By Scott Williams

Peter Purvis Image1Peter Purvis grew up in the small village of Merrickville, located in the Ottawa Valley - an area famous for its fiddle players, step dancing and maple syrup. “Many of my family members played the piano,” says Peter. “My uncle attended the Royal Conservatory of Music in London for his piano playing. He was an Air Force officer in World War II and was held in a prisoner camp. During that time, he had said that music literally saved his life. The Nazis allowed him to live so that they would have music during their dinners. I also have three cousins who play pipes, one of which is a great piper named Jarrod Purvis, who has been playing with the 78th Frasers (Toronto) for many years.  I first got started (on pipes) when a family friend began giving me private lessons at home. Then, I joined the local legion pipe band when I was about twelve years old.

Peter later started playing the Uilleann pipes and Irish whistle at the age of 16. Growing up, he had great opportunities to play with some of Canada's finest pipe bands and receive lessons from some of the best-known pipers in the world. Living in Ontario, there was no shortage of world-class piping tuition.  He received lessons from pipers such as Ken Eller, Bob Worrall, Michael Grey, Rob Crabtree and the late Lindsay Kirkwood.

“I received lessons from these five men every year for about five years. The great thing about having so many great players teaching you is that you take and learn something different from each of them.  It allows you to pick and chose what you enjoy about each player's attributes and try to mimic them the best you can.” 

  Overall, Ken Eller probably had the biggest impact on Peter’s development as a piper. “Ken was a very patient teacher and always made me feel like I was making progress. He was my teacher throughout University; he lived about five km from where I lived. During those four years, he never even asked for anything in return. He is a great person and phenomenal teacher.  Rob Crabtree excels at teaching proper execution. I still think he has some of the best hands out there today. Bob Worrall and Michael Grey taught me that being musical was just as important as good execution and tone - something many pipers forget. Lindsay Kirkwood made me practice hard so as a kid; I was little scared of him. He would let you know exactly how good or BAD you were playing. He never sugarcoated anything.  He would always have you going back over exercises again and again, and again, and said, ‘exercises are the foundation of everything you do.’ That kinda stuck with me.” These lessons from elite pipers at a very young age helped to mould Peter into the player he is today. 

Today, the 27-year-old piper has an accomplished solo career.  Peter has won several senior amateur championship supreme events in North America as well as gold medals in both light music and Piobaireachd at the North American Championships. His solo career took him to Grade 1 before he took a leave from competitions to play with the international-touring band, Gaelic Storm. During his time with Gaelic Storm, he has played with both the Midlothian Pipe Band and the Toronto Police Band.   Unfortunately, Peter is away from home nearly 250 days a year and almost every weekend during the summer, making it difficult to attend practices or Highland games. Thus, for the time being, he has put his involvement in the bagpipe competition world on hold.

“I was in my last year of school for a business degree at Brock University when I got a call from Tom Brown, another great piper from the Ottawa area. He was the audio engineer for the band and he asked me if I would be interested in playing with the (Gaelic Storm) band. Being from Canada, I had never heard of them, so I thought, "Sure, why not for a semester?"  When I got to the U.S., I soon realized that they were a very popular band.  We were playing in front of over 20,000 people sometimes. That semester turned into five years now and I hope to never have to become an accountant when I can play the pipes for a living.”

Since 2004, Peter has been playing with Gaelic Storm full-time, performing on the Highland Pipes, Uilleann Pipes, Small Pipes, Red Pipes and the High and Low Whistle with the band in venues with renowned artists such as Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan, Collective Soul, Better Than Ezra, Sister Hazel, Great Big Sea, Lyle Lovett, Elvis Costello, Bela Fleck, Hanson, and The Chieftains, among others. “Most of Gaelic Storm's tour is based in the U.S. We will play in Canada for the first time at the Lyndsay Highland games this year (June 27th) near Toronto. I can't wait. It will be the first time I have got to play in Canada with the band.”

Peter reported that there are just too many interesting anecdotes, trips and performances to name one or two outstanding examples, but he gave it a try. “Being on the road with Gaelic Storm is surely the chance of a lifetime. Everything from our singer fighting Russell Crow to skydiving could happen on any given day. You see more things, are offered more opportunities, and meet more people, famous and not, than you could ever imagine. Playing with Great Big Sea is always fun. We do a cruise every year with them and the Barenaked Ladies. We always get together with those ‘Newfies’ and have a good time. Playing with the Chieftains was an amazing experience since I grew up listening to them. I performed with them at the National Arts Center in Ottawa, which was also nice since it was so close to home and I am used to playing hundreds or thousands of miles from home.  

Peter has been featured on numerous albums that have toped the Billboard World Music charts. Gaelic Storm's last album called “What’s the Rumpus?” debuted at number one on the World Music World Billboard charts last year. His music can even be heard on the popular video game, “The Sims.” His musical career has taken him all over Scotland, England, Ireland, and even as far as Sydney, Australia to play at the 2000 Olympics.

Peter's latest solo project, "A New Tradition," showcases the Highland pipes, Small pipes, Uilleann pipes and the Irish Whistle mixed with the contemporary sounds of the guitar, piano and drums to create a very unique, energetic and modern sounding album.  “I have a studio in my house in Ottawa where I do all my own work.  I played everything on the CD except the guitar; I played the Highland pipes, Uilleann pipes, whistle, piano and Bodhran on the album.  My friend Ben Mullin did all the guitar.

“Its pretty impressive what you can do at a home studio these days.  I would start off by recording the pipes to click track. Once I was happy with the pipes, I would put down some chords to go with them on the piano and send that to my friend Ben’s studio, where he would put the guitar track down.  Then, I added in some harmonies and extra instrumentation, finishing off with some drum loops for added percussion. Then, of course, you have to mix that and master it.” 

The album has been receiving great reviews.  Ken Eller, (see June/July ’95 issue of Celtic Heritage), owner and operator of the on-line bagpipe site, The Captain’s Corner , had this to say: “The Corner just received perhaps the best Celtic CD of the year to date... and it has come from one of the younger, yet most experienced pipers from the Ottawa Valley area of Ontario, Peter Purvis. As is often the case, an artist is better known outside his homeland and such is the case for Pete. He has been the piper and whistle player in the famed travelling group Gaelic Storm since 2004. Many of you recall that Gaelic Storm starred in the movie Titanic a few years ago. The Corner is especially proud of Pete's Ontario roots. It was only a few years ago, as a fledgling piper from Merrickville, ON, that Pete attended the summer schools we had at Queen's University in Kingston. Later, he attended Brock University in my hometown, where he had the opportunity to come to the house for the occasional lesson. History aside, this CD is fabulous! 10 tracks - all arranged or composed by Pete, with him playing a multitude of instruments from Highland Pipes, Uilleann Pipes, Small Pipes, whistles and piano. You must hear it!

And from The Scottish Lion: "this album is exciting and beautiful. It fuses both rock and traditional music in a way that seems perfectly natural ..... a true master of his art."

Peter’s Discography includes: Live in Chicago, by Gaelic Storm (2005); Highland Spirit by Peter Purvis (2006); Bring Yer Wellies, by Gaelic Storm (2006); Beautiful Fault, by Green Tea (2007); Sims 2 Castaway, by EA Games (2007); What’s the Rumpus? by Gaelic Storm (2008); Voices of a Grateful Nation, by Various Artists (2008); and A New Tradition by Peter Purvis (2009).

When he’s not on tour, Peter resides in both Chicago and Ottawa, where he spends his time teaching bagpipes, playing in sessions and doing studio work.  You can find out more information about him at the following Web sites: