Connie Blaney of Maxville has passed away at the age of 83.
Connie was instrumental in developing the Glengarry Highland Games into the largest highland gathering in the world in terms of competitors, events, and attendance.
Connie was also an accomplished bagpiper with numerous solo prizes to her name. She was a founding member of the Glengarry Pipe Band in 1961 and a prolific teacher, with hundreds of students benefiting from her tuition.
In April 2004, the PPBSO Ottawa Branch featured Connie in its series on individuals that have made significant contributions to the piping and drumming community. We invite readers to revisit Connie’s contributions to our community with the following piece from the Branch archives.
The PPBSO Ottawa Branch extends its heartfelt condolences to Connie’s family and friends at this difficult time.
Connie (Kippen) Blaney was born in Ottawa but is best known for spending most of her life in Maxville, along with her two sisters and a brother. She grew up in a very musical family; her brother a drummer, one sister a dancer, her mother a singer and her father a piper. So it was not unexpected that Connie would be an accomplished musician herself, with piping coming quite naturally.
Connie’s father, Gordon, took lessons as a young man from Peter MacInnis and Angus “Katie” MacDonald. Connie then began to learn the pipes from her father during the early 1940s. She was a “volunteer” when learning to pipe and never had to be coaxed to practice. In addition to the tutelage from her father, Connie also took lessons from Steve MacKinnon (right), Pipe Major of the CNR Pipe Band in Montreal. Those two gentlemen had by far the greatest influence on Connie’s piping career.
Connie first learned her tunes by ear and within a short time had some twenty-five pieces memorized. In the late 1940s P/M Steve MacKinnon began traveling to Maxville on weekends to give lessons by note to aspiring young pipers, including Connie. Some fifty students started the classes, but over time most withdrew until only three remained; Connie, Herbert Ferguson and Beverly Campbell. When there were only the three, P/M MacKinnon would stay at one of the students’ homes and all would gather there for lessons for the weekend; “… no wonder we learned to pipe!”. MacKinnon taught in Maxville and in Alexandria for five years. Both Connie and Beverly went on to compete, with Connie concentrating mainly on light music (although she did play some piobaireachd in her time).
The first Glengarry Highland Games were held in 1948 when Connie, at age fifteen, took first prize in the under-eighteen competition. She continued to compete at Maxville in the under-eighteen competitions for the next few years and then ventured into the over-eighteen grades. As well as being successful at Maxville, she was also a very successful competitor at games in Montreal, Fergus, Embro, Syracuse and Schenectady, winning many trophies (she remembers one of her co-competitors being Bob Allen, the current president of the PPBSO). It was during this period of her career that she was acknowledged and recognized as being one of the best lady pipers in North America. It was also about this same time that Connie affectionately became known as “Glengarry’s Sweetheart”.
Following her years in competition, Connie played primarily for dancing competitions. That, she confesses, was rather a trying job as it would quite often be the same tune over and over again, and more often than not be all afternoon out in the hot sun.
During the summer of 1954, the Clan MacLeod undertook to organize and provide piping and drumming lessons for aspiring pipers and drummers. By December, twenty-two applications for piping lessons and ten for drumming had been received. P/M Steve MacKinnon was engaged to teach classes in Alexandria and Connie to teach in Maxville. This was the start of Connie’s role in tutoring piping where the skills she had learned as a school teacher would stand her in good stead. She continued to teach piping for the next twelve years in Maxville and in Alexandria, with hundreds of local students benefiting from her knowledge and experience.
Connie was not only an accomplished soloist, but also a very capable band player. She was a founding member of the Glengarry Pipe Band in 1961 and served as Pipe Major from 1965 to 1968. Connie also served as a director of the band in 1974 and 1975. In 1964, a girls’ pipe band competition was inaugurated at the Glengarry Games with Glengarry’s own Girls Pipe Band under Pipe Major Connie Kippen Blaney taking first place.
Although she wasn’t a member of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders Connie was also a frequent guest player with that band, much to their delight.
Connie was involved with the Glengarry Highland Games from their beginning in 1948; first as a competitor, as a member of the Glengarry Pipe Band, an accompanist for dance competitions, and then later with the administration of the Games. Her first administrative position was with the Band Committee.
In 1981 Connie became the Secretary for the Games Committee and she remained in that position for fifteen years. In 1988-89 she served as a Vice-President and 1991 she became the President. Being responsible for twenty-four committees was challenge enough, but Connie also continued to remain as her own Secretary. Connie holds the “unofficial” record of participating in every Glengarry Highland Games since the first.
During her tenure as President, Connie worked closely with the PPBSO to ensure that piping/drumming and band events were run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. In her first year as President, 1991, it was probably appropriate that General John de Chastelain, then Chief of the Defence Staff, and an accomplished piper in his own right, opened the Glengarry Highland Games.
Connie Kippen married Walter Blaney in 1955. Connie was still an active competitor when the young couple moved to the Blaney farm immediately south of Maxville (the Blaney family has operated the farm since 1908). Despite the requirements of managing a household, helping to run a farm and raise a family, Connie still found time to practice, teach, compete and play with the Glengarry Pipe Band.
Walter and Connie have two sons, both accomplished pipers, who have also played with the Glengarry Pipe Band. Their sons went on to competitive progammes involving extensive experience on the national and international scene. Both are married, one to a piper and the other to a tenor drummer.
Few, if any, have equaled Connie Kippen Blaney’s contributions to the piping scene in Glengarry. But even though now retired, Connie will, on a warm summer’s evening still take her place on the porch and play her electronic pipe – to keep in practice just in case…..!
In 2003, Connie (Kippen) Blaney, Glengarry’s Sweetheart, was inducted into the Glengarry Hall of Fame in recognition of her contributions to piping and the Glengarry Highland Games.