Willie Connell was a master of the Highland bagpipe, an expert instructor in both light music and piobaireachd, and a highly regarded adjudicator of both solo piping and pipe band competitions. Born and raised in Scotland, as a young man Willie learned the music of the Highland bagpipes through years of tuition from Robert Reid, a major proponent of The Cameron style of piobaireachd interpretation and performance. Later in life Willie emigrated to Ontario, Canada where he generously shared his knowledge and expertise to the enduring benefit of many aspiring pipers and the pipe and pipeband community as a whole.
William Connell, better known in the piping world as “Willie”, was born in Glasgow in 1931. He initially took up the bagpipe at age 14 under the tutelage of David Panton. But, after just eighteen months, Panton informed Willie that he should seek a new instructor. Panton felt he could take Willie no further and that Willie should continue his studies, but under the tutelage of someone better qualified to guide him to his potential.
It so happened that the legendary piper and bagpipe maker, Robert Reid, was in the market for a new student and on a Saturday evening at the Piper’s Club in Glasgow Reid sat himself next to Willie and asked, “how’d you like to come and work for me making bagpipes? As part of the deal I’ll give you tuition.” Willie readily agreed and that was the beginning of a successful and longstanding student-teacher relationship. Shortly after, Willie Reid, Robert’s brother, told him “you’re a lucky boy, Willie, Robert thinks you’re his best prospect as a pupil.”
And so it began, Willie worked for Reid as a wood turner making bagpipes for 11 years and remaining his pupil for another 3. Until this opportunity presented itself, Willie had planned to go to Glasgow University to study medicine. Even late in life, Willie said he had few regrets about his decision. During that time, Willie was Reid’s only pupil, and Willie said if he wasn’t receiving instruction, he would listen to Reid practicing in the shop every day. He was constantly in his presence and actively absorbing everything he possibly could.
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