The Oban Times, 26 June, 1915
The Bagpipe and Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness
27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, 21 June, 1915
Sir,–In your last issue, I observed a review of “The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness,” in which the following passages appear:–
The author is not inclined to give much credit to the Bagpipe in its influence on Gaelic song. “Piobaireachd” he says, “is the only Bagpipe music which, I think, derives its Style from genuine Gaelic music. The special themes of the Harp were the “Failte, or Salute, and the Cumha or Lament. These are the special themes of Piobaireachd likewise, and the terms used for the variations of Piobaireachd are most of them Harp terms also. These two facts go far to justify my opinion that the style of Piobaireachd was derived from Harp music.
With your permission, I would like to ask this author, or the gentleman who speaks so, some questions.
Why does he bring the bagpipe into the matter of Gaelic song at all? The bagpipe has got nothing whatever to do with Gaelic song, and Gaelic song has no connection, nor has any relation, to the bagpipe.
This author also says that the special themes of the harp were the “Failte” and “Cumha,” and that these are the special themes of piobaireachd also. Further, he says that the terms used for the variations of piobaireachd are harp terms, and that in his opinion piobaireachd was derived from harp music.
These statements are, in my opinion, made in such a manner as to lessen the value of the Great Highland Bagpipe and its music, classical and of the lighter type.
Let me give the following analogy:–Because the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe has a theme, as has the music of the harp, that is not to say that the theme of piobaireachd was taken from the theme of the harp. All tunes in classical music, of whatever kind or for whatever instrument, have themes, but that will not prove or determine the fact that the theme for one instrument was or is taken from the theme of the other.
Let me say with clear and determined decision that the theme in piobaireachd stands alone as classical music. It is the peculiar inheritance of a peculiar Celtic people, and borrowed from no other class of music, or from no other musical instrument.
That the variations in piobaireachd are the same as the variations in harp music is a statement made by a man who, however great his knowledge may be of the soft music of the clumsy but timid harp, is completely ignorant of the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe, whose fame has spread over the four quarters of the globe. Moreover, the intricate passages and movements in piobaireachd occurring in theme and variations cannot be produced on the harp, which is to them “the parting of the ways,” or the means of dividing the one from the other.
Britannia, from her chivalry to the humblest Highlander, could never afford to look on a greater instrument than the Great Highland Bagpipe in the most remote ages, far less at the present critical moment; much less can she afford to compare her most powerful military inspirator with a meagre instrument like the disused harp. Therefore it will be well for people who are ignorant of our much beloved instrument to leave it alone rather than make an attempt to diminish its power and value.
It behooves us to speak highly and well of our Great Highland Bagpipe and its music, for with them the Highland minstrel has played many a gallant hero to victory. Our common enemy has admitted that “when they heard the bagpipe it was a sure sign of utter ruin.” The inspiring notes of Highland bagpipe music are original to the instrument–not a mere theme borrowed from another class the theme of a lower order, like “a crow dressed in peacock’s feathers.”
Our people as a nation, and military men of the highest rank, cannot over-estimate the value of the Great Highland Bagpipe and its music, and on that account I will permit no one to degrade them. Before this war is over, with God’s help, we look forward to seeing our Highland pipers play our gallant soldiers into Berlin.–I am, etc.,