Piper Spotlight: Gavin Stoddart
Here’s another installment of Piper Spotlight, this time focusing on P/M Gavin Stoddart, MBE BEM. Gavin is an army piper, playing first with the Scots Guards and later with Royal Highland Fusiliers. He spent the last 16 years of his army career as director of the Army School of Bagpipe Music. His professional competition career lasted only ten years, but was certainly illustrious: he won the gold medal at Oban in 1981 and Inverness in 1983, and won the overall title at the Glenfiddich twice (1983 and 1988). In 1983 he was awarded the British Empire Medal, and in 1999 was honored as a Member of the British Empire for his services to army bagpiping and drumming.
My first encounter with Gavin was during my first trip to Scotland in 1999. He was in charge of the massed pipes and drums at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, in which I was supposed to participate. I hadn’t learned the music properly (or indeed at all, since I had only been playing for a year), and so got a thorough tongue-lashing from Pipe Major Stoddart. I was still able to participate in the Tattoo, but unfortunately not as a piper.
In June 2006 I actually met Gavin again when he was an instructor at the National Piping Centre’s summer school in Winchester, VA. I told him that the last time I saw him he had yelled at me, and he grinned and said, “Well I’m sure I didn’t mean anything by it.” Over the next few days, Gavin turned out to be a warm and easy-going fellow who told stories as well as he taught bagpipes. His stories often started with a phrase like “So I was judging the MSR at the Glendfiddich one year…” and continue with an account of how a wonderful performance was lost in the last two bars, or how a certain piper won first place in the MSR despite the minor technicality of playing the wrong strathspey.
After a few days of the class I was quite comfortable around Gavin, and was thus much less nervous when I learned he was to be my examiner for the piping proficiency test I was about to take. He was kind enough to cut me some slack when I didn’t know the name of all the piobaireachd movements (I knew how to play them, but wasn’t certain what they were called), and after I was done told me that he enjoyed listening to my piobaireachd. He was also kind enough to pose for a photo with me and my newly-earned intermediate piping certificate. I had a lot of fun during that week, and I’m happy that my only interaction with Gavin wasn’t that he yelled at me. Thanks Gavin, for being a great role model for aspiring pipers.