The experience from Ross, both nationally and internationally, is extensive. From learning the bagpipe locally from Scottish experts, to then traveling to Scotland to learn, compete and perform, Ross has gained invaluable tuition and experience from the worlds best.
Ross grew up in San Diego, California with a Canadian Mother and Scottish Grandparents. It was definitely a family affair growing up as his Grandfather played the pipes, his Mother an accomplished Highland Dancer and Scottish Drummer, and his two older brothers learning the bagpipe before him. It was only a matter of time before Ross would pick up the pipes himself.
Early influences on Ross were Scottish experts. Once a year a group of these experts would fly over to the USA for a week long school on all things bagpiping. This was the College of Piping, of Glasgow, Scotland, Bagpipe School. Teachers included Harry McNulty, Jimmy Young, Dugald McNeil, Gavin Stoddart, Bruce Hitchings, and Aaron Shaw. Years later after developing his own bagpipe proficiency, Ross would be asked to join these Scottish experts in teaching the school, where he remained for a number of years. Locally while growing up, Ross received regular instruction from local experts Ian Whitelaw, Scott MacDonald, and Charlie Lumsden.
Ross and his two brothers received a wonderful opportunity at an early age. They were asked to join the Alameda County Sheriffs Junior Pipe Band in the year 2000. The leaders of this organization were (are) world renown experts. They were also fresh off winning 2nd place in Grade 2 at the 1999 World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. After this historical feat, they continued on teaching this newly formed Junior Band under the same name. Ross and his two brothers aged out of this organization after a few years, but the memories and experiences gained last till this day. Ross was given the opportunity to serve as Pipe Major of this band in his final year. This organization was led by the dynamic duo of Pipe Major Helen Gladden and Drum Sergeant Tim Gladden.
While Ross’ two older brothers involvement in bagpiping slowly became less, Ross’ involvement grew more. At this same time Ross was seeing much success performing as an individual, earning champion awards at all levels and disciplines. As one says, he began working his way through the ranks (Grades). Ross quickly moved up the Grades and was routinely winning competitions. As a progression, Ross earned champion piper awards in Grade 4 in 2000. The same in Grade 3 for 2001 and was the Western United States Pipe Band Association (WUSPBA) Champion Piper for the year in Grade 2 in 2003.
A 2004 summer in Scotland would change things further for Ross. Staying with family, his Grandmother (with her still thick Scottish accent) took him down to the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland and said quite simply “my Grandson needs lessons”. Ross was awe inspired by more of these great Scottish masters (experts) before him. Lessons commenced, and be began learning from the likes of Roddy MacLeod, Gordon Walker, Finlay MacDonald, Paul Warren, and Chris Armstrong. Much time was spent with each, but one relationship continued on, his tuition with Pipe Major Chris Armstrong. Throughout the years Ross has sought guidance from Chris to improve and refine his own playing, ensuring his own craft stays at the highest of levels.
Returning from Scotland in 2004 created a “launching pad” to dive into new opportunities. Ross was now regularly winning awards in Grade 1 and it wouldn’t be long before he earned his promotion into the Professional Soloist Grade of bagpiping. Having played in bands his whole life, Ross was eager to play with the very best. Locally, there were two high level bands. The Grade 2 Los Angeles Police Pipe Band and the Grade 1 Los Angeles Scottish Pipe Band. The Grade 2 police band were performing very well and wasn’t very far away from getting to Grade 1. The “LA Scots” were already of a very high standard. They won multiple prizes in Grade 2 at the World Pipe Band Championships in Scotland and eventually became the first United States Pipe Band to win the Grade 2 World Championship in 1997. This earned them a promotion to Grade 1 where they would remain for almost 20 years.
As Ross was now establishing himself as an up and coming Soloist, the top local bands were interested in having him come on board to play. There was a decision to be made, play with the up and coming Grade 2 LA Police band, or go with the already established Grade 1 LA Scots. Not an easy decision, but one of Ross’ early mentors growing up was Charlie Lumsden. Charlie was playing with the LA Police and Ross eventually joined them. It didn’t last long because shortly thereafter the Pipe Major of the band moved back to Scotland. This opened the door to then move over to the LA Scots. Ross was already quite well established with them, having had instruction from their Pipe Major Scott MacDonald in years past.
Ross played with the Grade 1 LA Scots Pipe Band from 2003 – 2013. Ross was very committed to playing at the highest of standards and playing with the LA Scots meant regularly driving twice a week from San Diego to Los Angeles for band practice. Those 10 years can only be described as very successful. After winning a few band prizes locally, the band started to test itself internationally. The band won 3rd place at the 2006 North American Championships in Maxville, Ontario, Canada. That next year the band traveled to Scotland to compete at the World Championships. After a tough morning qualifying competition, the band eventually won 11th place overall at the 2007 World Championships, the highest placing ever by a United States Pipe Band, a record that stands today. In 2012 another Scotland trip proved successful winning 13th place overall at the World Championship.
After the 2007 World Championships and the success in Grade 1 Ross remained in Scotland for a couple months to learn more Scottish experts. Direct one on one instruction continued and Ross entered the Professional Grade upon returning to the United States. His first Professional win actually came in Scotland at the 2009 Invercharron Highland Games just north of Inverness. Ross won two placings that day earning a 1st place and a 3rd place.
The individual success would continue for Ross having been in Professional Grade for a few years now, his hard work and practice began to pay off. After winning a few awards at various local Highland Games, Ross won two 1st prizes at the 2012 United Scottish Society Highland Games in Costa Mesa, California. This led him to being Champion Piper of the weekend at this competition. Ross again would be Champion Piper at the United Scottish Society competition in 2015 winning a 1st place and a 3rd place in the Professional Grade. The very next month at the San Diego Highland Games more success was had when Ross won another 1st place along with a 3rd place. The 1st place in the March, Strathspey, Reel (MSR) event was of extra personal significance. The winner of this event meant that the winner took home the James Naismith Memorial Trophy, this being Ross’ Grandfather. This competition was named after Ross’ Grandfather in not only dedication to him, but his years of service to the local community, he was beloved by all.
Having a strong family history of bagpiping and drumming in Southern California, Ross always felt compelled to give back and work with the local bands. Ross did this rather significantly after his time with the Grade 1 LA Scots. In 2014 Ross joined up with the Cameron Highlanders Pipe Band organization of San Diego County. Upon the arrival of Ross and a few other players the band was promoted to Grade 3 right away. Ross was now an integral part of the Grade 3 Band, but he took on the role of musical director (Pipe Major) of the organizations Grade 4 Band, and also worked closely with the beginning Grade 5 Band. Needless to say, Ross was very involved and committed to the organization as a whole, and to everyone playing their very best. Ross’ hard work with the organization paid off with the Grade 4 Band earning consistent high marks and some 1st places. His significant work with the Grade 3 Band arranging music, setting up the “sound”, and working on technique paid dividends, and eventually led to them winning 5th place in Grade 3 at the 2016 World Pipe Band Championships in Scotland.
In the midst of teaching locally, an opportunity came up to teach a local High School band. Seeing the success of the Cameron Highlanders organization, Ross was approached and offered the teaching position of Bagpipe Instructor for the Helix High School Pipe Band. Ross accepted the position and looked forward to the opportunity to teach more. The band immediately got to work and began seeing success. Ross was able to teach bagpipe and ensemble proficiency, but the school lacked a Scottish drumming Instructor. The school had a budget for a bagpipe instructor, but not a Scottish drumming Instructor. Ross saw this as a must, and took it upon himself to hire a drumming instructor to come in regularly so all the kids could learn appropriately. The band started to act like, and sound like, a real Pipe Band. The band saw new life and interest, and membership grew each year under his tenure. One highlight of this venture was seeing the Pipe Band travel out of state for the very first time. The band traveled to the Phoenix Scottish Games in Arizona and came back home with two 2nd place finishes.
Through Ross’ teaching locally, an opportunity came up for Ross to take on the head role / musical director (Pipe Major) of another local Pipe Band. This wasn’t an easy decision to leave the organization he was in, but the opportunity to become head (Pipe Major) of a local band was of rather significant interest to Ross at this point in time. Ross did eventually depart and became Pipe Major of the House of Scotland Pipe Band based in Balboa Park San Diego.
The House of Scotland Pipe Band was not active when Ross took it over. The band struggled for many years to gain and keep membership. Without a solid membership base it is impossible to remain viable, let alone get to a point of playing good band music. With the arrival of Ross the tide began to turn rather quickly. Through his teaching background, Ross was able to bring along a few players and the band saw immediate success. In one of the largest competitions in North America, after months of dedicated practice, the House of Scotland Pipe Band earned 4th place in Grade 4 at the 2015 Caledonian Club of San Francisco Highland Games in Pleasanton, California. Also at this event, the band earned 3rd place in the bagpiping category. This put the House of Scotland name back on the map.
Heading into the next season of events, there was a lot of interest in the House of Scotland Pipe Band, and membership grew even more. After a successful 2016 season winning numerous top 3 placings, membership grew so much that a new band needed to be started in the organization. Heading into the 2017 season the House of Scotland now had bands in Grade 4 and Grade 5. The Grade 4 Band won 1st place Overall at the 2017 United Scottish Society Highland Games in Costa Mesa, California. Locally throughout 2016 and 2017, the House of Scotland Grade 4 Band was the only band in the Western United States Association to place in the top 3 in every WUSPBA competition it entered. A remarkable feat of consistency at various competitions. The band finished off the year testing itself against North Americas’ best. The Grade 4 Band won 7th place at the North American Championships in Maxville, Ontario, Canada. The very next day, still in Canada, the band won 1st place at the Montreal Highland Games in Montreal, Canada. With the overall success of the band, the band was promoted to Grade 3 for the 2018 season.
The 2018 season saw great success for the House of Scotland organization as both the Grade 3 Band and the Grade 5 Band were earning consistent high marks. The Grade 3 Band placed in the top 3 quite regularly and the Grade 5 Band gained great momentum winning 1st place Overall mid season at the San Diego Highland Games. There was a great end to the season where both bands traveled to the Caledonian Club of San Francisco Highland Games in Pleasanton. Here the Grade 3 Band was able to come away with good success earning a 4th place finish overall, and a 3rd place finish from the judges in the bagpiping category.
With so much work going into local efforts, the itch to return to Grade 1 Band playing remained for Ross. An opportunity came up for that in 2016 as Ross got speaking with the leaders from the Grade 1 Dowco Triumph St. Pipe Band of Vancouver, Canada. As the local scene was settling in, Ross found the time to travel to Canada to play with this band. There are not many Grade 1 Pipe Bands in the world, and if you want to play in one, especially in North America, that means you have to commit to travel. A few times each year Ross would fly up for practice, competitions, and various events.
The Dowco Triumph St Pipe Band performed well both at home, in Canada, and abroad. Ross played with this band for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Ross did compete individually as well in his time with Triumph St. In 2016 Ross earned a placing in the Professional Piobaireachd competition at the British Columbia Indoor Gathering in Vancouver, Canada. Highlights with the band included 3 international successes. In 2016 the band traveled to Northern Ireland to compete at one fo the “5 Majors” and earned 10th place Overall at the United Kingdom Championships. In 2017 the band traveled to Scotland twice. First was the British Pipe Band Championships in May where the band finished in 8th place Overall. Then, later in August, the band traveled back over for the World Pipe Band Pipe Championships and came in 12th place Overall.
Back on the local front with the House of Scotland Pipe Band, looking ahead to the 2019 and 2020 seasons, plans were put in place to attend to the 2020 New Zealand Pipe Band Championships in Invercargill. New Zealand has a very strong bagpiping and drumming environment, and it is quite rare to see a Pipe Band travel there. New music was sorted out for this trip and as you can imagine, a tremendous amount of fundraising took place. For 2 plus years band members worked to make this trip happen. Unfortunately, as the trip became nearer, a group of members decided to pull out from the trip, putting the trip in question. Ross began to reach out to his contacts and it was clear that there was a lot of interest from others in making this trip happen. The pieces of the trip were now able to be put back together.
With so many House of Scotland members now out of the trip, the trip continued on with members from the Clan Gordon Pipe Band of Tacoma, Washington, and thus, the trip went forward as the Clan Gordon Pipe Band. The Pipe Major of this band just so happens to be Ross’ brother, fitting to see this unique experience come together with two brothers from two states continuing on as one band. Practices took place, funding was sourced, and the trip commenced. For Ross, the trip moving forward was the culmination of years of planning and perseverance. The band performed quite well too, earning 11th place Overall in Grade 4, 8th place in the Street March, and a fantastic 2nd place finish in the Display event. The band stayed in 2 cities over 9 nights and took home the experience of a lifetime.
Ross saw the end of the 2020 New Zealand experience as a good time to step away from active band participation. Having been so involved for so long, he was overdue for some time off. The time off has allowed him to further work on his own individual playing. Ross remains active by continuing to teach, provide workshops, perform, and adjudicate events throughout North America.
To be continued …