OT: 25 May 1907 – C.S. Thomason “The Bagpipe Chanter Scale”

The Oban Times, 25 May, 1907


103 Warwick Road, Earls Court,

London, S.W.,

20 May, 1907

Sir,–I have not yet received any report of the committee elected at our meeting in Edinburgh on 14th April, but there are two letters in your issue of May 18th on the above subject, asking for information of a very legitimate order, which, with your kind leave, I will endeavour to supply as briefly as possible.

I allude to the letters of “H. S.” and Dr. Bannatyne, which evidently seek for some assurance as to the adequacy of the precautions taken to ensure accuracy in the data given by myself in your columns. I have already stated in one of my letters that the apparatus on which I was depending is the property of Mr. Blaikley, who has been more than generous in allowing me the use of it and sacrificing his own time and leisure to assist in my investigations. It was this that seemed to render it necessary that we should be independent.

As to voicer and pressure gauge. The latter I do not consider essential my own voicer, if observations with it are restricted to the five seconds in the centre of the rim of the bellows, as I pointed out in my speech. From Dr. Bannatyne’s description, it seems to me that his friend, Mr. Colin Brown, must have used what is known as an harmonical, which is fully described in Mr. Ellis’ translation of Helmholz work.

In principle Mr. Blaikley’s apparatus was the same, but depended upon three harmoniums, differently attuned, instead of the large keyboard of the harmonical. Our scale being limited to only nine notes, without sharps and flats, enabled me materially to simplify my apparatus, the scales on the pipes of which were worked out with extreme care by Mr. Blaikley, jun., himself. I supplied myself with a pressure gauge, which was made to my order by Messrs. Grindal, of London. It was a very flimsy instrument, and had not been on my table half an hour before he came to grief.

Until we arrive at something more satisfactory with reference to our reed, I think that my voicer (which I have left for the purposes of our present investigations with Mr. Dickson, reed maker, 20 Cadzow Place, Abbeyhill, Edinburgh) will give results accurate enough without a pressure gauge. Should such a gauge be found necessary hereafter, I intend to get xylonite tubes substituted for the flimsy glass ones which I found such a failure. The remarks of “H. S.” regarding variations of temperature affecting the results of the voicer are quite correct, and to overcome this drawback it should be noted that the temperature assumed for my voicer is 60 deg. Fahrenheit (not a difficult one to ensure).

It is a great satisfaction to me to find Dr. Bannatyne elected as a member of the committee, and there seems to be promise of his being well backed by “H. S.”, who now appears on the scene. At our meeting it seemed to be admitted by all that the pipe scale is not strictly a scientific scale, but some scale will have to be accepted as the basis, to be tempered to meet the requirements of the age.

I quite agree to this, and for my own satisfaction had adopted J. MacDonald’s scale as the basis. Since I did so we had many more old chanters to guide us in the selection, and it is quite possible that some other basis than that chosen by myself may be adopted by those entrusted, or to be entrusted, with a solution of the difficulties. It is in the tempering, to follow the selection of the best basis, that the labours of Dr. Bannatyne and “H. S.” will acquire their true value.

I am looking forward with much interest to an announcement of the judges selected by the committee, who will doubtless be composed of the best pipers of the day, but I think it will be a mistake to have too many of these judges satisfactory result is to be attained. I am in great hopes that such a result will be attained when I compared the pipers, their general education, their sources of information, etc. etc., of the present day with what obtained when I first took a chanter into my hand.

With the kindly offers of assistance tendered to me at our meeting in response to my appeal, difficulties should vanish, but it is above all essential that anything approaching to dogmatism should be excluded. “Give and take” should be the motto of those entrusted with this task.–I am, etc.,

C. S. Thomason

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