Incidentally, Leo, Willie’s younger brother later also joined Reid’s pipemaking business as a sander. Willie in turn attempted to teach Leo the pipes but, brothers being what they are, in a fit of frustration Willie advised Leo to pitch his practice chanter in the fire, which Leo promptly did and that was about the end of the second Connell’s piping career.
Reid’s expectation was that his pupils would absorb his musical phrasing simply by listening to him play a tune. During his first three years with Reid, Willie relied on his magnetic memory to mimic the playing of Reid without fully understanding the musical construction of the tunes. It was toward the end of that period, however, that the light went on for Willie and he began to recognize the system of 24 basic phrases that the Camerons applied to every tune. From that, Willie developed his own method for noting and illustrating on musical manuscript the location and relationships of musical passages and phrases; a valuable skill that allowed him systematically to analyze every tune he approached, and that he used with tremendous effect when teaching tunes to his own students.
Within six months of starting with Reid, Willie headed south to London for a light music contest. After he had performed, Charlie Bothey, a Scot originally from Glasgow and now working in London as a stockbroker, approached Willie and said, “you must be a pupil of Robert Reid. I thought I was listening to him playing when you were performing!” A testament to Willie’s ability to mimic his master.
At age 17½, Willie began competing as a professional and placed 5th in his first Gold Medal event at Oban (the same year John Burgess won his Gold Medal). A few years later, in 1957, after placing several times in Gold Medal events, Willie won first for his performance of The Groat in the Clasp event at Inverness. Reid was present for most of the event and heard Willie's performance. He later noted in correspondence with a friend that Willie didn't just beat his competition, he "slew" them.
Willie’s personal life also took a significant turn that year as a result of his marriage to Betty, his wife of many years to come. Sons eventually appeared. Gregor in 1960, followed by Cameron seven years later and Fraser a year after that.
In 1958, his final year as an active competitor, Willie won numerous contests, among them the Scottish Piper’s Gold Medal in Glasgow, The Uist & Barra contest (piobaireachd and light music) and the John MacDougall Gillies Competition in London (piobaireachd). At that point he retired from active competition to devote his time to family and career.
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