“Diggers Requiem” performance in Amiens, France

When John Grant penned his piobaireachd “Lament for the Pipers Who Fell In the War” on 28 December 1918, he published it in his anthology to “The Pipes of War” he co-authored with Bruce Seaton.  How honoured he would be to know that now this Lament is being heard by thousands.  The tune was discovered by Australian composer Christopher Latham in his search for music for “The Diggers’ Requiem,” a work he was commissioned to create by the  Australian War Memorial (AWM) and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA). “The Diggers’ Requiem”–a collaborative effort–was composed by Elena Kats-Chernin, Richard Mills, Migel Westlake, Graeme Koehne and Ross Edwards.  It tells the story of eleven significant Western Front battles involving Australian military forces, one movement for each battle.  The premiere performance was on 23 April 2018 in Amiens, France, using the combined forces of the Orchestre de Picardie and Germany’s Jena Philharmonic along with Australian soloists.  The choice of Amiens for the premiere is significant. “Our central message is that because of the Allied counterattack to retake Villers-Bretonneux on Anzac Day eve in 1918, the German artillery was denied the high plateau from which it would have flattened the strategic railway yards at Amiens nearby. This act saved Amiens cathedral, France’s tallest and most precious Gothic masterwork, from almost certain destruction,” Latham relates.  The Grant piobaireachd is utilized in the penultimate movement entitled “Lux Aeterna,” composed by Ross Edwards.  A lone piper (Jordan Aiken) entones the Urlar of the Lament, and the orchestra, chorus and soloist enter with the “Lux Aeterna” text.  As layer upon layer are added, 68,000 bells peal–one for each Australian soldier lost in the war.  As the music dies away, a soprano soloist sings in French, English, and German, “We, the dead, speak to you, the living–make peace.”   The remaining performance of “The Digger’s Requiem” is being staged 6 October 2018 at 7:30 p.m. local time in Llewellyn Hall in Canberra, Australia.  It will be broadcast on ABC FM and a CD will be forthcoming.  For more, see http://theflowersofwar.org/.

Hear “Lux Aeterna” 


OT: 16 March 1901 – [unsigned] – “The Highland Bagpipe” [advertisement]

The Oban Times, 16 March, 1901

The Highland Bagpipe

Glasgow has so long been recognised as a centre of Highland thought and enterprise that it is not surprising to learn that shortly we shall see published in our midst one of the most notable books given in recent years to the Highlands. This is “The Highland Bagpipe: its history, literature and Music,” by Mr. Wm. Laird Manson, a well-known city journalist, and an authority on all that pertains to the piob mhor. Curiously enough, while other Highland institutions have as a rule been copiously written of, to the Highland bagpipe only detached references have been made, and the aim of the writer has been in the present instance to do justice to this acknowledged neglect. With this end in view the traditions, superstitions, and anecdotes relating to the instrument and its tunes will be included. The story will be traced all down through the centuries; the peculiar music and even more peculiar literature of the pipe will be discussed; several chapters will tell of the close association between the pipe and Scottish regiments, and of the many deeds of heroism that have been enacted by military players; several, of the more peaceful race, who as a clan or burgh pipers took a leading part in social life; and several, of the superstitions and folklore that are woven round the instrument. The book, which will contain a large number of other interesting articles dealing more or less directly with the bagpipe, will naturally appeal specially to enthusiasts in Highland affairs, but as it is almost entirely untechnical, and is pervaded with the atmosphere of Scottish life and character, may be consulted not only for authoritative data, but also for that lighter national literature that interests Scotsmen everywhere. The price, it is satisfactory to record, has been fixed at an exceedingly moderate figure.

OT: 16 March 1901 – Keith N. MacDonald – “Puirt-a-Beul ‘Mouth Tunes’ or ‘Songs for Dancing'” [Mus]

The Oban Times, 16 March, 1901


“Mouth-tunes,” or “Songs for Dancing.”

By Dr. Keith N. MacDonald


Besides the ordinary reel and strathspey music, the old Highlanders had several ancient character dances in the form of comic or dramatic dances. About a dozen are still known in some places, though not always danced at the present day, and several others have no doubt become extinct. The writer has seen “Dannsadh na Gòraig,” danced many years ago. It was danced by a woman who held the skirt of her gown with both hands, the arms being stretched above the head, so as to hide the face and the head, and the dance consisted of a circular jig around the room which might or might not be accompanied by the “port-a-beul,” ending with a sudden rush out of the room. Long before the days of country dances and waltzes, etc, the Highlanders had an extensive programme of dances, as will be seen from the following list, sufficiently copious for any public function:–

1. The ordinary reel and strathspey.
2. Dannsadh Claidheimh, or sword dance.
3. Dannsadh na Biodaig, or dirk dance.
4. Seann Triubhas, or trews dance.
5. Cailleach an Dùrdain, dramatic character dance.
6. An Dubh-Luidneach, comic dance.
7. Dannsadh na Gòraig, the foolish woman’s dance.
8. Dannsadh nam boe, the dance of the bucks.
9. Figh an Gun, weave the gown.*
10. Croit an Droigheann, the thorny croft.
11. Dannsadh na tunnaig, the duck’s dance.
12. Dannsadh bhriosgaidh, something like the duck’s dance.
13. Cath nan coileach, the cock fighting.
14. Ruidhleadh nan coileach-dubha, the blackcock dance.

All these would have been danced to the “puirt-a-beul,” The tune of Gille Calum dates back as far as the middle of the 11th century and is supposed to have been composed to Malcolm Ceannmore’s tax-gatherer. It was during the reign of the big-headed monarch that the “bodle,” or two pennies Scots, equal in value to a third of our halfpenny, was added to the coinage, and was called in Gaelic “bonn-a-sia,” or coin of six, being the 6th part of a shilling Scots, which seemed contemptible in the eyes of the Highlanders. It is also probable that the tune “Gille Calum dà pheighinn” (Gille Calum Two Pennies) may have been composed in irony to the tax collector or the King himself, for having removed the court from Dunstaffnage Castle to Dunfermline. The writer has never seen the dirk-dance, but he believes it was distinct from the sword dance. The “Seann-triubhas” is well known. “Cailleach an Dùrdain” was a dramatic character dance in which a man and woman took part. During the performance the woman falls and pretends that she has been killed by the man, but he brings her to life again, by breathing upon her and touching her.† “An Dubh-Luidneach” is described in the “Celtic Monthly” as a grotesque dance, performed by one person. “Dannsadh nam boe,” the bucks’ dance, was performed by three men, who “reeled fantastically about like goats.” “Dannsadh na tunnaig,” and “Ruidhleadh nan coileach-dubha,” and “Cath nan coileach” resembled the gyrations of these birds. “Croit an Droigheann” has probably died out. We have met with no one who has seen it danced.
* We have heard this one named “Faigh an gunna–get the gun.
† See Alexander Carmichael’s “Carmina Gadelica,” 1900; the “Celtic Monthly” for February, 1901; and Alex. Campbell’s “Grampians Desolate.”










OT: 9 March 1901 – Keith N. MacDonald – “Puirt-a-Beul ‘Mouth Tunes’ or ‘Songs for Dancing'” [Mus]

The Oban Times, 9 March, 1901


“Mouth-tunes,” or “Songs for Dancing.”

By Dr. Keith N. MacDonald

There is a 3rd version in the “Gesto Collection”

Uamh an Oir – meaning unknown–does not mean of gold. It might be the East, with the sound of ‘O’ gradually lengthened–An Oir–changed to An Òir.

A piper and a party of 12 men entered the cave at Harloish, near Roag, intending to explore it to the other end, which opened at Monkstadt on Loch Snizort; but having been met and destroyed by an Uile-bheisd, or monster, they never were seen again. The last despairing words of the piper were heard by a person who was sitting at Tober Tulach in the neighbourhood, who listened to his lamentations coming up from the depth of the well, and thus learned the fate that had befallen him and his associates. (MacLeod country version of the legend.)

The entrance to the cave of Uamh ‘n Oir is near Monkstadt. Long ago, a piper and 12 men went in, intending to find the outlet – wherever it might be – and some evil having befallen them, they never reappeared; and the last words of the piper were heard (when he could no longer play) by some people who were at the holy well of Leanacro, coming up through the water. (Trotternish version).

“Tobar Tulach” was reputed to be the best well in Skye for restoring health, and for refreshment. The well of Leanacro is on a hill-top, and was believed to possess many purifying properties for the mind as well as the body. The word Oir would naturally be sung to a long mournful sound, and thus acquire a new pronunciation, which led to its being mistaken for òr – gold.



OT: 9 March 1901 – [unsigned] “The Championship Competition”

The Oban Times, 9 March 1901

The Championship Competition.

Large Gathering.

The grand annual concert in championship competition in bagpipe playing and Highland dancing, arranged by Mr. Edward MacPherson, brought out a large number of pipers in dancers of the first letter and rank on Monday evening, March 4th. The audience completely filled the large hall of the Waterloo Rooms. Bailie J. King occupied the chair, and on the platform with him were Messrs. Peter grant, Clan grant; W. P. Ferguson, T. H. Watt, Neil Campbell Colquhoun, Clan Colquhoun; Wm. Long, Alex. Johnson, Milwaukee, Wis., U.S.A.; James Grant, Glenurquhart; Donald Nicholson, J. S. Clark, Lenzie; Archd. Ross, A. MacLachlan, Dr. Graham Young, Hugh Stewart, A. MacSween, John MacDougall, J. W. MacKenzie, Samuel Nicholson, Alex. MacPherson, Allan MacPherson, P. Stevenson, A. Morrison, John MacKey, Wm. Hendry, Dr. Angus McPhee and party, Donald MacLean, Captain Cameron, Partick; John MacKenzie, and Robert Henderson, Central Africa; John Shaw, J. M. Skinner, solicitor; and representatives from Inverness-shire, Islay, Lewis and Harris, Oban and Lorn, Skye, Sutherlandshire, and other associations. All the competitions, without exception, attracted a large number of entrants, and appearing on the platform were the names of the foremost exponents of each class–pipers who are seldom spoken of without the prefix “champion” adorning their names.

The monotony–if the word is allowable–of a long night of pipe music was fitly broken by a varied and pleasing concert programme, which was duly appreciated. The Bellsfield Pipe Band played appropriate selections while the audience assembled, and by the stirring strains of their music put each an[d] all in excellent humour. Shortly after the advertised hour, proceedings commenced, and Bailie King made a few remarks. He was glad to see such a large turnout, as it indicated that the hall would be crowded later on. He did not wonder why Highlanders should keep up their enthusiasm for bagpipe music and Highland dancing, and did not think anything in this country could more readily portray their feelings than bagpipe playing in dancing. (Applause.) He was sure if they stayed on until the end they would hear good pipe playing and witness inimitable dancing. (Applause.) Last week he was in London at one of the Highland gatherings there, and he was sure it would have rejoiced their hearts to see how Highlanders stuck to each other when they were from home, and this was further emphasized in a letter which he had recently received from South Africa, in which the writer had shown how the Highlanders there were doing everything possible to help their fellow-Highlanders fighting their country’s battles. (Applause.) He trusted that they would find that these competition meetings were not only raising the taste and appreciation for Highland music, but that the players themselves were becoming more efficient, and that the dancing was all, and even more than, that which they had been accustomed to in previous years. (Applause.) The competitions were then commence.

The following was the prize-list:–

Amateur Dancing.

Highland Fling–1, Geo. MacKenzie, Glasgow; 2, Annie Sheriff, do; 3, Donald Gordon, Perthshire, special, Florrie Berrie, Hamilton. Highland Fling (Girls under 13)–1, Netta Robertson, Partick; 2, Lizzie Fraser, Glasgow; 3, Maggie Bannister. Sword Dance–1, Annie Sheriff, Glasgow; 2, Geo. MacKenzie, do; 3, Lizzie Fraser, do. Reel–1, Geo. MacKenzie, Glasgow; 2, Annie Sheriff, 3, K. MacDonald Stewart.

Open Dancing.

Highland Fling– , Chas/ MacEwan, Fintry; 2, John Mackenzie, Aberdeen; 3, John Macneill; Edinburgh. Sword Dance–1, John Macneil; 2, John Mckenzie; 3, Chas. MacEwan. Reel of Tulloch–: John Mackenzie; 2, Chas. MacEwanl 3, John MacNeil.

Amateur Bagpipe Playing.

Marches– 1, R. Taylor, Govan; 2, J. MacPhail, do.; 3, A MacKenzie Hamilton. Strathspeys and Reels 1, R. Taylor, Govan, 2, J. MacKenzie, Glasgow; 3, J. Cullen, Hamilton.

Open Bagpipe Playing.

Piobaireachd–Only open to the holders of the London Highland Society’s Gold Medal. Prizes presented by Sir James Colquhoun–1, John MacColl, Oban; 2, John MacPherson, Badenoch; 3, John MacKenzie, Glasgow; 4. Norman MacPherson, Badenoch. Marches–1, John MacColl; 2, John MacPherson: 3, John MacKenzie; 4, Kenneth MacDonald. Strathspeys and Reels–1, John MacPherson; 2, John MacColl; 3, John MacKenzie; 4, Norman MacPherson.
Messrs. Hugh MacLeod, Lachlan MacPherson, and Pipe-Major Mathieson were the judges of the piping, and Messrs Wm. MacLennan, E.E. Henderson, and George Robertson, of the dancing.

Probably the greatest interest centred in the piobaireachd competitions, owing to the fact that the renowned player, John MacColl, Oban, and two sons of the veteran Malcolm MacPherson, of Badenoch, (Cluny’s late piper), were among the competitors. The playing in this competition has seldom, if ever, been equaled in Glasgow, MacColl Alternately coming out the winner with a beautiful rending of “Clan Chattan.” Before the prizes were distributed, Mr. MacColl, by special request, played the “Colquhoun March” as a complement to Sir James Colquhoun, Bart. of Luss, who was the chief donor in the prize list

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