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The former Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto Yuletide Lad, Ladle Licker, AKA Kaj Sullivan, has exchanged his Icelandic wooly wear and sausage for a Scottish kilt and sporran.

After many years of playing saxophone and flute in Toronto’s Humberside Collegiate band and orchestra, as well as playing flute in Queens University‘s marching band, Kaj requested a practice chanter for Christmas in 2009.

Kaj Sullivan and his mother, Brenda Bjarnason

A practice chanter is similar to a recorder in looks, but sounds more like an East Indian pungi, more commonly called a snake charmer’s flute. The Scottish practice chanter is what all aspiring bagpipers start on prior to graduating to the pipes. All pipers continue to practice on the chanter when perfecting or learning a song.

In March 2010, Kaj got his first bagpipes and after hundreds of hours of practice, Kaj started competing in 2011. He travelled all around Ontario last summer, competing at eight Highland Games, placing 1st or 2nd at most of them.

Pipers must compete at a minimum of six Highland Games in order to qualify for Champion Supreme. Whoever merits the highest number of points (points awarded are based on placement, i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) wins the title. After playing the bagpipes for only a year and a half, Kaj was honoured at the PPBSO (Pipers’ and Pipe Band Society of Ontario) annual Highland Gala. Kaj Sullivan is the PPBSO Novice Champion Supreme in both novice categories – March and Piobaireachd.

Kaj continues to play in the Queen’s Pipe Band and will be travelling with them to perform in the Calgary Stampede parade in July 2012. He also plays with Kingston’s Rob Roy Pipe Band and studies privately with Ross Brown. Last May, Kaj had the honour of piping Winston Churchill’s great-grandson, Randolph Churchill, to the podium to speak at the annual Winston Churchill dinner at the Albany Club in Toronto. Kaj also played bagpipes at a wedding in December 2011, at an autumn 2011 ribbon cutting in Kingston presided over by The Honorable James Flaherty, Canada’s Minister of Finance, and at the ceremony commemorating John A. McDonald’s birthday in 2010.

When Kaj first started playing the bagpipes, he asked his mother, Brenda Bjarnason, if she was certain that he didn’t have any Scottish ancestry. He was disappointed when she first replied, “No.”  However, Brenda later recalled their family‘s visit to the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík. There was a display with a plaque outlining recent DNA analysis of Icelanders during the age of settlement (874 to 930 A.D.). During that period, 60% of Iceland’s female population was of Celtic ancestry from Ireland and Scotland. So, Kaj, each of us with Icelandic heritage can claim having a wee dram of Scottish heritage as well.

Kaj is studying Geology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Courtesy the ICCT newsletter, Fálkinn, used with permission from ICCT

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