OT: 19 October 1912 – John Grant – “The Piobaireachd Society’s Music”

The Oban Times, 19 October, 1912

The Piobaireachd Society’s Music

42 Elmfield Avenue, Aberdeen, 9 October, 1912

Sir,–Your correspondent, Mr. John MacLennan, says that the Piobaireachd Society is a strong, influential, and intellectual body of men, and I agree with him in this respect. Mr. MacLennan also says that the Piobaireachd Society would crush him in a moment, if there was any opportunity to do so. Sir, there is no need to do so, but now we arrive at the climax of our controversy. Mr. MacLennan would crush me in a moment and tear my statements to shreds, as he boasted of doing–if he was capable of carrying this out. Mr. MacLennan is putting the evil day off, and resting on his oars.

Your correspondent has departed altogether from the subject of our controversy, and made an attack upon me which will not add success to his tactics in the eyes of your readers. I have not been writing about myself or my book of piobaireachd, nor have I been writing about Mr. MacLennan, but his remarks in your last issue lead me to say that it is not Mr. MacLennan’s place to judge the capacity of my abilities or capabilities. If Mr. MacLennan is prepared to undergo a proper test, so am I. If a test was carried out under proper lines, then we will find men who will be able to judge both our merits; but it is beneath my dignity to judge myself, as Mr. MacLennan judges himself in your last issue.

Mr. MacLennan says that “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” cannot be called piobaireachd. This is very strange, especially in view of the fact that when Mr. MacLennan acknowledged receipt of my book he then said it was piobaireachd. Your correspondent speaks of going through a school of music. It will be remembered that a short time ago Mr. MacLennan published a book entitled “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It,” and dictated strange rules to the piping world. In that book he attempted to lay down laws not known in piobaireachd. But this same book serves another valuable purpose, i.e., it is the means of measuring Mr. MacLennan’s meagre knowledge of the art which he professes to know so much about. From the title of Mr. MacLennan’s book, he intends it to be piobaireachd, but when we open it, alas! We see the massacred fragments of what was once “Ceol Mor.” On further examination we ask ourselves is “Martyrdom” a piobaireachd? Is “Lord Lovat’s Slow March” a piobaireachd? Is the “Abercairny Highlanders” a piobaireachd? Is “Blair Drummond’s Strathspey” a piobaireachd? Is the “Cameronian Rant Reel” a piobaireachd? When Mr. MacLennan goes through the school of music again, and learns the difference between “Ceol Mor” and “Ceol Aotrom,” then I will listen to his logic.

Mr. MacLennan concludes his letter in your last issue indicating the motto “Never do to-day what you can put off till to-morrow,” for a good reason. In conclusion, I can assure your readers that the Piobaireachd Society have never asked my help, or the assistance of anyone else, to uphold their book. On my part it is purely spontaneous. On the other hand, they have never asked Mr. MacLennan’s opinion on their work. Thus the readers of “The Oban Times” will be anxious to know why Mr. MacLennan is the only man who finds fault with the Piobaireachd Society’s book, and cannot prove the statements.–I am, etc.,

John Grant

OT:19 October 1912 – Beginner “The Bagpipe Chanter Scale”

The Oban Times, 19 October, 1912

The Bagpipe Chanter Scale


14 October, 1912

Sir,–I have been very much interested in the controversy which has been going on in your columns recently about pipe music. I have so admired the bagpipe that I would like to be a piper. I have bought a tutor and attempted to make a start to learn to play on the bagpipe, but I am disappointed to see that the tutor I bought does not say what scale or key the bagpipe is on, or tuned to. I am entirely ignorant of the theory of music, and anxious to begin at the root and work upwards towards being a fair performer. I have often heard pipers argue and say that pipe music was on this key and the next key, but no two seemed to agree or to be sure. Could any of your readers who are pipers tell me of a book or tutor where I will find such information? Failing a book, I would be glad if any of your readers would tell me what key pipe music is set to, or do tunes very in key signatures as piano music? Perhaps some of the bagpipe-makers might be able to explain this best.–I am, etc.,


OT: 5 October 1912 – John MacLennan “The Piobaireachd Society’s New Collection”

The Oban Times, 5 October, 1912

The Piobaireachd Society’s New Collection

Edinburgh, 30 September, 1912

Sir,–Mr. John Grant in your issue of the 28th inst. is anxious to know why I did not fulfill my promises, and the numerous readers “The Oban Times” will be anxious to know why he has constituted himself the champion of the Piobaireachd Society.

The Piobaireachd Society is a strong, influential and intellectual body of men, who could crush me in a moment had there been an opportunity for doing so, and that without the least assistance from outsiders.

Mr. Grant plays on the bagpipe, but he is not a piper, and having no knowledge of the literature, poetry, or songs of the Highlands, he is quite unable to compare the notes with the words of the piobaireachd, especially as he has never been through a school of music. But, to his credit be it said, he has, at immense labour gathered a great number of notes, which forms some twenty-one pieces–a creditable monument to his hard industry–but we can never call them piobaireachd.

When Mr. John Grant learns the Gaelic language, reads the Gaelic poets, and goes through a school of music, I shall be pleased to fulfill my promise to his satisfaction, but in the meantime I think it would be premature. I am, etc.,

John MacLennan

OT: 31 August 1912 – John Grant “The Piobaireachd Society’s New Collection”

The Oban Times, 31 August, 1912

The Piobaireachd Society’s New Collection

42 Elmfield Avenue, Aberdeen, 21 August, 1912

Sir,–I have no desire to continue controversy if it can be avoided, but under the circumstances I beg to remind your correspondent, Mr. John McLennan, Edinburgh, that he has failed to fulfill his promise, which was as follows: “Let ‘One who Knows’ come to the front, say who he is, and I (Mr. MacLennan) shall then verify every word in dispute to the full satisfaction of all reasonable persons, and at the same time I (Mr. MacLennan) will tear the statements of ‘One who Knows’ to shreds, and scatter them through Gaeldom.”

Although I have no grudge against Mr. MacLennan personally, nevertheless as a patriot I must protect my native music (Ceol Mor) from destruction. Therefore the matter stands as follows: The Piobaireachd Society have issued a work for the good of the piping world. I uphold it as being correct, and Mr. MacLennan has tried to make out that it is all wrong and attempted to destroy it. I challenged your correspondent to fulfill his promise. As several weeks have passed and this has not been done doubtless the following question will arise in the minds of those who are interested, as well as in my own: Is Mr. MacLennan capable of fulfilling his promise? If he is, why has it not been done?

After all that Mr. MacLennan has said, he is only one man, and about a five-thousandth part of the piping fraternity of Scotland alone, so that what he has already said is quite harmless, and more especially so in view of the fact that he has failed to make good his plea. If Mr. MacLennan comes forward and fulfills his promise, I am prepared to meet him, but in the event of a continued silence on his part, and this being the end of the matter, I have no hesitation in giving the Piobaireachd Society the credit of being worthy of the highest possible praise. I have already said, and will say again, that Part V is one of the finest books of piobaireachd ever published. When the Piobaireachd Society cease to continue their excellent work, and piobaireachd lies in the hands of people who produce it in all sorts of erroneously published shapes, void of proper form and meaning, not to speak of technical correctness of construction and beauty, that we must say “Alas! not only has the great MacCrimmon passed away, but piobaireachd also, which he adorned so much with the genuine fruits of his ingenious skill.” Happily the Piobaireachd Society is in a flourishing condition, and their book meets with a very ready sale, which alone proves its correctness and popularity.–I am, etc.,

John Grant

OT: 24 August 1912 – K.N. MacDonald “Gesto’s Canntaireachd of 1828”

The Oban Times, 24 August, 1912

Gesto’s Canntaireachd of 1828

21 Clarendon Crescent, Edinburgh, 18 August, 1912

Sir,–the above work is now in the printers hands, and some very interesting developments are awaiting the piping fraternity. In fact, “Bidh olc mu ghlanadh a’ mhionaich”–there will be a row about the addition of the spoil, when in due course all is done.

Meantime it may be observed that the present champion piper of Australia has been taught by the Canntaireachd system alone, so the staff notation men will have to look to their laurels.

In any case a monument will be raised to Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto for all time coming, and to Mr. Simon Fraser of Australia for having preserved the Canntaireachd system practically, by which some of the old tunes may have to be altered. This is all that can be said just now.–I am, etc.,

K. N. MacDonald

OT: 17 August 1912 – John MacLennan “The Piobaireachd Society’s New Collection”

The Oban Times, 17 August, 1912

The Piobaireachd Society’s New Collection

12 August, 1912

Sir,–One of the many faults “Fear aig am bheil fios” finds with me in your issue of the 10th inst. Is my criticising Part VI of the Piobaireachd Society’s publication because “it is not out yet.” I crave a corner of your valuable paper to place the subject in its true light before the numerous readers of “The Oban Times.”

“Fear aig am bheil fios” (One who Knows) should know that there are now six consecutive parts of the Piobaireachd Society’s book published, each containing different tunes, and appearing at different times. The first was by far the best. It was edited by the late

Major-General Thomason and by Mr. James McKillop, jun., two gentlemen who knew their business, and who left no room for anyone to criticise.

The second part had the appearance of having been edited by persons deficient of musical knowledge. It contained so many errors that “The Oban Times” reviewer designated it a “comedy of errors,” and another critic said the book ought to be entitled “our own make,” by all which the Society inserted in a later part the names of four prominent pipers, presumably to give confidence, and at the same time to deter weaklings from lifting pen or voice in dispraise of the book; but withal the criticism has gone on to such an extent that it was found expedient not to issue a book last year.

I do not know what “One who Knows” may have in his possession, but I have six parts of this book, and it is the sixth part I criticised in your issue of the 27th ult. The Piobaireachd Society blundered in numbering the volumes, but that is no reason why I should follow suit.

Let “Fear aig am bheil fios” come to the front, say who and what he is, and I shall then verify every word in dispute to the full satisfaction of all reasonable persons, and at the same time I will tear the statements of “One who Knows” to shreds, and scatter them through Gaeldom, but to correspond with a man shooting from behind a hedge I will not.–I am, etc.,

John MacLennan

OT: 10 August 1912 – Luceo

The Oban Times, 10 August, 1912

5 August, 1912

Sir,–I regret to see that the only effect of the recent correspondence on canntaireachd in your columns has been a promised translation of Gesto’s book by an amateur piper–one of undoubted enthusiasm, I understand–but one surely not qualified by training for such a task.

Writing as a competing piper (bored beyond expression by having to relearn and afterwards unlearned certain “wrong” versions, published in high places), I would like to urge, with your permission, from a performers point of view, the strong need of having Gesto’s book translated into ordinary notation by a practical piper–one who has (1) the love of the art as well as (2) the rare gift of perfect execution, and one who combines both with (3) an intimate knowledge of the subject, and (4) a large repertoire of piobaireachd.

It is well known that the third and fourth items of these attainments could only be got at first hand from the expert of the last generation, or in other words, an intimate knowledge of piobaireachd can only be transmitted and acquired by master and pupil.

So that as the expert teachers of last generation have given us their pupils who are in their turn the present-day experts, it is surely not too much to hope that somewhere in the broad realms of Scotland there yet may be found one of these who can fully and capably translate the Gesto book. In closing my card–I am, etc.,

Luceo [MacLeod Chemist – Tain]

OT: 10 August 1912 – John Grant “Captain Neil MacLeod’s Book of Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 10 August, 1912

Captain Neil MacLeod’s Book of Canntaireachd

42 Elmfield Avenue, Aberdeen, 5 August, 1912

Sir,–I was simply delighted when I read “Fionn’s” letter of 22nd July. The truth will come out, and surely hear it has been revealed. “Fionn’s” letter proves beyond all doubt that Captain MacLeod of Gesto could not play the pipes, and if he had been a piper his examples of canntaireachd would have been correct, or in keeping with the real MacCrimmon sol-fa notation. But we find them in his book of 1828 irregular and void of meaning. This settles once and for all that up till now the MacCrimmon canntaireachd remains a mystery.

Anyone who cares can study the canntaireachd notation, and if they do they will see at a glance that the vowels used by Dr. Bannatyne in his scale are entirely wrong. The vowel sounds alone prove this.

I thank “Fionn” most heartily, and must apologise for the trouble caused him, which leaves “The Martial Music of the Clans” absolutely correct, and those who try to make out that Gesto was a piper absolutely wrong. I am, etc.,

John Grant

OT: 10 August 1912 – Fear aig am bheil fios [John Grant] “The Piobaireachd society’s New Collection”

The Oban Times, 10 August, 1912

The Piobaireachd Society’s New Collection

3 August, 1912

Sir,–when I wrote my letter of 23rd July I had no idea that it was to be followed up by another on entirely different lines, and that I would have to make good my plea. In Mr. MacLennan’s letter of the same date he is reviewing Part VI it is not out yet. It is part V. That I have got. Therefore, I must correct your critic of would-be perfection; he has got part V., and doubtless No. VI. will follow. There is nothing like correcting small errors, as this is the best means of avoiding greater ones.

Mr. MacLennan’s desire to tear the Piobaireachd Society’s work two pieces has got such a hold of him that it has become chronic. But nevertheless he has to make good his statements. Mr. MacLennan says–” Part VI. (V.) Of the Piobaireachd Society’s publication has recently been issued, and I regret to note that it is as great a failure as its predecessors.” The same may be said about Mr. MacLennan’s criticism. His fifth effort to pick holes in a texture that is too tough for him, or his usual cry for war against the peace-loving body like the noblemen and gentlemen of the Piobaireachd Society, is as great a failure as ever.

“MacDonald of Glengarry’s Lament”

Mr. MacLennan says: “This is a beautiful tune spoiled.” Yes–in his criticism. His main objections are as follows:

1. That there are two grace notes in the first and second bars turned into theme notes to fill in the time.–Not so.

2. That there are seventeen syncopated beats cut up into two beats.–Nonsense!

3. That the toarluath and crunluath are pointed and timed quite differently for the succeeding tune.–The one tune has got nothing whatever to do with the other, and if Mr. MacLennan cares to look, he will see that the two tunes are quite differently constructed.

My answers to his errors follow in each case, but to give him every opportunity of fair play, perhaps he will point out the notes referred to in No. 1 and the beats referred to in No. 2.

“Kinlochmoidart’s Salute”

Mr. MacLennan’s objections are:

1. That in the urlar there are no less than 18 notes belonging to one beat stuck onto the next.–As a matter of fact this urlar is timed to perfection, each beat stands on itself alone; but perhaps Mr. MacLennan will be good enough to point out the notes he maintains are misplaced.

“The Battle of Auldearn.”

The objections are:

1. That the urlar and its doubling have 64 beats each.–Quite correct.

2. That the siubhal, its doubling, and the dara-siubhal, contain 32 beats each.–Quite correct.

3. That the treas-siubhal goes back to 64 beats. This might be given better in 6-8 time with 32 beats.

4. That the toarluath and crunluath had 32 beats.–Quite correct.

5. That there are some notes in one beat stuck onto the next.–Not so, but perhaps Mr. MacLennan will point out those notes.

“The Battle of Sheriffmuir.”

The points at issue are:

1. That this tune sprang from, or is a variant of “The Battle of Vatternish.”–Mr. MacLennan and I sprang from Adam, but that is not to say that we are the same individual, or that I am a variant of Mr. MacLennan. All tunes spring or come from the scale, but in the eyes of broad-minded man they all differ.

2. That the second beat in each part of the ground and siubhal ordaig is A. Quite correct, and certainly not B, as can be seen by anyone with eyes.

3. For a wonder the beats are correct here, but some of the variations are badly tied, Mr. MacLennan says.–Where?

4. That the treas-siubhal is written wrong.–Not so, but absolutely correct. Mr. MacLennan says it and the same variation in the “Battle of Auldearn” are both broadly written, but he does not say what is the right way. We kindly do so?

“The Blind Piper’s Obstinancy”

is apparently a tune too deep for Mr. MacLennan to understand, because he finds so many faults with it. It is a very fine setting, and agrees note for note with the MS. Setting which I possess. There is no need to get a setting from anyone.

“MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament.”

The objections here are:

1. That its composer stole it from other three tunes.–In imagination.

2. That the beats are badly grouped.–Where?

3. That the whole tune is badly timed.–Not so.

4. That the urlar and variations do not agree.–To the extent of 90 per cent they do agree, and where they do not that lay with the composer–not with Mr. MacLennan.

“Catherine’s Lament” and “the Rout of Glen Fruin” have apparently escaped Mr. MacLennan’s notice.

Finally, your critics says that the Piobaireachd Society should get their music written by a man who has “a thorough knowledge of the Gaelic language, its songs, literature, and music, as well as the fingering of the chanter, and who has obtained the certificate of a college of music for having passed in the science of music, harmony, counterpoint, and instrumentation.” Where can such a man be found? The following questions may in the same way be asked of Mr. MacLennan. Is he a thorough Gaelic scholar, a fascinating singer, a professor of literature, a professor of music, a professional piper, has he obtained the certificate of any college of music, has he passed in the science of music in the mastery of harmony, does he understand counterpoint, and how many instruments does he play?

In conclusion, if your critic possessed all those qualities above referred to, he would not have found so much fault with the Piobaireachd Society’s book.–I am, etc.,

Fear Aig Am Bheil Fios

OT: 27 July 1912 – John MacLennan [Review of PS Vol. VI]

The Oban Times, Saturday, 27 July, 1912

26 Arden Street, Edinburgh 23 July, 1911 [sic]

Sir,–Part VI. of the Piobaireachd Society’s publication has recently been issued, and I regret to note that it is as great a failure as its predecessors–indeed, if we take into consideration the “Historical Notes,” this volume may be looked upon as the greatest failure. An estimate of the care and research put on it can be obtained from statements made on the second page of the “Historical and Traditional Notes,” viz.: “John MacLeod of Colbecks was an eminent Jamaica planter. He married Janet, daughter of MacLeod of Raasay. Colbeck’s son, Colonel John MacLeod of Colbecks, for whom this lament seems to have been written, married his cousin Jane, daughter of MacLeod of Raasay. He died on 12 May, 1775.”

Very slight inquiry would reveal the fact that Colonel John MacLeod of Colbecks raised and was Colonel of “The Princess Charlotte of Wales’ Loyal Fencible Highlanders,” which so much assisted in the preservation of the piece of Ireland from the time it was embodied and inspected in Elgin by Major-General Leith Hay, in June, 1799, till it was reduced at Tynemouth early in 1804; and that the gallant Colonel died in London, 15th February, 1823. He did not marry a MacLeod; but his father married Jane, daughter of John MacLeod, ninth of Raasay, and the Colonel’s grandfather married Janet, daughter of Malcolm MacLeod, eighth of Raasay. Thus the Piobaireachd Society would have us to believe that the Colonel’s mother was his wife, and that his grandmother was his mother. (See Major-General D. Stewart’s Sketches; the Army Lists for 1800 to1803; “The MacLeods,” by the Rev. R. C. MacLeod; and “Blackwood’s Magazine,” vol. xiii., page 259.)

Again: “John Mackay was sent by MacLeod of Raasay to Boreraig to be instructed by John Dubh MacCrimmon.” The Piobaireachd Society are not the originators of this episode. The Mackays do not say their grandfather was taught by a MacCrimmon. He was taught by Malcolm MacLeod–cousin to Raasay–who composed the Lament for Prince Charles, and he was afterwards taught by Donald MacRae, a famous piper in Kintail. Professor John MacArthur, who died in Edinburgh in September, 1790, was by the Highland Society of Scotland, a body then as now composed of Scotland’s best, advertised to give an exhibition of bagpipe playing at the Edinburgh competition of 1785, “being the last pupil taught by the ancient MacCrimmons of Skye.”

From this, in the absence of most reliable contrary evidence, we must believe that Professor MacArthur was the last pupil taught by John Dubh MacCrimmon, and that any pupils he may have taught after that were local gentlemen, who never intended to become professionals. Indeed, it may be a question as to how long he was piper to the MacLeod of Dunvegan after 1746. Without entering into details, it may be said that MacLeod of the ’45 had little room for a piper, and his grandson, General MacLeod, who succeeded him in 1772, tells his own story. He joined the 42nd Highlanders in 1774, was absent from Dunvegan till 1779, and there was no piper then to welcome him, so they sent for Donald Ruadh, the last of the piping MacCrimmons, who played to welcome the Chief. Dr. Johnson makes no mention of a MacCrimmon when in Skye in 1773, nor yet does Pennant, while MacArthur and Rankin are mentioned.

In Part II. the Society Prince a tune named in English “Lady Doyle’s Salute,” while in the Gaelic it is “D’Oyley.” It is very difficult to say what the original name of many tenants may have been, but in this case it is well known to have been composed for a Miss Ross, granddaughter of MacLeod of Raasay, who became Lady D’Oyley, and ancient English family. The D’Oyley’s are, on the other hand, a French family. One of the MacDonells of Keppoch was a Lady D’Oyley, while the Doyles are said to have no connection with the MacLeods.

In Part II, also we find a tune known till then as “Scarce of Fishing,” printed under the heading “Lochnell’s Lament”–a variant of “MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute.” I am informed the Mackays can prove that the tune was composed by their grandfather, John Mackay of Raasay, under the former name, and that Lochnell had nothing to do with it.

Let us now take a casual view of the tunes as noted in this book.

MacDonald of Glengarry’s Lament

This is a beautiful little tune–spoiled. In the first bar of the urlar there are two grace notes changed into theme notes to fill in the time, and the same thing occurs in the second bar. Throughout the tune there are no less than seventeen syncopated beats cut up into two beats, the result of which can easily be imagined. The toarluath and crunluath are pointed and timed quite differently to the same toarluath and crunluath in the immediately succeeding tune, and there are two bars of music awanting in the third part of the urlar and all the variations.

Kinlochmoidart’s Salute

This tune is in Ross’s book under “Kinlochmoidart’s Lament”–a far better setting than is here. In the urlar alone there are no less than eighteen notes belonging to one beat stuck onto the next beat–comparable to eighteen letters of the alphabet belonging to one word being joined on to the next.

The Battle of Auldearn

The urlar and its doubling contain 64 beats each. The siubhal, the doubling of the siubhal, and the dara siubhal, only contain 32 beats each. The treas siubhal goes back again the 64 beats, while the toarluath and crunluath, with their doublings, only contain 32 beats each. In the urlar alone there are some 10 notes belonging to one beat stuck onto the next beat.

The Battle of Sheriffmuir

This tune is a variant of “the Battle of Vatternish.” The second beat in each part of the ground and siubhal ordaig is A. It should be B, as in all the other variations. There are no notes belonging to one beat stuck onto another in this urlar, but some of the variations are badly tied. Compare the treas siubhal here with the treas siubhal in “the Battle of Auldearn.” They are the exact same movements, but very differently written–and both wrong!

The Blind Piper’s Obstinacy

In the urlar, the third bar of the first part, and the fifth bar of the second part are the same, but in the variations they are different, and that to the deterioration of the tune. The third bar of the third part of the urlar is new. The first siubhal has a variation to suit it, as has the crunluath, but all the other variations have none. The toarluath and crunluath with their doubling, four variations, are wanting. What is given as such is no more a toarluath or crunluath than is the urlar of “The Glen Is Mine,” “Chisholm’s Salute,” or “MacCrimmon Will Never Return.” There are at least two or more pipers who have a complete setting of this tune, and I am sure would be quite willing to have it printed.

MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament

This is an abstract from “the MacRaes’ March,” “My King has Landed in Moidart,” and from “the Munro’s March,” but quite a nice air. The beats, however, are badly grouped, and the whole tune badly timed. There are four bars at the end of the third part of the urlar different from anything in the other parts, and there are no variations to represent them. The variations follow the first six bars of the urlar, after which there is no connection between the two, and the melody is lost.

Seeing that the vocation of first-class pipers and that of a lexicographer are so very different, the Society music should be written by a man who has a thorough knowledge of the Gaelic language, its songs, literature, and music, as well as of the fingering of the chanter, and who has obtained the certificate of a college of music for having passed in the science of music, harmony, counterpoint, and instrumentation.–I am, etc.,

John MacLennan

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