Photo Courtesy of the College of Piping - Glasgow
Robert Urquhart Brown was born and brought up at Blackhall, near Banchory, in the parish of Strachan, where his father was head keeper for 50 years. Whilst his father was not a piper, his three uncles were.
His first tutor was one W. Fraser, a Corporal Piper in the Gordon Highlanders and a pupil of G. S. McLennan. Subsequently, Robert Brown was taught successively by his uncle Bob Brown, J. Ewen (a gold medalist and pupil of Sandy Cameron), Pat Ewing and G. S. Allan.
In January, 1928, Robert Brown went to the famous John MacDonald MBE, of Inverness, and from then till MacDonald's death in 1953 Robert Brown was taught exclusively by John MacDonald. The other Queen's Piper at Balmoral Castle during this time was Pipe Major Bob Nicol, and both men were taught together, practiced together and worked together on Balmoral Estate.
Pipe Major Brown went to Balmoral in 1926 as a fisherman and gamekeeper, but left for three years when he married. In 1932 he returned to Balmoral and remained there as gamekeeper till his retirement. Both Robert Brown and Bob Nicol were engaged at Balmoral principally as pipers, as the late King George VI loved the pipes. Both men remained pipers to the Royal Family through the years.
His only regret was that his employment prevented him competing in the entire rounds of the Highlanders Games circuit. He nevertheless won all the leading piping competitions, including Inverness, Oban, Uist, Aboyne, Braemar, Glasgow and London. Robert Brown won the London Open Cup 11 times in all, 9 times in succession. One of his greatest moments was winning the gold medal at Inverness in 1928 whilst playing his uncle's pipes, which were given to him. As he said, "The gold medal was very nice but the pipes were even better." He performed on the same instrument for the rest of his life.
Robert Brown has been recognised as an outstanding performer and teacher of piping, and was one of Scotland's leading authorities on Piobaireachd. His pupils include a number of the leading pipers in Scotland today. In one year his pupils won ALL first prizes at the Inverness Northern meeting.
He was unique as a teacher as he taught Piobaireachd by "Canntaireachd" singing, which he regarded as the only way of conveying the essential lights and shades of the tunes as he was taught them. Most present day teachers do not use this method, but teach from the manuscript. They do acknowledge the worth of his method, but do not have the necessary training and experience in Canntaireachd to use this method in their teaching.
Robert Brown retired from his post as gamekeeper on Balmoral Estate in October, 1970, some months before he was due to do so. The Queen allowed him to do this to enable him to travel to South Africa for piping recitals and instruction. He remained the 'Queens Piper" at her request even after his retirement. Immediately following his journey to South Africa, requests flowed in to Robert Brown from many countries for instruction and judging, etc., and during 1971 Bob visited New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada. His worth as a teacher has been well recognised throughout the piping world.