The Oban Times, 23 October, 1920
13 October, 1920
Sir,–Every Highlander who loves his music will congratulate Mr. Johnston upon his straightforward letter on this subject in your widely-circulated paper, of 4th September, in which he says:–
I know the peculiar symmetry and great charm of the old piobaireachd, which has now changed so immensely that it has lost its ability.
Mr. Johnston has, I believe, heard the original style being played by his old uncle, who was well acquainted with MacCrimmons.
For many years now the Pibroch has been played more as a comparatively meaningless jargon of notes than anything else, void of form or melody, and much more so since the Piobaireachd Society came into existence. The main object of the society is to be applauded, but their methods can only be described as autocratic, military, dictatorial in asking a working man to learn no less than six Pibrochs per annum. They publish books in a somewhat defective form, and from these the piper has to play, let [sic] the tunes be ever so distasteful to him and full of errors, if he is to compete.
The Society places time signatures at the beginning of their tunes, but the piper is prohibited from playing according to these signatures or any other. Lately a judge is reported to have said, “I would pay no attention to any competitor who would keep time to his piobaireachd,” or words to that effect.
All judges should know that without time there is no accent, that without accent there is no rhythm, and that without rhythm there is no melody. The piper may have a far better setting of the tune, but he dare not play it, and his own natural abilities are curbed; he must simply play note for note was put before him; he is simply a tracer or a copyist, and is not allowed to become an artiste. It is, however, within the power of the Society to make or mar the piper–make him a champion or a nothing.
It is for you, free-born pipers who formed the martial history of your country, to submit what tunes you choose and submit them in the form you think best; but it must always remain with the Society to see that the tunes are in proper form and to admit or reject them at pleasure.–I am, etc.,
Ian MacLennan, Lieut.