Paula Porter Glendinning is rapidly becoming one of the best-known pipers in the Eastern United States. She was born in 1955 in E. St. Louis, Illinois to Robert G. Porter and Patricia S. Penn. Her father was a junior high school history teacher, and her parents ran a neighbourhood grocery store. When she was 5, the family moved to Chicago and later to the north Chicago suburb of Highland Park. In 1967, the family moved to Rockville, Maryland, a move that was to have a profound influence on Paula’s future. “Our new house,” Paula explains, “was around the corner from Robert E. Peary High School, which had a pipe band.” Paula learned to play bagpipes in the Peary band and went on to play in the Denny & Dunipace Pipe Band from Washington, DC, where she met her husband, Charles Edward Glendinning. They married in February 1974 and have three grown sons: Andrew, Christopher, and Penn.
Paula graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Maryland in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education. “I have often considered graduate school, and now that our youngest son is in college, I have recently been exploring Masters programs for Reading Specialists and ESOL teachers. I realize that the ‘idea’ of grad school may be more attractive than the reality but I’ve always been drawn to academic life.”
Charlie and Paula have been active members of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC since 1976. They were volunteer youth leaders for about 7 years, and have taught classes for teenagers or young adults off and on during the past 30 years. Two of their sons have participated in summer mission trips to the Dominican Republic with the Foundation for Peace, which was founded by some friends of theirs. “In July of 2003,” says Paula, “I went along with our son, Penn, for a terrific 10 days of construction work at a school and church, and helped with two temporary medical clinics. We hope to go back again soon on another trip with the Foundation for Peace. Everyone in our family enjoys travelling, especially in Scotland, and we spend as much time there as possible each summer when the band is finished with us. Backpacking has been one of our favourite activities, but day hikes with nights in B&Bs are getting to be more and more attractive.”
Paula’s older brother, Steve Porter, joined the pipe band at Peary High School shortly after the family moved to Maryland. “He was the first person in our family that we know of to play the pipes. Steve was in ninth grade, and I was in eighth, and I wanted to go along to all the band parties with the high schoolers, so I joined the band the next year. Our younger brother, Rudy, became a pipe band snare drummer a few years later, and we all played in the Denny & Dunipace Pipe Band in the early 1970s.
“We were very lucky at Peary High School to have the US Air Force Pipe Band stationed nearby in Washington, DC. Several members of the Air Force band volunteered their time with the high school band for our twice-weekly practices, and during one of my high school years we even had a class during the school day for the pipe band. My first two piping instructors at Peary High School were Donald Lindsay and Sandy Jones, and they gave us an excellent foundation in band and solo playing. Listening to the Air Force Pipe Band play was an important part of my early band education.”
During the summers, most of the high school pipers went to two-week or four-week sessions at Invermark, which at that time was held in Donald Lindsay’s A-frame cabins in the mountains in Petersburg, New York. “Donald (see Celtic Heritage, Feb/March and April/May, 1999) taught us to love the music, both light music and Piobaireachd. He often played for us in the evenings or brought other musicians in for informal recitals. He also brought Bob Brown and Bob Nicol over from Scotland for summer sessions, and I was privileged to study with each of them during the early 70s. Their influence on my study of Piobaireachd was profound.
“After the Air Force disbanded the pipe band, Sandy Jones stayed on in Maryland for several years, and volunteered his time as the pipe major of the Denny & Dunipace Pipe Band. At that time, most of the band members were alumni from Peary High School. I was still in high school, and played with both bands in 1970-72, as there were no rules against that at the time. Sandy made a point of educating us about pipe band music by taking us to hear the bands in Ontario, and to compete at Maxville, Ottawa, the CNE, and then eventually in Scotland in 1973”.
For about 17 years, while her children were young, Paula stopped playing in solos, but continued to play in the band throughout that time. In 1993 she decided to get back into solo competition and began studying Piobaireachd again seriously. “I had been listening to tapes of Bob Brown and Bob Nicol since I began playing Piobaireachd in 1970, and I sought out teachers who had learned from them. Donald Lindsay and Jack Taylor have been especially generous with their time and have given me important insight into many of the tunes I’ve worked on.”
In October of 1995, Paula spent two weeks at the College of Piping in Glasgow as a result of winning the US Piping Foundation’s Amateur Championship in 1994. “I will forever be indebted to the USPF for the two weeks of study I received with Pipe Major Angus Macdonald and Angus J. MacLellan. MacLean MacLeod and his committee have provided terrific opportunities for the winners of the USPF for many years, and have influenced the lives of many pipers by their work with the USPF.”
Paula has been teaching at summer sessions at Invermark since 2000. “I have been privileged to teach alongside some truly great teachers there, and to sit in on some of their classes,” she says. “Jack Taylor, Andrew Wright and Donald Lindsay’s Piobaireachd classes and recitals have been especially inspiring, and I’ve learned a lot about teaching young people from Jack Lee and Reid Maxwell. Reid (a drummer) and I have had some interesting discussions about Piobaireachd.”
“I have played with the City of Washington Pipe Band since 1970, when it was called the Denny & Dunipace Pipe Band. For a few years in the 80s, the band was called Scottish & Irish Imports, but after that sponsorship ended, we chose a place name for the band in hopes of keeping the name the same regardless of potential sponsors. We’ve been sponsored by Icelandair since 1996, and carry the Icelandair logo on our bass drum. I learned the majority of my piping fundamentals from playing in pipe bands, first Peary High School and later the Denny & Dunipace/City of Washington Pipe Band. Standing in the band circle with good players year in and year out has made all the difference in my desire to play, my enjoyment of the music, and in my piping abilities.
“Winning the North American Championships in Grade 2 at Maxville back in 1976 as a very young band was a thrill, and then repeating that in 1999 so many years later was an exciting lead-in to the most exciting win we’ve ever had - winning the 1999 Grade 2 World Championships for the band and also for the Drum Corps.
“Playing in Scotland in Grade 1 every year since then has been another level of achievement that we’re very proud of. We qualified for the finals at the World’s in 2001 and 2004. Many people don’t realize how much of an accomplishment it is to keep a good band going outside of Scotland for so many years, and to continually build on the achievements. We constantly hear about bands that rise to fame and then fall apart after a few years. It’s rare for a group of people anywhere to put in the commitment of time and money that it takes to put a Grade 1 or 2 band on the field year after year and the DC area is notorious for being a transitory place.
“I have met many of my lifelong friends in the band, including my husband! Many of us have traveled together for years for solo competitions connected with band trips, and it adds another dimension to the project of working together on band music. I have travelled with friends to Ontario several times to compete at the Gold Medal contest the day before the band competitions in Maxville, and to many EUSPBA contests. We listen to each other play whenever possible, and cheer for each other from the audience.
“Probably the ultimate solo trip with band friends was in August of 2000, when six of us went to Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye for a week before the Oban contests. Peter Kent and I were preparing for the Silver Medal, and Mike Rogers was preparing for his first attempt at the Gold Medal. We were present when the announcement was made that Mike had won the Oban Gold Medal, and it was unforgettable. It was an honour to play in the march to the games the next day, with Mike as the pipe major of the ‘band’ of solo pipers.”
Paula has an impressive list of solo credentials herself, including the following awards received in Grade 1 Amateur: 1st in Piobaireachd and MSR in 1993 and 1st in Piobaireachd and 6/8 Marches in 1995 at the Nicol-Brown Invitational Contest; 1st in Piobaireachd and overall in 1994 and 1st in MSR in 1995 at the US Piping Foundation Amateur Contest. In November 1995, she placed 1st in the London Highland Club Cup for Piobaireachd, and 2nd in the Highland Society of London MSR, which were both Open B level events.
Paula has been an EUSPBA Professional soloist since 1996, and finished 2nd for the season in Piobaireachd in 2004, and 3rd for the season in Piobaireachd in 2005. She competed in the Silver Medal contests in Scotland from 1997 through to 2000, at the GS McLennan Invitational in San Diego in 1997 and the Dan Reid Invitational in San Francisco in 2002. In 2004, she placed 3rd in the Gold Medal contest in Maxville, Ontario and 4th in the Hugh MacMillan Trophy for Open B & C Level Hornpipe and Jig in London, England. In 2005 she also won the Boreraig Trophy for Professional Piobaireachd at the Colonial Highland Gathering in May, and placed 4th in the US Piping Foundation Professional Piobaireachd in June.
“Playing in the Silver Medal contests at Oban and Inverness will forever be in my memory,” says Paula. “I remember hearing about Oban and Inverness in the early 70s and being astonished that women weren’t allowed to play there. I always hoped I’d be able to play at Oban and Inverness someday. Playing at the GS McLennan and the Dan Reid Contests were both tremendous honours. The pipers invited to play at those contests are treated with great respect. Winning in London in a large field of competitors was a thrill I’ll never forget, but my very first important prize was the Nicol-Brown Piobaireachd in 1993. It was especially meaningful to win the chalice named after Bob Brown and Bob Nicol. That also was the first year I had returned to solos, and the trip I won to the BC Indoor because of that prize opened some new doors in my own piping awareness. For many years I’ve hoped to qualify for the USPF Professional Contest, and I was very happy to do that last year by winning the Boreraig Trophy, and then overjoyed to place 4th in the USPF Piobaireachd event among some fine players.”
It hasn’t been all hard work, however. There have been occasions where playing has just been a lot of fun, or not, as the case may be. Paula explains, “Our band was hired to play for Rowdy Roddy Piper in the first Wrestlemania event at Madison Square Gardens in NYC. You can see us on the video, piping Roddy into the ring. The crowd went berserk when we came out. I think it was the loudest sound I have ever heard. It was very difficult to hear our own pipes.”
There were other occasions as well. “During my Piobaireachd performance in the 1997 GS McLennan Invitational, a construction worker started up a jackhammer in an adjacent room of the hotel. It was very loud. Through my drones I could hear something disturbing, and I thought it was a helicopter landing on the roof or something, but I kept playing “Mary’s Praise”, and it wasn’t a bad performance.
“In 1998,” Paula continues, “the second time that I played in the Silver Medal in Oban, a fire alarm went off when I was in the final tuning room. Matt MacIsaac (of Nova Scotia) was almost finished with his tune, and the judges stayed in the hall to listen to his final variation. (Note: Matt won the Silver Medal that day.) The rest of us stood out in the cold until the firemen gave us the ok to go back in the building. For some reason, I lost my concentration during that performance.…
“For the past six years or so, our band has been performing in concert with fiddler Bonnie Rideout. It’s a lot of fun to perform in nice concert halls, and especially fun to play for audiences who may have had little exposure to pipe bands. They are very appreciative, and often tell us after the concerts how surprised they were by the powerful sound of the band, and how emotional they thought our music was. One number that I usually play solo pipes for with Bonnie and her trio, is called "Dunblane." My husband, Charlie, wrote it in the days after the shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, and it’s a beautiful tribute.
“Our band played a concert with Bonnie last year in the brand new, spectacular Strathmore Hall that was built in Rockville, Maryland to be used by the Baltimore Symphony. For two numbers, we brought in young pipers and drummers from local pipe bands who had been taught by members of our band, and it was a thrill for all of us to have them performing with us.
“Going to Scotland every year with the band, and sometimes two or three times with solo trips, has been a wonderful perk that piping has added to my life. We have made some close friends in Scotland, and the scenery in the highlands is so refreshing it’s almost addictive. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed some short stopovers in Iceland on the way home from piping trips. Soaking in the Blue Lagoon in the winter is one of my favourite things ever.
“Last year, two friends and I went on one of our ‘Ultimate Ladies’ Piobaireachd Adventures.’ We found cheap flights on Icelandair and flew to Scotland for the Piobaireachd Society Conference in Bridge of Allan. I was honoured to be asked to play at the dinner during the conference, and was privileged to borrow a beautiful set of pipes that had once belonged to D.R. McLennan. Another highlight of the trip was a 24-hour stopover in Iceland... for another soak in the Blue Lagoon.”
Although Paula has not released a solo album, she has played on two albums with harper Jo Morrison, and has played on several band recordings. “When I was at Peary High School, we actually recorded an album when most of us had only been playing for a couple of years. We had a huge repertoire for a novice pipe band, and recording the album was a great project for us. The City of Washington PB has recorded 3 albums - coincidentally, one with each name change. We recorded vinyl albums as Denny & Dunipace in 1980 and as Scottish & Irish Imports in 1987. Then we recorded a CD called Scottish Rant with Bonnie Rideout in 1999. I loved being in the recording studio each time, but the stress of getting it right for the recording is even worse than the stress of being on the line for a contest.”
Paula was with the City of Washington Pipe Band in 1998 when the band was featured at the Antigonish Highland Games. “We heard some excellent music that weekend,” she says, “and had a great time, but the trip was too short! The band worked hard all weekend, and I really need another trip to Nova Scotia to see more of the beautiful countryside and to hear more music.”
Paula’s involvement in piping extends beyond playing. Charlie and Paula produced the VOICE, the quarterly magazine of the EUSPBA, from 1994-2004, working most of that time in partnership with Mike Rogers. “One of our primary missions in producing the VOICE was to provide articles that would encourage and educate young pipers and drummers. We attempted to bring the important events and issues of the entire piping world to the readers in the EUSPBA. I loved meeting and becoming friends with some of the true gentlemen and gentlewomen of the piping world through working on the magazine. I’ve enjoyed conversations and emails about piping with David Murray, who often brings a totally different approach to the music that I learned from my teachers. I love hearing his stories and trying alternative settings for tunes that I may have already played differently. His enthusiasm and encouragement are priceless.
“I helped Charlie produce his book of music, The Glendinning Collection of Bagpipe Music, working off and on for about 10 or 15 years, and then seriously for about a year until it was published in 2001. I typeset the music and helped prepare the document for printing, and I am the mail house for wholesale and retail orders. The book contains Charlie’s compositions, photos, artwork and stories, as well as compositions from many friends in the piping world. Charlie and our son, Andy, created a beautiful Web site for the book at www.moonstarmusic.com.”
received the Teacher’s Certificate and Senior Certificate from the
Institute of Piping in Scotland in 1995, and is also a member of the
EUSPBA Judges’ Panel for Light Music, Piobaireachd, and band
She also finds time to pass on what she has learned to others. “I’ve been teaching solo piping lessons since I was 15 or 16. My first two students were just a few years younger than I was. They became good players and played with the Denny & Dunipace Band in the 70s. I’ve taught pipers as young as 5, and as old as 70, and have enjoyed learning from my students. My husband Charlie taught Mike Green to play the pipes, and then I was Mike’s second teacher before he went on to become pipe major of the band and to teach us a lot about piping. I currently have several extremely talented young students who are moving quickly through the amateur grades and who make teaching exciting and rewarding.
“In the past few years I’ve gone back to teach at two of the places where I learned the most as a young player - the Invermark summer schools and the high school pipe band. Peary High School closed in 1984, so the pipe band was moved to Rockville High School and I’ve just been teaching the pipers there for about the past three years. Each year, there has been a dedicated group of young pipers who have worked very hard to improve, and we’ve celebrated together after some very good performances when they played better than they thought they could. I love that.
“One of the pipers in the RHS Pipe Band is a young student who I brought with me to the band, named Callum Fraser-Sharp. He is Bob Brown’s great-grandson, and he lives with his mom, Kate Fraser, in Maryland. I was very pleased to meet Bob Brown’s daughter, Fairlie, at the Braemar Games one year. I had just finished playing "Mary’s Praise" in a freezing downpour, and Fairlie told me that she had a grandson in Maryland who might like to play the pipes. It’s been an honour to teach Callum about his great-grandfather, who meant so much to me and to so many pipers around the world.
“I’ve met some tremendous people in the piping world, and there’s a lot of good work going on for young pipers now. I’m very proud of the work of the Nicol-Brown Amateur Invitational committee. I started helping with the contest committee in 1997 or 98. Playing in the Nicol-Brown contest was an important part of my experience as an Amateur piper, and Bob Brown and Bob Nicol were important mentors in the short time that I knew them. I wanted to give something back to the contest and to the memory of Bob Brown and Bob Nicol, so I started helping with the selection of invitations and contacts with judges and donors. The other members of the committee and the competitors and judges each year make it a rewarding project. We do everything we can to make the experience reflect the quality of being in an elite invitational event. The overall winner receives airfare to fly to London to compete in November of the following year. The piper in 2nd place overall receives a scholarship for room, board, and tuition to a week at Invermark the following summer, which is about a $600 prize. The priority for each of these prizes is to break the isolation that can occur in piping - to build relationships among pipers in different parts of the world, and to educate amateur pipers on what is happening throughout the world of piping.
“I’ve had a small part in helping with the Gilchrist Challenge at the Delco Workshop, now held in Baltimore in February each year. The Gilchrist Challenge is a Piobaireachd contest for pipers under 22. The finalists all play two tunes, and the winner receives airfare to play in the MacGregor Contest in Oban in August, also for pipers under 22. That trip has been an important one for many young pipers coming up in the Eastern US. I love seeing young pipers being given the opportunities to learn more about piping and entering the larger world of piping.”
Paula responded to a question about advice to young players this way. “Listen to good piping LIVE whenever you can, and find a good teacher - by tape and telephone if necessary. Come and listen to the Nicol-Brown contest and the USPF contest, and come to Invermark this summer! You might try to attend the session on Skye if there’s any way you can swing it!” She adds with a smile, “And buy some back issues of the VOICE, and a copy of The Glendinning Collection of Bagpipe Music.” Good advice. I have my well-thumbed copy of Charlie’s book on my piping table.