OT: 16 April 1910 – John Campbell of Kilberry

The Oban Times Saturday, 16 April, 1910

Killberry, Argyllshire

5 April, 1910

Sir,–I desire to offer a few comments on the excellent letter of “Padruig Og” in your issue of 26th March.

In all that he says regarding the publications of the Piobaireachd Society I concur, but he is wrong about the genesis of the Society.

He writes that “A.M.’s” articles were the cause of the society being started. The first series of those articles appeared in”The Oban Times” in August and September, 1903, whereas the Piobaireachd Society was founded by me in the end of 1902. I was then home on leave from India, and had, in the first place, securing the support of the two best amateur piobaireachd players I know, who were then both serving in that country. Fortified by this, I approached a few more good amateur pipers if the Argyllshire Gathering of 1902, and then issued a circular-letter to perhaps a dozen of that class. The result was that the Piobaireachd Society came into being.

I had to return to India in the winter of 1902, and so had nothing to do with the management of the Society after it was launched. It is true (as “Padruig Og” says) that the first Committee did, against the wish of a few of the originators of the idea, “appeal to the uninitiated public,” and I can say with perfect truth that I was alarmed for the future of the movement when I heard of the extraordinary increase in the membership. As “Padruig Og” says, “it became the fashion to join.”

The result was–to me–very melancholy. I do not know what “A. M.” “dreamed,” but his “dream” (as described by “Padruig Og” in the last two paragraphs of his letter) very nearly coincides with the intentions with which I founded the Society.

I had never contemplated such a state of affairs as existed in 1904-5, when the Society had a very large number of members, of whom 90 percent, could not even put their fingers on a chanter, much less play a piobaireachd, while owing to the well meant influences some of those members, they had secured control of the principal piobaireachd competitions at Oban, Fort William, Portree, and–with a qualification–Inverness.

We hoped, when we began, to establish, in the first place, our claim to be considered an authority on Ceòl Mòr by publishing after careful study, a few tunes every year, with the most detailed notes on every portion of each, stating how and why we had arrived at the decision that ours was the best setting available. Further, it was our determination to make it clear that every first publication of a tune was to be considered provisional, and that we desired the fullest criticism upon every disputed point. By this procedure we hoped through time, to be able to publish piobaireachd in a style which would be accepted by all who were qualified to give an opinion as to the most correct obtainable, and also by this, and by offering instructional facilities to promising pipers, to establish the position at which we aimed.

Then–and not till then–we intended to ask the great Gatherings for recognition as the authority on piobaireachd. I remember saying, at the foundation of the Society, that I should be well pleased if, by 1912, we found ourselves in the position to ask the Argyllshire Gathering to allow us to supply the judges for the piobaireachd competitions. We should not have been able to give big prizes, for our funds would have been devoted to the collection, study, and teaching of Ceòl Mòr.

However, things went very differently. An acute controversy arose regarding the method of recording piobaireachd music. I, and most of the original members, were opposed to the idea that what others call the “ordinary notation” should be considered incapable of improvement. We inclined towards the system in General Thomason’s “Ceòl Mòr,” but thought that even it might be improved upon. We were also opposed to the policy of expending the funds of the Society on prizes and publications only (as was the state of affairs at that date), and so the secretary (Mr. J. MacKillop), I, the founder, and several other of the original and early members–most of the piobaireachd players–left the Society in 1905.

That is a brief history of the Piobaireachd Society, so far as I know about it. I think I may ask “Padruig Og” to take it from me that, if there was one publication which led to the foundation of the society, it was General Thomason’s “Ceòl Mòr,” and not the “A.M.” articles.

By the way, it would appear that he has not read the second series of “A.M. (“Oban Times,” September-October, 1905). In one of them he will find recorded in actual instance where the Society insisted on the disqualification of a player who did not point the “Prince’s Salute” according to their setting. In that case the Society’s judges gave the competitor a prize, but the Committee held a meeting and reversed their own judges’ decision.

I agree entirely with his remarks on the second variation of “Scarce of Fishing.”

In conclusion, I baked to assure “Padruig Og” that I have derived much pleasure and information from his letter, and to join with him in suggesting that “A. M.” should once more, in spite of the discouragement he has probably felt, take up his pen in order to do his utmost to prevent “The Passing of the Piobaireachd.”–I am, etc.,

John Campbell of Killberry.

OT: 16 April 1910 – David Glen (2)

The Oban Times 16 April, 1910

Piobaireachd Movements.

Edinburgh, 11 April, 1910

Sir–I have today had my attention drawn to Dr. Bannatyne’s letter in your issue of the 19th March, and, if not too late, would like you to allow me a little of your valuable space in which to give him some information that may be of use to him.

First, he will find the best and oldest method of writing all the various movements and piobaireachd in the treatise written by Joseph MacDonald in 1760, and published in 1803. This method–after many years of study–is the one I now use in my own Piobaireachd Book. The method I use in writing the themal grace notes is my own, and, I think, is an advance on any hitherto in use.

Secondly, I cannot join the Doctor in his idea of getting musicians to write down what pipers play, as many years ago I did this on my own account. I played on the chanter to several first-rate musicians all the crunluath and toarluath movements, and the result was nil. The mixing of the notes and the grace notes appeared to beat them, and all of these gentlemen could write any other music at first hearing. The collapse came when I played the crunluath breabach movement; they threw down their pens and gave up the attempt.

I then tried to get their opinions in another way: I wrote down each movement in all the different methods, and played them on the chanter. The conclusion then come to was that Joseph MacDonald’s method was the best, and as this was my own private opinion, I resolved to adopt it, and I have done so ever since.–I am, etc.,

David Glen

OT: 16 April 1910 – David Glen (1)

The Oban Times, Saturday, 16 April, 1910

Edinburgh, 11 April, 1910

Sir,–Permit me, in justice to the memory of the late Angus Mackay, to correct the traditional statement made by “Mal Dhonn” in his letter to you, which appears in your issue of the second curt. This statement appears in the second last paragraph, beginning:–” tradition says Angus Mackay himself wept over the errors which his book contained when he received the first issue from the press, it is complete form, as it was then too late for him to remedy them.”

Now, Sir, you and your readers may take it from me that this tradition is quite untrue. Mackay did correct the first addition before sending the second to the press. The corrected sheets were in my possession for many years. Careful comparison of the two editions will bear the statement of mine out.–I am, etc.,

David Glen

OT: 2 April 1910 – String of Lorn (Major McDougall of Dunvegan)

The Oban Times, 2 April, 1910

28 March, 1910

The Piobaireachd Society’s Publication

Sir,–In common with many others, I have been interested, and perhaps somewhat amused, by the letters which have appeared in your columns on the music just issued by the Piobaireachd Society. A little criticism is in itself a healthy thing; but, of course, its value to the public depends entirely on the knowledge and ability of the critic. I hold no brief for the Piobaireachd Society, who, I have no doubt, are well able to speak for themselves if they thought it of sufficient importance to do so; but it would be interesting to know on what grounds these gentlemen base their claims to criticize the work of a committee composed, I believe, of our best amateur piobaireachd players, aided by for the very best professional pipers of the day, and who have one and all given their time and money gratuitously to this work, and for mere love of the beautiful music of the Highlands.

In Mr. MacLennan we have an enthusiast, whose happy, if somewhat misplaced, belief in his own rendering of “the piobaireachd as played by MacCrimmon,” may be forgiven; while his undoubted love of the music must make him appreciated by even those who differ from his views. Still, all this does not render him a very competent or impartial critic.

“Padruig Og’s” lengthy letter might well be passed over in silence as a mass of inaccurate information.

I have it on the best authority that the Piobaireachd Society are collecting manuscript music, and this is a matter to which they intend to devote themselves. The meetings of the Society are held, not in London, as stated by “Padruig Og,” but at Oban, Inverness, and Perth. The judges at all the principal meetings are members of the Society, who are excellent pipers, and have a thorough knowledge of the tunes being played, and their decisions have never been questioned. To what obscure Society “Padruig Og” refers, and probably belongs, I have, of course, no idea, but I presume his letter is penned on its behalf.

In Dr. Bannateyne we have a critic of a different kind. To a great interest in pipe music he adds a knowledge of the theory of music, and some of his suggestions might well, I think, be adopted by the Piobaireachd Society.

In conclusion, I should like to ask these gentlemen to cooperate with the Society, which has done so much to awaken interest in pipe music and to establish the high position to which it is so justly entitled. While it is impossible for a Committee to take in every musical authority or enthusiast, I have little doubt that any useful suggestion made to their secretary would receive the careful attention of the Society, which so evidently desires, not to alienate, but to carry with it, all those who are genuine lovers of our Highland music.–I am, etc.,

String of Lorn. [Major McDougall of Dunvegan]

OT: 2 April 1910 – John Grant (Mal Dhonn)


The Oban Times, 2 April, 1910

29 March 1910

Sir,–In further reference to my letter which appeared in the valuable columns of your paper under date 14th March, I may state that I hold no brief for the Piobaireachd Society. I take my stand for the real love of the ancient art of piobaireachd, and I will now venture to criticize the Piobaireachd Society’s publication, Part IV., a little more minutely on its own merit.

The volume in question comprises nine tunes in all, and there is only one error of any consequence to be found in it, and it is a mere detail. In the third part of the ground of “The Stewart’s White Banner,” there are five bars given, whereas there should only be four. The complete ground should have sixteen bars, and the melody ends there, and the same with all the other variations. To make this beautiful tune correct, all that is required by those who know and understand the construction of piobaireachd is to draw a double line across the staves at the end of the fourth bar of the third part of the ground, score the seventeenth bar out with their pen, and also where it occurs in the following variations. Any piper who has to play this tune at the Piobaireachd Society’s competitions, and knows that it is complete without the extra bar which must have been added by someone in error, if he is worth his salt will play it as having sixteen bars all through. I can assure you that it will be the means of convincing the Society that the groundwork and variations of the tunes are complete with sixteen bars.

Mr. MacLennan, in his letter dated 19th March, says–” Mal Dhonn carefully avoids giving any mistakes I made in my criticism, because he cannot.” As I did not do so in my previous letter, I shall now take the liberty of pointing out a series of his misconceptions in minute detail. He says:–

The suibhal-ordaid of “The Stewart’s White Banner,” is egregious nonsense.
The crunluath and doubling of “Weighing from land” are marked 6-8. The signature should be C, or 2-2.
“Prince Charlie’s Lament,”: the beats here are mixed up. The first A should be a grace note, capital E, C, and D tied together for the first beat, and capital E alone for the next beat, and the third bar should be treated the same way. “A Boilich,”: the crunluath is not written in accordance with the time signature.
“The Mackenzies Gathering,”: there are four beats in each bar; they should be reduced to two. All the variations or badly timed.
“Lord Breadalbane’s March,”: the crunluath here is marked 6-8 time, but written in 2-2.
“Captain MacDougall’s Lament,”: the two beats F E, E F, in the third bar of the first part of the ground, and everywhere they occur throughout the ground and variations, are both tied in time wrongly.

On what authority does Mr. MacLennan maintained that he is justified in saying that all the above-mentioned are errors? Has he any satisfactory proof to put forward that he is right and the Piobaireachd Society are wrong? No. Piobaireachd was handed down to him by tradition in the same manner in which it has been to the Piobaireachd Society and me also. The tunes were in every case composed long before Mr. MacLennan or I was born. The composers laid down the law and said what was to be what, and no one can tamper with them now in any respect.

The letters written by Mr. MacLennan criticizing the Piobaireachd Society’s publications, as well as the method adopted in the notation of the volume of piobaireachd which he published himself, are all based on his idea that piobaireachd should be marched to. One may as well ask himself the question, why don’t pipers march to their strathspeys and reels, or play piobaireachd in a march competition? When piobaireachd or Ceòl Mòr is reduced to a level with Ceòl aotrom or the march, strathspey, and reel, then it would be the most commonplace, and would no more be a classical music; and, as I have already said, though I hold no brief for the Piobaireachd Society, yet I admire them in their labour’s for the reason that they published their piobaireachd in its traditional form.

In your valuable issue of March 26, Mr. MacLennan says:–”take the tri-lugh fosgailte of ‘Weighing from Land’; will ‘Mal Dhonn’ say that ever he has heard the variation played as written?” Yes; I will give here the names of six tunes where he will find it written in the same way, viz:–” The Waking of the Bridegroom,” “Dispraise of MacLeod,” “Abercairny’s Lament,” and in Angus Mackay’s book he will find–”The Viscount of Dundee’s Lament,” “The MacNab’s Salute,” and “The Earl of Ross’s March”–all written in a similar fashion. This is only a few tunes so written, and can easily be played in the time given. The last mentioned, viz., “The Earl of Ross’s March,” was composed about the year 1600 by Donald Mòr MacCrimmon, one of the great masters of the art in the olden days.

Surely this is sufficient proof that the variation in question has been timed and played similar to that given in the Piobaireachd Society’s book by the very originators of piobaireachd in its early stages.

Mr. MacLennan also states that–

“Mal Dhonn” compares the book with mine, with Mackays, and with a book in his own possession. All that has nothing to do with the correctness of the book in question. “Mal Dhonn” appears to me to have taken up a defense he cannot maintain, and makes the best show he can by throwing out a few harmless side feints.

I may say that I have made piobaireachd a life study, and therefore I feel warranted in driving home my defense, as well as maintaining it, especially in view of the fact that I not only compared the Piobaireachd Society’s tunes with Mr. MacLennan’s, the Mackays, and with a book in my own possession, but also with some of our best professional men’s ideas of today. I have played them all over without any difficulty, and so can anyone who can play piobaireachd at all. If Mr. MacLennan is prepared to sacrifice his own publication as being unworthy of comparison, I am prepared to withdraw the book in my own possession also; but for Angus Mackay’s book, it is a sufficient basis comparison for anyone who requires to use it as such. I further maintain that with a few exceptions, the settings of the tunes in Mackays book can all be thoroughly relied upon.

Tradition says that Angus Mackay himself wept over the errors which his book contained when he received the first issue from the press in its complete form, as it was then too late for him to remedy them. It is not necessary for me to flatter his publication, but as one who cherishes the volume which he has handed down to us, I am desirous of paying him a tribute for his labours. Angus Mackay was a pioneer of piobaireachd, and it ill becomes us in our day to throw cold water on his magnificent work. His collection is a memorial of his achievements in piobaireachd, and he was as well as a composer one of the finest performers on the great Highland bagpipe of his day. His collection was for many years out of print, and was almost a priceless treasure among the real lovers of piobaireachd in those days. It has lived, and will continue to live, not only till we become old and feeble and unable to fill the bag, but till the last performer on the piob mhor lies cold beneath the sod. Have we in our time any original productions in the ancient and noble art of piobaireachd to put forth as a challenge to the old masters of the art? No! We cannot produce a single bar worthy of the slightest comparison with the great masterpieces of Donald or Patrick Mòr MacCrimmon, etc.

For the last two hundred years, I may say, the art of piobaireachd composition has been lost, and for this reason alone it behooves us to help and encourage the Piobaireachd Society to have those tunes which we have inherited kept fresh in our minds by hearing them played at their competitions. If piobaireachd proper is to hold a high position now that it has occupied in the past, if it is to be interpreted to the ear through the bagpipe, it must be done in its traditional form, unpolluted by errors of unskilled masters of the art. By this means only will we have reason to congratulate ourselves in that we have followed the footsteps of the MacCrimmons, one of the greatest and most authoritative race of composers and piobaireachd players Scotland has ever seen or ever will see.–I am, etc.,

Mal Dhonn

OT: 26 March 1910 – J. Grant of Rothiemurchus (Padruig Og)

The Oban Times, 26 March, 1910

Sir,–in your issues of the fifth and twelfth instance there have appeared letters from Lieut. MacLennan and Dr. Bannatyne criticizing severely, but in general terms, the latest publication of the Piobaireachd Society. The piobaireachd loving community cannot fail to realize that the writers of these two letters are doing a real service to Ceòl Mòr in bringing to light the “haphazard ram-stam methods” adopted by the Piobaireachd Society; one has only to glance through Part IV, of the Piobaireachd Society music to recognize the general truth of the criticisms contained in these letters.

But in the best interests the piobaireachd these two gentlemen would, in my opinion, have done a better service had they pointed out each mistake in detail, and proved to the satisfaction of the least musically-educated each point in succession throughout the book, and finally given their own opinions as to corrections. This is a counsel of perfection, and is easy to give; but I suppose difficulties will arise in the matter of printing music in such an article; also anyone can understand that in connection with Part IV many hours and columns would be taken up and what (I dread to think) the two writers might consider a thankless task. These gentlemen can be sure that they cannot write to fully on this subject, since they are few who have the necessary knowledge, and many who would be enlightened.

In your last issue Dr. Bannatyne went further, and proposed a meeting of all interested in piobaireachd to settle four definite points. It seems to be a solution of the more pressing difficulties; further reference will have to be made to this suggestion later.

Another letter appeared in your issue of 12th instant, signed by a lady or gentleman who is styled “Loch Sloy.” This writer has completely missed the point of Lieut. MacLennan’s letter. To “give the devil his due” is all very well–no one grudges the little praise which may be due to the Piobaireachd Society, but “Loch Sloy’s” letter was entirely irrelevant. However, as “Loch Sloy” has raised the general question of the competence of the Society, as it is, to carry out the object of the Society, as it might be, I will venture to express the opinion on this point which I believe to be generally held by players the piobaireachd. But before coming to this some notice must be taken of a letter signed “Mal Dhonn” in your last issue. His opinion, stated in the first few lines, comes to this–that Lieut. MacLennan’s criticisms are wrong. The next half of the letter is what I believe logically to be an argument “ad personam.” It does not require much thought to see the relevance of the “tu quoque” argument used here. In the last quarter of his letter, “Mal Dhonn” merely gives an example of the power wielded by the purse–without reference to object or methods. The Piobaireachd Society has control over four or more large Gatherings, and gives good prices. The piper must be paid by someone, and it is no proof of the soundness of the Society that it has made itself a payer. It is by no means should a wealthy society can make no mistake.

It is a matter of common knowledge that the Piobaireachd Society has an enormous list of members. The business of the Society is done, I believe, by a Committee, which meets periodically in London, and by a Music Committee, whose business it is to carry out the real objects of the Society, as they understand them. I do not know who the gentlemen are who form these Committees. The outside world has nothing to do with their identity or their qualifications. It looks to the results of their labours, and judges them accordingly. What results does one find? Four published volumes, containing the names of some of the finest tunes we have. Opening a volume at random, one happens on “Scarce of Fishing,” called here “Lochnell’s Lament.” In the urlar one finds one note and two bars wrong, the former (except in the doubling of the ground) and one of the later mistakes being repeated in each part throughout the tune, the other occurring in each singling. The cadences, toarluath and crunluath beats are incorrectly printed, and the second suibhal is pointed in a most un-melodious style–on the strength of one MS., that of Sir John McCra. This, perhaps, may be called an isolated exception.

I appeal to the vast crowd, which (the Music Committee aver) attended the Society’s competition at Inverness in 1909, to give their unbiased judgment on the setting of the tune, which, I suppose, some unfortunate pipers were compelled to play under the name of “The Prince’s Salute.” It must have been a trying performance for both pipers and audience. The situation of the judges must have been unenviable in the extreme. As representing the Piobaireachd Society, I presume they would have felt themselves bound by the rules of the Society to disqualify any piper who had dared to come onto the platform and point the tune materially differently from the manner adopted by the Society. Personally, I should be sorry to think that the Society has gained and exercises such a cramping influence on individuality that no piper could afford to point the tune his own way. These two examples are not the exception; they are the rule. If one adds to these remarks the general musical criticisms of Lieut. MacLennan and Dr. Bannatyne on the last volume, which might be (in Lieut. MacLennan’s case have been) applied to the previous volumes, a “prima facie” case for the dissatisfaction emerges.

I come now to a more detailed criticism of the Society. It has, I believe, a large balance in the bank. How do they use this money? Part of it, as “Loch Sloy” writes, is well spent in giving instruction. This will be shown to be not an unqualified benefit. A large sum is spent on publishing music shown to be incorrect in quality and in quantity most unnecessarily full–the toarluath and crunluath beats being printed in all the volumes “in extenso,” and incidentally wrongly–a sheer waste of paper, time, and money.

Again, one of the objects of the Society is to correct those tunes already in print, which are found to be wrong. But we find the mistakes corroborated by this Society, which may, I fear, by its name, command among an ignorant posterity an influence greater than that of Donald MacDonald and Angus Mackay. These are acts of commission. Turn to a glaring act of omission. There are still throughout the Highlands and elsewhere to be found old people who know tunes, complete or fragmentary, which, unless they are collected at once, are in danger of being lost forever. Again, in Canada there must be a large field for the collector of old Highland heirs all kinds. Why does not the Society expend some money on this pressing and necessary work?

I am credibly informed by piobaireachd players, amateur and professional, that the Society is guided by a number of well-meaning enthusiasts, and it is no secret that they are blind enthusiasts on the subject of piobaireachd music. At the risk of a charge of plagiarism, it seems necessary to explain that no man can be considered either an authority on, or even tolerably conversant with, the subject of piobaireachd, unless he has (1) “a thoroughly trained ear, combined with great musical taste and executive skill” (Piobaireachd Society, Part I., Introduction); and (2), as Lieut. MacLennan points out, a knowledge of the universal rules of the science of music. In England, and among those uninitiated in the art of playing of piobaireachd it is a matter of common belief that if a man blows through a blow-stick into a sheepskin bag–it is all one to them whether he plays well, or can with difficulty stumble through “Highland Laddie” and “Gabhaidh sinn an rathad Mòr” (played as a strathspey)–that man knows all there is to know about the great Highland bagpipe and its music. Like most popular beliefs founded on ignorance, this is a fiction. It would be as true to say that a player of a street piano-organ must be an authority on Beethoven. This unfathomable ignorance, combined with a small numerical proportion of practical amateur players, are the main factors which destroy all chance of success for a large Society, filled necessarily with the uninitiated. From the Society’s point of view, the situation must without doubt seem hopeless; for outside the Society they see a large majority of amateur piobaireachd players in or out of this country. In their Society how many can be found who can themselves play even two? The number, I am told, is small–infinitesimal in fact. And yet this Society professes to dictate to the piping world what is correct and what is not correct; and their dogmatism does not end there. Unfortunately these dictates are carried into practice. The Society’s paid instructors are bound, willy-nilly, to perpetuate the blunders originated or corroborated by this Society. Further, at the competitions held under the Society’s rules, the judges are selected from the ranks of the Society. The Society has also “made it a condition that all judges appointed by it must be thoroughly conversant with the tunes selected for that year’s competitions.” (Piobaireachd Society, part I.” Preface). In view of what has been said above, the competence of the Society’s judges, with one or two honourable exceptions, must be a matter of grave doubt; and it is manifestly improbable that these one or two exceptions can judge at Oban, Inverness, Lochaber, and Portree.

The Society is, indeed, in a bad way. Why is it that the Society, whose objects are in every way admirable and deserving of the support of all lovers of Ceòl Mòr, has failed so lamentably? The answer has already been foreshadowed. I can almost see in my mind’ s eye the various stages by which this state of affairs may have come about. The promoters of the scheme, anxious to obtain the support, financial and moral, which was necessary and deserved, appealed to the uninitiated public. It became the fashion to join the Society, and in a short time its own mother would not have recognized it. In short, the men who asked for support got it–floods of it–and were drowned by the deluge. This is the only possible theory which seems to prove the lamentable facts.

Dr. Bannatyne’s suggestion is, therefore, but a half measure. It does not strike at the root of the evil. This proposal is virtually an acknowledgment that the Piobaireachd Society is unable to perform its functions; for he would invite “all interested in piobaireachd music,” whether members or not; and it must not be forgotten that these four points to be settled are among the elementary problems which ought to have been tackled by the Society in 1902 when it was formed. Further, any decision come to by this meeting, valuable as it might be, would be unofficial so far as the Society is concerned–the Society which has for years refused to accept suggestions coming from outside.

Tab some years ago articles appeared in your paper under the heading of “The Passing of the Piobaireachd,” by “A. M.” What is “A, M.” about? His articles were the cause of the Piobaireachd Society being started. I can imagine what “A. M.” would have wished to see. It would have been a small society of amateur players, who alone, after passing some practical test, could be full members. To this inner ring would have been jointed outside circle of associates, with no voice a purely musical matters. A committee of members would carry out the real objects of the Society, possibly publishing the results of their efforts, not with the dogmatic infallibility of the ignorant, but with a tentative hope to encourage the love for Ceòl Mòr, adding full and copious notes, showing their reasons for agreeing with or disagreeing from all other settings.

When “A. M.” dreams, as no doubt he did, of such a society, and wakes to the cold reality of the Society as it is–the laughing stock of all piobaireachd players–he cannot fail to see the real tragedy. I can only hope that “A.M.” is not absolutely discouraged from making further efforts. His former articles created such a lively interest in the question that I cannot but think, as I hope, that if he were to take up the pen or the dirk once again for Ceòl Mòr, he could either reform or give the “coup de grace” to the Society, which, far from promoting, is effectually damaging the cause which he and many others have a heart. If he were to do this I am confident that he would be supported by all piobaireachd players, in the Society or outside it, amateur or professional.–I am, etc.,

Padruig Og. [John Grant of Rothiemurchus]

OT: 26 March 1910 – John MacLennan

The Oban Times, 26 March, 1910

The Piobaireachd Society’s Publication

26 Arden St.,

Edinburgh, 19 March, 1910

Sir,–”Loch Sloy,” in your issue of the twelve instance tacitly admits the correctness of my letter of the fifth, and only eulogizes the Society and their good intentions. I approve the Society’s good intentions quite as much as he does, but no one with the slightest knowledge of music can possibly approve of the book I referred to.

“Mal Dhonn,” in your issue of the nineteenth instant, puts it that I wrote disparagingly in reference to the four men who assisted the Society in writing the book. They are for personal friends of my own, and I would never think of casting the shadow of a slight on any of them. My paragraph can only convey one meaning, that is.–That if the Society did well in taking four good men into their confidence, they would have done better still by taking other four.

“Mal Dhonn’s” defense is the weakest I have ever come across. He carefully avoids giving any mistakes I made in my criticism, because he cannot. He simply compares the book with mine, with Mackays, and with a book in his own possession. All that has nothing to do with the correctness of the book in question. “Mal Dhonn” appears to me to have taken up a defense he cannot maintain, and makes the best show he can by throwing out a few harmless side feints. Take the tri-lugh fosgailte of “Weighing from Land”: will he say that ever he heard the variation played so written? No; not even the men who wrote it, for in playing they give it quite a different time.

This Fourth Part must be very badly written indeed, before the gentleman who has been thanked and applauded by the Society for giving them their best sets of tunes would find himself obliged to agree with me in my criticism.–I am, etc.,

John MacLennan

OT: 19 March 1910 – John Grant (Mal Dhonn)

The Oban Times, 19 March, 1910

14 March, 1910

Sir,–I have just received a copy of Part IV, of the Piobaireachd Society’s competition tunes, and Highlanders cannot but feel grateful to the society still continuing this excellent work. Mr. MacLennan, Edinburgh, has again opened fire, so to speak, on this publication. In suggesting the withdrawal of the book “in deference to the worldwide reputation of Celtic music,” his criticism on this occasion has reached a climax.

It may be true that Angus MacDonald, Morar; Donald Mackenzie, Fochabers; John McCall, Oban; and Angus MacRae, Blair Atholl, had no hand in the preparation of the tunes, but one thing I can vouch for is that those who did prepare them are all men of ability in piobaireachd, and masters of the ancient art in the very highest sense of the word.

I have examined the book carefully, and find that Prince Charlie’s Lament, The Vaunting, Lord Lovat’s Lament, Lord Breadalbane’s March, and Lady Doyle’s Salute are all, if anything, a marked improvement on the settings in Angus Mackay’s book of piobaireachd. I have in my possession, in manuscript, copies of Weighing from Land and MacDougall’s Lament, in which Mr. MacLennan finds so much fault. I have compared the settings in the Society’s book of my own, and find them note for note, and I had no hand in the preparation of the music.

It must not be forgotten that Mr. MacLennan published a collection of piobaireachd himself in 1907, entitled “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It.” There is ample room for the critic to find fault with even the title of his publication as over half the tunes in the volume MacCrimmon never saw, far less played. The work in question is not free from printers’ errors and otherwise, for example, see page 7, “I Got a Kiss of the King’ s Hand.”

Mr. MacLennan complains of the “haphazard, ram-stam method in which the Society’s tunes are got up,” and asserts they do not tie their notes as they were written by the composers, while he overlooks, perhaps, that he took it upon himself to change the time of every tune comprised in his own book. He changes large notes into grace notes and ties others to suit himself; thus departing from the tune laid down by the composer, which should stand for ever. It is not really with the intention of criticizing that I lift my pen, but only to bring Mr. MacLennan’s own publication side-by-side with that of the Piobaireachd Society, in order that anyone with a knowledge of pipe music may judge for himself which is the better of the two.

I do not suppose that anyone with common sense would say that “piobaireachd is not music at all.” Music can be classified, and piobaireachd, or pipe music, is a separate variety. The gentlemen referred to by Mr. MacLennan–viz., Mr. Groves and Mr. Gretton–may be men of great musical skill, but that does not signify that they have an intimate knowledge of piobaireachd, which they would require to possess before they condemn it.

I understand that the Piobaireachd Society publishes tunes for one purpose–for the guidance of competitors who wish to play for their prizes. They pay the piper, and therefore they have a right to choose the tune, and it is gratifying to see that the noblemen and gentlemen of the Society have awakened to the necessity of keeping a heroic art like piobaireachd from falling into oblivion. I have no hesitation in recommending their collection to anyone who wishes to add it to his library of pipe music. No piper who knows anything at all about piobaireachd will find any difficulty in being able to play the tunes. I believe the Society’s publication has always had a ready sale, and this alone testifies to the popularity of the work.

I remember talking to the Colonel of one of our Highland regiments not long ago, about a collection of piobaireachd for the Regiment, and he told me that they would never think of such a thing, as they had definitely adopted the Piobaireachd Society’s tunes to be played at mess or as occasion required.

From the reports which sometimes appear in your valuable columns, it can be seen that the Piobaireachd Society are in a flourishing condition and long may they continue so. The Society do not interfere with any outsiders ideas regarding piobaireachd, and if the Society cannot be encouraged in their arduous labours, surely it is unnecessary for anyone to endeavour to hinder their valuable work?–I am, etc.,

Mal Dhonn

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