Sun Times staff
It was inevitable Bill Millman, and then his son Andy, would take up the Highland bagpipes.
The bagpipes were always around, part of every social occasion, the third and fourth generation Owen Sound pipers both said earlier this week.
They grew up hearing the jigs, reels and marches.
That tradition is in their family. It’s their heritage.
But it’s the thrill of the music itself, uniformly articulated by exacting pipers against precise, powerful percussion, that keeps both Millmans piping.
“It’s just the high you get when you’re playing this stuff properly. It’s just a tremendous feeling. It makes you proud to wear the kilt, and play the pipes,” Bill Millman said this week at his home in Owen Sound.
“It’s a trance, almost, when you’re right in there. The way everything just zeros in together. It’s an amazing feeling. You get goose bumps. That’s what keeps you going.”
Both pipers will play Saturday night at OSCVI as part of a big Celtic Spring concert of Highland music and dance – Bill with the Penetangore Pipe Band and Andy with the Peel Region Police Pipe Band. That Brampton-based band has been both Ontario Supreme Grade 1 championship band and North American champions for the last two years.
Andy barely remembers starting to play, first on chanter at age six or seven, then with a three-quarter size set of pipes in his first band, beside his father when he was about nine.
As a child, he would drift off to sleep each night listening to a recording of the 1989 world pipe band competition.
“It was sort of an obsession I guess,” Andy said. “I listened to that sucker every night.”
Track five was his favourite, a medley by the Toronto-based 78th Fraser Highlanders, then the top Ontario band as is the Peel Region Police Band these days, completing a circle of sorts for Millman.
“They’re the only Ontario band in that mix and that’s the one I was drawn to right out of the gate.”
Bill Millman’s grandfather, fathers, uncles and brothers were all pipers, socially, not for competitions.
“It was something they did for fun. It was a social event more than anything,” he said. “The chanter was always laying around the house. I’d pick it up and play.”
It wasn’t until Bill, now retired as Owen Sound fire chief, was a young man – married, working and finished with junior hockey – that Millman fully embraced piping and his heritage.
“That whole culture, that whole scene is really about who you are. It’s just you. It’s in you. It’s part of you when you’re around it and exposed to it a lot.”
So he joined the Owen Sound Legion Pipe Band, the first of several, including stints as pipe major for some, including the Penetangore Pipe Band, based in Kincardine. A band would fold up and Millman would move to another, drawn by the culture and competition.
Andy pursued an interest in Scottish and Highland culture throughout school. It led inevitably to piping beside his dad.
“That’s how I got into it. I liked the idea of caring it on,” he said. “I’ve got a huge interest in where I’ve come from.”
Both Millmans first joined the Penetangore Pipe Band in 2002. Bill Millman was pipe major there for seven years and remains affiliated, helping organize Saturday night’s concert to support the band’s activities.
The proceeds will help support the Kincardine-based Pentangore Pipe Band, with members from as far away as Chicago, and around Grey-Bruce including several from Owen Sound.
The roster Saturday also includes the Celtic folk group Chris Catley and his KPC Band, from Kincardine, and Owen Sound-raised Fiddler Linsey Beckett, while the Ann Milne Highland Dancers will dance to music provided by the Penetangore Pipe Band.
Tickets for A Celtic Spring at OSCVI are $25, available in Owen Sound at Fromager Music. Show time is 7 p.m.
Although both Millmans have competed in solo competitions, their focus now is pipe band playing.
“I just love the teamwork when it comes to bands,” Bill Millman said.
After the Owen Sound Legion band, Millman joined a new Port Elgin Legion Pipe Band, formed for competitions and a trip overseas. That was where pipe major Charlie MacDonald, a skilled Grade One piper with long experience, ignited Millman’s interest in the more subtle aspects of band piping.
“He really gave me an appreciation of how much more there is to all of this stuff than just playing the music,” Millman said. “I think that’s when the light bulb came on. It gave me an appreciation of all the components of a good band playing together the right way.”
The relationship made Millman a “way better piper” and gave him much to draw from in the years since as pipe major with several bands.
“All the little things, Charlie could just draw it out of you.”
After Port Elgin, still interested in competition, Millman moved to the new Bruce County Pipe Band, based in Kincardine, then back to Owen Sound Billy Bishop Pipe Band, where he was pipe major. That band reformed as the Owen Sound Police Services Pipe Band under his leadership.
Millman’s pursuit also took him, and by this time Andy, to the Harriston-based Capercaille Pipe Band, then the London-based St. Thomas Police Pipe Band for six years and finally, to Kincardine again, where both joined the fledgling Penetangore Pipe Band in 2002, a year after it formed.
Their shared piping interest has meant much time together for the father and son pipers, and made for a close relationship, they said.
“We’ve certainly spent a lot of time together, and doing something that we both absolutely love,” Andy said.