OT: 30 April 1910 – Mal Dhonn



The Oban Times, 30 April, 1910

26 April, 1910

Sir,–In my first letter, which appeared in your valuable columns dated 14th March, 1910, I said that Mr. MacLennan had opened fire, so to speak, or declared war against the tunes contained in the Piobaireachd Society’s book, Part IV. In my next letter, dated 29th March, I stated that I took up a line of defense not on the part of the Piobaireachd Society, but purely for the love of the ancient art of piobaireachd. Up till now Mr. MacLennan and I in our recent friendly correspondence, have, may I say, indulged in long-range firing, but the moment has now arrived, I think, when we should come to close quarters.

In my letter dated 29th March I gave Mr. MacLennan a list of misconceptions, which I need not repeat here. I also furnished my reason, or authority, for saying that what he held to be errors were simply his misconceptions, when I stated that piobaireachd was handed down to him and me, etc., by tradition, that the tunes were composed long before he or I was born. The composers unalterably laid down the law, and said what was to be what, and no one now has the right to tamper with their original compositions in any respect. In other words, Mr. MacLennan not being the composer of the tunes in question, and the Piobaireachd Society having published the same as the composers wrote them, are justified in maintaining that their settings are correct and without errors to the extent of fifty, the number at which Mr. MacLennan now puts them.

It is not for me to supply Mr. MacLennan with a reason as to how he arrives at his various “errors.” But to convince those interested as well as myself, it now remains for him to do so, and again, I repeat my challenge, viz.:–On what authority does Mr. MacLennan maintain that he is right and the Piobaireachd Society are wrong? Has he any satisfactory proof to put forward to support his statements? It is by placing the works of a critic alongside the work which he attempts to criticize–as I have done in my letter dated 14th March–that we have an opportunity a proceeding at a glance the knowledge and qualifications of the critic in piobaireachd as well as his ideas.

I have previously remarked that Mr. MacLennan took it upon himself to change the time and also the construction of every tune comprised in his own book from beginning to end. This is a point of great importance, and I now take the liberty of asking him if ever he saw piobaireachd written, time, or played as we find it in “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It”? If so, who wrote it, or in what other collection of piobaireachd will I find it? The MacCrimmons did not write the piobaireachd in this form, but in the ancient verbal notation of Boreraig, called “canntaireachd,” neither did they play it as given in “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It.”

In the one case we have the Piobaireachd Society publishing the tunes as they were written by the composers, and in the other we have Mr. MacLennan publishing tunes in a method which is entirely foreign to piobaireachd proper, apparently forgetting that it is other composers’ work with which he is interfering. If he had given us his own original compositions in his publication the production of a modern style of piobaireachd could’ve been accorded to him, but I certainly cannot say that the method he has adopted is ancient piobaireachd.

The piobaireachd as we have it handed down to us is in every way complete. It is quite possible now, as in past years, to produce original compositions in piobaireachd, but the form is ancient, which makes us the more proud of it, and creates within us a desire as patriotic Highlanders to cling to it more tenaciously and fervently than ever.

Mr. MacLennan, in his letter dated 18th of April, says:–” in my former letter I asked ‘Mal Dhonn’ if ever he heard the taor-luath of ‘Weighing from Land’ played as written, and his answer was that it was written the same way in several other tunes,” and he also says: “I am quite well aware of this.” From this I take it that Mr. MacLennan admits that the variation in question is properly written, and that being so, he will find no difficulty in being able to play it.

In conclusion, I beg to say that, as far as I am aware, I have given Mr. MacLennan answers to all his questions, whilst he has passed over all mine and answered further, his only reply to my queries seems to be his excuse that my knowledge and piobaireachd is very meagre. I re-endorse every word I have already written, more especially in my last letter, which contains many important points in piobaireachd that I expected Mr. MacLennan to dispute, if he considered, and could prove, I was wrong.

The Piobaireachd Society have published altogether twenty-seven tunes in four parts, and year after year immediately they appear, Mr. MacLennan writes in his one-sided fashion regarding them. He has not even given them the credit of writing one single tune correct. Such criticism, which is essentially captious, so persistently put forward, would indicate that the critic’ s ideas regarding piobaireachd are quite peculiar to himself. It has been well said, however, by one of our best present-day authorities on Ceòl Mòr, that one might as well attempt to alter the Lord’s Prayer as to change a piobaireachd in any detail from its originally composed form.–I am, etc.,

Mal Dhonn.

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