Finlay is the Head of Piping Studies at the National Piping Centre and fronts The Finlay MacDonald Band.
What kind of pipes and chanter do you play?
As my performance platform is varied, I have a few different combinations of pipes to suit. If I am playing in concert pitch I have a Hardie B flat. This allows me to be at the correct pitch to play with my band and any orchestral performances. It’s really very important for me to have this set up as I do a lot of work with other instrumentalists and it is essential that I am on the same wavelength (so to speak). With this set up I have a set of flatter drone reeds made by Ezeedrone which allow the drones to come be at the same pitch.
If I am playing a solo recital, I have a standard wooden Peter Henderson chanter which is slightly sharper. I’ve plated that chanter for about four years now and I’m only on my second reed. I find it extremely easy to set up and it is very responsive and reactive to all kinds of playing.
I have two sets of drones which I alternate. I play a set of R.G Lawrie drones C.1910 which belong to my father. They are beautiful drones with Zoomorphic engraved silver and Ivory. I have recently been playing a set of R.G Hardie drones which are again superbly easy to set up and tune. They have all the qualities of older drones and are extremely steady.
Where do you hail from? Where do you live now?
I was brought up in Neilston, just outside Glasgow but I now live in Cathcart on the South Side of Glasgow.
Tell me about your piping career. When did you start? What bands have you played with?
I started piping about the age of 9 or 10. My father is the Pipe Major of Neilston and District Pipe band so there was always piping in the house. I don’t remember an exact day when I started learning, I guess I just wandered in to it. That was where I cut my teeth with all the pipe band repertoire etc but I was lucky in that my father was also really into folk music so I was always listening to the likes of the Tannahill Weavers and trying to do that kind of stuff as well.
By the age of about 15 I was going to Duncan Johnstone for lessons which really inspired me. I loved his approach to music and we really connected. Shortly after that I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama for 3 years where I was taught by P.M Angus MacDonald and Allan MacDonald.
My main outlet throughout this time was playing with folk groups and exploring composition and experimentation with Pipes, I was still playing with Neilston but that was more of a hobby and social event! The next Pipe Band I played with was the David Urqhuart Pipe Band under P.M Chris Armstrong. We then moved to Scottish Power in 2005. I have stopped playing with the band just now due to other music commitments but I still consider myself to be heavily involved in the band, helping out when I can with arrangements and drone tuning etc. I was also heavily involved with the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band, I arranged some of the music and played at the concert with Capercaillie in 2010 Piping Live! Festival.
What has been your proudest moment in piping so far?
It’s hard to pick one moment as Piping is really just my way of life at the moment and I do such varied projects. Some really good moments include performing with my band on the B.B.C Hogmanay show, Hogmanay live in Glasgow’s George Square event and at the E.U 50th anniversary celebrations in Berlin. I am also very proud of the recordings I have been a part of and some tunes I have composed. It’s a great honour to hear bands such as Field Marshal Montgomery and Scottish Power playing my tunes and arrangements. I am also very proud when I hear some of my students playing really well and thinking deeply about their music. I had a particularly interesting week last year in which I performed live on M.T.V with P.Diddy and then a few days later with Bryan Adams in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Just one of these great and surreal moments that music can lead you to I guess.
What has been your most stressful moment?
One thing that I think all pipers suffer from is the worry of a reed in the bag at an inopportune moment! Whether it’s on the line at the worlds or on a live T.V show in front of 6 million people it can be fairly stressful! Luckily I have been blessed so far!
What do you do as a day job?
I am currently Head of Piping Studies at The National Piping Centre in Glasgow. It’s a great job where I run the Piping element of the B.A Scottish Music degree in conjunction with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
What other hobbies/pursuits/past times do you have?
One of the things about being a musician is that we usually like to play more music with our free time! Most of my friends are musicians and we love going to a pup session or just getting together to play and create more music. If it was any other job we would definitely be classed as workaholics!
I love spending time with my family and my only other past times would be golf and cooking.
Where is the most interesting place your piping travels have taken you?
I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled a lot with my music. I’ve been to so many interesting places it’s hard to name one but some highlights would include trips to Algeria, China and lots of Eastern European countries. I’m a big fan of Eastern European music.
What would your most perfect piping event be?
I would be in a beautiful house in Galicia, making music with my dream band which would include Stevie Wonder, Lyle Lovett, Paddy Keenan and Chris Stout to name but a few, oh, and there would be lots of fine wine and food cooked by Ferran Adria.