The Oban Times, 28 August, 1915
The Bagpipe and Gaelic Song
Elderslie, 14 August, 1915
Sir,–Mr. Grant set out to attack opinions of mine contained in quotations made by your reviewer from an article by me, and he has not brought forward a single argument based on fact in support of his condemnation; and, indeed, he has gone back to matters which have already been disposed of.
I was under no obligation to produce a defense of any kind. It was sufficient to show the weak points of the attack. Nevertheless, I gave a very viable suggestion to those who would inquire into the origin and development of “pibroch,” of whom Mr. Grant is professedly one.
If Mr. Grant has a desire to get at the truth about the origin and development of “pibroch,” he will at once set about the reconsideration of the subject in the light of the article which forms the theme of this correspondence, and another article to be found in Vol. V. of “Guth na Bliadhna.” He will also read W. Grattan Flood’s book, “The Story of the Bagpipe.” He need not accept all the conclusions of the author; for he has a strong partisan, like Mr. Grant himself, with this difference; that Mr. Flood knows a vast amount of musical history–sufficient to prove to Mr. Grant even, that the side of the subject upon which he has been gazing with unthinking admiration is but a corner after all.
I do not for a moment admit that I am jealous of the Bagpipe, even in the slightest measure. I admit that I cannot play the instrument, and that I have no desire to learn; I have done something much better without possessing a single musical instrument, except an old rusty pitchfork, which is never used. I do not admit that I do not understand the music of the Bagpipe. But I am perfectly convinced by this correspondence that I know it better than my antagonists. And I hold that I faced all the facts–and questions–and that Mr. Grant has shirked the facts, and put very irrelevant questions.
In the last paragraph of his letter Mr. Grant reveals that he is glad of the decay of a finer and more ancient native culture, and rejoices in the substitution of a coarser and alien kind. If that is patriotism, I have been all my life a contemptible traitor!
Let me turn now to what Mr. Donald MacRae says. Well, he says:
“Judging from Mr. MacPharlain’s letters, this statement seems to have been made with the idea of proving that the Highland bagpipe is an instrument which belongs to the Lowlands and England as much as to the Highlands.”
Mr. MacRae’s judgment is astray. For the Bagpipe which belongs to the Lowlands must be a Lowland bagpipe; that which belongs to England must be English; and that which belongs to the Highlands is necessarily Highland, and cannot be Lowland and cannot be English. The word “Highland” is of no use whatever to this controversy. In a way it is the title of the instrument in general use in Scotland to be called “Highland” (a word generally mixed up with “Gaelic”) which is in dispute. To say that it is “the particular kind of bagpipe played in the Highlands” does not help us much in regard to its origin and development, or its relations to the Northumbrian or Irish or any other kind of bagpipe.
Can Mr. MacRae tell us: Is the bagpipe which he calls “Highland” different from that played by Habbie Simpson of Kilbarchan, who is mentioned in the song, “Maggie Lauder”? Does it differ from the bagpipe played in Ireland today under the name “The War-pipe”? Does it differ from the bagpipe played by the early MacCrimmons, who were very likely–judging by their name–of Irish extraction? Do the differences, if any, extend to the scale? We may leave out the drones. We know that the third drone is a modern innovation.
I do not think it is useful to the argument to draw fine distinctions between “tunes played on the bagpipe” and “bagpipe tunes.” Mr. MacRae says to of the tunes mentioned by me are not bagpipe tunes proper, but adaptations. Assuming this is to be the case–to which I offer neither assent nor dissent–is it not the case that many tunes have been composed on the bagpipe for which the bagpipe scale is as badly fitted as for any adaptations from other music? Bagpipers play on one scale of nine notes, which is, to begin with, defective, and usually misrepresented by pipers in the introductions of their collections of tunes. Among the tunes which are in those collections are many which would require another scale to properly bring out their qualities. Does Mr. MacRae suggest that it is only when pipers adapt tunes that they squeeze them, so to speak, into the bagpipe scale? If he does, then a vast proportion of tunes must be consigned to the category, “improper bagpipe tunes.”
Mr. MacRae further says:
“Mr. MacPharlain made the bold statement that perhaps the advent of the bagpipe was part of the reason of the abandonment of Gaelic by Highlanders.”
In view of the words which I have put in small capitals, should he not have said: “a very timid statement indeed”?
Trustworthy historical students do not know of the bagpipe being in the Highlands in the 13th century; and they put little or no say in the bagpipe said to have MDCCCCIX on it. That pipe set, as it appears in the illustrations, could easily be claimed as a Irish one. I have not seen the actual thing, and can say nothing about it on my own behalf. It’s history seems to be obscure.
Mr. MacRae ought to know better than that the abolition of the Clan system and the ‘45 were the primary causes of the disuse of the Gaelic language. The primary cause of the disuse of the Gaelic language was the adoption of English as the administrative language of the whole of Scotland; and that took place centuries before the ‘45.
Mutual borrowings between the bagpipes and Gaelic song are can spacious by the smallness of their number. There were two prominent song tunes borrowed by pipers in this generation: “Horo, mo nighean donn bhoidheach” and “Mo Dhachaidh”; and to my mind they do not make very happy pipe tunes. But the amount of such borrowings has been small. I am of the opinion that there was considerable borrowing by pipers from Port-a-beul, which is not song. Take the Lament mentioned by Mr. MacRae: “Cha till mi tuilleadh.” There is a pipe set. Founding on the assumption that the pipe set was the original, Mr. W. S. Roddie made a vocal set, which can be seen in “Lays of the Heather.” Let anyone compare these two sets with the music which is sung to words–song-words–by soloists in choirs to-day. The song-words are modern, and, if I remember rightly, supplanted port-a-beul. The latter set of the music is a jewel. The pipe set and the vocal set founded thereon are defective renderings.
Mr. MacRae quite properly asks: “Why should there be any rivalry between the two kinds of music?” There should be none. But if Mr. MacRae was an observant man he would see that all societies having double-barreled constitutions, of which the promotion of Gaelic literature and music is one of the barrels, have gone or are going after the strange gods. The most notable example of this is “The Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.” Where now is its Gaelic programme? It is the same with a large proportion of our Clan, Local, and Literary Societies. I do not know if Mr. MacRae is a member of his own Clan Society. If he is, he can tell us what the Society has done or is doing for Gaelic literature and song. Is it not the fact that one of the best feathers in the Clan cap has been ignored by the Society, and taken up and dressed and made presentable by your humble correspondent–I mean what is regarded by scholars as the second most important Gaelic MS. in Scotland? The most important is being deciphered by an outsider.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 14 August, 1915
9 August, 1915
Sir,–I have read your fine paper for the last twenty years or more, and I just wonder if on that account you would permit me to say a few words on this subject? I do love the Highland Bagpipe, and scan the pages of “The Oban Times” for one single phrase on it.
There are now four correspondence on the subject, viz., Mr. MacPharlain and Mr. Grant, Mr. MacRae, and the writer. Mr. MacPharlain seems to go wide of his subject, and does not answer his questions directly, carefully avoiding an answer where he is most likely to be cornered. It is well known by all, that the Gaelic authorities and Gaelic Bards do not like the pipes, although I know some who adore them. Mr. MacPharlain would like to wipe out the Highland pipe because he is jealous of it, but the Highland Bagpipe as a fort impregnable. I am afraid Mr. MacPharlain does not know the difference between genuine Highland bagpipe music and tunes played on the bagpipe which do not belong to it.
Your correspondent Mr. MacRae seems to lay great emphasis on being able to play two instruments, which is to a certain extent a predominant note in his letter. Such qualities do not seem to help him, because when he says that the bagpipe helped Gaelic song then he agrees with Mr. MacPharlain. When Mr. MacRae tell us the exact English title of the piobaireachd known as “Cha tille MacCrumein?”
No lament in verse four words as any connection with a lament in piobaireachd, or Highland bagpipe music, and certainly the one in question, the Gaelic song, “Cha tille MacCrumein” I mean, is a melody quite different to any piobaireachd; but we will await Mr. MacRae’s explanation.
Your correspondent Mr. Grant seems to know his book. I have read his letters for many years, which go to prove that he has a fine and most minute grasp of the art of piobaireachd. His one object seems to be the desire to raise the art of piobaireachd to the highest standard, and he has done not a little to accomplish that end. However, we will await further developments with interest in this and everything concerning piobaireachd and the great Highland bagpipe.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 14 August, 1915
The Highland Bagpipe and Gaelic Song
27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, 2 August, 1915
Sir,–Those taking part in controversies often go wide of the mark, and, like your correspondent, Mr. Calum MacPharlain, some correspondents would rather wander from the subject altogether then answer the direct question concerned.
Your correspondent seems to maintain that my object in writing is to advertise my new work, “Piobaireachd: Its Origin and Construction.” Such is not the case. Now, Sir, I understand that Mr. Calum MacPharlain is responsible for the publication under the heading of “The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness.” This work was reviewed in your columns, so your correspondent got an advertisement of a work which he is responsible for. Your correspondent appears as a sort of jester or Indian juggler in his manner of replying to my last letter, and I shall pass over without notice his remarks which have no direct bearing on the subject. Having regard to your space, I shall speak to the point.
In dealing with the work edited by Mr. MacPharlain, your reviewer said that Mr. MacPharlain did not give the bagpipe much credit as regards its influence on Gaelic song. Your reviewer agrees with me that Mr. MacPharlain’s manner was hostile to what I claim to be the most superior and invaluable instrument in the world in the present crisis. Mr. MacPharlain attempted in his statements to lower the reputation and lessen the value of the great Highland Bagpipe by saying that it was the enemy of Gaelic and Gaelic song. This is the whole matter in dispute. If Mr. MacPharlain is not jealous of the Highland bagpipe, why does he use it as a means of comparison with Gaelic song? They have no connection. Gaelic songs are not genuine bagpipe music, and genuine bagpipe music is not Gaelic song. Genuine bagpipe music has no words, and it cannot be sung. Therefore the one can in no way be compared with the other. This being so, why bring the Highland Bagpipe into the matter of Gaelic song at all? The Highland Bagpipe and Gaelic song are as different as sugar and salt. If your correspondent admits that he is jealous of the Highland bagpipe, as it is clearly to be seen and he is in an extreme degree, or that he cannot play the instrument nor understand its music, then the correspondence is ended. If he does not admit jealousy, but still holds out as he has done, he puts himself in the position of refusing to face facts until they are brought home to him.
I am delighted to see that Mr. MacPharlain admits that the Highland Bagpipe wiped the bard and the harper out of the retinue of the Highland Chieftain. The bagpipe gained the victory, and the reigns supreme to-day in the field of battle, inspiring millions to victory, and the same instrument administers the last strain of music to the dying Highlander.–I am, etc.,
The MacCrimmon Canntaireachd.–Mr. J. Grant, 27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, writes:–In a corner of your valuable paper I see a few words from a correspondent, who does not give his name. I never asked “Eilean a Cheo” to admit that I am an authority on piobaireachd. But nevertheless I must be more of an authority on “ceol mor” than this hidden writer will admit. I challenge him to say in any respect how he makes good that I do not know piobaireachd. If Mr. J. P. Grant of Rothiemurchus, speaking for himself, lets us know through your columns that he can speak, read, write and play the notation, I will be delighted to rely. I have had the pleasure of preparing a volume on piobaireachd which is the forerunner of a work of greater magnitude on the same subject.”Eilean a Cheo” can read it, and challenge me in any point, and sign his name. If after reading my book he does not believe that I am John Grant, I will still be an authority on piobaireachd while he is only “Eilean a Cheo.”
The Oban Times, 7 August, 1915
Huntly, 2 August, 1915
Sir,–I am very fond of Highland music of all kinds, and consequently have followed, with much interest, the correspondence which has appeared in your valuable paper regarding the bagpipe, and, while partially agreeing with both your correspondents, there are several statements in Mr. Calum MacPharlain’s recent letters which I cannot pass over.
Mr. MacPharlain said: “There are lots of bagpipe tunes which are not Highland in any sense of the word, and these are among the older ones. A proportion of them are English.” Judging from Mr. MacPharlain’s letters, this statement seems to have been made with the idea of proving that the Highland bagpipe is an instrument which belongs to the Lowlands and England as much as to the Highlands. Well, if he had substituted the words “tunes played on the bagpipes” for the words “bagpipe tunes,” it would have been more correct, for none of the tunes he mentions are genuine bagpipe tunes. Mr. MacPharlain gave as examples of English tunes “Jockey Latin” and “Weel may the Keel Row.”
Now I have the good fortune to be able to play two instruments, namely the bagpipe and the piano, and therefore can examine these tunes both from the point of view of a piper and of a pianist. Taking the first of these two tunes in the form it is usually played on the piano, violin, etc., which, as the tune is English, I presume to be nearest the original, I discovered in a very short time that as the range of the bagpipe is limited, the tune cannot be played on it without first being altered as much as to make it almost unrecognisable. The other English tune, “The Keel Row,” has to be altered in the second part, so that it is quite obvious that neither of these tunes were composed on the Highland Bagpipe. The same thing applies to all the other tunes which he mentions, except “Rutherglen Brig.” All have to be altered considerably before they can be played on the Highland Bagpipe. The exception, “Rutherglen Brig,” I have never yet met, either in piano or bagpipe music, and can say nothing about it, but it is probable that it requires some alteration also, and if Mr. MacPharlain gives me a copy I shall soon tell him whether this is the case or not.
Regarding the name “Highland bagpipe,” I beg to inform Mr. MacPharlain that it refers to the particular kind of bagpipe playing in the Highlands, not to the place where it is manufactured, as he seems to think, judging by his last letter. The word “Highland” is necessary to distinguish the Highland bagpipe from the Northumbrian bagpipe, the Irish bagpipe, the Italian bagpipe, the French bagpipe, and many other kinds of bagpipes. He asks to be informed of any place in the Highlands were bagpipes are made. Well, I have been informed, although I cannot vouch for the statement, that bagpipes are made at Aberfeldy; and it may interest him to know that many of the bagpipe makers in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh are Highlanders who have, no doubt, taken up business in these cities in order to get material more easily. In almost every Highland town there are to be found makers of reeds, who would not choose that means of earning a living if there were not plenty of pipers to buy reeds.
In his letter Mr. MacPharlain made the bold statement that perhaps the advent of the bagpipe was part of the reason of the abandonment of Gaelic by Highlanders. This would seem to imply that the bagpipe came to Scotland about the eighteenth century. Now it is an established fact that the bagpipe was in use in the Highlands in the thirteenth century, and a set of bagpipes of the early fifteenth century is still in existence. At that time Gaelic was almost universal in the Highlands, and thus it remained until the ‘45. It is admitted by most people that the ’45 and the subsequent abolition of the clan system were the primary cause of the disuse of the Gaelic language, and it bagpipes have any effect at all, they tend rather to preserve the language, instilling in the hearts of pipers a love of all things Highland.
I can hardly bring myself to agree with Mr. MacPharlain’s statement that the bagpipe is the enemy of all Gaelic vocal music. Is it not the case that Gaelic song has been enriched from pipe music by many of its finest pieces? Take, for example, “Cha tille MacCruimein,” which is acknowledged by great musicians to be one of the greatest laments. Anybody knows that the air of that song is the urlar of the famous piobaireachd of the same name, which was composed by MacCrimmon, piper to MacLeod of MacLeod. Many other examples can be given if desired. It is also the case that pipers have borrowed from Gaelic vocal music, e.g., “Ho ro, mo Nighean Donn Bhoidheach,” etc. Strange, is it not, that two enemies should borrow from each other? After all, why should there be any rivalry between the two kinds of music? Each had its field in the realm of music. The bagpipe, in the old clan days, was the instrument of war and ceremonial, and the music of the clarsach and vocal music were symbolic of peace, while all three, together with Gaelic, and the glorious traditions of the past, are the priceless inheritance of Highlanders.–I am, etc.,
OT: 31 July 1915 – Eilean a Cheo [The Misty Isle] “The Highland Bagpipe and the MacCrimmon Notation”
The Oban Times, 31 July, 1915
The Highland Bagpipe and the MacCrimmon Notation
“Eilean a Cheo” does not admit that Mr. John Grant is an authority on Piobaireachd. He also recalls that he has had a controversy over the question of the MacCrimmon Notation with Mr. Simon Fraser of Australia. “Eilean a Cheo” adds that “Mr. John Grant clansman, Mr. Iain P. Grant, yr. of Rothiemurchus, can speak, read, write, and play the Notation.”
The Oban Times, 24 July, 1915
Elderslie, 17 July, 1915
Sir–What a revelation of himself your correspondent Mr. John Grant is making in the correspondence under this heading! He cannot be regarded as a conscientious controversalist. For, if he was, he would hardly have set out to condemn certain quotations from a paper that was quite accessible to him, without having read the paper and learned its purpose. It is naïveté with a vengeance to call on me (the defendant) to bring forward reasons for bringing the bagpipe into the case, while he (the complainant) refers us to a certain book called “Pibroch: Its Origin and Construction” for his own reasons for making the condemnatory statements.
Mr. Grant asks me to answer the question: “If one lessens the value of the music of a certain instrument, does he not lessen the value of the instrument itself also?” They both go down together, of course. But why the question? I did not appreciate the music more the instrument. If anything. I enhanced it by saying it was probable that the style of piobaireachd was derived from that of the clarsach. For surely the clarsach is musically very much the superior instrument. Mr. Grant seems to be afraid that the bagpipes popularity would go down if, in the search after the truth of the case, it were discovered that its connection with the clarsach was a fact. If that is the case, it just means that Mr. Grant has not the moral courage to face fact.
Mr. Grant asks me what instruments were certain tunes he mentions borrowed from. Why the question? I said nothing about those tunes. But I do say that there are dance tunes played on the bagpipe which were primarily fiddle tunes.
Mr. Grant asks me–Where did the Highland Bagpipe come from? And I am asked to prove that it came from England. Again, why the question? I did not say it came from England. If I were to ask the nearest bagpiper where his Highland bagpipe came from, he, being a Lowlander, would likely say: “Frae Glesca, whaur the maist o’ them’s made.” If any are made in the Highlands I would be glad to hear that, for we have much need of industries of that class in the Highlands. Then they might truthfully be called Highland bagpipes.
He asks further: “Can he name to me a genuine Highland bagpipe march or a bagpipe march composed by an Englishman?” Why should I be asked such ridiculous questions? They have no bearing on the subject. A Highland march made by an Englishman would hardly be genuine. But it is to be presumed that those bagpipe tunes which are English tunes were made by Englishmen. There are lots of bagpipe tunes which are not Highland in any sense, and these are among the older ones. A proportion of them are English. Surely it was no Highland piper who made “Rutherglen Brig”; and nobody has contended for “The Flowers o’ the Forest” or “The Land o’ the Leal” being Highland marches, or the “Laird o’ Cockpen,” or “Johnnie Cope,” or “Protestant Boys,” or “Clean Pease Strae,” etc. ; and it is generally acknowledged by those who have looked into the matter that “Jockey Latin “Weel may the Keel Row” “cam’ frae ‘yont the Tweed.” I write from memory.
In his second letter Mr. Grant says Gaelic men satirised bagpipe in vulgar style. They certainly did. That fact Mr. Grant learned from himself. But I gave no reason for their satirising it, and it is highly absurd to say their reasons are as apparent as mine, while mine are not in evidence.
I will now give the reason, as I believe it: they feared the bagpipe as Mr. Grant fears the truth. It was dangerous, they thought, to their own pet music. They were bards and harpers. At any rate their musical bias and linguistic bias were against the bagpipe; and I commend them for their recognition of the enemy which “wiped the Gaelic bard out of the retinue of the Highland Chieftain.” I quote Mr. Grant. Is it not just wonderful how useful Mr. Grant makes himself to my argument, without meaning it quite?
Mr. Grant’s reasoning powers are exhibited at their worst when he puts the question: “what could the Gaelic poetry of old, or even modern years, due in the charge to-day on the battlefield?”
I might as well ask him what could the bagpipe do in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”? I should like immensely to see a cavalry charge with a piper or two mounted on horses. The cavalry charge itself might be a fine sight; but the splendour would sink into nothing in comparison with the laughability of Piper Mackay and his doodle-sack for it would then be a doodle-sack indeed–oh, Mr. Grant! The charge of the Light Brigade was a heroic charge; but there was no bagpipe–no stimulant. It was not needed. As a fighting stimulant religious bigotry is allowed to be about the best. But the late Lord Wolsely said a better one was the sense of honour of an English gentleman. Nobody thinks of the sense of honour of the Gaelic gentleman, because there is a conscientiousness hardly ever expressed that assumes Gaelic gentlemen to have abandoned all national honour when they abandoned their national language. That movement began with the advent of the bagpipe, and was perhaps part of the reason of it.
The Gaelic language is the only genuine badge of Gaelic patriotism.
Will I own up to jealousy of the bagpipe? Certainly not. It is impossible for me to own up to a thing which is not here. I am the man who, along with the late Dr. MacBain, did most to turn research into the development of the bagpipe in Scotland on to scientific lines–he historically, I musically. And the late Andrew Lang thought my findings were about right. See back numbers of “The Graphic,”–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 17 July, 1915
The Highland Bagpipe
27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, July 8 1915
Sir,–Gaelic men satirised the Highland bagpipe in vulgar style. Their reason for that is as apparent as Mr. Calum MacPharlain’s.
Your correspondent says: “The bagpipe was and is the enemy of Gaelic vocal music,” but I may tell him that this is not so. The bagpipe and Gaelic vocal music never quarreled, but the Gaelic bards and those who make the Gaelic language a would-be specialty have quarreled with the Highland Bagpipe; and moreover, I can give your correspondent the answer in one word–jealousy, because the Highland Bagpipe wiped the Gaelic bard out of the retinue of the Highland Chieftain.
Now we come to the crux of the whole thing so far as the Highland bagpipe, or any kind of bagpipe, Gaelic in prose or poetry, and your correspondent are concerned. His final statement: “The bagpipe is not necessary to heroism. The great lack of our people is moral courage, particularly to enable them to face fact and strip humbug and hypocrisy bare.”
Now, Sir, I love the moors with the shaggy heath; I adore the mountain, with the majestic peaks towering to the heavens; I have bathed my mingled thoughts in the quietude of the corry, where twines the path and winds the dimpling stream; and I am proud of my native Highland language, music, poetry and everything dear to my Highland home. For those reasons I do not wish to dismantle or speak harshly of any of them, but your correspondent has compelled me to take the following as an analogy: The bagpipe is an invaluable instrument in the encouragement of heroism. Many a Highland piper has played on the battlefield in the fire zone, aye, even before his comrades. Some have fallen for ever, while others lived to tell the tale. Many a piper has played his comrades onto victory, and it was the inspiring notes of the pipes that lead and prompted the rank and file to heroism and heroic deeds. Both parties have admitted this fact, as well as their officers. In the present war the shrill and piercing notes of the Highland Bagpipe had cheered on to the charge, or death itself, all around it, whether Highlanders, Lowlanders, English, Irish, French or Belgian.
Your correspondent appears to me to be a walking encyclopedia in everything Highland, though his practical knowledge in some respects is next to nil. One thing he seems to pose in is the Gaelic language in prose, and perhaps in poetry for all I know. Can he say the same about the Gaelic language or the Gaelic bard that I have said, and is true, about the Highland Bagpipe? Much against my will I asked him–What would the Gaelic poetry of the bard of old, or even modern years, do in the charge to-day on the battlefield. Nothing! Under the roar of the cannon it could not be heard. The Englishman, Frenchman, and the Belgian can only look on it as a meaningless jargon. It conveys nothing to them. There is no incitement to battle or heroism in this relic. The Gaelic language is practically dead, and it is being revived at a great cost and a hard-scrambled donation, while the bagpipe has flourished and will flourish forever. If there is a lack of moral courage, is it your correspondent or me that lacks it most? Until I have been compelled I have not even spoken so of the Gaelic language, and what I have now said is only to compare my favourite pastime and his own. The whole tone of his last letter shows clearly that he is jealous of the Highland bagpipe, although he will not own it up. Does it require moral courage to do this? Now I think I have given your correspondent what he has been asking for, viz., something “to enable him to face facts,” and in this way he has been the means of allowing me, in his own words, to “strip humbug and hypocrisy bare.”–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 3 July, 1915
Elderslie, 26 June, 1915
Sir,–Your correspondent, Mr. John Grant, is only beating the wind–a very unprofitable, unedifying thing to do. It benefits nobody, and the wind goes on undeterred.
I brought the bagpipe into the “matter of Gaelic song” to prove what Mr. Grant himself contends for, namely, that Gaelic song has no connection, as some allege, with the bagpipe. I do not go the length he does, for he says it has not ANY relation to the bagpipe. Now it has some slight relations, as I showed in my paper in the Inverness Gaelic Society’s Transactions. But it does not appear that Mr. Grant took the trouble to read the paper.
The statement I make regarding harp themes and the music having to a certain extent the same names as those of piobaireachd does not lessen the “value of the Great Highland Bagpipe and its music.” It only conveys information that is not generally known, and which such as Mr. Grant disregard when it is told them, because it tends to dissipate their pet theories, which have, usually, no basis in fact.
I have not said that piobaireachd themes were taken from harp themes, as he alleges. My words are quite clear. They are: “These two facts (the names of the subjects and the names of the variations) go far to justify my opinion that the style (note the word) of Piobaireachd were derived from Harp music.” Bagpipes, most certainly, borrowed from fiddle music; and why should not they have borrowed from the harp? Their imitation of the borrowed matter is, of course, limited by the difficulty of reproducing it on a ruder an entirely different class of instrument.
Mr. Grant says:–”Let me say with clear and determined decision that the theme in piobaireachd stands alone as classical music [whatever that means]. It is the peculiar inheritance of a peculiar Celtic people, and borrowed from no other class of music, or from no other musical instrument.” That is strong language, and I suppose Mr. Grant, before using it, had well-established grounds for his statement, and had carefully reconsidered them before going to print. I for one–and, I am sure, all of your readers–would like to have at least an inkling of those grounds. We want–all folks want–to have “clear and determined decisions”; but alas! such are human shortcomings that they are hard to get at, and I very much fear that Mr. Grant is no better off in this respect than ourselves, and is unable to satisfy our cravings in this case. We shall “wait and see.”
It has nowhere been said by me or any other writer that I know of, that the variations of the harp and the piobaireachd are the same; and it is beating the wind to harp on a matter that is not before us.
Nobody has made a comparison between the bagpipe and the harp but Mr. Grant himself; and nobody has sought to degrade the bagpipe. Mr. Grant, to my mind, degrades it by his style of defense, which has nothing but unsupported statement behind it.
He says: “It (piobaireachd) is the peculiar inheritance of a peculiar Celtic people.” I have said nothing about its being Celtic or non-Celtic. What I say is: That the evidences, as far as we have got them, are in favour of the belief that the bagpipe came from England, the people of which is largely pre-Celtic and Celtic, with a considerable infusion of Saxon and Angle, into Lowland Scotland, the people of which are very largely pre-Celtic and Celtic, with a small infusion of Angle; from thence into Highland Scotland, the people of which are very largely pre-Celtic and Celtic, with a considerable infusion of Scand in some parts. But that it had, as is often asserted, a Gaelic origin and development is not borne out by any evidence that has been produced, that I have seen. On the contrary, there is strong evidence that it could not have had a Gaelic origin. For instance, the name pioba is impossible as of early Gaelic word. It is the Gaelic representative of the English word “pipe,” pronunciation and all, before it was corrupted by false analogy into its modern sound. Piobair exactly reproduces in Gaelic, English “Piper,” as pronounced in the past. Seannsair is just “chanter” Gaelicised, a word which must have developed after the Norman-French invasion of England. There is no evidence of the bagpipe being regarded as great or small in the Highlands prior to 400 years ago. If it had been in any degree fashionable previous to that time, fees to pipers would have appeared in the account books of kings and nobles alongside of those to Seanchies, Harpers, and”Auld Sang-wifes.”
Bagpipe music, with the exception of piobaireachd, made in the Highlands by Highlandmen, is similar to bagpipe music made in the Lowlands by Lowlandmen, and in England by Englishmen. As March music it is unapproachable in serving its purpose. Yet musical bias, which is as strong in others as an pipers, leaves a Welsh Celt to write as follows: “The Scotch Highland marches are wild warbles, which might–and, indeed, upon many occasions did, in a remarkable degree–inspire courage, but which could not answer the purpose of regulating the step.” (See “The People’s Welsh Songs,” published by John Leng & Co., Dundee, price one penny.) I wonder did the man who wrote those words ever see men marching to the bagpipe! If he did, he could not have helped seeing that, if it did nothing else in his eyes, it certainly regulated the step. But musical bias, alike in Mr. Grant and the Welshman, has led to statements that are not borne out by facts, and that are, indeed, ridiculous.
Gaelic men satirised the bagpipe in the same vulgar style, when it was coming into vogue in the Highlands, as Englishmen did when it was going out of vogue in their country; and they had good reason, for it was (and is) the enemy of Gaelic vocal music.
The bagpipe is not necessary to heroism. Many and great heroes never heard it. Physical courage is as common as ever it was. The great lack of our people is moral courage, particularly to enable them to face fact and to strip humbug and hypocrisy bare. The bagpipe is of no use in that connection. Indeed, the humbug that has been spoken and written about that instrument is enormous.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 26 June, 1915
The Bagpipe and Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness
27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, 21 June, 1915
Sir,–In your last issue, I observed a review of “The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness,” in which the following passages appear:–
The author is not inclined to give much credit to the Bagpipe in its influence on Gaelic song. “Piobaireachd” he says, “is the only Bagpipe music which, I think, derives its Style from genuine Gaelic music. The special themes of the Harp were the “Failte, or Salute, and the Cumha or Lament. These are the special themes of Piobaireachd likewise, and the terms used for the variations of Piobaireachd are most of them Harp terms also. These two facts go far to justify my opinion that the style of Piobaireachd was derived from Harp music.
With your permission, I would like to ask this author, or the gentleman who speaks so, some questions.
Why does he bring the bagpipe into the matter of Gaelic song at all? The bagpipe has got nothing whatever to do with Gaelic song, and Gaelic song has no connection, nor has any relation, to the bagpipe.
This author also says that the special themes of the harp were the “Failte” and “Cumha,” and that these are the special themes of piobaireachd also. Further, he says that the terms used for the variations of piobaireachd are harp terms, and that in his opinion piobaireachd was derived from harp music.
These statements are, in my opinion, made in such a manner as to lessen the value of the Great Highland Bagpipe and its music, classical and of the lighter type.
Let me give the following analogy:–Because the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe has a theme, as has the music of the harp, that is not to say that the theme of piobaireachd was taken from the theme of the harp. All tunes in classical music, of whatever kind or for whatever instrument, have themes, but that will not prove or determine the fact that the theme for one instrument was or is taken from the theme of the other.
Let me say with clear and determined decision that the theme in piobaireachd stands alone as classical music. It is the peculiar inheritance of a peculiar Celtic people, and borrowed from no other class of music, or from no other musical instrument.
That the variations in piobaireachd are the same as the variations in harp music is a statement made by a man who, however great his knowledge may be of the soft music of the clumsy but timid harp, is completely ignorant of the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe, whose fame has spread over the four quarters of the globe. Moreover, the intricate passages and movements in piobaireachd occurring in theme and variations cannot be produced on the harp, which is to them “the parting of the ways,” or the means of dividing the one from the other.
Britannia, from her chivalry to the humblest Highlander, could never afford to look on a greater instrument than the Great Highland Bagpipe in the most remote ages, far less at the present critical moment; much less can she afford to compare her most powerful military inspirator with a meagre instrument like the disused harp. Therefore it will be well for people who are ignorant of our much beloved instrument to leave it alone rather than make an attempt to diminish its power and value.
It behooves us to speak highly and well of our Great Highland Bagpipe and its music, for with them the Highland minstrel has played many a gallant hero to victory. Our common enemy has admitted that “when they heard the bagpipe it was a sure sign of utter ruin.” The inspiring notes of Highland bagpipe music are original to the instrument–not a mere theme borrowed from another class the theme of a lower order, like “a crow dressed in peacock’s feathers.”
Our people as a nation, and military men of the highest rank, cannot over-estimate the value of the Great Highland Bagpipe and its music, and on that account I will permit no one to degrade them. Before this war is over, with God’s help, we look forward to seeing our Highland pipers play our gallant soldiers into Berlin.–I am, etc.,