Andrew Shilliday - Overcoming adversity to win the World Pipe Band Championships

Posted by Michele Mele 31 October 2019

Andrew Shilliday is a piper from Dungannon, Northern Ireland; he graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2009, becoming bagpipe instructor for Highland Council in Wester Ross.

Sadly, in the brightest moments of his youth, he feared for his life as he had been diagnosed with systemic sclerosis. He lost part of his fingers as well as part of his legs and was forced to stop playing the bagpipes.

He learned to play the snare drum, achieving great results in a relatively short time, until an act of generosity gave him a chance to resume playing his beloved main instrument. In 2018 renowned bagpipe maker G1 Reeds designed a special chanter with the holes allocated in different positions to adapt to Shilliday’s hands.

After a transition period on an electronic chanter, he managed to recommence playing the pipes at a very high standard, showing powerful resilience, and joined the Tullylagan Pipe Band, becoming the pipe major of their Grade 4B team and a member of their 3B line up.

The pay-off came on a sunny summer day in Glasgow Green, at the 2019 World Pipe Band Championships, with Shilliday and the Tullylagan Pipe Band lifting the World Championship trophy in Grade 3B.

Andrew Shilliday has been kind enough to answer a few questions for Bright Young Folk.

Which is your earliest memory of the sound of the bagpipes?

At a very young age I heard my uncle Alan Shilliday playing the bagpipes and fell in love with the sound.

Which are the players, teachers and pipe majors that had the greatest influence on your playing?

My Uncle Alan Shilliday was my very first teacher and the person who had the biggest influence on my playing. Growing up, I would go to his house every day after school and rugby training to have lessons on the pipes.

At an early age I had some Piobaireachd tuition with Norman McCutchen and Norman Dodds. In my late teens I had the privilege of studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. During my 4 year honors degree, I had regular tuition with Roddy MacLeod, Gavin Stoddard, Alan Macdonald, Stuart Samson, Chris Armstrong and Finlay Macdonald.

Players who had the biggest influence on me were my cousins, fellow students at the Royal Conservatoire and my band mates. I have had the privilege of playing and studying along side some of the best players in the world and it was always something that gave me a drive to improve myself to be the best I can. A Pipe Major who had a big influence on my band playing was Robert Matheson from my time at Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band.

Which were the hardest challenges you had to face in getting into the new special chanter that G1 Reeds made for you?

One of the biggest challenges was to be patient. I need to use a different part of my finger to make contact with the holes, and that took quite bit of adjustment especially as I have less feeling from before amputation. Also my illness reduced my lung strength and capacity to 40% but since I received my G1 chanter, I have played my pipes almost every day, and as a result my last lung function test had improved to 55%.

Another big hurdle I must manage is not being able to stand for too long as I also have other amputations, left leg below the knee and also my right fore foot. So on the day of a contest I must manage my time spend on foot and usually bring along a comfortable chair to take rests.

Which were the memorable moments of this year’s World Pipe Band Championships for you?

Three years ago I joined Tullylagan as a snare drummer. We won the drumming world title that year, but since I joined there has been a group of 9 to 10 young students in the band that I started teaching privately.

Two of them joined the senior band this year and this was the very first World Championship that they played at. It was a very proud moment for me to see them not only playing alongside me but to become world champions on first attempt.

Which are your plans for the future?

I really enjoy teaching, and I hope to continue that. Already my pupils have seen success, winning solo competitions here in Northern Ireland and I am excited to see them progress in the years to come. Also I teach Tullylagan pipers during the winter months and look forward to another challenge next season.

What would you say to all those that struggle to follow their passions because of health problems?

Never give up. Something that has given me strength through everything is my relationship with God. He gave me strength and comfort in my time of need and a hope for the future. This same God loves you too, and if you accept him, he will not only be with you in times of trouble, but also give you a life worth living.

I am also blessed to have a loving family and many generous and encouraging close friends. Without my close friend John Elliott from G1 Reeds, I would not be playing the bagpipes now without him. He is one of the best men I know, he is a gentleman, and a genius in his field, his products are among the best in the world, and for him to use his skill and time to help me, I will be forever grateful.

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