Donna 'the piper' MacCulloch was born into a small crofting community called Knockfarrel
just north of Inverness in the highlands of Scotland.
By the age of two and a half years Donna's natural ability to play music by ear was
very apparent. Her first instrument was a 15 keyed electric organ delivered on Christmas
"You'd think we had given her the world" said her mum.
Donna took to the stage as a highland dancer before her third birthday and won her
first trophy age three and a week. Following in the footsteps of her mother Jean
she continued to compete and entertain thousands of people at competitions, cabarets,
charity events, old folk’s homes and highland games, earning up to £1000 a season
in prize money. Her devoted mum drove her thousands of miles around Scotland as
far south as Musselburgh, where she qualified as a champion dancer and won North
of Scotland Champion on the same day age 16 and as far north as Thurso and Durness
on a weekly basis right through into her early twenties. Donna qualified to teach
dancing later that same year receiving a Diploma with Honors from the British Association
of Teachers of Dancing.
Having found a couple of ancient chanters belonging to her great grandfather Donna
had taught herself to play by the time she went to Maryburgh Primary School age 5,
where in her first week of attendance she gleefully herded lots of her class mates
inside at lunchtime to sing happy birthday to her pal whilst she played the xylophone
- earning her a photo in the local paper. She was enraged to discover that she
was not allowed lessons until primary four and spent the next three years glued to
the steps of the piping cabin soaking in everything she heard.
Upon receiving lessons at the age of 8 and after correcting herself taught fingering
she excelled rapidly and moved onto the pipes age 11. Having a huge bank of tunes
in her head from her early years as a dancer Donna was soon performing as a dancer
and piper - sometimes even at the same time - watching someone playing the pipes
whilst dancing over a real claymore is a sight to behold.
In her early years of high school she attended the Sabhal Mor Ostaig piping week
for three years being lucky enough to receive tuition from the likes of Pipe Major
Evan McRae and many other great pipers. Being immersed for a week and learning alongside
some of the country’s best known musicians inspired her insurmountably.
Being a member of a pipe band was never an option for Donna as her commitments to
being a highland dancer took precedence - however she did enjoy going along to the
Royal British Legion Pipe Band practice nights reveling in the tuition of the pipe
band members, especially Sandy ' the piper' Mackenzie, Brahan who as well as being
a great friend, also served in the Seaforth Highlanders alongside her grandfather
David MacCulloch. Sandy declared Donna to have 'magical fingers' and the two of
them, along with her father Norrie, who is passionate about piping, gave her endless
support and encouragement.
By the age of 21 work commitments had cut Donna's dancing days down to a minimum
and she drifted away from the traditional scene for a few years preferring the likes
of AC/DC and White Snake. At this time she met one of her very dearest friends Mandy
Darling. Being slightly older Mandy had just found her way into Scottish music and
tried in vain to get Donna to accompany her to gigs. Donna being of an extremely
stubborn disposition refused point blank (although she was still playing chanter,
whistle, keyboards and very bad guitar at home) until the day Mandy said “I’m taking
you to the Isle of Eigg."
When Donna walked into the marquee in June 1997 to find 15 musicians lined up on
stage playing for all they were worth at breakneck speed her chin hit the floor (she
was always told off for playing too fast as a child) and her fiery passion for the
pipes was re-ignited instantly. Upon leaving Eigg’s old piper Angus MacKinnon told
her not to come back to the island without her pipes and she drove home on a mission.
By the next night the pipes were refurbished with a gortex bag and new reeds and
she made the decision to move to Eigg after spending just 24 hours on the island.
Donna has lived on Eigg for over twelve years now and has written many tunes for
many occasions such as HRH Princess Anne coming to visit. The tune she wrote 'The
Isle of Eigg's Welcome to the Princess Royal' impressed her royal highness so much
that she personally asked Donna to send it to her - a great honor indeed.
Donna, accompanied by her ever faithful singing terrier Pibroch pipes as many boats
in and out of the Eigg harbour as she can over the summer months relying on donations
from passengers to earn her living. She also runs Scottish Traditional Ceilidh Dancing
Workshops, catering to all ages and abilities, which make joining in at ceilidhs
with the locals a much less daunting prospect for visitors. She has a natural ability
to teach anyone a song, a tune or a dance putting adults and children alike at ease
and giving them the confidence to take part and experience the highland traditions
first hand. The most memorable week of workshops being 'The MacCarthy's ' wedding
when Donna spent the week with groups of up to 30 guests at a time being terrorised
by midges whilst putting them through their paces learning eight ceilidh dances.
It was a great success and a lovely tune marks the occasion.
Donna has just put the finishing touches to her first tune book and is hoping to
record her first album in the very near future. In January next year work will start
on her Log Cabin Home and Studio where she hopes to spend her days composing, teaching,
supporting and inspiring - the local children - who are all keen ceilidh dancers
and love their traditional music - and making the Eigg experience richer and more
memorable for visitors and friends who return to the island year after year being
welcomed and bid farewell by Donna’s pipe tunes floating across the water.