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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