Sitting on his Cloverdale patio, lifelong piper Jack Lee apologizes for the wood and building supplies strewn about.
“It’s my one week,” he laughed. “I’m travelling all over the world for lessons, competitions. It’s my one week home to do some renovations.
“I have a wife and a life,” he added with a smile.
Lee returned home this week from a trip to Scotland that saw him win the final of seven international solo piping contests, meaning he’s now won them all.
“The world of bagpiping is very competitive, and very hierarchical – if that’s even a word,” Lee explained.
“The way it works in solo piping is there are competitions all over the world and you have to win your way up to different levels. And so very fortunately for me, I won my way into the very top group back in 1981. So I’ve been competing at what is called the premier grade, which is in Scotland, since 1981. In that, there is a circuit of competitions but there are seven majors.”
This year, Lee won the Masters Invitational in Glasgow, and the Silver Star in Oban, a village on the west coast of Scotland.
Lee said though he’s won several of those seven competitions a number of times, he’d never won the Silver Star.
“It felt good,” he said of winning the final of the seven. “I’ve had a very long career, I’m the oldest person in the competition now. When I qualified in 1981, I can clearly remember being the youngest person in the competition and 35 years later I’m still doing it. Mostly, it felt good to play and still enjoy playing and have the passion for playing. I’ve never been a person that’s driven by winning, I’m truly not that person. I’m really driven by playing well and challenging myself and pushing it as far as I can push it myself.”
Lee’s introduction to the world of piping began the day he was born into a large piping family. He recalls holding onto a chanter in the sandbox at just two years old.
“I can never remember a time in my life when I didn’t hear the bagpipe,” he recalled. “When I got going I got more and more enthused about it. Here I am, 59 years old, and am still am very passionate about the bagpipes. I’m a full-time, self-employed piper for 20 years and I travel a lot, all around the world.”
Since those childhood days, he went on to found the SFU Pipe Band with his brother Terry more than three decades ago, a team which has won six world championships. Lee also teaches students privately and in workshops across the globe.
So, the obvious question is, once a man wins every contest he’s set out to, what’s left to do? Well, for Lee, it means continuing on the same path, competing and teaching.
He’s passionate about SFU’s juvenile Robert Malcolm Memorial Pipe Band, which currently has about 100 children, ages 17 and younger.
“It’s very diverse, it’s very exciting, girls, boys, every ethnic background you can think of, quite a number of different religions. We think it’s absolutely fantastic.”
Next up for Lee is a return to the Glenfiddich Championships, which he’s won twice, first in 2003 and then again in 2012.
“I’ve never lost the love for the music and the passion to play it well,” he said. “Growing up, I remember hearing the expression it takes seven years to make a piper. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I consider myself to be a lifetime student…. So how long does it take to learn the bagpipe?
“I’m still on that journey. I couldn’t tell you.”