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Piper’s lasting legacy

Fern & Thistle Pipe Band’s former Pipe Major John Frater. PHOTO/FILE



Well-known Wairarapa musician John Frater will be remembered for his tough love and determination in the 11 years he led the Fern & Thistle Pipe Band.

He died last month in his 87th year.

Mr Frater’s piping career began back in 1939, when at the age of 8 he picked up a practice chanter and taught himself to play.

After three years of part time service with the Army, he was nominated to the role of Pipe Major in his battalion’s pipe band, and then went on to involve himself with work, marriage, and raising a family.

It wasn’t until 1996 that Mr Frater got out the pipes out again, and joined the Wairarapa Fern & Thistle Pipe Band.

Mr Frater was determined to get back playing in a Pipe Band, and let nothing get in the way of that goal, not even chopping the end off his “F” finger with a table saw.

He had told the doctors that he wanted them to save the finger, as he was needed in the band.

They weren’t hopeful, but sure enough, he relearnt to play with that shortened forefinger properly covering the “F” hole on his chanter.

John’s musicianship meant that he was quickly placed in the role of Pipe Major in 1998, just two years after joining the Fern & Thistle Pipe Band.

According to band members, Mr Frater had the “innate ability” of knowing when the band would accept a well-deserved dressing down such as, “That’s was bloody awful, play it again and this time concentrate!”, and when the band needed just a quiet “We can play that better, let’s try that one more time”.

Sometimes, when band members mucked up a tune, he would just give them a sly wink, as if to say, “You know that was bad, I know that was bad, we don’t need to make a scene”.

Throughout his 11 years as Pipe Major from 1998 to 2009, Mr Frater led the band to the National Contest in Napier in 2002, and provincial and local contests at Wanganui, Turakina and Levin along the way.

Along with others, Mr Frater was a “leading light” on the committee that organised the hosting of the 2000 National Pipe Band contest in Masterton.

Stuart McGrigor of the Fern & Thistle Pipe Band said Mr Frater was a brilliant musician – “he could play; he could teach; he could write”.

“The band has a tune he wrote for us, it’s a simple wee untitled tune that’s easy for us to learn on our own, Mr McGrigor said.

“He wanted us to each to play it our way; adding grace notes and emphasis that seemed right to us.

“As is the way of things, we never got round to giving that tune a proper name, and so I’d like to suggest that that wee tune, a wonderful gift from a wonderful man and piper should henceforth be known as John’s Gift.”

Mr Frater was the husband of Edna, and father and father-in-law of Chris Hawker, Jean and Thomas Carn, and Erin and Paul Swanson.

He had 11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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