OT: 5 March 1921 – Malcolm MacInnes “Piobaireachd and Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 5 March, 1921


Piobaireachd and Canntaireachd


P. O. Box 1135, Johannesburg, 27 January, 1921

Sir,–This discussion has lapsed into irrelevancies. Dr. Bannatyne, in the course of his efforts to make canntaireachd a complete vehicle for conveying pipe music, quoted J. F. Campbell, and gave a wrong derivation of the word. He also connected the word “meomhair” (memory, brains, genius) with a word “meoir,” alleged to be the plural of the word “meur” (finger), without explaining why the alleged connection is found only in the plural. It would appear that Dr. Bannatyne has abandoned Campbell on these points.

I should never think of suggesting that “meoir” has not been seen as well as heard. It is the form in the Bible, and Mackenzie has it in his “Beauties” at least twice, and in reference to piping. Mary MacLeod, the poetess of Skye, is made to refer to the fingers of Patrick Mor MacCrimmon as “meoir Phadruig”; and MacKinnon, in the “Dubh-Ghleannach,” in the course of an excellent description of good piping, is made to speak of “meoir grinn.” As regards the Bible, I can only say that I presume the form “meoir” might be Irish, but that a Johannesburg Irishman, who is proud of his knowledge of Gaelic, assures me that “meoir” is not known to him. As regards the other two cases, I suggest that the collector of the songs may have been influenced by the Bible. In the “Dubh-Ghleannach” our local version (besides some other differences where I consider our rendering much better than the “Beauties”), “meur bhinn.” What the exigencies of rhythm may account for, it is hard to say. I agree that “meur” is a particularly nasty word to handle. Though no speaker of Gaelic will have any hesitation in saying, “Tha mo mheoirean fuar” (my fingers are cold), or in rejecting “Tha mo mheoir fuar,” I think I present an apple of discord when I ask a translation for “I lost the point of the finger” (“Chaill mi barr na–?”).

Dr. Bannatyne said, “the word comes from ‘can oran,’ to sing a song. It has another name, ‘meoghair,’ a sound related to ‘meur,’ a finger. Here we have memory associated with singing and fingers.” He now says that “meoghair” is meant to be a sound in the truestic sense in which every part of speech–including the word “silence”–is a sound. This is so, but it would seem to spoil the reasoning, even though fallacious–if reasoning there was.

As regards the other irrelevancy, “can oran,” I say that no speaker of Gaelic ever said, “can oran” for sing a song. “Seinn oran” may be permissible, but it smacks of English–literal translation. The Gaelic idiom is “gabh oran.” Could Do’null Drobhair of Lochalsh (apostrophising the Elysian fields where dwelt his sweetheart, and where drank and sang the hefty Highlanders) have said “A’ cantainn oran ‘s bhiodh stop an urr’ aca.” He said, “A gabhail oran.” And even here there is evidence of inflectional decay, for the collector writes “orain” instead of “oran,” the genitive plural.

I have never met the word canntaireachd as a living word among the people, and I have not met anyone who has. We have, of course, the word “cainntireachd,” which means anything from a sgeulachd (telling of tales) to “gearradaireachd) or “gearradh cainnte” (combats of wit). Where Neil MacLeod got it, and what he meant by it, it is, of course, impossible to say, but it Mr. Simon Fraser (Australia) is a speaker of Gaelic, or is sure of the accuracy of his ear, it seems to me that his word is the right one for the main subject of discussion. He calls it “seanntaireachd,” which would be that Gaelicised form of the word “chanting”–nearer in fact than “sionnsair” or “seannsair” is to its original–chanter. On this theory the word “canntaireachd” was manufactured by someone who thought he was putting matters right, as has happened in the case of the spelling of some words in English, and somewhat as J.F. Campbell try to do with “meoir” and “meomhair.” As regards references to dictionaries and grammars, these were compiled mostly, if not entirely, by scholars whose birth and circumstances made it impossible that they should know the language as spoken in its purity by the people, and it is on this language that dictionaries and grammars are based.

Gesto uses “o” for note C and note B (the living voice being the indicator of the pitch). Dr. Bannatyne, in “dururaw,” alters this, and he puts “aw” for B and “o” for C (when anyone with an year would puts “o” for B and “aw” for C). He has altered Gesto’s “botrie” to “bitri,” and when challenged he states that “both are used by Gesto and have separate meanings. [“] To this I wish to reply that I have gone carefully through Gesto, and have failed to find one “bitri.” A friend has done the same, with the same result. The Dr. Mike state where they are and what they represent. In his “Big Spree,” he puts “hio” for EC and “hovi” for CE; and for FC he puts “heo,” and for EF “hive.” This, as regards E and F, is the reverse of Gesto and of tolerable onomatopoeia and mimiery (making, of course, the legitimate assumption that “i” is sounded like “ee” in “fee,” and “e” like “ay” in “hay.” When pipers chant E and F they cannot help making them sound “ay” (e) and “ee” (i) respectively, e.g. (Madelina Sinclair). Hi hayrachim harrachim haburray hiri. And this is just what is done by Gesto in “Ishabel Mackay,” which he begins “I hirerine ho botrie (E)” “Hiarerla ha botri (F),” and “Kiaunidize” (Ceann na diese (ear)), which I read as “The Earl of Ross,” “I him botrao hievio va,” where “evio va” is–what any piper would guess–E F B D (a note for each vowel).

As regards Dr. Bannatyne’s “dururaw,” where does he find that I called this a cadence? I described it as the closed running D and C grace notes on the B; and I think that any piper would understand the movements from that description, though not perfect. It is the second beat in the last bar of Mather’s Strathspey “Duniquoich.” I call it “bubudo”–Harrachim bubudo harrachim boro. Dr. Bannatyne calls it a tripling. It would be a tripling on the low G if the B also were made a grace note. There is no third of a kind–nothing tripled.

It should be made known also that Gesto uses “a” (sounded “ah”) for D and for C in the same tune–as any piper would do with the voice, and that “hien,” which Dr. Bannatyne uses for the fairly long E A beginning “The Big Spree” is a frequent form for the A with G grace note beginning subhal, etc., On the A, e.g., “hiendan” (“dan” being the short second part of the beat A with E grace note). And yet this is called a system!

Presumably in support of his contentions as to written chanting, he supplies what he calls a floating form of “MacLeod’s Lament” sent him un-named. Unless great minds think alike than has been believed hitherto, this bit of canntaireachd is mine. An enthusiast wrote me for some grounds as I would chant them, and I sent him this one. Of its intermediate history I know nothing.–I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes

OT: 5 March 1921 – A. MacPherson “Piobaireachd Playing”

The Oban Times, 5 March, 1921

Piobaireachd Playing

Invershin, Sutherland, 19 February, 1921

Sir,–The attacking forces of Piobaireachd criticism are once again displaying their views through the columns of your esteemed paper.

I think that it was Mr. MacInnes, Johannesburg who opened the campaign. It is hard to conceive that any man, bearing a Highland name, would write as he does in regard to the memory of the great MacCrimmon pipers. It is not my intention to examine at length the curious statements put forward by Mr. MacInnes. If, as Mr. MacInnes asserts, the pibroch of the old school had no time, rhythm, melody, cadence or accent, why does he not leave it alone and produced something that will satisfy his own taste and ear?

In Angus Mackay’s book of Piobaireachd, we have the music (save for a few minor errors, the fault of the printer, not of Angus Mackay), as handed down from the pipers who could both play and compose, and it is looked upon by those who are endeavouring to give Piobaireachd its rightful place in the realms of music as the standard work. Let Mr. MacInnes make no mistake about it, Angus Mackay’s Piobaireachd Book and the MacCrimmon music will live and be revered long after all the other Piobaireachd Books have been forgotten–I am, etc.,

A. MacPherson

OT: 16 December 1911 – Gesto [“The Secrets of Canntaireachd”]

The Oban Times, 16 December, 1911

[The Secrets of Canntaireachd]

3 December, 1911

Sir,–Could any of your numerous readers tell me where I could get a copy of “Canntaireachd: Articulate Music,” by J. F. Campbell, Isla, and at what price? Perhaps “Fionn” or Dr. Charles Bannatyne might know something about the book.–I am, etc.,


OT: 8 June 1929 – John Grant “Noting of Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 8 June, 1929

Noting of Piobaireachd

Edinburgh, 18 May, 1929

Sir,–in your issue of 11th May, Mr. MacInnes makes reference to my name and Pipe-Major Ronald Mackenzie, late of Seaforths. To read what Mr. MacInnes writes one would think that he knew every note that Ronald McKenzie played in Piobaireachd in minute detail, and that I had never heard him play.

Let me tell him that Ronald was no stranger to me; I got my tuition in Piobaireachd from him. I spent years with him, and the performance of Toarluath and Crunluath so far as he played it was clear to me in the minutest detail. Mackenzie played every note absolutely correct, and he played the A’s in the Toarluath and Crunluath, which Mr. MacInnes would fain delete.

Ronald McKenzie could play the g d g grace note group with perfect fingering and effect. There is no mistake about that. I have gone through the movements too often with him not to know what I am talking about.

It is quite evident that Mr. MacInnes is groping in the dark as regards the performance of Toarluath and Crunluath when he asks for a Committee to discuss and settle a matter which has been settled hundreds of years ago. He would fain disown the men who gave him Piobaireachd, and endeavour to get along his own way.

It would be well for Mr. MacInnes if he would consult someone who can play Toarluath and Crunluath as Ronald McKenzie, Angus Mackay and the MacCrimmons played them, and be convinced.–I am, etc.,

John Grant, Highland Society of London’s Medallist.

OT: 1 June 1929 – Announcement of “A Royal Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times 1 June, 1929

A Royal Piobaireachd

In the olden days in the Scottish Highlands it was customary to dedicate original compositions on the great Highland bagpipe to Kings and Princes in order to commemorate special occasions. Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York have been pleased to accept as peculiarly their own an original Piobaireachd, entitled “Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York’s Welcome to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.” The Piobaireachd seeks to commemorate the Royal visit to the Scottish capital together with the important Union of the Churches in Scotland, thus reviving one of the most ancient of Scottish customs. 

 The tune was presented in illuminated Celtic design with Gaelic and English titles in accordance with ancient custom in addition to three water-colour illustrations, viz.:

(1)The insignia of the Order of the Thistle surmounted with the Scottish crown.
(2) A Highland Scene, the subject of which is the mountain and the loch, depicting the piper playing the fiery Cross through the glen, with a boat waiting in readiness on the loch to row the messengers of war across the water from the castle of the chieftain.
(3) The Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The tune is simple and breathes the spirit of the mist and the mountain from whence comes the composer’s inspiration, and the intricate variations are ingeniously worked out from the pleasant melody of the ground-work of the tune.

The composer and designer is John Grant, F.S. A. (Scot.), The well-known authority on Ancient Piobaireachd, 27, Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh. Mr. Grant has done much to preserve Ancient Piobaireachd and revive the composition of a long forgotten art. He is author of “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd,” “Piobaireachd: Its Origin and Construction,” joint author of “the Pipes of War,” and was presented in 1922 with the Highland Society of London’s Medal for his services as an instructor of piping for the Army during the war and his interest in Ancient Piobaireachd.

OT: 18 May 1929 – A.K. Cameron [“Ancient Piobaireachd”]

The Oban Times, 18 May, 1929

[Ancient Piobaireachd]

Powderville, Montana, U.S.A., 8 April, 1929

Sir,–Your correspondent, Mr. Angus MacPherson, claims there is but one way of performing the toarluadh and crunluadh movements. But there were two forms of crunluadh [toarluadh?] and half a dozen or more forms of crunluadh, and each of these were played according to form. Anyone versed in MacCrimmon Sheantaireachd will find these forms in “Gesto,” excepting one form of toarluadh, this form being played in the last two bars of warning tunes, but some of the champions of the present day play this form in laments.

The toarluadh and crunluadh forms, as performed by Mr. MacPherson and his forebears, are not in “Gesto,” nor in Angus Mackay’s, but the proper forms are; and Mackay shows how the crunluadh form should be performed, and his footnote at page 148 proves that Mr. MacPherson’s father and grandfather did not follow Angus Mackay’s instructions, and that they have a way of their own.

Donald Cameron, who was taught by MacCrimmon, played the movements alluded to the old way, and was acknowledged to be the king of pipers by all who knew him, and I defy any proof that Donald Cameron or any of his pupils lowered their standard by performing these notes as MacCrimmon play them.

Mr. Macpherson and others will find the flaw in the rhythm of their system by comparing their notes with those in bar No. 4 of “My King has Landed in Moidart” in Angus Mackay’s book. Bar 4 is: –Hin–drin, in–un: A A, A G. Each vowel of the Sheantaireachd represents a plain note, one for syllable in Teár-lach, Stú-art. Therefore, the notes in his book are perfect, and so is their rhythm but Mr. Macpherson’s are not, because there is not a note for the syllable “lach” in Teár-lach.

The modern version is:–Hin, drin-un: A, A-G, or –Teár, stú-art.

Bar No. 2 of this tune proves that the G D G grip was never considered a note by the old players, therefore Mr. MacPherson and Mr. MacInnes will have to raise their standards to Ha-dra-ha and Hin-drin-in:–B–D and A–A–A. –I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron

OT: 18 May 1929 – Alasdair Og – “Ancient Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 18 May, 1929

Ancient Piobaireachd

Sir,–Your correspondent, Mr. John Grant writes to assure all readers of the “Oban Times” that he is not out for “glory” personally, but to maintain the great traditions of the past. Such being the case, one would suppose that Mr. Grant would accept every opportunity to further the performance of Piobaireachd at the present time.

Imagine, therefore, with what dismay I read that the fault was mine that I could not comprehend his statements, and that I alone–with the exception of your correspondent “Rory”–had been disgruntled, despite the fact that I had stated that I represented “many other readers”! Furthermore he refuses to explain his letter until I reveal myself. This from a Scot, professedly with the interests of Piobaireachd at heart, is almost incredible!

Thus once more do I beg Mr. Grant, if not for my sake, for that of Piobaireachd in general, to explain precisely–

Any piper who does not play Toarluath and Crunluath as Angus Mackay wrote it must be playing it correctly as noted and unaware of the fact, or if otherwise he is unskilled in the crowning movement in ancient piobaireachd.

Lastly, Mr. Grant expresses his regret that he did not know Lord Jeffrey. The more is the pity, for that, to use Mr. Grant’s own words, is his misfortune.–I am, etc.,

Alasdair Og

OT: 11 May 1929 – Malcolm MacInnes “Noting in Pibroch”

The Oban Times, 11 May, 1929

Noting of Pibroch

Ostaig, Skye, 26 April, 1929

Sir,–Mr. A. K. Cameron’s whole case is that the noting attributed to Angus Mackay shows his style of playing, and yet he agrees when I point out that specific styles attributed to him are absurd. Mr. Cameron writes:–” Joseph MacDonald was a pibroch player and a violinist, and wrote pipe music in his book as he played it.” Neither Joseph nor any other could play on the pipes the music in Joseph’s book; and I do not believe that Joseph had more than a nodding acquaintance with pipe-playing. He has notes below the pipe range, he has successive notes of same pitch without a separating grace-no, he has grace movements that are totally meaningless–(e.g., “18th cutting, low G eg eg fg eg eg egg eg B”) all the small notes being cut four times); and his descriptions of finger movement are sometimes wrong.

He has a whole foolscap page of a march without a single grace, though full of beats with repeated notes–mostly tripled. He has a poor style of “John MacEachin’s Reel” (for which she does not seem to have a name), full of the same mistake. Clearly this man’s music was not of the pipes. And yet we are told that Mr. Malcolm Macfarlane considers this “compleat” book “the most sensible of them all.” Its sole value is as evidence of the progress that has been made since it was written–by a total outsider.

Mr. Cameron says that Gillies called the modern way of playing pibroch and atrocity. That may be true, but it does not touch the dispute–the way to play the toorla. There is nothing surer than that Gillies taught but one A–the chanter to be carefully closed for the g d g. As to Gillies playing of it, that of course is another matter. It is the most difficult thing in piping. Mr. Cameron also quotes John MacColl, but not to the point, either. MacColl was particularly good at this movement, so were W. Maclennan, Angus Macrae, and the MacDonalds of Morar. Reference has been made to Pipe-Major Ronald McKenzie of the Seaforths, and he is claimed by Mr. Grant as playing A A, but only if the previous heavy work is lacking. I always took it for granted that the A A finish was due merely to inability to do the correct thing–gdge A.

Mr. Cameron’s “puzzle” of the open toorla on B and D or the B G G of the same rhythm is no puzzle at all. The fact that the first two come so frequently in rhythm with the last proves my case, as the last can be only three syllables. The “vaunting” gives an instance:–

G A A; Agdge A; Bgdge B; Bgdge B
Bg D D; Bgdge B; Agdge A; Agdge A

All this justifies my old cry for a Committee of pipers to discuss and decide. On what authority does the Piobaireachd Society change the structure of “Waternish” in the toorla and croola?–for the worse, I think. The Gaelic in their second book is a big advance, but they cannot yet give the correct Gaelic for “The end of the Great Bridge.” “Ceann Drochaid Mhoire” is awful.–I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes

OT: 4 May 1929 – John Grant “The Tree of Piping”

The Oban Times, 4 May, 1929


The Tree of Piping


Edinburgh, 29 April, 1929

Sir,–I have nothing further to add to mine which appeared in your issue of the 13th April, on the above subject, other than to say that if my “tree”be dead, it is not to be wondered at, after such a breeze from “Rory.” But let me tell him that the same tree is a very old one, and having weathered many a storm, Rory’s breeze, which has now blown past, has left the tree of piping flourishing in the sunshine.

With reference to “Alasdair Og,” Rory’s brother in adversity, I am sorry to tell him that I did not know Lord Jeffrey to whom he refers. My thoughts shrink from “narrow-minded men.” Nevertheless, I believe that if I tried I could give “Alasdair Og” a few verses of poetry in addition to “The Tree of Piping” above referred to.

My poetic endeavours, like my tree of piping, might not find a place in “Alasdair Og’s” narrow sphere, any more than in his companion, Lord Jeffrey’s, but there are many other readers of the “Oban Times” whom I make bold to say, would give them both a small corner in their large hearts.

“Alasdair Og” complains of not being able to follow the meaning of my statements. That is not my fault, but probably his misfortune.

When I think that there are thousands and thousands of lovers of piping, both at home and abroad, who read the “Oban Times,” and that up till now only two are disgruntled at what I have said, I shall leave “Alasdair Og” to work out mathematically in what proportion he and his companion “Rory” stand to the total pipers concerned.

In conclusion, let me say that I am not out for “glory” personally, which means nothing, but for the keeping alive the great traditions of the past, which are enshrined in the work and memories of the great masters in the tree of piping who came before me.

And further, I would say that when “Rory” and “Alasdair Og” come out into the open and signs [sic] their names, to their letters, I shall answer any other query which they may care to put to me.–I am, etc.,

John Grant

OT: 27 April 1929 – Rory – “Ancient Piobaireachds”

The Oban Times, 27 April, 1929

Ancient Piobaireachds


Sir,–Your correspondent, Mr. John Grant, F.S.A. (Scot.), is surely not in earnest in making his latest contribution to your valuable paper. For the first time in the annals of piping Mr. Grant gives what he describes as “The Tree of Piping” from the MacCrimmons to date. The history of the so-called tree will amuse many; his life begins with the first of the MacCrimmons and ends with Mr. John Grant, F.S.A. (Scot.)! I am afraid the so-called tree has not fallen into fertile soil, and that, as proved by the fiasco leaving of not long ago in Edinburgh, convened by Mr. Grant for the purpose of demonstrating his taorluadh and crunluadh, Mr. Grant’s tree has already withered and died, and cannot be brought to life again even through the invigorating atmosphere of the “Oban Times.”–I am, etc.,


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