The Oban Times, 21 June, 1930
Taorluadh and Crunluadh Movements in Piobaireachd
London, 16 June, 1930
Sir,–Referring to Mr. Somerled MacDonalds letter in your issue of 14th inst., one might ask him if nothing to elucidate the question of the middle A can be learnt from Canntaireachd?
One unquestionable point learned from the vocables, whether MacCrimmon or Nether Lorn, is the fact that the Taorluadh beat has three syllables, meaning that three syllables must be distinctly heard to the chanter. The question is: What notes form the basis of the syllables in the beat to A? (1) The initial note, whatever it is; (2) either low A or low G, and (3) low A. Now, in order of their work, the three authorities, Joseph MacDonald, Donald MacDonald and Angus MacKay all gives us the three syllables and the middle one as A, the exception being the beat on D in the case of Joseph MacDonald and Angus MacKay, but in this beat also the three syllables are clearly given. Why, therefore, should Mr. MacDonald suggest that the actual cutting itself consists of but one syllable (or “crack,” or “rattle”), and, if the A is introduced, of two syllables? (Unless I have misread him, for he may mean one or two syllables apart from the initial note). Are we in these days too proud or too pigheaded to learn what Canntaireachd can teach?
Given three syllables, the question of “strikes” and “cuts” is not really a difficult one. Between the initial note and the middle A must be the “strike” G, “cut” into halves (the full grip), played as Joseph MacDonald says, with the utmost swiftness. It is the attempt to play the full beat in one or two syllables that is responsible for the muddle often heard to-day, all caused by trying to play the beat too quickly. Some attempt three syllables by making the last G of the grip one of them. This naturally leads on to the final A. This, of course, is the cause of the omission of the middle A clearly shown by the three authorities referred to. That Angus MacKay writes the D beat with its middle syllable B proves nothing more than his difficulty (also experienced by Joseph MacDonald) in writing his scale consistently. Donald MacDonald’s method is more consistent and brings in the A as the middle syllable. If we act as “Kintail” suggests and turn Angus MacKay’s B into a grace-note, we should require to put in the A melody note to complete the three syllables as Donald MacDonald does. MacKay’s scale is 8 to 1 in favour of A, and to suggest that 1 is right and 8 wrong is not too fair to MacKay, backed up as he is by the other two authorities.
Mr. MacDonald seems to suggest that there is a vital difference between the closed and mach beats. Is there? I do not see, for they are the same, one “open” and the other “closed,” and each three syllables. Besides, what of a beat on E in a mach variation? Has a beat on B three syllables and a beat on E one (or two)?
Good players should be able to play the full grip to the middle A swiftly (and not heavily) and thus give the beat its three clear syllables without detracting too much from the emphasis on the initial note. Beats to low G should, and do, if well played, sound just as the beats to A should, with three clear syllables, the “crack” on the middle low G being there.
Without the middle A melody note the group of so-called grace-notes as written by the late Mr. MacLennan and the Piobaireachd Society, is absolutely impossible, and one can only express surprise that such a Society should perpetuate the muddle, especially as they publish Canntaireachd vocables with three syllables.–I am, etc.,