OT: 16 January 1926 – John Grant “Toarluath or Crunluath in Piobaireachd”



The Oban Times, 16 January, 1926

Toarluath or Crunluath in Piobaireachd

Edinburgh, 4 January, 1926

Sir,–Mr. Gray in his reply of 23rd December to my letter of 27th November writes that he still adheres to what he stated in a previous letter. What he said in that letter was to the effect that he could not play the plain Toarluath and Crunluath as Angus Mackay wrote them. Such a statement, however, is no proof that Mackay writes them the wrong way.

Mr. Gray refers me to a note which he quotes as having appeared in the Piobaireachd Society’s book of last year. The information referred to conveys no proof whatever regarding the genuine method of writing either of the variations in question. I have no place for conjecture where actual proof is required.

This note in the Piobaireachd Society’s work seeks to make out that in the early days of writing Toarluath and Crunluath, they were wrongly written to suit the playing of these variations on other instruments than the Highland pipe, and the phrase used:–” It is thought that the dual-purpose accounts for some cases in which a movement, if played as written, is played wrongly, according to the great body of traditional teaching. One example of this is the Toarluath grace-note in which a low A is printed in the middle of the movement as a melody note. It is believed to have been so printed to enable other musicians to get the general effect of the Toarluath grace-note movement, by sounding two low A’s after the melody note. Thus we are more or less driven to prefer traditional teaching as opposed to recorded staff notation when the two are in contradiction. We are reassured in doing this by the unanimity which exists among players who have inherited the traditional teaching as to the correct way of fingering these movements in spite of recorded staff notation.”

Such a phrase as “it is thought,” or “it is believed,” is not proof, and the Toarluath and Crunluath movements cannot be played upon any other musical instrument under the sun, except the pipe. It would be interesting to know the names of present-day piobaireachd players who say that Mackay writes Toarluath and Crunluath wrongly? Mr. Gray is one. Who are the others?

Again I say that Angus Mackay in his book of piobaireachd has written these movements correctly as they are, and were traditionally played, and I can play them. I also repeat that where the Toarluath on B comes to a low G melody note, no A is required. The reason is obvious to a piobaireachd scholar. I only took “Macintosh’s Lament” as an example, but any tune where plain Toarluath and Crunluath appears will serve the purpose. The name of the tune does not alter the facts in question. The movement on D is played in the same way as other notes, as handed down traditionally.

Canntaireachd does not show or prove any method whatever of playing or writing the Toarluath and Crunluath movements. Mackay’s staff notation is correct, nevertheless. The correct method of playing Toarluath and Crunluath has been handed down from the actual performance upon the chanter, and has not depended upon writing. Thus Mr. Gray must be unable to follow what is written, and according to the Piobaireachd Society the secret of playing these movements correctly is lost to them at least.

I was taught traditionally and correctly too, and will stand up against any piper in Christendom, and prove if necessary that I can put into practice what I put forth in theory.–I am, etc.,

John Grant

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