively recruited him. He was in no way daunted by the fact that he was, for the first time, playing in a Grade 1 band. He freely acknowledges the influence of Brian Jackson, and he must have learned well from him, because very soon after joining Manawatu he became pipe major.
He had an excellent drum corps under the leadership of Alistair Pratt, but Dennis believes the piping was not as good as that in the Hutt Valley Pipe Band. His enthusiasm for teaching was razor sharp and along with his pipe sergeant, Lindsay May, he set about turning the band around.
Dennis confesses that in those early days he knew how to teach but did not know what to teach. Perhaps his greatest strength was that he knew he needed help and was not afraid to ask. He sought advice from many people both within the band and from outside; he was literally learning on the job. He also recognised that he had to work on some aspects of his own playing and this he did with great success.
From these shaky beginnings Dennis and his able assistants quickly developed a playing quality that was recognised by his peers. He was also teaching many youngsters and they became players in the band thus ensuring its continuing strength.
Between 1950 and 2000, the winning Grade 1 bands at the New Zealand Pipe Band Championships have almost always come from the four main cities with large populations, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The only exceptions are 1952, 1979 and 1980 when City of Invercargill were placed first.
It appears from these statistics that bands from the smaller provincial cities and towns struggled to attain top dog status. There are probably many reasons for this but one obvious one is that for many decades there has been an exodus of young people including pipers and drummers from these smaller towns into the bigger cities. Another reason may be that in years past the standard of teaching in some of these provincial areas may not have been sufficiently good.
Whether these arguments have any validity is arguable, but the Manawatu Band is clearly and exception. For over thirty years their pipers have had excellent teaching largely influenced by Dennis and the resultant competition success has meant that the better players stayed and thrived along with the band.
It is inevitable when anyone achieves a high profile in the pipe band world that their skills will be sought in the administration area. This has been the case with Dennis, and he has spent a term as the North Island Principal of the New Zealand College of Piping. Then in 1996, when the late Frank MacKinnon retired as the President of the Wellington Hawkes Bay Centre Dennis was voted into that position and held it until 2004.
Dennis was never a composer or doodler in his early piping years, but he was most impressed with a number of modern compositions emerging in the 1970s and 1980s. One tune in particular was the very popular hornpipe The Streaker composed by Duncan Johnstone.
This got Dennis thinking that if this modern tune could captivate the playing fraternity, then perhaps it might be worth giving it a go with his own creations. Many pipers have quietly worked away at making tunes but have been disappointed with the results as their tunes have not been accepted by their contemporaries.
Dennis, however, was different. He obviously had a latent talent and all it needed was to be liberated. His first tune, composed in 1987, was a four parted hornpipe called Summer Rain which was immediately accepted and played by those in the pipe band and solo fields alike. The summer of 1987 was particularly wet and hence the name. To cap off a successful composing debut this tune was chosen by Bob Worrall of Canada in 1992 for inclusion in Part 2 of the truly International Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music. It also appears on Paul Turner’s CD Ceol Manawatu.
In the intervening twenty-two years there have been more than fifty tunes from his creative mind, but Dennis is most reluctant to let people have many of them because he believes they are inferior. However, there is a cluster of nine that many of his contemporaries have heard and hold in high regard. These are being played frequently in bands and on the solo boards.
Dennis has a penchant for hornpipes, and it is no surprise that six of these nine tunes are in this genre. Another curious aspect is that the titles of nearly all of them have a reference to water. Some of the hornpipes have been used as marching tunes, particularly marching on to the Medley competitions, but they still have that hornpipe flavour.
The Deluge is one such hornpipe composed after the composer was on his way to the National Highland Games in Tauranga in March 1990. The downpour was so torrential that he was forced to pull over to the side of the road and wait for it to abate. That tune was published in the 1991 Kiwi Collection of Music for the Highland Bagpipe by Roger Gill. Greg Wilson also plays it on his CD Pipers of Distinction.
Palmerston North Square Day in 1993 was devastated by rain and high winds and this was all Dennis needed to compose another four parted tune named simply Storm. This is also on Ceol Manawatu.
The Manawatu band liked the idea of marching on to the Medley with hornpipes and in 1995 Dennis’s Street Song was used for just that purpose. This title is a departure from the influence of water, but a four parted hornpipe composed in 2002 continued that theme; another marching tune called Springbank. At first glance one might not comprehend the water influence, but the name comes from a bottle of single malt whisky from the famous distillery of the same name, the water inspiration comes from the Gaelic name for whisky, uisge-beatha (water of life) and not the fact that Dennis may have diluted his drink!
Uneven Ground is a two-part marching hornpipe composed in 2006 after the Dunedin Contest when the band did some marching practice on a rough beach park.
Dennis has composed tunes in all time signatures and there are two jigs that have received acclaim from other pipers. One that has been in the Band’s medley for a few years is Jumping Puddles. This is a four parter composed in 2001. The other, also four parted, was written for a concert performance in 2003 and is called Sounds like Rain.
In 1999 the band was in Scotland and had to play in the rain on Glasgow Green. Not unnaturally, Dennis needed little inspiration to compose Rain On The Green, a four parted 6/8 march. The final tune in this list of nine is a two parted strathspey that was composed for his daughter, Leith’s 21stbirthday party.
All the tunes commented on above are those that others have played and enjoyed. The unrevealed collection that Dennis stores away and believes to be inferior will in all likelihood harbour a few gems that would prove to be equally acceptable to his fellow musicians. Perhaps it is time for his tunes to be aired and published and then all pipers can make up their own mind as to their musical quality.
I hope this article may produce the impetus for this to happen.
Trevor Wilson (Auckland)
Trevor Wilson hails from Tawa near Wellington and had the distinct advantage of coming from a piping family. His father, Colin was pipe major of the Tawa and Districts Pipe Band.
Colin decided that he would not pressure any of his children into playing the bagpipes but if they should choose to do so he would endeavour to get them the best tuition. Although he obviously had an influence on Trevor, he did not take an active role in teaching him.
This task befell Bob Montgomery in 1966 when Trevor was 14 years old. There have been many others throughout his piping career who have had a significant influence on Trevor but the regular lessons he got from Donald Bain in the mid-1970s have had a huge impact.
Trevor’s work has taken him to many towns and cities in New Zealand over the last 30 years and in each of these he has contributed to the local Pipe Band movement.
He has had stints in the Tawa and Districts (1966), Paraparaumu and Districts Pipe Band (1966-70), Levin Scottish (1970-72), Paraparaumu and Districts (1972-1977) (including two years as pipe major}, Innes Tartan (1977-79) and City of Wellington (1979-82).
In 1982 he was transferred to Christchurch and was out of piping for a few years but in 1985 joined the Scottish Society of New Zealand Pipe Band. 1986 saw him on the move to Wellington once more and a 5-year term with the Wellington Police Pipe Band.
In 1991 Trevor was on the move again, this time to Hawkes Bay and for four years did not do much playing. However, once bitten by the piping bug it is hard to resist and in 1995, he joined the City of Napier Pipe Band. From 1996 to 2000 he was pipe major of that band.
In 2000 he arrived in Auckland and virtually stepped straight in as pipe major of the City of Auckland Pipe Band, the position he still holds.
Trevor’s composing started in earnest in the mid-1980s and since then he has come up with over 60 tunes. He freely admits that some of his tunes do not have great merit, but a number have been played by bands he has been in and have received due praise. Trevor also admits that he get a lot of pleasure from composing bagpipe music.
None of Trevor’s tunes have been published but he intends to present them all in a book at some time in the future. We wish him well in that venture and to whet the appetite one of his tunes is included here.
Des White is named after the well-known bass drummers and character from the City of Auckland Pipe Band.
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