The Oban Times, 27 September, 1930
The MacCrimmon Memorial
Inveran Hotel, Invershin, Sutherland, 16 September, 1930
Sir,–I am immensely tickled with Callum MacCrimmon’s letter in your issue of 6th September. The name MacCrimmon does not deserve such banter, and one who can see at once that he is quite inconversant with what was, or was not, practiced at the Borreraig School of Piping. How any reasonable being could take the exception he has done to my simple and, I think, very appropriate suggestion must pass the comprehension of any fair-minded person. I am glad, however, that the worthy secretary in charge of the movement, Mr. MacLeod, has been taken by the suggestion, and, under his and his Committee’s able guidance, I am sure that something will be done which will commend itself to even Callum MacCrimmon and those like him who support what never was taught at Borreraig.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 20 September, 1930
[Playing of Piobaireachd]
12 September, 1930
Sir,–With reference to the letter of “Patrick Og,” which appeared in the recent issue of the Oban Times, on the above subject, may I, as one who officiated at the meeting in question (and who had occasion to take the feeling of the meeting on the subject) say that “Patrick Og” (so far as I can judge) speaks for himself, and for the reason that my finding was that Mr. Grant proved nothing and demonstrated less, but rather monopolised the major portion of the evening on matters quite irrelevant to the question at issue and much to the chagrin of the audience, as well as those representing the opposing school from Glasgow, who were hardly allowed any time to demonstrate their points.–I am, etc.,
Tog Orm Mo Phiob
The Oban Times, 20 September, 1930
Playing of Piobaireachd
Cape Town, South Africa, 21 September [August] 1930
Sir,–With further reference to the Taorluadh controversy, I do not know if anyone has previously drawn attention to the parallel case of the superfluous A in the Leumluadh movement as it is written in the older books.
I am not aware that it is or ever was played, and the name indicates that it was never intended to be. This gives rise to the question: why is it there at all? There can only be one answer, and in my opinion is fully proves the contention that those two superfluous notes in the Taorluadh and Leumluadh were intended by MacDonald for players of other instruments, and, as Somerled MacDonald says in his succinct letter of June 25, “merely copied by other compilers.” So far as I can see, this leaves the redundant A school without a leg to stand upon.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 6 September, 1930
18th August 1930
Sir,–Your correspondent “MacDonnuil Dhu” draws a very dark picture of an event (perhaps the most stirring event that ever took place in the history of ancient piobaireachd) which was held in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Edinburgh, in March 1926. I was also present at that most instructive and interesting meeting; and now let me draw another picture under a brighter light.
John Grant dealt with the subject in a masterly fashion and was quite at home in his instructive art, but I leave the readers of this widely- read paper who were present at that meeting to draw their own conclusions of his opponent’s attitude and knowledge of the art of.
“MacDonnuil Dhu” says he was present at a “tongue-tied” version of by the champion of the meeting (Mr. Grant), and he boasts of being “a player of Ceol Mòr and one having a thorough knowledge of piobaireachd.” He got an opportunity to speak on that eventful evening of 26th March 1926, and he must not only have been silenced but struck dumb, for he made no attempt to give a display of his knowledge.
It is deeds that we want, “MacDonnuil Dhu,” not words. John Grant did something. You have done nothing to enlighten me on an art of which I am a great admirer.
I trust that John Grant will be long spared to instruct us in the art of piobaireachd, for he is a true MacCrimmon.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 6 September, 1930
The MacCrimmon Memorial
Manchester, 30 August, 1930
Sir,–In a recent issue of your paper your correspondent, Mr. MacPherson, Invershin, suggests that “prizes be given to the best performers of MacCrimmon Piobaireachd to commemorate the occasion.”
Surely your correspondent knows a little of the history of the Borreraig school. There was only one prize ever offered, and that to Padruig Mor, and he immediately broke the “bauble” and threw it at the giver’s feet.
Padruig Mor played the redundant “A” in Toarluath; think then of what a ghastly mess any Toarluath played with but two “A’s” at Borreraig, would be to the memory of Iain Odhar’s sons. It seems to me that the Memorial when it be raised, will be a memorial, not to the Old Masters, but to the new school of pipers–the Toarluath and Crunluath having neither that depth nor feeling which is the end of Piobaireachd.–I am, etc.
The Oban Times, 16 August, 1930
The Playing of Piobaireachd
Hoddeson, Herts, 4 August, 1930
Sir,–Frequently in your interesting paper there appears a letter from Mr. John Grant, giving his views on piobaireachd playing, etc. Some time ago Mr. Grant was silenced by Pipe-Major Wm. Gray at the Oddfellows’ Hall, Edinburgh, and also by members of the Piobaireachd Society and by many other pipers who play Ceol Mor. He has failed to prove that he plays the Taorluadh and Crunluadh or other movements in Ceol Mor as the MacCrimmons of old did. Further, he did not spare the dead MacCrimmons, as he now endeavours to have us believe that none of that famous family could memorise a certain number of tunes.
To these famous Masters of Borreraig Piobaireachd was a language. That language however, when I heard it played (or spoken) by John Grant in 1926 was only a tongue-tied version.
Mr. Seton Gordon, who has done so much to preserve our music and encourage its playing, did not include Mr. Grant in his list of pipers who can play Piobaireachd in his letter to your paper last year. I write as a player of Ceol Mor and as one having a thorough knowledge of the music.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 2 August, 1930
Glasgow, 19 July, 1930
Toarludh and Crunludh
Sir,–Once again Mr. John Grant returns to the attack in regard to Taorludh and Crunludh. His persistence has been the means of giving to readers of the Oban Times who are interested in bagpipe music the views of a great number of excellent pipers and authorities on piping that they otherwise would never have heard of.
As regards the “so-called superfluous A” may I respectfully say that Mr. Grant is quite correct in my opinion in saying that the MacCrimmons and Angus MacKay played three A’s in Taorludh, but, and here is the snag, the middle A was, as one might say, “smothered with embellishments,” viz., the gdg group of grace notes. Mr. Grant plays the note perfectly, but I am afraid he does not know it. I really think the whole trouble consists in not sounding the low G before playing the D grace note, or, as one famous piper told me once, “sliding over it.”
Mr. Grant mentions the Taorludh on C. I sincerely hope that some other authority will come forward and tackle the subject and explain where the three melody C’s come in and how.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 2 August, 1930
Cape Town, South Africa, 4 July, 1930
Sir,–A great deal has been written in your columns in recent years about and the correct method of playing certain taorludh movements.
The controversy arose, if I am not mistaken, from the fact that one of your correspondents noticed that Angus MacKay wrote the taorludh movement with three A’s and that evidently only two were being played by modern pipers. This was a case of putting the cart before the horse, as traditional methods must always take precedence in a matter like Piobaireachd, which has been handed down orally for centuries. No piper thinks of taking modern notation as an infallible guide to Piobaireachd playing. Played as it is written, it would be rather a sorry business.
It would facilitate matters if we remember that modern musical notation is comparatively a recent innovation in pipe music. The men who endeavoured to reduce it to modern notation did their best to convey the theme to paper, and the wonder is they did it so well. Admittedly the music suffered by being compressed and cut into junks to fit the bars and foot rule.
If we also bear in mind–which has already been pointed out by our correspondent–that MacDonald, who was one of the first to harness Piobaireachd to staff notation, also wrote his book for the pianoforte and had to use three A’s to denote the toarluadh movement for that instrument, it throws some light on the matter, as MacKay who wrote at a later date would be influenced by MacDonald’s system of notation.
One of your correspondents sites Gesto’s Canntaireachd book to prove his contention with regard to the taorludh movement, but after a life-time’s intermittent study of this book I would hesitate to be dogmatic as to how John MacCruimein played it, or if he played it at all as we know it. My impression is that he did not.
The matter of the three A’s in MacKay’s toarluadh was noticed over forty years ago to the writer’s knowledge, but was accounted for by the circumstances of the case, and no object would be served by making mountains out of very small molehills. MacKay himself did not play it as written, neither did any of his pupils, and I’m sure this can be borne out by some pipers living to-day.
Time and rhythm is a sure guide in musical matters, and if the so-called redundant A cannot be played in time or interferes with the emphasis on the theme note it is wrong in that particular movement.
Considering therefore the unreliability of written records let us have recourse to the traditional style of playing, which after all is the best and final tribunal. Pipers are nothing if not conservative in sticking to what they have been taught, and there must be men who know how it was played by MacKay’s pupils or those taught by MacKay’s pupils, such as the Camerons, for instance. Once that is ascertained let us agree to accept it as final.
Agreement on any subject, however, was never a characteristic of the Highlander–more’s the pity–and unfortunately we cannot settle the matter with the claymore nowadays!
May I say in passing that in the opinion of the best judges modern notation with bars is the curse of Gaelic music, vocal and instrumental, especially when rendered by those who have little knowledge of the rhythm of Gaelic poetry or of the language which gave it birth. The same holds true in Piobaireachd. It has suffered at the hands of well-meaning but not always competent enthusiasts.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 26 July, 1930
Toarludh and Crunludh Movements in Piobaireachd
London, 21 July, 1930
Sir,–We are asked to accept the statement, made in your last issue by Mr. Somerled MacDonald, that the Canntaireachd vocables for the Toarludh beat contain but one syllable!
When Mr. MacDonald can really satisfy us that the words “hin-dir-in,” “ho-dro-ho,” “ha-dir-it,” etc., contain but one syllable, then, perhaps, we can accept his dictum regarding the “so-called” superfluous A, but I am much afraid not, before he can satisfy us that such words and the corresponding words in Nether Lorn Canntaireachd can be pronounced ever so quickly in the one syllable he refers to!
Mr. MacDonald states that Joseph MacDonald did not write Iuludh with a superfluous A. This is certainly true, for the A he shows is not superfluous. This is, however, not perhaps what Mr. MacDonald met. That Joseph MacDonald shows the middle A is perfectly clear to any unbiased and impartial student, vide his “March” for a beginner at the end of his book, where both the Iuludh or Toarludh (call it what you will, but it is the variation in question) and the Crunludh beats show the middle A beyond question.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 19 July, 1930
The MacCrimmons and a Monument
Inveran Hotel, Invershin, Sutherland, 10 July, 1930
Sir,–I would like to ask Mr. John Grant through the medium of your esteemed paper by what authority he is supported when he makes such a vague and unfounded statements regarding the MacCrimmons of Boreraig and their teaching. Mr. Grant states–
“I am quite sure that they, the MacCrimmons, did not know one hundred and ninety-five tunes.” and again he states,–
“One might endeavour to raise a memorial to a MacCrimmon who taught each pupil forty to fifty tunes, but the MacCrimmon who taught one hundred and ninety-five tunes never lived.”
“There was a day when I played a great many Piobaireachd, but even yet I can memorise and play six twenties (120).”
That being so, there is surely nothing wonderful in attributing one hundred and ninety-five Piobaireachd to the credit of the greatest masters that ever lived. Mr. Grant talks about one hundred and ninety-five Piobaireachd being equal to a minimum of so many thousand staves, bars and notes, and six hundred pages of music. It is, of course, extremely ridiculous to associate the MacCrimmons with such terms as staves and bars; they knew of no such thing, but certainly had their own method of recording, which could be done as briefly as the most modern style of the present day.
In conclusion let me heartily congratulate and endorse all that Mr. Somerled MacDonald so concisely and correctly writes in his contribution of 25th June, as indeed he has done each time he put his masterly pen to paper; and let us hope that as much as possible of his undisputed knowledge will be acquired and noted while the opportunity presents itself, in order that at any future time when the rights of the Piobaireachd may be assailed, it will stand as a sure and firm defence.