OT: 27 September 1924 – H.S. Strafford “Oban Pipe Band at Cowal Gathering”

The Oban Times, 27 September, 1924

Oban Pipe Band At Cowal Gathering

Rosegarth, Dunoon, 22nd September, 1924

Sir,–In view of the interest in the performance of Oban Band at Cowal Gathering, doubtless a few more particulars relative thereto will be of use to those most concerned. At the outset I would say that the Band’s performance was most meritorious. It must be remembered that Oban was up against the finest pipe bands in the world, some of whom have striven for premier honours for a dozen years, and as in the case of Milhall have at least been rewarded.

A closer scrutiny on the judges’ sheets reveals the fact that as against the five bands ahead of Oban in the confined contests (Oban was 6th), Oban lost 3 ½ points in “Execution.” But for this defect Oban band would have been in the prize list. The same weakness is shown in the open contest, the band securing 28 points out of a possible 45. In other respects the results show a fair average.

The same remarks apply to Inverary, but to a greater degree. It should be noted, with regard to the other County band, the 8th A. & S.H., Their points were advanced from 77 last year to 81 at the last Gathering. This improvement is doubtless owing to the opportunity provided for combined practice a few days previous to the Games. If similar conditions prevail next year the prospects of the Argylls securing the Argyll Shield comes well within the range of probability.

May I state now that owing to the kindness of Colonel Walter Scott of New York, trophies will be put up next year for side-drumming and bass drumming. As drumming is acquiring more importance, this may lead to an increase in the number of points allocated to same. –I am, etc.,

H. S. Strafford,
Hon. Secy., Cowal Gathering

OT: 20 September 1924 George MacKay “The Prince’s Salute”

The Oban Times, 20 September, 1924

The Prince’s Salute

65 Harrison Road, Edinburgh, 15th September, 1924

Sir,–Kindly allow me a final word on the above subject in reply to your correspondent “Crunluath,” who is mistaken in thinking that the appending notes in certain parts of this tune have anything to do with the main notes of the piece. They have no connection whatever with the four main notes of the melody. This is proved conclusively by their absence from the “Doubling” sections of the same variations. Take the first phrase of the Taorluath “Singling” where there are three G notes instead of two. The two correct ones are the first and last. It is the third one which is recognised by the “Doubling” section and not the second as is generally supposed. The same applies of course to the second phrase, where the superfluous note in the “Singling” is an A. It is not, as “Crunluath” seems to think, a question of cutting out any essentials, but only an endeavour to restore the parts to the original beauty and simplicity of the composer by an appeal to reason and common sense.

Your correspondent admits the irregularity of the part referred to, but makes the extraordinary suggestion that this may be a feature of the music, and quotes Dr. Johnson in support of this fallacy, which surely he meant as a joke. Dr. Johnson, of all men, as an authority on Piobaireachd is to “Gilbertian” for words. To define Piobaireachd as an irregular form of music is an aspersion on the profound genius of the men who made them, and the definition is as false as it is insulting. Piobaireachd is the music of poetry pure and simple, regular and lyrical poetry, and the lines of the one are the phrases of the other.

Your correspondent goes on to ask why we should assume that there is anything wrong in piobaireachd considering the careful manner in which it was and still is taught. That being so, will he please tell us how he accounts for the extraordinary divergence in style between the various publications of this tune, none of which agree as to the correct phrasing of the “Ground,” and are flatly contradictory in regard to the first two variations, the one method of playing them being precisely the reverse of the other. A perusal of the tune in all the publications shows quite clearly that the compilers had very hazy notions of the melody; they are very misleading, and the song of the thing is conspicuous by its absence.  This is all the more inexplicable as the air was very popular at one time in the Highlands, especially in the Mackay country, where it was sung to the words of “Iseabal Nic Aoidh.” As children, we were quite familiar with it. Robert MacKay (Rob Donn), the bard was a contemporary of John MacIntyre, composer of the Piobaireachd, and they may have met frequently, as Rob Donn’s occupation took him regularly on foot to the South. It is more than probable therefore that he would get the tune at first hand.—I am, etc.,

George MacKay

OT: 13 September 1924 – Crunluath “The Prince’s Salute”

The Oban Times, 13 September, 1924

The Prince’s Salute

Johannesburg, 19th August, 1924

Sir,-In his letter of 10th July Mr. MacKay says I inadvertently misquoted him and that he does not contend that the tune is wrong, but that it has lost much of its attractiveness. I am sorry if I have misquoted, but if I have done so I think the use of the term “grave error” in the original letter is sufficient excuse.

As to the whole tune being out of gear, my view is that the symmetry of the tune depends on each part being in keeping with the others, and that if one part is wrong then the whole is out of gear. I only mention this as Mr. MacKay seems to make a point of calling the parts he wishes to alter being out of gear.

Now as to the suggested alteration, from the lines given I see that Mr. MacKay’s idea is to cut out what I consider to be main notes of the melody, although he said nothing of this in his original letter, in order to keep each part of equal time value and at the same time preserve the cadences. It seems to me that the Taorluath follows the ground faithfully that to cut out these notes mars the melody. Certainly as published the bars with cadences are greater time value than the others, but is this not a peculiarity of Piobaireachd? After all it is not so very long since the ‘45, and considering the careful way in which Piobaireachd has been, and still is, taught, why should we assume that those through whom it has come down to us have not passed it on exactly as they themselves received it. The great Dr. Johnson must have heard Piobaireachd during his tour and in his dictionary defined it as “irregular music.”

I was under the impression that Mr. MacKay had made a discovery in the way of some ancient manuscript when he referred to the change in the tunes since the’45, but from his letter of 10th July I gather that the transposition of the notes is his own idea and is what he considers the correct way of getting over what seems to him in error. I quite agree that all this should be thoroughly ventilated in your columns and am looking forward to what others may have to say on the subject. –I am, etc.,


OT: 3 May 1924 – Dugald “Gaelic Song and Music”

The Oban Times, 3 May, 1924

Gaelic Song and Music

26th April, 1924

Sir,–I read with interest Mr. MacPharlain’s letter in your issue of the 19th inst., and also the two letters in to-day’s issue. Mister MacPharlain wrote, “All our varieties of song and music need to be kept in evidence to prevent us from wandering into one group like the lowlanders of Scotland, whose song has great variety of theme and an unparalleled excellence in the presentation of its themes; but whose music is almost of one class.”

Now, this threatening danger to-day and we should be watchful lest Gaelic song with its variety of theme should become a song of one class. Some of our Orain Mhora are old, but whether old or modern they should be a distinct class and sung in the traditional way as distinct from the lyric, puirt-a-beul, etc.

The Comunn, I believe, are doing their best, but it is not so easy to get judges competent both in orain mhor and lyrics. The Gaelic lyrics are more or less in the same class as Lowland songs, which, as a rule, have a distinct Celtic flavour, but to be a competent judge in Orain mhor, I should say, would require a native Gaelic speaker combined, of course, with the necessary musical ability. Gaelic is so intertwined with its music that in this particular class one would need to be a master of the original words and understand the theme to which the air is set.

Orain Mhor in Gaelic song might probably be classed somewhat as piobaireachd in pipe music, and it is difficult for the average Celt to understand how one unversed in MacCrimmon’s language can play the music of MacCrimmon’s soul as it ought to be played, even with the musical score before him. A certain latitude ought, in my opinion, to be given to singers in this class who if they truly understand the theme should not be too critically dealt with if they do not exactly follow in every detail the cold musical score as it is written.

The subject is not an easy one, and for those of us who wish to keep Gaelic song running pure in its natural channel let us beware of the school of modernity, which through blissful ignorance of Gaelic is shaping, though it may be quite unconsciously, all our Gaelic songs into one class. –I am, etc.,


OT: 26 April, 1924 – Ceo Minn [Gaelic Song and Music]

The Oban Times, 26 April 1924

[Gaelic Song and Music]

Glasgow, 21 April, 1924

Sir,–If the remarks of Captain Campbell, yr. of Succoth, at the annual social of the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association, and the critical observations of “Calum MacPharlain” in last week’s “Oban Times,” are properly considered and acted upon by the teachers of Gaelic song music, they will have rendered a service to the branch of Gaelic “nationalism” which, for more than thirty years has been deprived of its natural atmosphere. The influence of Gaelic song was intended by the bards to be wielded by the magic of the words. The air, I should say, was merely a secondary item, simply the casket in which the words were to be enshrined to safeguard their passage to the generations.

Within recent years, the teaching of Gaelic songs and music has been in the hands of people who know music well but who do not know Gaelic, and whose ears therefore never catch the cacophonous jarring caused by displaced quantities when words and their value are submerged in favour of a certain expression in music.

In this connection I shall only mention one song out of many which have become mere monstrosities when divorced from the traditional style of singing–I refer to “Bràigh Rusgaidh,” whose most expressive and heart-melting words are lost in the singing.
In the line, “Mar is minic a bha mi” the words “a bha mi” are rendered so short that the poetic expression is entirely lost. The word “bhà” cannot bear to be shortened anywhere, and especially in this case, where it assonates with “là” in the following line.

These little oddities, which are foreign to Gaelic, and to the very nature of Gaelic poetry, should be jettisoned, and more attention should be paid to the soul which the bards have put into their songs with all their natural imagery and affinity of expression, and in all that there is music.

–I am, etc.,

Ceo Minn
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