OT: 29 June 1929 – Malcolm MacInnes “Noting in Pibroch”



The Oban Times, 29 June, 1929

 Noting of Pibroch

Ostaig, Skye, 21 June, 1929

 Sir,–I apologise for writing again. I also apologise to Mr. John Grant if anything I ever said could intelligently be taken to suggest that he was not thoroughly taught by Mackenzie. I intended to say, and I think I did say, that Mackenzie certainly played to A’s in the toorla, but that I at least never heard him play the preceding gdg fully; this being part of my statement that the musical time can be fitted by two A’s, but only if one of the g’s in the gdg is omitted. There would be too many syllables for the rhythm if one played the old noting.

Mr. Grant says I am in the dark, and therefore I want a committee of pipers to enlighten me. He is right. I do want light, and I take every opportunity of trying to get it. George MacLennan has now followed Gillies, and he, too, has taken with him hundreds of gems, big and little, that can never be replaced. What I suggest a committee for, however, is to deal with the styles of tunes rather than the production of notes.

Mr. Somerled MacDonald, Inverness, has intervened on the point of the value of Mr. Joseph McDonald’s “Complete Theory,” but until he gives his reasons as well as his views he contributes nothing. He says this book “shows that many notes and beats have been absolutely lost, and that even certain different kinds of pibrochs have been absolutely lost.” How does he show it? He gives no pibroch at all.

Exercise 4 begins with agfed A–five grace notes (cut five times) from high A to D–on the low A! Mr. MacDonald says the book shows that much that we know was unknown to the MacCrimmons, and vice versa. How could this possibly be done? This may be true as a fact; but it cannot be shown. Then he says that the book “clears up the muddle about the Toarluath.” As later he says the Riludh is not the Toarluath, and as there is no Toarluath mentioned, where is the clearing? Personally I believe the Riludh is the toorla, and I do not see how there can be any doubt about it. It is the toorla as mostly played to-day–the second low g being omitted–C g d A e A. “Riludh” and “Iuludh” are clearly the same thing; but in the verbal instructions for fingering the omitted g is included. As, however, gdg does not appear in the staff anywhere (but always gd only) the verbal instructions should be disregarded, especially as there is another error in the same definition. The book is, therefore, on our side in this controversy and Mr. MacDonald is wrong if he suggests that any attitude to the book is due to its being against us.

I withdraw nothing. If Joseph MacDonald was a piper, then he never wrote this book. At the end he gives an “Example of a pipe reel with all its cuttings”–a poor style of MacEachen’s Big Reel–and in it there are twenty-seven cases of repeated notes without a dividing grace note. Surely these cannot be misprints, especially seeing that in most of them there is a grace note on the first of the notes (g C C. C.).my explanation is that the writer played an instrument that could repeat notes, and not the pipes. We are told that he played various instruments.

My reason for dealing with Mr. Joseph MacDonald was that it was mentioned by Mr. K. Cameron in support of his contention that Mackay’s noting was correct, and Ross’s and Gray’s and the Piobaireachd Society’s wrong. Mr. Joseph MacDonald’s style is different from Mackay’s (the old style). It never in toorla or croola (or in the same movements anywhere) has gdg, but only gd. It is thus musically and rhythmically sufficient, and is the style actually played by most pipers. Personally, however, I prefer the full gdg, omitting the next A. As a matter of fact I always assumed that the other style was due to inability to do the right thing.

Outside pibroch gdg is impossible owing to speed, and is perhaps undesirable owing to rhythm. Summary–old impossible unrhythmical written style–played by nobody–CgdgAeA. New style (taught by the masters, but terribly difficult to play in the three syllable rhythm required) CgdgeA. Style written as far as I know by Mr. Joseph MacDonald alone, but following from failure to do the new style, and sufficient musically, though, I should say, accepted by nobody–CgdAeA. The new style of noting is undoubtedly the old style of playing by the masters.–I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes

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