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ian kinnear

Making A Beautiful Sound

In the quiet Angus village of Edzell, Ian Kinnear has earned a
worldwide reputation for his Scottish smallpipes using local woods
and time-honored traditions.


I first met Ian Kinnear through an introduction from my friend Willie Ryan. (Willie may be remembered by longtime Scottish Life readers as the painter of every red phone box in Scotland; Winter 2000 issue.) As a lover of traditional music, I had joined Willie for a pub music session at Three Bellies Brae in Kirriemuir. Ian was there with his bellows-blown smallpipes and while enjoying the evening's music, I was thinking to myself, "That bloke's a good piper." I didn't realize how huge an understatement that was until I returned home and told some of my pipe band members about the session at the cozy little corner pub and some of the musicians. "You met Ian Kinnear? The Ian Kinnear?" was the envy-twinged question from one of my bandmates.

In the ensuing years and return trips to music sessions, I began to appreciate that Ian is something of a legend in the piping world. Suffice it to say, it would be difficult to determine if his reputation is more widely known as a piper or a pipemaker. He excels at both. I pondered this rare fact. How many people make the musical instrument that they play? How many pianists make their piano with their own two hands? How many fiddlers make their own instrument? How many saxophones are made and then played by the same person? Think about that. It is a unique distinction to make and play a musical instrument.

Scottish smallpipes are a cousin to the more widely known and recognized Great Highland bagpipe (GHB) -- the one with the big volume that you see in parades with kilted bandsmen or that you see in military documentaries with pipers on the battlefield -- the only musical instrument ever to be declared a weapon of war.

With that in mind, I would even go so far as to say the smallpipes are a kinder, gentler bagpipe. They are intended for indoor settings, nicely complementing other instruments or accompanying singers or dancers. And yet, it was this genteel demeanor that almost brought their demise. Thankfully, with enthusiasts like Ian and his contemporaries, the smallpipes are enjoying a resurgence not seen in the past century and a half.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2020 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © T.R. Gordon