The Oban Times, 20 November, 1915
The Bagpipe Chanter Scale
27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, 15 November, 1915
Sir,–Your correspondent Mr. Donald MacRae would fain “pat on the back” and compel me to give way to a majority whether for good or evil results. Sir! no man will influence me to uphold an unjust attitude. My motto is “Stand Fast, Craigellachie,” and I still prefer to stand, were it alone, as that “Dreadnought” which has shattered the hopes of more than one. I prefer to run the risk of an honourable defeat (which is to all appearance impossible) rather than except the companionship of those who attempt to destroy our national music.
Mr. MacRae says that nothing I can say or do will dispose of the fact that the G’s of the chanter are natural. May I ask where the facts are to prove that the G’s on the chanter are natural? Proof is the material which establishes facts. Therefore I demand that proved.
Your correspondent says there is no transposing necessary to play the scales of C m and D m on the chanter. Then, where, as I have already asked, are we to get the C and the D octave on the chanter?
Mr. MacRae asks me on what authority I base my statement that the MacCrimmons had only one scale or key on their chanter. My answer is plain and simple. Before I make a statement I make sure of an answer and a foundation to my assertion. The MacCrimmons played on a chanter which produced the same notes as mine does (hair splitting excepted). The fathers of piobaireachd never saw that “Cha till MacCrumein,” “Mal Dhonn,” and “A’ Bhiodag bhoidheach” were compositions on different keys. Mr. MacRae being so particular about getting proof for my statements, perhaps he will give me proof for his. Let any sensible piper or intelligent musicians examine the following statement and his conclusion will be disastrous for Mr. MacRae as a piper. He says “he has no doubt that, by adjusting the bridles of the reeds he contained his drones to the key of C m, G m, and D m.” The result of this statement is a certain proof of ignorance of the pipes or reeds. Sir! I say this is absolutely impossible. Were he to lower his bridles to get a pitch as high as D the reeds would be silent as the stillness of midnight, and if he were to raise them so as to tune to low G there would be no musical tone, but a harsh, discordant and disagreeable noise, besides being impossible in attaining his desire purpose.
Mr. MacRae says “The fact that the drones are tuned to A does not prove that the scale of the chanter is A (major). May I ask what then does it prove?
I would ask your thousands of readers to mark this remark. “Mr. MacRae tunes his drones to A, following the custom of most pipers.” This is the limit. One would think from such a confession that Mr. MacRae followed the suit of other pipers for charity or to fulfill a whimsical fancy. I say this is not so. He cannot get away from tuning his drones (tenor) in unison with low A.
Further he says “But that is not the only method of tuning them.” When you have told us so many “strange things” Mr. MacRae, we will be delighted if you will admit us in “the know” and tell us the secrets of the “other methods.”
Where the key signatures of C, D, A, and G are given in Donald MacDonald’s book it is for the guidance of pianists, etc., not pipers. The bagpipe chanter has a fixed scale.
In conclusion I would advise your correspondent in friendly terms to work out his ideas mathematically and see how they look from a critical standpoint. He does not do this, hence the result is inevitable. His misfortune paves my road to success.
My message to Mr. Sinclair is Bravo! my patriotic comrade. Your words will ring in your opponents’ ears while bears are already forgotten. I am, etc.,