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Retired life filled with music, piping competitions and bespoke tuition of the highest order

Luciano Lanaro doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet. When Lou retired seven years ago he increased his musical ability by adding the Highland pipes to the range of instruments he already played. Like many pipers it is not just a pastime, but a full blown obsession that he pursues with a passion in a quest for personal improvement and knowledge.

His interest in the Highland pipes was sparked by seeing Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre video with the pipe band and he said, ‘I want to do that’. So he bought a set of bagpipes and was pointed in the direction of Sheila Stewart who is the Pipe Major of the Beinn Gorm Highlanders Pipe Band from Collingwood, Ontario.

Lou now plays in the CLASP competitions and with the Beinn Gorm Highlanders, and he is combining both this August 2022 to travel to Scotland to play in the CLASP World Amateur Solo Piping Competition and with the band at the World Pipe Band Championships in Grade 4B. In preparation for both of these events he has organized a bespoke program of online tuition to complement his weekly online lessons with Margaret Dunn and Ross Ainslie at The National Piping Center and with his in person lessons with Sheila Stewart.

Lou spends most of his retirement days playing music in a house full of instruments, but says it is now mostly pipes he focuses on. Before the world closed down for two years, he would occasionally play guitar on traditional tunes with other multi-instrumentalists in the band, but COVID-19 put a stop to all that for a while. But he does say that there was a silver lining to lock-down in that the use of Zoom has allowed him to connect to all corners of the world to receive a wider range of piping tuition. Lou said: “I was in Glasgow attending the Immersive Course at The National Piping Center on the day it closed for Covid-19, and I was the first person back when it opened up again in 2021. I’ve taken part in four of The National Piping Centre’s Adult Gatherings online. You could say I’m an old groupie, following these great pipers and I know them all from meeting them at workshops.

“The prices for a group of 10 lessons from The National Piping Center are so reasonable, even after they recently raised the fees. Before the increase I bought a full year of tuition with Margaret Dunn and Ross Ainslie and saved myself some money. Margaret was highly recommended to me as a tutor and with Ross, I was having tuition on whistle, bouzouki and pipes – and it was great fun, but with the competitions approaching I’m focusing on the Highland pipes with both of them.”

•Margaret Dunn on a zoom tuition session with Sheila and Lou

Sheila Stuart added: “Where else would you find such humble experts? It’s the equivalent of getting guitar lessons from Eric Clapton. We get tuition from some of the best pipers in the world and they are so kind — and the tuition prices are very reasonable.”

Since April this year, Lou and Sheila have also invited other top pipers to give them online tuition on a Sunday evening starting with Jim McGillivray, followed by Glenn Brown, Stuart Liddell, Ken Eller, Roddy MacLeod, Margaret Dunn, Alastair Lee, Bob Worrall and Seamus Coyne so far. Up next will be Robert Mathieson, Callum Beaumont and a few more to be added to take them to July 26, with Ross Ainslie giving the final tuition session. Lou explained the format of the sessions: “The first few sessions focused on the chanter, but with Stuart Liddell both Sheila and I had half an hour each on pipes and received feedback from him on our tunes. We have a different tutor each week, but we take on board the advice from the individual tutors and work on the aspect of our playing that we need to improve. We also record the sessions so that we can listen back to them.

“For these private lessons we put out an open invitation for anyone to join in the gallery and listen to the sessions, and we do get the occasional person joining to listen to the advice given by the tutor. If anyone is interested they just need to email me.

“I also started a Monday night zoom session called the World Bagpipe Club for anyone from the band, and anyone else around the world to join. The band practices in person every Tuesday night, and Sheila and I practice two or three times a week to work on our competition tunes.” Sheila added: “The Monday night is a finger work bootcamp to help clean up all our basic technique, where we drill and drill our exercises, so zoom has provided a great opportunity for that.”

Lou and Sheila competed in the CLASP Live Online since the start of lockdown, and also competed locally in Games around Collingwood, Ontario where they are based. Sheila wanted to take the Beinn Gorm Highlanders to compete at the Worlds in Grade 4B for their 20th Anniversary in 2020, but the plans were obviously delayed due to COVID-19.

•Lou Lanaro

They will both warm up for the CLASP and World Pipe Band Championships by playing in the solos and band competitions at the Kincardine Games and Cambridge Games which are within reasonable driving distance of their locality. At the Georgetown Games over the weekend, June 11, Lou won the Grade 5 March (Adult) competition and Sheila won the Novice Piobaireachd and placed second in the Grade 4 March. The tunes they are learning and playing is John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottagethe strathspey is Captain Colin Campbellthe reel is Lachlan MacPhail of Tireeand the jig is Glasgow City Police Pipers. Lou is playing Tulloch Ard for his piobaireachd and Sheila is playing Too Long in this Condition and both are competing in Grade 4 of the CLASP, although Lou was keen to point out that Sheila is a player with much more experience than himself.

•The Beinn Gorm Highlanders at the Georgetown Games 2022

Sheila had three grandparents from Glasgow and grew up listening to Harry Lauder, Andy Stewart and other Scottish music, and started playing as a child in 1964. She joined a band at 12 years old, which was started by a ‘fine player’ called Allan Lamont and his band was called The Clan Lamont Pipe Band. Life got in the way of her piping as it often does, but she found herself back home and rejoining The Clan Lamont Pipe Band at the age of 28, and has since kept her pipes going over the years. Sheila said: “We live on the Niagara escarpment which is known as the Blue Mountain area, so the name of our band is the Gaelic translation of blue mountain – Beinn Gorm.

•Sheila Stewart

“The idea for the band formed in 2000 when I had been playing a solo lament at a Remembrance Day service, but the Veterans had to march to record pipe music from the back of a jeep. After the service, I ran into Garth Wilson, a drummer I had played with in the past, and we commented on what a travesty it was that the Veterans had to march to record pipe band music. Garth suggested that we should start a local band to provide the veterans with a proper procession to the cenotaph in the future. We each called the few pipers and drummers that we knew in the area and in January of 2000 the band was formed. Garth taught drumming and managed the band for many years. Initially, we had two other pipe majors, as I didn’t feel that I had the skills or experience for the position, but when they each dropped in and out of the role several times, I would step in to fill the gap, and eventually stayed in the position for the last 15 or so years. My former teacher, Allan, once told me that the pipe major doesn’t have to be the best piper in the band, but they do need to know how to respectfully handle a lot of personalities, learn how to encourage and bring out the best in each player. I try my best to follow his advice.

“I had only played in street bands prior to that, but from then I started attending every school of piping I could to make sure I was doing things properly, and then started teaching. So Garth and I formed the band back then, and have gone from only two of us to the 40 members that we have now. Our youngest is nine and our oldest is 85 and we have a real family-feeling, community band.

•Daniel Carr

“We had Matt MacIsaac living in the area for a while so he gave the band some instruction, but within the last year and a half we have had Daniel Carr teach the band. Daniel is a professional piper and World Champion Highland dancer, and we are lucky to have him living in the area. I’m hoping that Daniel will take over the band in the next year or so.”

Lou’s invitation to join his zoom tuition sessions still stands. If you are keen to hear expert pipers give instruction on how to play Lou and Sheila’s tunes, or join in their Monday night technique bootcamp, drop him an email here.

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