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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Dave Mason: A Career in Piping and Strumming

Article and Photos By Connie Springer

Dave Mason of Hyde Park is the personification of “eclectic” – a man multifaceted in talents, wide-ranging in interests and encyclopedic in knowledge, particularly when it comes to the history of bagpipe music and the intricacies of playing this intriguing instrument. 

Dave Mason on guitar. He’s been an accomplished guitar player and songwriter since his teens.
Born in Newcastle, England, Dave was raised in South Africa. In 1973, as a lad of 12, he heard bagpipes being played at a church wedding and was captivated. Entering King Edward VII School in Johannesburg, he joined the after-school Pipe Band. In his junior and senior years, while being Pipe Major of the school band, he played in a Senior Pipe Band and, after finishing school, in a number of bands in South Africa. 

In the 1980s, while focusing on making and writing music, he earned a living as a banker and, later, as a scuba instructor. In 1996 he left South Africa for the United Kingdom, finding that “in South Africa there was not a market for the style of music I was writing, as they wanted only African music.” Dave initially played with the City of Newcastle Band, where he met his Scottish wife, Michele Hughes, then a drummer in the band.

Dave Mason playing his bagpipes outside where the “loud and brash” sounds are better tolerated. 

Dave completed a Senior Piping certificate and a Tutor’s certificate from the College of Piping in Glasgow, Scotland and has over 46 years of experience as a bagpiper.

Recently Dave received an especially significant honor, winning first place out of 42 entries from around the world in a bagpipe composing competition sponsored by Piping Press and the Royal Northern and University Club in Aberdeen, Scotland. The marching tune he composed marks the life and valor of 98-year old John Cruickshank, a World War II flying hero who had received the Victoria Cross, the highest military award in Britain, for sinking a German U-boat and then, despite serious injuries, safely landing his aircraft. 

The piece can be heard on the website,

“This has been one of the biggest achievements of my piping career,” Dave remarks. In May he will fly to Scotland to the Royal Northern and University Club in Aberdeen to accept his award and meet Mr. Cruickshank, who will receive a copy of Dave’s tune.

In previous competitions, Dave won the Grade 3b World Championships in 1999 with Lord Edward’s Own, Narraghmore, “The 100 Guineas” solo piping event in Johannesburg, the Irish Piobaireachd (Gaelic for “piping”) Society Open 2000, and the Ligonier Highland Games Open Piobaireachd 2009.
Four of his tunes are included in Scots Guards Volume 3, and he achieved second place in the 2017 Shasta, California Piobaireachd Competition for his tune, Lament for Angus Macdonald of the Great Divide in honor of Macdonald who emigrated to North America to work with the Hudson Bay Trading Company and married into the Nez Perce First Nations Tribe in present day Montana.

Dave has also written two volumes of bagpipe music, “Tummle yer Wilkies,” available for free download at  “I always give out my piping tunes,” Dave adds. “Piping music is meant to be shared.”

Added to his pursuits in playing and composing piping music, since his late teens Dave has been an accomplished guitar player. In his 20s and 30s he was active as a folk music singer-songwriter. After a long hiatus, last year he started composing folk music again using people and places he has met and seen as his inspiration.

Among Dave’s guitar gigs are farmer’s markets, including the Northside, Loveland and Hyde Park Farmer’s Markets (this summer he plans on a regular schedule of four to five slots here). He is well-known to the Queen City Balladeers, a long-lived folk music group in Cincinnati, and occasionally performs at QCB’s Leo Coffeehouse in Norwood on Sunday nights. “Dave is truly a Renaissance man, and all around nice guy,” says Janice Alvarado, a long time Queen City Balladeers member. “His songs are heartfelt with his beautiful clear, melodic voice. I'm even beginning to like the bagpipes!”

He has also performed at open mic nights around the Cincinnati area, including Lydia’s on Ludlow in Clifton, and the Franklin Tavern in Franklin, Ohio.

Dave has lived in Hyde Park for four years (this is his second time around in the United States). In the past he has been a denizen of England, South Africa, Thailand, Ireland and Scotland - his globetrotting due to Michele’s profession in I.T. at P&G for the last 28 years. “They call us ‘economic refugees,’” Dave adds. 

When Dave isn’t piping or strumming, he’s accompanying his 15-year old daughter Iona on her walk to and from The Summit Country Day School. Iona is a black belt martial artist, an accomplished pianist and a possible future ukulele aficionado.

In many ways, Dave comments, living in the United States is similar to living in South Africa, with such common bonds as an outdoor lifestyle, farmer’s markets, barbecuing and sports madness (though in South Africa it’s cricket and rugby instead of baseball and football). 

Michele and Dave also relish celebrating typical Scottish traditions such as Burns Night held near the January 25th birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns, as well as St. Andrew Night, the feast day of Scotland’s patron saint, in late November. Dave’s guests share in such home-prepared Scottish delicacies as haggis and cock a leekie soup.

Dave has a ritual of practicing on the bagpipes for one to two hours a day. Pipe music has to be memorized, he explains, with a typical repertoire consisting of around 40 tunes. He has also been known to get the pipes out and play a few tunes at public gatherings. “Bagpipes are a very ‘in your face’ kind of instrument, loud and brash,” he notes. Bagpipes are customarily played at special events like funerals, weddings and Scottish or Irish celebrations like St. Paddy’s Day, Burns Night and St. Andrew’s.

He gingerly offers advice for those wanting to learn to play the bagpipes. “Learn your basics to get the movements right,” he urges. “Master the rudiments in order to play the pipes properly. You have no volume control, and you can’t stop and start as with other instruments. Rudiments are how we add expression to our music.”

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