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Newest PPBSO Life Member: P/M Bill Livingstone

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Bill Livingstone was presented official PPBSO “life membership” recognition on Saturday, June 11, 2022, at the opening of the 45th Georgetown Highland Games. The PPBSO is grateful to the games committee for allowing us the opportunity to recognize one of our own.

The PPBSO’s membership committee is working to shift the “life membership” recognition to one of “life achievement”. On that, members can expect to see more presentations of this kind over the summer games season. Michael Grey, a long-time student of Bill’s teaching and current president of the PPBSO paid tribute to Bill on behalf of members.

What follows is the full text of Bill Livingstone’s recognition:

Good afternoon, everyone!

Today I have the honour of recognizing one of the piping and pipe band world’s greatest. In fact, I feel confident in saying that he is one of the best musicians of any category of music to ever be born, brought up and built in Canada.

I’ve known Bill Livingstone since I was 16 after having met him at a summer piping and drumming school in Kingston, Ontario. Since that time I’ve come to know Bill as a teacher, leader, adversary, friend – and – one of the smartest and wittiest people I’ve yet met.

Canadians are fairly good at looking to our forebears, many immigrants, and think of them with thanks. Its these pioneering types, after all, these brush-cutters, hewers of wood – and miners — who set their descendants up – us – for a better life.

Bill is a piping and drumming pioneer. Through his younger years he saw his way – along with his beloved and endlessly supportive, wife, Lillian, to travel to Scotland. On their own dime – when money was scarce –  they travelled those summers by caravan around rural Scotland. Bill would trod the often wet and midge-clouded boards of Scotland to learn, improve and, along the way … win everything. He was among the first from outside of Scotland to dominate the boards unlike any other person from away.

The medals at Oban and Inverness were his. The light music prizes, too. He twice won what many consider the biggest prize of all, the Gold Clasp for piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting, Inverness.

Bill Livingstone playing with the Toronto Police Pipe Band in George Square, Glasgow, at Piping Live! 2012 ©

Even more remarkable, to my mind, is that he was 7-times runner-up in that fantastically challenging competition. To be second in an event with a bench of 3 judges invariably means one judge had you first. A bittersweet record but, nonetheless, an impressive one for the ages.

He is a pioneer in the pipe band world, too. He brought together a diverse group of talented people. And through his committed musical vision, charisma and a whole lot of patience – led this – almost rag-tag bunch – to become, for a time, one of the world’s most famous pipe bands. And you all know this: He was the first to lead a band from outside of Scotland to the premier grade title of, “World Pipe Band Champion” – his 78th Fraser Highlanders.

Bill Livingstone paved the way for the many that followed.

Bill is a musical visionary. Today, his work still reverberates through our music. Today – anywhere in the world – when pipe bands perform, their approach to arrangements played, and, sometimes the tunes themselves, can very often be easily traced to Bill Livingstone’s musical ethos and genius

Bill Livingstone is without a doubt a pioneer for whom we must recognize and thank.

Even the author of The Outlander series of books and movies, Diana Gabaldon, has something to say about Bill when he appears in her book, The Drums of Autumn – a short quote here:

“…The Minister’s cat had nearly jumped out of her skin when they walked through the performers’ entrance and come face-to-face with the 78th Fraser Highlanders’ pipe band from Canada, practicing at full blast behind the dressing rooms. [Claire Randall] had actually gone pale when she was introduced to the pipe major, an old acquaintance. Not that Bill Livingstone was intimidating on his own; it was the Fraser clan badge on his chest that had done it…”

Bill Livingstone will likely be the only person anywhere who can say they’ve come face-to-face with Outlander, Jamie Fraser’s wife, Claire Randall – and lived to tell the tale!

Still, intimidating or not (and he’s not). He is one of a kind.

And, on behalf of the membership of The Pipers’ & Pipe Band Society of Ontario, I am privileged, to present Bill Livingstone our award for Lifetime Achievement and Life Membership.

It reads:  In recognition and appreciation for a lifetime of leadership, teaching, musical innovation and performance virtuosity.

Pipe Major William Livingstone