Bruce of the Bagpipes

Bruce Robertson describes his hobbies as ‘pretty normal.’ He likes playing golf, watching baseball, and winning the occasional bagpiping world championship. This not-soaverage accomplishment is more than a hobby. For the second-generation American, bagpiping is a meaningful medium that honors his family history.

Bruce’s parents immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to Edmond, Oklahoma a year before his birth. His father worked a number of jobs before reentering his former profession, printing. In 1984, Bruce’s mother and aunt opened McLaren’s Pantry, the well-known Edmond gem still serving fresh-baked treats today. While his parents worked hard to establish a new life in the states, their heritage remained an important part of their lives, and now Bruce’s.

Boyhood Beginnings

“I was interested in playing the bagpipe from an early age,” Bruce said. “My grandfather bought me my first instrument when I was six and I haven’t stopped playing since.”

As a beginner, Bruce managed to learn the basics of bagpiping under his father’s instruction, and his own self-teaching. In order to advance, Bruce needed formal teaching, but proper bagpipe training isn’t easy to come by in Oklahoma.

“My father was my original instructor, then I received tutoring from top instructors in Scotland and Canada,” Bruce said. “It’s a difficult instrument. Learning to play the bagpipe was like learning to speak a new language.”

If it’s a language, then Bruce is fluent. As part of Houston’s St. Thomas Alumni Pipe Band, Bruce has won the Grade 3 World Piping Band Championship in 1998, and placed in the top six every other time he’s traveled to Scotland for the competition. He has also won seven US Open Pipe Band Championships and one North American Pipe Band Championship – all impressive feats for a Texas-based band.

Bruce plays locally in connection with the Oklahoma Firefighters Pipes and Drums and he created the Westminster Pipe Band, which he led to place highly in North American competitions. Bagpiping has brought adventure to Bruce’s life, including 14 trips to Scotland. But one of his favorite memories happened right here at home.

Playing Above Par

“During the US Senior Open, I visited a friend who lived on the golf course. Colin Montgomerie of Scotland was leading the tournament,” Bruce explained. “So when he was coming up to the 12th hole, near the house, I struck up and played my pipes on the back patio. Colin was very excited, pointing my way and waving his towel in the air.” Though he bogeyed that particular hole, Montgomerie did go on to win the tournament. Perhaps bagpipes played a part.

Though not a mainstream instrument, Bruce has noted an increased appreciation and inclusion of bagpipes in modern music. He says the bagpipe has come a long way over the last twenty years and he hopes to see that trend continue.

“People think it sounds like cats in a bag,” Bruce joked. “And it does when it’s not properly played. But when done well, it can sound really beautiful. I am proud to continue my family’s bagpiping tradition.”

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