The Oban Times, July 13 1912
The Secrets of Canntaireachd
42 Elmfield Avenue, Aberdeen, 3 July, 1912
Sir,–your numerous correspondents in this controversy fail to find me in fault, to prove their point, or carry on their correspondence under proper lines. Therefore they would attempt, but in vain, to say that I am carrying this matter on for the mere sake of controversy.
Mr. John McLennan slipped over the critical points of my last letter unanswered. Mr. MacLennan says I did not point out to him piobaireachd in Gaelic books giving singling and doubling in the same syllables. He also says he did not expect I would. Well then, why did he ask me? I made no reference to piobaireachd in Gaelic books. Gaelic is a language–not be notation. Mr. MacLennan will find, if he retraces his steps to the fifth part of the new and handsome book issued the other day by the Piobaireachd Society, at page 6 of “The Battle of Auldearn,” that the first bar of the crunluath and its doubling are the same notes exactly, and in syllabic notation they would be exactly the same.
The four model words which Mr. MacLennan produces in his letter, he says, are to be found in the book written by Joseph MacDonald and published by his brother, Patrick MacDonald, in 1803. This is only one man, if he did use such words. Are these words to be found in Donald MacDonald’s book of piobaireachd, in Angus Mackay’s, in MacPhee’s, in Bett’s, in Ross’s, in David Glen’s, in the Piobaireachd Society’s book, or even amongst the tunes in Mr. MacLennan’s own book “The Piobaireachd as MacCrimmon Played It?” Are the authors of the books or works already quoted to be blotted out for this one man, Joseph MacDonald, and, what is more surprising, he (Mr. MacLennan) himself is included in the victims? Why did Mr. MacLennan not use these words in the titles of variations in his own book
Crunluath, toarluath, and urlar are to be found, says Mr. MacLennan, in Angus Mackay’s book, the Piobaireachd Society’s and in my book. From Mr. MacLennan’s ideas of those three books, I suppose they are of very little importance compared to that of “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It.” He tries to make out that Angus Mackay’s book is all wrong, and of no importance. Has Mr. MacLennan produced a work with a shadow of its magnificence? The Piobaireachd Society’s book, year after year, Mr. MacLennan tried to tear to pieces, but in vain. Has he produced a better work than the Piobaireachd Society has done, or has he done one thousandth part for the furtherance of piobaireachd than the Piobaireachd Society has done? As to “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd,” this cloud of criticism has not quite burst on it yet. Has he published any of his original compositions in piobaireachd?
Mr. MacLennan says my knowledge of piobaireachd can be easily measured, but he forgets that his own wisdom in the art, as well as in the integrity of the great Highland bagpipe, from which piobaireachd owes its origin and existence, is much more easily measured than mine. I am a continual reader of “The Oban Times,” and has been now for about a score of years. I never miss it, nor a word in it on piping, piobaireachd, or bagpipes. I can recall Mr. MacLennan’s previous defeats in your correspondence columns.
Dr. K. N. MacDonald seems to be fighting against MacLeod of Gesto’s shadow. Captain MacLeod of Gesto may have been the best piper that ever tuned a pipe, or had the most accurate ear that ever sat on the side of a man’s face, but he knew absolutely nothing whatever about the sol-fa notation of the great MacCrimmons. When any of the four of your correspondents tells me why Gesto gave seven syllables in the crunluath mach instead of five, and why his singling and doubling in tune No. 18 entirely disagree, and if they can prove that this method of notation is in keeping with piobaireachd proper, then I will give in and raise Gesto to the mountain top of perfection. Up till now this has not been done.
Dr. MacDonald says that the pibrochs were not right noted (now he adds in staff notation). Can Dr. MacDonald produced to me any piobaireachd in staff notation not right noted? Dr. Bannatyne, etc., etc., say that when the ignorant (in his estimation only) cannot get the canntaireachd settings to agree with the staff notation, they throw the matter up, and blame Gesto for being wrong. What does Dr. Bannatyne do? He lays the sol-fa alongside the staff notation, and where they differ he carefully covers his own ignorance by saying that the canntaireachd setting is the best. When he cannot make out the mysteries, he writes down anything and says it is better than what is correct and what he is sure of.
Dr. MacDonald still has a slap at the sides of his “glass house.” He says if he had not been more shy that John Grant, his pibroch (piobaireachd), which he has composed, would have been heard on the mountain-tops. Let me tell Dr. MacDonald that the mountain-tops have heard of his tune now with a vengeance, but heard of it only; apparently eyes nor mountain-tops have never seen it. My compositions lie in reality in the hands of Highlanders far and near. In the case of “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” the piping world has been re-awakened and some narrow-minded men to jealousy. In the case of Dr. MacDonald tune, which he has composed, the piping world is still asleep, dreaming of a pibroch that has never been seen nor heard.
Dr. MacDonald is satisfied that Gesto’s book is the real MacCrimmon notation. He may be satisfied, that there is such a thing as a man being satisfied with his own lack of knowledge.
The learned Doctor says that “the rest of the literary world cannot be kept standing to please the detractors of the canntaireachd in Gesto’s work.” I never attempted to bring the literary world to a standstill, but any of your correspondents, four in number, can allow the literary world to travel at lightning speed; so long as they are carried on the course they are now on their traveling will all be in vain when they do stop.
What I have written in “The Oban Times” will be read over and over again, and if any intelligent pipers study this correspondence and the Gesto but the canntaireachd they will find out for themselves who is right and who are wrong. I am, etc.,