OT: 27 June 1936 – John Grant “Famous Piper of the Past”



The Oban Times, 27 June, 1936

Famous Piper of the Past
 Lochnagar, Edinburgh, June 20, 1936.

 Sir– A short time ago there appeared in the columns of the Oban Times a photograph of the late pipe major Ronald Mackenzie, and underneath it was stated that he was a son of the great John Ban Mackenzie. I take this opportunity of correcting an error. Ronald Mackenzie was a nephew of John Ban Mackenzie, not a son. Ronald’s parents were dead when he was quite a youth and his uncle took charge of him.

Ronald indeed was the most famous piper of his day. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders at Edinburgh Castle in the year 1860 and was a soldier in the real sense of the word. He was the idol of the regiment, being loved and admired by officers and men alike, and in the Seaforth’s of today his name is revered still for his sterling worth as a piper of outstanding merit.

He was genuinely the last of a long line of pipers who came down from the MacCrimmon school, being taught by John Ban. John Ban was taught by John Mackay from the Reay country, who, in turn, was taught by his kinsman, John Dall Mackay, the blind piper of Gairloch. John Dall, the blind piper, was taught by Patrick Og MacCrimmon, one of the finest of the MacCrimmon performers.

I came in close contact with Pipe-Major Ronald Mackenzie personally, having studied under him for a period of six or seven years. He was a master performer. His execution was perfect, while his time and rhythm were of the highest order. He gained the highest awards as a competitor and was a sound judge of piping. But it was as a teacher that he excelled. He imparted pipe music to his pupils with the utmost ease and ability. Ronald left nothing out in the curriculum of piping. He taught the pupil to play correctly upon the practice chanter, the “goose” (a chanter in a bag with blow pipe), which was a preliminary to blowing the full set and fingering with ease. His next step was carriage, for his pupils were not permitted to adopt the slovenly style of carrying the pipes. Ronald’s own words were:–” you must carry the bagpipes and a princely fashion while in the act of piping, with your head erect and your eyes fixed on some object at their own height, neither looking to the right or left, no matter who is near.”

He taught his pupils the theory of music so far as he knew it, and had the belief (which was certainly correct) that every piper to be a piper in whole (and not in part) should have his manuscript collection of music. Writing manuscripts was the means of gaining a knowledge of music and theory as well as in practice, as no master can impart it to a pupil. “To finger the notes,” he said, “was after all a parrot style of memorizing, but to write them separately and minutely was to acquire an experience in the art of theory and the creation of pipe music which no other thing in the world of music could supply.”

Having studied piping under this grand old man in all its branches, private tuition, as a piper in the band of the third V.B. Seaforth Highlanders, I was finally appointed piper to Captain W.H. Drummond Moray of Abercairney, being recommended to that appointment by Pipe-Major Mackenzie, an appointment which I held for a number of years (the happiest years of my life).

I have never regretted leaving my original profession for the period during which I was piper at Abercairney, for I had in Captain Moray one of the finest of masters who dearly loved to hear the pipes. Such experience has fitted me for carrying out my great work in teaching others and to produce my publications which explain the art of piping in every form, which was in my early piping days a mystery to me, and everyone else whom I had met up to that period.

I owe all the knowledge which I possess to the late Pipe-Major Ronald Mackenzie. The charm of pipe music which he instilled into my young mind has led to greater expectations and I ever dreamed of. Many a lonely hour I copied piobaireachd on the mountainside at Ronald’s bidding, and since then my manuscripts have been accepted at Buckingham palace on more than one occasion.

I am, etc.,

John Grant.

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