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Viet-phi Vo

It took bagpiping prodigy Viet-phi Vo just four months—instead of the usual three years—to become good enough to play in the Robert Malcolm Memorial Pipe Band, Level 4.

Filipino-Vietnamese Canadian a born bagpiper

January 21, 2010

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He’s Filipino by birth, half Vietnamese by heritage and Canadian by citizenship, but there’s nothing remotely Scottish about Viet-phi Vo.

So it’s surprising he would even be interested in the bagpipes—let alone be the fastest-learning piper they’ve seen at the Robert Malcolm Memorial (RMM) Pipe Band.

The RMM band is the "farm team" of the six-time and current world champion Simon Fraser University Pipe Band. Both will be playing at SFU’s annual Robbie Burns Day dinner and silent auction Jan. 22.

"He’s a real prodigy," says RMM instructor Rob MacNeil, himself an accomplished SFU band piper.

"Normally, it takes up to three years for piping students to move from the Beginner 1 class to Beginner 2, Beginner Pipes and then the Robert Malcolm Level 4 band. Viet Vo did the whole thing in four months."

The Burnaby Mountain Secondary Grade 12 student has been playing bass trombone for six years, most recently with the school band and as a sea cadet member of the B.C. Regional Cadet Honour Band.

And it was at an honour-band function in Nanaimo last spring that he was first introduced to the pipes by the three bagpipers he roomed with.

"They were practicing a lot and I thought, hey, that’s pretty cool. Why don’t I try doing that?"

But Vo didn’t just try the pipes. An avid model maker, he actually built his own set using instructions from the Internet. He’s currently making a set of bellows-blown Highland smallpipes and a set of concert or low whistles—all from PVC tubing.

Vo’s piping prowess is an inspiration to his younger brother Phi-viet, who is a drummer in the band, and a source of pride to his parents Phi-viet Sr. and mother Edel Vo, who is pursuing an MEd. at SFU.

As for his lack of Scottish genes, Vo laughs, but he admits his friends find his fascination with pipes amusing. "They say ‘how did that happen?’ It is kind of random."

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