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Roderick Cannon - a personal reflection

A personal reflection by Matt Seattle

Somewhere, either before or just after I took up the pipes (1991), I bought a couple of back issues of The Piping Times and homed in on the Tune of the Month articles by a certain R D Cannon. The article – and the tune – which took my fancy was Portpatrick or The Churlish Husband and, as I recall, the author commented that he was surprised no-one had ever made it into a 4-part tune or maybe something even longer. The temptation was there, I took the bait …

We met soon after this at a pipers’ gathering and even this novice piper found Roderick approachable enough to show him my effort, the 8-part version of Portpatrick which I would later (1993) publish in The Border Bagpipe Book. Being also aware of Roderick’s articles on historical English pipes and their repertoire, I thought he might be interested when I came across the William Dixon repertoire in early 1995. I phoned him and talked to his wife Elizabeth, we met again, and I gave him a transcript of the Dixon tunes. I was delighted that he was delighted with them, the more so when he wrote the endorsement which has since appeared on the back cover of all three editions of The Master Piper.

R D was by then Roddy, and we would meet again in 1997 in Peebles at the LBPS Collogue on William Dixon when he gave the opening presentation. He “got” Dixon to a degree which is rare now and was even rarer then, and when our paths crossed over the following years, often in less formal settings, I found it heartening that this renowned piobaireachd scholar was not only interested in the Dixon music but played it himself.

I was sorry to miss him at last year’s Blowout when he was given the presentation volume of his English Bagpipe articles. It was therefore a joy to find him totally unexpectedly at the National Library of Scotland on 24 March this year, deep in conversation with Keith Sanger, and to have lunch together. This is from my email to Stuart Letford concerning the recent William Dixon Homecoming concert: “You may be interested to know that I met Roddy Cannon by chance in Edinburgh the other week – seriously, how likely is that? – and he told me that these days when he picks up his big pipes, it’s Dixon tunes which are first under his fingers. Well!” We all knew him in our own ways. We are all indebted to him for his pioneering scholarship, but more than that I can still see the sparkle in his eye. He was a treasure.

If you would like a copy of the collected articles by Roderick Cannon, which includes tributes by a number of people who have been influenced by his research, then please send a cheque, made payable to The Bagpipe Society, for £14.50 (includes p&p) to Ian Clabburn at 6 Greyfriars Road, Daventry, NN11 4RS.