OT: 30 October 1915 – A. MacPherson “Piobaireachd: Its Origin and Construction”

The Oban Times, 30 October, 1915

Piobaireachd: Its Origin and Construction

Inveran Hotel

Sutherlandshire, 21 October, 1915

Sir,–In advocating the rights of the “Piob Ghaelach,” it will, I am sure, he readily and unanimously admitted that to your courtesy and the columns of your estimable paper must be attributed, in a very great sense, the place of honour which the Highland Bagpipes and the music of the Gael occupy. Lately, it has been very interesting to watch and read the different shades of opinion regarding the bagpipes. In some cases the diversity has been very extreme, and as a means of fostering an unanimity on the much-discussed question of our national instrument and music, I would respectfully command all admirers and critics to put themselves in possession of a copy of a book recently published by Mr. John Grant, 27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, entitled “Piobaireachd: its Origin and Construction.” This work is that of a man possessing practical knowledge and deep-rooted and affectionate desire to raise bagpipe music to a high standard.
It must have caused a very great deal of labour, time and expense to the author, and it would be a blot upon the enthusiasm of every genuine Celt, if the time ever came when it would be said, as in truth it was said of the works of our past masters, it did not get the support it deserved. I hope others will support me in congratulating the author and in my endeavour to claim for his work what it so richly deserves, a place on every true-hearted Celt’s bookshelf. That it will be read and appreciated by generations yet to come I am certain.–I am, etc.,

A. MacPherson

OT: 5 April 1913 – The Early History of the MacCrimmons

The Oban Times, 5 April, 1913

The Early History of The MacCrimmons
Related by Themselves to Captain MacLeod of Gesto

By Dr. K. N. MacDonald

It appears that in 1826 the late Capt. Neil MacLeod of Gesto wrote a history of the McCrimmons or McCrummens, embracing a great many tunes in the MacCrimmon system of notation together with the histories of their origin and composition, in which he was assisted by Mr. Simon Fraser’s father, who was a very clear and beautiful writer, and was therefore a living witness of the following narrative as supplied by the McCrimmons. The book was not published, for reasons which shall appear presently, but as a substitute the book of 1828, which we have now got was brought out.  Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher and Pantheist, one of the boldest and most original thinkers of the age, was born at Nola about 1550. He became a Dominican monk, but his religious doubts and his censures of the monastic orders, compelled him to quit his monastery and Italy. He embraced the doctrines of Calvin at Geneva, but free dissension not being in favour there, he went to Paris, where he gave lectures on philosophy, when he made many bitter enemies. He spent two years in England, and became the friend of Sir Philip Selney. In 1585 he went again to Paris and renewed his public lectures. After visiting several towns in Germany, he returned to Padua in 1592, and went afterwards to Venice, where he was arrested in 1598 by the Inquisition, and sent to Rome, where he lay in prison for two years, and on the 17th of February, 1600, he was burned at the stake as a heretic. His theory of the world was pantheistic. He was well-versed in astronomy, and adopted the views of Copernicus. But he was also a believer in astrology, and wrote many works in Latin and Italian, which abound in bold and noble thought, and are rich in eloquence.

A relation of his, Petrus Bruno, about or before this time, left Cremona, Italy, and went over to Ireland and settled there. He had to leave on account of his religious opinions. He did not believe in pantheism–which identifies the universe with God–but believed strongly in primitive Christianity, and he got access to some original documents which, to his mind, proved that the Bible had been tampered with about the beginning of the second century, and he held, therefore, that creeds have nothing to do with the true teachings of Christ.

Gesto was disappointed that his book of 1826 was interfered with by friends, and determined to leave a nut behind him, as Gladstone did with Home Rule that would be difficult to crack. “The Lament for the Laird of Annapole,” No. 18 in his book of 1828, is in reality a lament for Bruno, the philosopher. It will be noticed how much the letters r u n o are used in this particular tune, which is pretty stiff to translate and play: also “trun” and “drun,” in the finish and the “hi die dru” beats, which have puzzled so many. Well, to shorten the story of Petrus Bruno, he took the name of “Cremmon,” and added “Mac” to it. Whether this is true or not, Gesto did not invent it, and it was for mentioning it that some of his friends prevailed upon him not to publish the work, which was a great loss to lovers of piobaireachd. “The Lost Pibroch,” or “Piobaireachd,” is a beautiful tune, by Patrick Mor MacCrimmon, according to Mr. Simon Fraser, and is a lament for the Savior. This tune is in existence, and we must get a hold of it. Petrus, it is said, was the original inventor of the “Sheantaireachd,” or pipers’ language, which was used by the MacCrimmon’s not only as music, but to conceal their religious opinions as well.

In regard to making the pipes speak, this is nothing more or less than a certain beat struck on the chanter, which conveys to those who are “in the know” what is meant by it. Donald Mòr and Patrick Mòr afterwards perfected the system.

About the middle of the seventeenth century Patrick Mòr went to Italy to study, and to see if he could prove the truth of Petrus Bruno’s contentions regarding tampering with the Scriptures. He found out what led him to believe that all that Petrus said was correct, for on his return he gave his opinion that if Martin Luther had taken the same trouble to purify Christianity as he did to form a religion of his own, the world would have been the better for it, and instead of slaughtering one another over the different creeds, people would understand that Christianity, is a religion of love, and not a mixture of love and hate, for he held that as oil and water will not mix, neither can love and hate. It was for having mentioned this in his first book that brought Gesto into conflict with some people of his time, and he deferred to their wishes.

In Mr. Simon Fraser’s last letter he states that Mr. Kenneth Stewart, a friend of Peter Bruce, died in New South Wales many years ago. He was also taught by Gesto, and was considered by Peter Bruce to be one of his (Gesto’s) rent best pupils. He ends by wishing “a happy and prosperous new year to all the descendents of the immortal Gesto, the saviour of the MacCrimmon music”–sentiments which I most cordially endorsed.

OT: 19 June 1915 Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness

The Oban Times, 19 June, 1915

Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness.
Volume XXVII. 1908-1911

It is almost certain that everyone interested in Celtic matters will hail with warm welcome another of these long familiar green-covered, red-edged volumes. It must be a matter of gratification to the Society, to know that this latest volume is equal in strength and interest with its predecessors. Since the formation of the present book, the Society have to deplore the loss of various of their numbers. The names are of wide significance. The greatest of them probably is Dr. Alexander Carmichael, a searcher and remembrancer of Celtic vestiges, of whom in all likelihood there will never be an equal. His son-in-law is the distinguished Celtic scholar, Professor Watson, of the Edinburgh University.

Mr. Malcolm MacPharlane, the veteran on Gaelic derivation, gives a fine specimen of his powers in Studies in Gaelic Music. He reasons at one section of his “Study” that the same tune does duty for several songs. He instances a tune of the two-strain form, “Polly Oliver,” which is a variant of “Guma alàn a chì mi,” and gives the suggestion that it was originally Irish. “I wonder,” he goes on to say,

How many tunes there are in England which have been imported from the Continent without any importation of the language to which they belong. Many tunes, I should think, have traveled into strange countries without words as vehicles, their merit being sufficient to give them vogue among the people to whom they were carried. I do not suppose the tune which you will know best as “John Anderson, my jo,” depended on any language for its wide vogue. You get it in Wales in Welsh words; in Ireland and Scotland to Gaelic and English words; and it is said to be in Norway. In the Gaelic of Scotland it has two well disguised variants known by me–one in a recitative style, sung to “Blàr na h-Eiphit,” by Corporal MacKinnon; the other in a chorus style, sung to “Ach ma ni thu bargan,” by Robb Denn. It must have been imported early, and independent of language.

Of the song, “Chailin og a’ stiuir thu mi,” Mr. MacPharlane gives an interesting little history.

A few months ago I had sent me from an old man, since deceased, named Donald Beaton, residing in Australia, where he had been for fifty-four years, words which help to correct apparently defective lines in both of the already recorded versions. Mr. Beaton assumes both versions to be one whole: but that appears to me to be a mistaken notion. I append amended version of this interesting work song, as it appears in “An t-Oranaiche,” and Beaton’s version of the other part. To one of them I have given the Irish tune, and to the other a tune taken down by myself from a Ballachulish man. Evidently there is another tune in Lochaber not yet recorded.

Our 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 in style from genuine Gaelic music. The special themes of the harp were the Fàilte, 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.

As for dancing, he slaps out that

Dancing, as we understand it, was not a Gaelic custom originally. There is no Gaelic word in Gaelic literature for dancing. The two words, “dannsadh” and “rinceadh” are borrowed. That being so, the dance style of music in the Gaelic area can hardly be of Gaelic origin.

Dance music, although it has long been in the Scottish Gaelic area, and although it has reached a high pitch of excellence there, has had comparatively little influence on Gaelic song music in Scotland; but fiddle music has had more influence on it than the music of the bagpipe. But the Gaelic language, through its port-a-beul words, has had a strong influence in moulding the specially Scottish characteristics of dance music particularly the much-written-about “Snap,” and the frequency of the accent on the penultimate and anti-penultimate notes of cadences.

Mr. MacFarlane’s Study is crowded with excellent matter, and though he disclaims erudition in his subject, the fact remains that there are few men now living so capable as he to deal with topics so reminiscent of the traditions and lore of Highland arts and graces.

Rev. D. J. MacDonald, Muasdale, Kintyre, writes interestingly on “West Kintyre Field Names.” Dr. Sinton, of Dores, continues his pleasantly composed notes on the “Place, People, and Poetry of Dores.” Mr. D. MacRitchie, of Edinburgh, gives a scholarly paper on “Gaelic Speech and the Gaelic Race.” Rev. Archibald Scott, of Helmsdale, works upon ancient tradition in relation to St. Moluag and his work. Mr. Andrew MacIntosh, Inverness, has a fine subject to do with in the “History of Strathspeys and Reels.” A work connected with the name of Mr. William Mackay, solicitor, Inverness, is bound to be good, valuable and reliable. He gives us here “Saints Associated with the Valley of the Ness,” and “Education in the Highlands in the Olden Times;” both are masterly expositions of their titles. “Clan nan Gaidheal an Guaillean a’ Cheile.”

There is a great deal to interest, to instruct, to entertain, and to stimulate research contained in the volume, and we heartily congratulate the Society upon the success of their latest publication.

It is a sorrowful coincidence that the volume appears just as the gallant secretary of the Society, Capt. D. F. Mackenzie, has laid down his life for his country on the battlefield of Flanders.

OT: 25 December 1915 – Calum MacPharlain “The Bagpipe Scale”

The Oban Times, 25 December, 1915

The Bagpipe Scale

Elderslie, 18 December, 1915

Sir,–I stated in a former letter on this subject that I declined to discuss it in terms of the staff notation; and of course must decline to use the unscientific terminology with which J. P. M. meets my efforts to reveal the scales as they work out in theory.
I know perfectly well that I did argue from the theory in the conclusion and not “the other way about.” If I had started by marshalling the facts as they have been found by scientific men who have tested chanter notes as to their values in vibrations, I would have found confusion such as would give no basis for theory of any kind. To find what the aim of the defective chanter scale was I would have to start speculating–in other words provide myself with a test, theory or theories. And if I gave names such as those used for keys, as A, B, and C, to the several notes, it could only be for test purposes: for no note stands the test perfectly. I would have found that the notes came near to what J. P.M. himself finds them in pitch. But I would have been theorising all the time. But somebody was before me who did all this and I found it reasonable, and, sensibly I adopted this theory set forth until I could find a better. This J. P. M. has not given me as yet. Has J. P. M. himself argued “the other way about”? I trow not. He has not at any time presented the facts to us; but only his theoretical scale. And what is it?

Chanter Scale

G; A; B; C#; D; F#; G; A

It seems pipers and others recognise the second lowest note as the fundamental one of the scale and that it comes near on pitch to the 440 vibrations which Mr. Fingland has termed the scientific value of that note. That is all I take to do with the absolute pitch of that or any other note. Absolute pitch is of no further use to me. It is tune we have next to do with, and it is entirely dependent on relative pitch. I want the nearest series of scientifically related notes in the series which J. P. M. produces for me. I am helped out at once by the position of the semi-tones, and here is the result

Chanter scale, according to J. P. M. and Calum MacPharlain and John MacNeill–

F; S; L; T; D; R; M, F; S

The semi-tones, are in both lists, between the fourth and fifth and the seventh and eighth notes. Is not that conclusive as between the three parties named above? Surely this means that Soh is the fundamental note of the chanter scale in J. P. M.’s view of it.

Then J. P. M. follows up his scale by a series of pentatonic scales. They are got by shunning Fa and Ti of the above diatonic scale. What other possible way is there to get a pentatonic scale out of a diatonic? The same can be done with the scale of any instrument. But who alleges that those other scales arose out of a series of pentatonic scales? I have said in the paper which set this discussion agoing that probably the bagpipe came into a sphere where pentatonic music was rife–Scotland was given over to much pentatonic music up to comparatively late times; much past the historical advance of the bagpipe to Scotland, indeed. Gaelic piobaireachd, as recorded, is not old, and if, on examination, it’s be found pentatonic to the extent J. P. M. alleges what of that? Older bagpipe music of the general order–much of the greater in volume–is assuredly not pentatonic, but to a certain extent.

If there are no bagpipe pibrochs on the Soh mode–which I have not tested–what of that? The Soh mode is not such a favourite of the Gaelic people that it should be wonderful to find pibroch players without it. In fact, some musicians–I myself indeed also–suspect at once a Soh mode tune picked up in a Gaelic sphere in Scotland as an outsider, or, possibly, due to bagpipe influence. All the same I like the Soh mode as well as the pentatonic scale, and have made tunes of both kinds; and, indeed, some are of both classes combined.

As to the sharp seventh and the Soh mode, J.P.M.’s words are to me not explicit. The seventh of a Soh mode tune is the note Fa, and it does not belong to the pentatonic scale. It is natural. If a Soh mode tune is transposed into a Doh mode one the seventh is made flat. But that is away from the Soh mode altogether onto a makeshift scale. Ti, which is the seventh of the Doh mode, has a place in the Soh mode of which it is the third note. These makeshifts are due to the defectiveness of instruments with fixed notes, as a rule.

In fact, instrumental music dominates vocal music far too much. The voice was the instrument on which music evolved naturally, and it is the perfect type. Let us get rid of the idea that instrumental fixed scales are music proper. They are merely makeshift imitations of the vocal scale. No doubt there very defects have been the cause of the evolution of mannerisms and minor characteristics, which are taken up and applied to vocal music. But when we found musical theory on instrumental fixed notes, and use terms applicable only to those notes, we go far astray and lower, instead of elevate, the art and practice of music. More especially it is our duty, as we have a notation which fits the higher class music exactly, to our hand, to clarify our views by making use of those terms which it gives us.

If J.P.M. has faith in his own theory of pentatonic scales being the foundation of the bagpipe scale, as set forth in his last letter, and has any wish to impress me with it, he must produce facts as determined by those who tested the vibrations of the chanter notes, and show that there is method in their apparent madness. General Thomason’s analysis will do. And let him use Sol-fa names which have a definite value. –I am, etc.,

Calum MacPharlain

OT: 18 December 1915 – J.P.M. “The Chanter Scale”

The Oban Times, 18 December, 1915

The Chanter Scale.

Tain, 10 December, 1915

Sir,–The slow progress of this discussion seems to be due to my intrusion with the “five note” theory, and if, instead of shedding light upon a dark subject, the advent of such an “unknown” quantity has only deepened the gloom, I fear I am not to be congratulated. However, with a little patience, I hope to show your readers exactly how the old musicians of the Scottish race looked upon the scale, as evidenced by the “known” residuum of the “craft” of piping which we inherit in Piobaireachd.

I have to thank Mr. MacPharlain for so carefully comparing my scales with the absolute vibrations of theoretical notes, and although his selection of method naturally leans in his own favour, he is not far wrong. But in his deductions from the theoretical value of such notes he goes seriously astray, as I shall point out. His attitude is just another instance of the mistakes that can arise from arguing from the theory to the conclusion instead of the other way about. I pass over meantime the fact that he uses four “diatonic scales” in his diagram instead of two “pentatonic” ones as I anticipated, and I also made no comment on the fact that he postulates his D major scale as the original one and corrects the others from it, thereby over correcting the fourth (C) scale from which his D scale numbers presumably originate. I think I shall be able to show that the chanter was originally tuned from the G scale.

My argument is much simpler and easily “understanded” as Mr. Cameron remarks. In short, the “five note” theory depends on the remarkable uniformity shown by the classification of the pibrochs as I pointed out in my first letter. So that I did not first form a theory and then try to obtain results to prove it. On the contrary, each tune slid into its own place, and the finished classification led me quite naturally to the theory. The tunes are still extant for everybody to look at, examine, admire and play. For nearly a hundred years they have been printed with key signatures just as I find them to-day, so that the players and collectors of last century must have believed the evidence of their own ears. Another point is that I excluded most modern tunes beyond the 1715-45. From my account with the exception of some of Angus Mackay’s, Donald Mackay’s, and John Bain Mackenzie’s. That these composers used the old modes freely and naturally is quite certain, and that some of their tunes exhibit the fragile beauty of a much to be regretted decadence is also evident.

Opposed to these views we have Mr. MacPharlain, who actually proves that their pipe had only one modern scale, and presumably a repertoire of one keyed tunes. Admitting for a moment that this is true, what do we find in reality? Simply this–that there does not exist a single pibroch composed either on the diatonic scale of D major or its relative key of B minor. The older composers had no knowledge of the existence of this key on the pipe. If Mr. MacPharlain thinks they had then all I have to do is to ask him to produce one single pibroch on the key of D with sharp seventh as a mode note, and if he finds that one tune I am quite willing to subscribe to his theory.

Until this little point is settled I need not take up your space by further excursions into the “unknown.” When that is clear, then perhaps you will permit a further discussion on the modes. Mr. MacPharlain has touched on the fringe of the subject in his little study of a “soh” mode effect. He will pardon me remarking that the “soh” mode cannot be “mentalised” while there is a sharp seventh in its neighbourhood, no more than a painter can “visualise” a sunset by imagining or painting “green” suns. There is one way, and one way only, and that is the “five note” way. It was the way of our forefathers and their fathers’ fathers and there is no improving on it as far as the pipe, or even the voice, is concerned.

As I have not yet given your readers a proper view of the old chanter, perhaps you will be good enough to print the following:


Chanter scale G A B C# D E F# G A
Key G, 1st mode, G A B   D E      
Key G, 2nd mode,   A B   D E   G  
Key G, 3rd mode,     B   D E   G A
Key A, 1st mode,   A B C#   E F#    
Key A, 2nd mode,     B C#   E F#   A
Key D, 4th mode,   A B   D E F#    
Key D, 5th mode,     B   D E F#   A

The player is directed to read the scales downwards when he will recognise homely phrases every time, with the possible exception of the third mode, as there is only a difference (on the chanter) of one note between it and the fourth mode in D. This explanation may be helpful when there is uncertainty regarding tunes in keys G and D, as there are a certain number of pibrochs which show traces of modulating from one of these keys to the other.

To those who think I am destroying the old music I would say, look at Angus Mackay’s “Cheud port sa piobaireachd” which begins with a unique and bold statement of Key G, both octave notes in tune. This may or may not be a “Borerraig” exercise, but we may know shortly something about it, as I understand the MacCrimmon casket is expected to re-visit the shores once more.–I am, etc.,

J. P. M.

OT: 18 December 1915 – John Grant [“The Bagpipe Scale”]

The Oban Times, 18 December, 1915

[The Bagpipe Scale]

27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, 6 December, 1915

Sir,–Your correspondent has left the subject entirely in your last week’s issue. “Ca’ the yowes tae the Knowes” and “When the kye comes hame” are not pipe tunes. Doubtless the great MacCrimmons had “sheep” and “kye,” but if their “kye” had come “hame” and heard the MacCrimmons play their tunes in the various keys which your correspondent describes in your last issue they would never again come “hame,” but turn their heads across the moor and “low” “The Kye will never return.” I know from experience that cows, sheep and horses are very fond of bagpipe music, as they will come close up to a piper and stand beside him, but they are particular in having the tunes they listen to played in “A major,” as that is the true bagpipe scale.

I am not to take up your valuable space this week further than to add one point of proof to my already convincing evidence.

I can play every tune known of genuine pipe music in a fixed scale, A major, and so can hundreds of other pipers. This being an absolute fact, is it not enough to prove that the scales of C n., G m., and D major are foreign, needless, and impossible on the Highland bagpipe chanter?–I am, etc.,

John Grant

OT: 18 December 1915 – James Cameron [“The Bagpipe Chanter Scale”]

The Oban Times, 18 December, 1915

[The Bagpipe Chanter Scale]

Edinburgh, 4 December, 1915

Sir,–In reply to Mr. Grant I may say that no difficulties arise from “signaturing” pipe music. At this time of day pipe learners and outsiders want to know (1) the notes they are planning; (2) what can be played on these; and (3) what they are playing. Mr. Grant seems fearful of inquiring or disclosing these fundamentals.

I notice Mr. Grant to-day is silent about his low G, but maintains that his high G is sharp.

Would it be too much to ask Mr. Grant to get a report for the readers of “The Oban Times” from the maker of his G sharp chanter that is “key of A major” as he relies implicitly on the makers? This before he has to signal “abandon ship” and while there is still hope of a “life line” the maker, as his “bo’sun,” Mr. Sinclair, has “cut the painter” and the “Dreadnought” is badly holed and foundering.

I mentioned before that “minor” keys were common in pipe music, although I illustrated my remarks for the benefit of non-pipers by “Ca’ the Yowes.” A pretty pipe air in E minor is “Health and Prosperity,” MacPhee’s Selection, p. 10 (my company has got in 1884) called “Donald Blue” in Ross. A “wandering into several keys” is exemplified by “The Ewie wi’ the crooked horn,” MacPhee, p. 25, where we have first key of A major, then E minor, and the final ending in D major. Here are three parts! It is a “crooked horn” and no mistake and is more crooked in the last part ending in D when there is in itself a change of key. Again in “Blue Bonnets over the Border” in Peter Henderson’s Tutor, page 2, the first part of the tune is in A with flat G, and the second part changes into D major. This should convince anyone of the “several keys” of the bagpipe. “Dh’andeoin co theireadh e’”–I am, etc.,

James Cameron

OT: 18 December 1915 – J.P.M. [“The Bagpipe Scale”]

The Oban Times, 18 December, 1915

[The Bagpipe Scale]

Tain, 13 December, 1915

Sir,– The test proposed by “Feadan” in your last issue is hardly a fair one. It is true that by blowing hard enough the pitch of G can be heightened to G sharp, but “Feadan” forgets that the pitch of all the other chanter notes is also heightened, so that the relative distance between A and G natural is still the same, notwithstanding the player’ s “exuberance.”

With regard to the flexibility of G in “John Bain Mackenzie” and “Pibroch of Donald Dhu,” allow me to point out the G in these tunes is not a “mode” note, and that it has only the value of the “passing note.”

In “The Marchioness of Tullibardine” the first G in the second measure is a “passing note” and may be played on violin or piano either G or G sharp, many players preferring the latter, but all the G notes in the third part of the same measure our “mode” notes and must be played G natural.

Upper G on the chanter, in fact, does duty for two kinds of notes in “Ceol Min” and “Ceol Meadhanach,” but in “Ceol Mor” nothing of the kind occurs, so that in discussing the scale of an old instrument like the chanter, it is far better to stick to the old music, otherwise an understanding cannot be arrived at easily.–I am, etc.,

J. P. M.

OT: 18 December 1915 – G. Fingland “The Bagpipe Scale”

The Oban Times, 18 December, 1915

 The Bagpipe Scale

 Braehead Villa, Catheart, 13 December, 1915

 Sir,–The scale of the bagpipe is clearly taken from the earliest form of the musical scale set down by Pythagoras about the end of the sixth century B.C. The scale is as follows:–

 (s)   l   t   d¹   r¹   m¹   f¹   s¹   l¹

 Guido, a monk of Arezzo, at the beginning of the eleventh century A.D. added the note given in brackets. There were two octaves in the original Greek scale, the lower for male voices and the upper for female. The pipe scale is therefore the soprano half of the scale of Pythagoras with the added note by Guido. The notes of this first scale were named in order of the first seven letters. That is why we have still A as the Diapason Normal in all countries.

 There are only three different pitches that are of any account,–the scientific pitch fixed at Stuttgart in 1837 (A 440), the French Normal Diapason (A 435), and the Philosophical pitch (A 430). The first is preferable because there are no fractions in the vibrations of the middle octave and upwards. As there is only the difference of one-third of a semi-tone between the highest and the lowest of these three pitches, it is of little consequence which is taken as the standard for the bagpipe. If the instrument is to accord with other instruments it should be tuned to A 440, and the tuning should be in equal temperament.

 The Greek scale was corrected later by Ptolemy, when the major and minor tones were identified and the semi-tones were given their proper also. This led up to the true scale, which is now taken from the harmonics of the string. The notes of the major scale are found in their order between the 24th of the 48th harmonics thus:

                     d    r   m   f    s    l    t    d¹
Harmonic 24 27 30 32 36 40 43 48

These multiplied by 11, the root of the series, give the vibrations of the middle octave C to high C. This is the true scale and the one which every instrument should come as near to as possible. The human voice, the instruments of the violin family, and the trombone can give a rendering of the true scale; the others are a mere approximation.

The scale of the bagpipe consists of nine notes and does not admit of any transition whatever. If variation lies in the use of the Greek modes, and it has 14 of these to operate upon. It can therefore modulate, but it cannot make a transition from one key to another, seeing it has no chromatic scale. There is only one full major scale in the scale of the pipes and that is in the natural key of C. It is a modulation to change from the major to the relative minor–that is, from C major to A minor–or from the mode of Doh to that of Lah, but to change from A minor to A major involves a transition of three removes and necessitates the use of three notes that are foreign to the scale of the bagpipe. It is more likely that your correspondents who think they are playing and A major are really playing in A minor or in the mode of Lah. It will be a bad day for the bagpipe when it is made to do service as a chromatic instrument.

Let the pipers insist upon a standard pitch, which should be A 440, and keep the bagpipe in its ancient form with its ancient modes. It would be the work of a vandal to modernise such a relic of ancient times, and let the composer of music for the pipes right in the modes and all will be well.

 I give, as under, the vibrational ratios of the true and the tempered scale in so far as these relate to the bagpipe, A being 440:–

  l t
Tempered Scale 392 440 494 523 587 659 698 784 880
True Scale 396 440 495 528 594 660 704 792 880


I am, etc.,

 G. Fingland

OT: 11 December 1915 – Donald MacRae [“The Bagpipe Chanter Scale”]

The Oban Times, 11 December, 1915

[The Bagpipe Chanter Scale]

29 November, 1915

Sir,–I am sure that most of your readers will agree with me that Mr. Grant should have taken my advice and given way gracefully to the majority, for it must be evident to all that it is impossible for him to avert defeat. His last letter reminds us forcibly of the frantic, fruitless efforts of a drowning man clutching even at a straw to save himself. In his letter, not a single statement has any bearing on the point at issue. Take, for example, the following:–

“I have already explained that D. MacDonald used various key signatures, but that was for the guidance of pianists, etc., not for pipers. For further proof let us turn our attention to Donald MacDonald’s book of Ancient Piobaireachd and there we will find that he states plainly:–

The natural and only scale,

G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

Here he uses no key signature.”

Such a statement is useless, and more than useless; it is a waste of time. We all know that the names of the chanter notes are G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A. The disputed point is, what are these notes? Most people give them as follows:–

G, A, B, C sharp, D, E, F sharp, G, A. But according to Mr. Grant they are G sharp, A, B, C sharp, D, E, F sharp, G sharp, A. Mr. Grant’s quotation from Donald MacDonald’s book does not tell us which is correct, and therefore is useless. As a pianist, I can assure Mr. Grant that, if all the tunes in Donald MacDonald’s book were in the key of A major, then the only key signature used would be that of A major.

Mr. Grant also tells us that the bagpipes scale (or rather notes) is fixed. This also is a waste of time, as we all know it already, and, indeed, nobody has denied it.

Further on, Mr. Grant says that the Toarluath, Crunluath, etc., can be played only on the bagpipe. This statement like the preceding, is superfluous and has no bearing on the points at stake.

In my last letter I have shown that both Donald MacDonald and Angus Mackay believed that there was more than one key on the bagpipe, and in this they are supported by J. P. M., Mr. MacPharlain, Musaeus, Mr. Cameron, and myself. Before such a wave of opposition, and he strongly which the “drowning” Mr. Grant hopes to save himself must be swept away, but as it would be cruel and heartless to leave a drowning man to his fate, I shall extend to him the hand of friendship, if he will but admit that he has made a bad mistake.–I am, etc.,

Donald MacRae

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