OT: 10 April 1909 – Unsigned “A New Composer of Piobaireachd” [Review]



The Oban Times,  10 April 1909

A New Composer of Piobaireachd

In the ancient days the verbal notation or “canntaireachd” of the MacCrimmons preserved to posterity not a few eminent pieces of Ceòl Mòr, which otherwise would undoubtedly have been lost. In our time a new composer has arisen, who combines in a happy degree general musical culture with the special ability and enthusiasm required for the production of piobaireachd. When that old art has fallen on evil days, it is refreshing to know that such a man appears, whose heart is in the work, and his success has been so signally recognised.

We refer to Mr. John Grant, 21 Murieston Crescent, Edinburgh, the author and publisher of “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” which has recently appeared. Mr. Grant inherits the spirit of his fathers, who, in the romantic valley of the Spey, not only gave rise to a special branch of pipe music still popular, the strathspey, but have also embodied the spirit of steadfastness for all Celts and for all time in their clan slogan “Stand Fast Craigellachie.” On the banks of that smoothly gliding river, as if itself moved to some subtle melody, our author dwelt, in the vicinity of heath and corrie, he was nursed in the olden memories till the love of piobaireachd “haunted him like a passion.” In and around that district Mr. Grant, when quite a lad, carefully noted all the traditional and unpublished fragments of old music that he met with. His practice in this respect was a proof of his enthusiasm, and a good preparation for more ambitious flights of original composition. At this stage he used to walk over twenty miles twice a week to be instructed by a leading piper of that day. He early became a member of the pipe band of the third Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (volunteer), and his activity in this connection proved a source of incitement and emulation to his contemporaries there. His unwearied diligence in collecting the rarest and newest settings the tunes, enabled him in 1904 to submit to the Highland Society of London, through its President, the Marquis of Tullibardine, D.S.O., a collection of about eight hundred tunes, comprising piobaireachd, marches, strathspeys, reels and all other types of bagpipe music. On this colossal achievement our author received official recognition and approbation of the most encouraging nature. It is not to be wondered at that having acquired such an extensive knowledge of existing pipe music, and having been hailed and thanked from such an authoritative source, Mr. Grant should attain the loftier ambition of adapting his talents for some years to the well-nigh lost art of piobaireachd composition. And for the past five years our author has confined himself exclusively to this classical department of pipe music. He collected and copied out in full notation in number of piobaireachd tunes not in print, in a volume of over two hundred pages. From certain advantages in his professional work he has been enabled to cultivate the art of manuscript embellishment at the same time.

The volume in question is a charming illustration of the designers art, and is all hand copied and adorned from beginning to end. From this volume he proceeded to the writing of another volume, the largest collection of piobaireachd that has yet been put together. This MSS. volume is 17 by 23 inches. It is made on the newest principle of binding, the loose leaf, and admits of any tune being removed or inserted at will. The use of Celtic designs and ornamentations of olive green, violet, and other coloured inks, the skillful calligraphy in the masterly disposition and appearance of all the pages, remind one of the olden days when the art of the Celtic scribe was at its best. In this instance, indeed, may be seen whether culture and enthusiasm can do, not only for the recording but for the illumination of piobaireachd. When we consider that all this is done outside business hours the wonder grows, for this single volume alone might well represent the toil of many years.

In line with such a method of illumination Mr. Grant has also developed a way of writing clan piobaireachd in a form suitable for framing. The intention is that those interested in their own particular clan tunes may have them hung on walls, instead of secreting them away in some music folios, or concealing them in a cupboard. In this development our author has had single satisfaction. Tunes prepared in this way have been accepted by the King, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Connaught, and the King and Queen of Norway. Mr. Grant is the proud possessor of five royal letters of acceptance and thanks. Apart from musical worth these productions have the merit of rare calligraphy. Done in the ancient Celtic fashion, they bear heraldic designs and shields for mottos, family badges, and armorial bearings.

And now, finally, comes the crowning work of all. That is the original work, The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd. It is a production by the merit of which the author is willing that his reputation as a composer should stand or fall. It is unique as being the only original book of piobaireachd published by one man. It bears for a fitting frontispiece a splendid reproduction of the well-known and weird picture called “The Pibroch” by the late artist, Mr. Lockhart Bogle. The collection received the title “Royal” because the opening tune is a salute to his Majesty King Edward, who accepted the tune. Mr. Grant received the honour of special thanks from his Majesty for this inspiring composition. Another excellent tune in the collection is a Salute to the Piobaireachd Society. It seems to embody and express the patriotic zeal of that Society to resuscitate the practice of an ancient and noble art. The book contains six original tunes, all possessing musical merit of a high order, fine feeling and technical correctness, a very difficult feature in the composition of piobaireachd. We follow the career of this new composer with patriotic interest. Such men deserve our regard and respect. To conclude, it may be remarked that the favourite piece, according to the opinion of competent pipers, is the lament for her late Majesty, Queen Victoria. And it was only right that the best efforts of a fresh composer should be dedicated to a most fragrant and illustrious memory, even to the memory of her who endeared her name to every Highland heart by her preference for Highland customs and her devotion to and encouragement of the practice and preservation of the ancient art of piobaireachd.

© Copyright Pipe Major John Grant - Designed for Dr. Alan Armstrong