Bonding over bagpipes
July 2022 Good News
Grant Laporte and Duncan Watson have had a remarkable, decades-long friendship that started because of their love of the bagpipes. When they met in 1980, Duncan was an aircraft mechanic, playing with the Delta Police Pipe Band, and Grant was a learner of the pipes. They were asked to play at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual series of musical performances hosted in Edinburgh Castle in the capital of Scotland. It was during this trip while bunking together that their friendship began to flourish.
Once back home, Duncan encouraged Grant to join the Delta band, as they were more welcoming to adult learners. After continuous pestering, Grant agreed to join. The two of them began arranging and organizing band invitations and travelling to their out-of-town performances.
It was while playing the Hawaiian Highland Games together that Duncan met his wife-to-be, Maire. Eighteen months later, Grant was honoured when he was asked to be the best man at their wedding. Maire is now Duncan's "love, best friend, chief advocate, support person, conscience, and sergeant major." The couple became a team, determined to face any challenge life may present together.
In their 30's, Grant and Duncan both decided to embark on professional development courses to improve their careers, leaning on each other for motivation. During one of their phone calls, Duncan admitted he needed some encouragement to attend band practice, and suggested they schedule weekly check-in calls. It would not be the last time they would lean on each other for support.
In the 2000's, Duncan and Maire moved to Australia, and despite the vast geographical distance separating them, Duncan and Grant's friendship remained strong as ever. When Duncan returned home to Vancouver Island, he told Grant he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD). Memories of his own grandfather's experience with PD filled Grant's mind immediately, and he recalled his grandfather's progression through the illness. At first, he was fearful for his friend, but the fear quickly turned to resentment that Duncan should have to face such a difficult challenge.
Throughout his journey with Parkinson's, Duncan has candidly shared the impact PD has on his ability to play the bagpipes. Besides the visible tremors that are most commonly associated with the disease, he faces an internal, less perceptible challenge – anxiety. The symptoms interfered so much with his playing that he regretfully declined when asked to perform at a family member's celebration of life. However, Grant had a gift for his friend. He had Duncan's father's old bagpipes restored, which had been found covered in mildew due to being kept in a basement for many years. When he received the pipes, Duncan began to play again and ultimately, decided to play at the celebration of life.
On April 30, the friends arrived at the hall where the event would take place. While tuning their pipes, Grant could tell Duncan was nervous, but the anxiety melted away once they began to play together, despite Duncan not having played in 20 years. After the performance, Duncan said he was considering joining the small Qualicum Beach band, which he now attends regularly. Grant wonders if perhaps he is practicing to play at Maire's nephew's upcoming wedding.
When Grant sent Duncan a story detailing their experiences together as both friends and bandmates, Duncan replied, "Grant, you are such a special friend. Your story came through at the right time, as I was struggling with PD, as some days it is all-encompassing. But your story made me not feel alone with this disease and reinforces that I have friends who matter."