The Oban Times, 17 November, 1934
The MacCrimmon Genealogy
Collingwood Place, Camberley, Surrey, 10 November, 1934
Sir,–It would be a matter of great interest to many students of Scottish family history if any of your readers could supply the Christian names or other means of identification of members of the ten generations of MacCrimmons who, according to an inscription on the Borreraig cairn, were hereditary pipers to MacLeod.
Although there are MacCrimmons alive to-day who trace back a traditional lineage of some fifteen generations in the direct male line, only about eight generations appear to have produced hereditary pipers. It seems that there has been some confusion between the lines of hereditary pipers and direct descendants (generations). The hereditary pipers were sometimes succeeded by brothers or cousins, as the title was conferred on the best piper, and he was not necessarily the eldest son.
A traditional line of descent begins with two questionable battalions, Giuseppe and Petrus Bruno, grandfather and father of “Fionnlagh na plaide báine.” Iain Odhar, Findlay’s successor, is supposed to have been born about 1500, and the line continues with Padruig Donn c. 1530, Donald Mór c. 1560, Pàdruig Mór c. 1585, Pàdruig Og c. 1630, Malcolm c. 1690, Iain Dubh 1731, and Donald Og c. 1780, from whom descend four generations in the direct male line.
After the death of Iain Dubh or his brother Donald Ruadh, it seems that descendants of their uncle Donald Donn were for a time employed as pipers at Dunvegan Castle, but they can hardly be included among the hereditary pipers.
I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 5 June, 1926
Scottish Pipers Society
Annual Competition in Edinburgh
The annual competition of the Scottish Pipers Society was held in the Drill Hall, Gilmore Place, Edinburgh, on Wednesday, 29th May. The strike having interfered in various ways with the arrangements of prospective competitors, the number of members entering for the competitions were somewhat less than last year.
The members of the Society present included:–Lieut. Colonel John Logan, Achtertyre, V.D., Lochalsh; Lieut. Colonel J. D. Boswell of Auchinleck; Major D.H. Huie, Mr. W. G. Burn-Murdoch, Mr. J. Graham Campbell, yr. of Shirvan, Lochgilphead; Brig.-General E. Craig-Brown, D.S.O., Mr. George Brown, advocate, Mr. John Methuen, hon. secretary; Mr. John Longmore, Mr. Seton Gordon, Mr. J.A. Hunter of Inchmartin; Major W.D. Allan, O.B.E., Chief Constable of Argyllshire; Mr. J.D.C. Hendry, Geilston, Cardross; Lieut. Colonel C.C. Murray,C.M.G., Fingland, Campsie Glen; Mr. J.M. Clavering, Blanefield; Mr. Mackenzie Shaw of Auchenleish, hon. treasurer.
Dr. G.L. Malcolm Smith, F.R.C.P.E., Mr. Francis M. Caird, Mr. Ian MacAlastair Moffat-Pender, Major J.C. Simpson, Rev. Neil Ross, B.D., Laggan; Rev. T. Radcliffe Barnett, Ph.D., Mr. C.E.W. MacPherson, C.A., Rev. K. Nigel Mackenzie, Mr. J.A. MacLaren-Stewart of Ardvorlich, Mr. C.D. Mactaggart, Mr. F. Maclean Richardson, Mr. J. Alastair Anderson, yr. of Tullichewan, Mr. W.J. Officer, Mr. H. Normand MacLaurin, Mr. F.C.S. Lorimer, Mr. James Guthrie, Mr. A.C.D. Goodall, and Mr. E. Macdiarmid, hn. Pipe-Major.
The guests included:–Mr. W.L. Calderwood, Rev. Duncan MacRae, Dr. George Logan, Dr. Goodall, Mr. Parkhouse, London, Lieut. Colonel Lodge with Mr. H. Hogarth, Mr. D. Marr, Mr. R.S. Watson, from Fettes College; Mr. Matheson, Mr. Donald Shaw, S.S.C., president, Highland Pipers Society; Mr. Herbert S. Shiel, S.S.C., Highland Pipers Society.
These were also present:–Pipe-Major William Ross, late Scots Guards; Pipe-Major Duff, Pipe-Major W.M. Taylor, Dunblane; Pipe-Major J. Taylor, Pipe-Major James Sutherland, Messrs. John MacColl, Charles McEchran, Malcolm Johnston, Sinclair, John Grant, George Mackay, Hugh Mackay, Robertson, G. MacLeod, Roderick Campbell and Mutch and others. The prize winners were:–
Piobaireachd–1. and winner of the Strathcona Challenge Cup and the Macdiarmid prize, Mr. F.M. Caird, with “The desperate battle,” 2. Mr. J. Graham Campbell with “The big spree,” 3. Rev. Neil Ross, with “Donald Duachal Mackay.”
Marches open to the whole Society–1 and winner of the Cup presented by the late Mr. Frank Adam, Mr. Francis M. Caird; 2. Mr. C.D. Mactaggart; 3, Mr. J. Graham Campbell.
Strathspey and Reel–1. and winner of the cup presented by the late Mr. W. Stuart, Mr. J. Graham Campbell.
Marches open to Members who had not previously won a prize–1, and winner of the Allan Gilmour Quaich, Mr. James Guthrie; 2, Mr. F.C.S. Lorimer; 3, Mr. F. McLean Richardson.
Dancing. Highland Fling–1. Mr. H. Normand Maclaurin; 2, Major W.D. Allan.
Dancing. Reel–1. Major W.D. Allan; 2, Rev. K Nigel Mackenzie.
Mr. Maclaurin being winner of the Fling, although placed first in the Reel was disqualified from receiving first prize for that dance.
The judges were–For piping–Major D.H. Huie, John MacColl, and Charles McEchran, and for dancing, Mr. J. Graham Campbell, and Pipe Major Taylor, Dunblane.
The competitions started at 5 p.m., and ended about 11 p.m., after which selections were played by the Society’s band and reel dancing was taken part in.
The Oban Times, 5 June, 1926
Styles of Pipe Tunes
Johannesburg, South Africa, 20 March, 1926
Sir,–The following are mere opinions: they are stated as facts for brevity.
Repeats ought to have a difference for emphasis. But repeats must be clearly repeats, and must follow the part repeated long enough to establish it. It is not right to change AA¹A¹G: A¹AAB: into AA¹EA¹: CAAC in the repeat, as is done by Logan in the second part of “When Charlie comes,” or into AA¹AA¹: G¹AEC, as is done by Ross who goes still further into the unpermissible in the third part of the Cameronian Rant when he changes DGEB; DGBG¹: DGBG: DDBA¹ into DGGG: DGBG: DGGG: DGBG in the repeat. This is right off the lines of the music of the pipes. It would be as legitimate to play for the second part of Lady Loudoun the second part once and the third part once.
Gray’s new pibrochs from old manuscripts put me to very hard thinking. Annapool is in structure so like the Children that my first conclusion was that someone at some time in history had been trying his hand at a new tune, and took the children as his model. But Annapool appears in Gesto’s Chanting Syllables. But, again, Gesto is different from Gray, though Gray might be an attempt by someone to translate Gesto. Gray has been very careful as regards the Gaelic in his tune names; he sometimes even gilds the lily –when he makes a possessive case (‘taoibh’) for ‘taobh’.
The adding of flourishes in the finishing of pibroch grounds has one very unfortunate result–the throwing of many players out of time, as they slow down, just as if a reader who reads a difficult word, should stop to spell it. Mr. Grant’s mistake as to the noting of the toorla beats may be due to something like this. This beat consists of three pieces, the first very marked and long, the secondary short, and the third short, like the word “cumbersome.” The old-style of noting is excellent for impressing on beginners thoroughness of fingering; but it cannot be played in musical rhythm. It would require four syllables to represent it. That the correct number is three is proved by the necessity of musical rhythm, the playing of the pipers, and the syllables of Gesto and the bards (for example ‘Sfhada mar so tha sinn).
I would very much like to go into the fine points of the toothsome beats and phrases of the new books; but it is impracticable Ross has a very telling stroke in the repeat of the last part of Angus Campbell–AA ¹EA¹: CECA: ABCA: etc.; but I think it could be improved further. The E in the first be is heavy and slow, and might be replaced by high G or a grip. The second beat is excellent, but the CA is spoiled by the closeness of the same notes in the same position in the be following. There is a lot to be said for the old beat CCEA–dropping from the high A on the double C. Of course Ross’s last two parts of Macallister should change places.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 22 April, 1911
Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union
Lecture by Dr. Bannatyne
The Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union recently held a most successful recital in the Shepherds’ Hall, Bath Street, Glasgow. Major A. Patterson, the president, occupied the chair, and referred to the aims and objects of the Union. An interesting programme was submitted, and its performance left nothing to be desired. The selections by the pipers of the Union were played as precisely as if done by one man, while the dancing showed that the Union is already doing excellent work by insisting on a uniform order of steps, which adds so much to the gracefulness of the performance. The pibroch playing could not have been excelled. The programme was as follows:–
Selections, pipers of the Union; reel, Messrs. Cameron, Stewart, McEwen, and Kay; pibroch, Pipe-Major MacDougall Gillies; sword dance, Misses Murray, Cameron, Stewart, Pearson; bagpipe selections, Piper James McIvor; Hungarian top-boot dance, Misses Marshall and Swan; pibroch, Piper William Gray; Lochabers sword dance, McKenzie-Kay Troupe; bagpipe selections, John McColl, Oban; Highland Fling, Messrs. Neil Cameron, C. McEwan, and E. MacDonald-Stewart; bagpipe selections, Piper Donald Cameron; Irish jig, McKenzie-Kay Troupe; bagpipe selections, Pipe-Major McKenzie; sailors hornpipe, Messrs. Cameron, Stewart, Scott, McEwen; specialty dance, Sisters Cameron; bagpipe selections, Messrs. Swanson and Gordon; Shean Triubhais, Misses Pearson and Marshall; bagpipe selections, Mr. J. Johnstone; Highland Fling, Miss Minnie Swan; Reel of Tulloch, Messrs. Cameron, Stewart, McEwen, Kay; bagpipe selections, pipers of the Union.
History of the Bagpipes.
During the course of the evening Dr. Charles Bannatyne delivered an able and exceedingly interesting lecture on the history of piping and dancing. There were, he said, many kinds of bagpipes in the universe, but the greatest of all these, and the most celebrated in its music was the bagpipe peculiar to the Scottish Highlanders. The bagpipes were practically unknown in the Highlands till the end of the sixteenth century. It was primarily a war instrument, but they were concerned that night with the bagpipes as an instrument of peace, not one of war; an instrument of friendship and good comradeship, which had been the means of bringing them there that night in a unity, from which had sprung their Society, the Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union. The bagpipe had only a range of nine notes, G to A, in the key of D, the low A being made prominent by the pedal accompaniment, in unison, of the two tenor and one bass drone. From this
Small-Scale had Sprung
a remarkable collection of marches, strathspeys, reels, jigs and piobaireachd. To those who love the pipes, but had no skill of the fingers, he might explain a few points. The fixed scale presented, owing to the bag, an unbroken flow of sound, and in order to give character to the music, to present consecutive notes of the same pitch, and to embellish the tunes, grace-notes, singly and doubly and in groups, were added, and were responsible for the warbling of the plaintiff sounds, which had no equal in the music of any other known nation. In a pibroch they had, first, the groundwork or theme, and this was worked up through the succeeding variations in a way that taxed the skill and endurance of the performer in a remarkable way. By this greater music the Highlanders celebrated
Their Great Occasions.
War, marriage, love, and death formed the basis of the themes of this music, and in addition they used the pipes as a means of rallying and keeping together the units of their forces in turbulent times. The great masters of piping were in olden times, as to-day, also teachers, and not having a notation as we have it, they formed one of their own, and this he called the “Pipers’ Sol-fa.” Dr. Bannatyne then dwelt at length on the scale in this notation, which is the MacCrimmon scale. They were met as the legitimate successors of the old-time players who originated and performed the sounds. He was pleased to notice Mr. Henry Whyte (“Fionn”) among them. No man living knew more than he about the history of the old tunes. He hoped Mr. Whyte might soon see his way clear to publish another edition of his “Martial Music of the Clans.” Another fine work of his was published by Mr. D. Glen, Edinburgh, in the form of “Historical and Legendary Notes regarding Piobaireachd,” a carefully edited and trustworthy book, published at the price of 3s, and worthy of all praise. There they would find much concerning
The Old Players,
men who had to undergo a long and severe course of training, extending from seven to eleven years, at one of the several “Colleges of Piping, “which then existed in the Highlands of Scotland. Their profession was highly honourable, for they were educated musicians, holding a high social and professional place under the old clan system. Each had a servant to carry his pipes until such time as he required to use them. They were men fit to grace any company, and though they were dead they had left behind them an imperishable monument in their music. A study of this music proved how great these men were. To-day they had myriads of performers who upheld this music and kept it to the front, and that Union hoped to add such performers to its ranks.
History of Highland Dancing.
He now came to the subject of dancing. It had been a favourite amusement in all ages, and had been by means of pantomimic action the vehicle for expressing sacred and festive joy, exultation and victory, or were like determination before setting out to battle. Our own Highland dances were relics of a warlike race, and might have originated among the old Druidical priests and warriors. The old sword dance was probably used to stimulate the Keltic youth to deeds of valour. There were three methods of performing this dance–(1) The grand dance, used on solemn occasions; (2) as a trial of skill and agility in swordsmanship; and (3) as an exhibition by one person. The grand dance was likely similar to that of the northern Goths and Swedes. It was an exercise for youth. First with swords sheathed and erect in their hands they danced in a triple round, then with
The Swords Drawn
held erect; then they extended them from hand to hand, laid hold of each other’s points and hilts, wheeling about and changing their order; then they formed a hexagon called a rose, but presently raising and drawing back their swords, they undid that figure to form a four-square rose that might rebound over the heads of each, and at last they danced rapidly backwards rattling swords and scabbards. This they did to the sound of pipes. At first it was a slow measure, but the conclusion was very rapid. In the second style of sword dance there were two performers armed with sword and targe. It resolved itself into a trial of skill, and finally the victor placed the two swords on the ground and danced around them and
Exultation and his Victory
over his adversary. From these descriptions could be followed the meaning of the figures of our modern sword dance. The Highland Fling also had its origin in the defeat of an adversary. It was originally danced on a targe, and was accompanied by voice as well as pipes. in the Fling the dancer should keep as near as possible to one small circle, representing the size of the targe, and should avoid raising the foot of one leg higher than the lower edge of the knee-cap of the other. Each foot as a rule marks time for its fellow. The Strathspey at one time was a twosome dance, but now is mostly a foursome. It consisted of the reel and setting steps, each of about eight bars. The reel proper and the Reel of Tulloch were often danced with and after the strathspey. Another graceful dance, founded on some of the old dirk, sword, and fling dances, was Shean Triubhas, a graceful and dignified dance. All the old dances called for grace, agility, and muscular vigour. All the amusements and games of the Highlander were those of an exceptionally powerful and
Had the Gael moped about his glens and hills as the “Celtic gloom” tribe would like to make out, he would hardly have been likely to have evolved exercises like the tossing of stone, hammer, and caber, games like shinty, dances like the Reel, Fling, and Sword, all calling for great strength, great agility, and much-practiced art. In concluding his lecture Dr. Bannatyne expressed the hope that they would all join the Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union, and get their friends to join. The best pipers and dancers in the world had already joined their ranks. They had many good things for the future still in store, but it was by enthusiasm and energy of the great rank and file of pipers and dancers that their Union would attain the fame and prestige it was anxious to prove it deserved. (Loud applause.)
The meeting resulted in quite a large accession to the membership of the Union.
The Oban Times, 10 April, 1948
Inverness, 5 April, 1948
Sir,–Sheriff Grant is to be congratulated on his attitude to Mr. Donald Main’s exposition of piobaireachd. His letter was an unpleasant necessity, but a necessity it certainly was, notwithstanding the compassion of pipers for Mr. Main, who does not seem to have either the melody or the fingering technique that makes piping tolerable. Mr. Angus MacPherson has also made a public protest against the B.B.C. piping distortion, and if his pain and indignation have the same cause, he is due a share of the gratitude of pipers, though he did not give the perpetrator a name.
I had once the honour of being one of the judges at a competition where Mr. Main got through the parts of the piobaireachd recognisably. After a few bars I proposed that he be stopped, but I did not get a majority of the judges to support me.
This is a regrettable case, but the position demands the publicity it has been given, and I would like to add that in a less though a substantial degree further and competent control is required for the Gaelic, and especially the Gaelic musical exhibitions of the B.B.C.
I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 15 March, 1930
The Piobaireachd Society
Prestbury House, Prestbury, Cheltenham, 8 March, 1930
Sir,–I have read with interest the charming article by “D. S.” in your issue of March 8th entitled “A Link with the MacCrimmons; the Military School of Piping.”
While I am fairly certain that “D. S.” is himself a member of the Piobaireachd Society, I feel bound to point out that in his article he does not give the Society the credit for being the father and mother of the Military School of Piping, which is, as most of your readers are aware, only one of its several useful activities in the Piping world. It can safely be said that were it not for the Piobaireachd Society there would be no Military School of Piping to-day.
Knowing the interest which you and your readers take in the work of my Society, I venture to draw attention to the omission which I feel “D. S.” has all unwittingly made in his otherwise delightfully written article.
–I am, etc.,
(Capt.) George J. Campbell, Yr., of Succoth,
Hon. Secretary and Treasurer,
The Piobaireachd Society
The Oban Times, 15 March, 1930
Joseph MacDonald and Pibroch Notation
Inverness, 26 February, 1930
Sir,–I venture to make a few corrections in regard to your correspondent “Grip’s” commun-ication. I certainly say that the modern school are supported by Joseph and have nothing to do with the redundant A in Taorluadh when it is played as a running. Of the three oldest writers, viz., Joseph MacDonald, Donald MacDonald and Angus MacKay, Joseph is the only one that does not give us a Taorluadh (“Iuludh”) with the superfluous A. I have not formed the opinion that “Iuludh” is a running “Taobhludh” without the middle A. “Iuludh” has a middle A, but it is not superfluous because the A is cut. I have formed the opinion that “Iuludh” was played in Joseph’s day by the West Coast pipers exactly as given in the 11th table.
“Iuludh” is, as Mr. MacInnes said, “rhythmically correct,” but is not accepted by the modern players. I agree with Mr. MacInnis when he says that quite a number of pipers actually play “Iuludh” but they do so only because they have failed to play “Taorludh.” Others again play the “Taorludh” with the superfluous A. This is what is called a clumsy “Taorludh” and means that the piper has failed to bring in his is E finger smartly enough.
“Iuludh” is certainly not such a strong beat as our “Taorludh.” I explained what the argument used to be about these two beats, and I hold that in the old days there were two schools–one playing “Iuludh” and the other “Taorludh.”
Your correspondent evidently considers the three words “Riludh,” “Iuludh” and “Tudhludh” all to mean the same beat, viz., the “Taorludh” with the redundant A. “Iuludh” is not a misprint for “Tudhludh.” “Tudhludh” has reference to a totally different beat. “Iuludh” is mentioned 15 times in the book as against once of “Tudhludh.” Where Joseph mentions “Riludh agus Creanludh” as forming the last part of a very “grand species of variation” he means what he says, and he does not mean “Iuludh (or “Tudhludh”) agus Creanludh”; he means what we now call “Crunluadh-a-mach.”
I said that “Riludh” was a ground beat and is always a “Mach” beat, no matter how it was accentuated. It is a three-syllable beat, made up of two cuts and the strike. Joseph did not understand “Iuludh” to be a three-syllable beat–both the illustration and the wording show this very clearly.
Your correspondent also says that the 8th cutting is GAGDGAEADA, otherwise the “Taorludh” with the redundant A–this is not so. The beat or cutting as it appears in the “Treatise” is GAGDAGAEADA, 11 notes in all. Now this group is quite playable, but it does not conform to the description which says (alluding to “Na Le Leicinin”):–
It is closed in the following manner which is beautiful and grand, thus it frequently ends, etc..
These two dividing notes before the two principal of each bar, etc.
I am of opinion that the holes are here misplaced and that the third column of dots should come after the second full A, in which case the cutting would read GAGDAGEADA, and this answers the description perfectly as all its notes are cutting notes and it has two dividing notes before the “two principal” of each bar.
The beat is also used as an ending to doubling of “Siubhal” and must therefore have been used in the ground as well. It is, of course, capable of being played scaleways either open or closed. It is not the same beat as the 9th cutting, which is not only different in illustration but also in the description. In the first group (the A) the illustrated fingering certainly suggests GD only where we might expect to find GDG, but in the second and third we find GDG, and they suggest the notes of “Riludh” or “Taorludh–a-mach.” There is, of course, an extra full note as in the 8th cutting.
In those variation beats of “Taorludh” which precede the running “Taorludh” proper we vary the accentuation and time according to the piobroch played, and we generally cut the first or theme note a little shorter and make the last one a little longer than we do in the running “Taorludh.” These beats are not a “Taorludh” proper, but a variation of “Tripling” or “Na Le Leichinin” and it is quite possible that, accentuation being different, the notes themselves would also be different. Therefore I say that in some cases there is nothing against the “Taorludh” with the redundant A being used here. That, however, does not account for the extra note at the end. The 4 table has reference to the ground, and the full GDG grip is intended.
The general prelude quoted is well known to modern players and is badly mistresses in the first bar; the second bar is correct. The notes following the characteristic group DED contain the notes which make up “Iuludh,” but these notes are meant to be played scaleways, the timing of them depending upon the taste of the performer. The group FDED is also played scaleways. Donald MacDonald has these notes the same, or nearly the same, and the style of how they should be played is better shown. Joseph’s version is somewhat more elaborate than that usually played to-day.
I agree that there is the clearest possible evidence as to the existence of the middle A in “Iuludh,” and that it is not a redundant or a superfluous A.– I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 3 April, 1926
Another correspondent writing of the meeting states:–” Mr. Grant led off by stating that the MacCrimmons wrote the double A and also played it. He (Mr. Grant) had been taught to play it and he contended that it was correct. The truth is, I suppose, that the MacCrimmons had no written music and that mistakes in the staff had crept in which had been corrected in their playing by artistes of the bagpipes. Mr. Grant, it seems, desires to adhere to Angus Mackay’s book whether the tune is artistic or not. The function was rather an aimless one and had no practical result.
The Oban Times, 3 April, 1926
The Discussion of Pipe Majors Grant and Gray on Taorluath
In connection with the debate on the playing of the Taorluath, held in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Forrest Road, on Thursday, 25th March, a large company attended the meeting to hear the differences of opinion between Pipe-Majors Grant and Gray in regard to the Taorluath.
The following gentlemen were present at the meeting:–Sir John Lorne MacLeod and Messrs. Burn-Murdoch and Seton Gordon; Pipe-Majors Ross, Calder, Grant, Gray, Hendry, Sutherland, Mckenzie, McDonald, Gordon and Thomson, and Pipers Calder, Sutherland, McLeod, Bain, McKinlay, Gates, Campbell, and MacDonald (Glasgow Police).
The Chairman, Mr. McKillop, president of Tir nam Beann Society, called on Pipe-Major Grant to give his opinion with regard to the playing of the Taorluath. Mr. Grant claimed to have been taught the pipes as the Mackays played them, and said that he could play the Taorluath with two low “A’s” at the finish as written by the Mackays. He gave a summary of the Piobaireachd and designated the origin of several Piobaireachd. After this Pipe-Major Gray was asked if he wished to say a word before Pipe-Major Grant commenced to demonstrate his method of playing the Taorluath.
Mr. Gray refrained from speaking, merely asking for the demonstration to commence. Mr. Grant along with two boys then commenced to play “Macintosh’s Lament.” Having played the Urlar and doubling together, Mr. Grant accompanied by a youth played the Taorluath, finally playing the Taorluath himself.
On finishing Pipe-Major Gray said that Mr. Grant played the Taorluath exact the same as himself, but with this Mr. Grant did not agree. The Taorluath was then written on the blackboard by Mr. Grant, and he was informed by Mr. Gray that it was impossible for anyone to play it to correct time, as he had written it. Mr. Grant held that it could, and said that it was almost imperceptible to the ear, and it required years of practice before a person could play it successfully.
Mr. Gray then wrote the Taorluath as he played it (being one “A” less than Mr. Grant’s style) and maintained that Mr. Grant played it just as he had written it. His opinion was that in attempting to produce two “A’s” at the end of the Taorluath Mr. Grant was sacrificing a good lock note on the low “G,” which in his opinion was of more consequence.
Sir,–I do not profess to be an authority on the subject, but I feel within myself, after hearing Pipe-Majors Grant and Gray playing their respective styles of the Taorluath, and having for a considerable time now tried to play it to time as Mr. Grant plays it, that there is something about it which cannot be done consistently to proper time. The A note in question it appears to me to be a drag in the Taorluath, and takes away the round movement.
I am, etc.
The Oban Times, 3 April, 1926
THE PIPERS’ CHALLENGE
Meeting in Edinburgh.
Pipe-Major John Grant, Edinburgh,
Pipe-Major William Gray, Glasgow
Unique Piping Demonstration and Discussion
For some time past a controversy, conducted through the courtesy and medium of the Editor of the “Oban Times,” has been proceeding between Pipe-Major Grant, Edinburgh, on the one hand, and Pipe-Major Gray, Glasgow, on the other, as to the correct interpretation and execution of the Toarluath and Crunluath notes in Piobaireachd.
Epistolary statements from each of these gentlemen not being successful in establishing any definite result on the points at issue, it was ultimately arranged that the two principles would meet, debate, and give practical demonstrations on the pipes in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Forrest Road, Edinburgh, at 8 p.m. On Thursday, 25th March, under the auspices of the Tir Nam Beann Society.
A brief sketch of the opposing arguments may not be out of place here before proceeding further. Pipe-Major Grant avers that the Taorluath and Crunluath notes, as written by Angus MacKay in his book, are all absolutely necessary and therefore correct, that they can be played in time and rhythm, and that he, himself, was taught to do so, and can, in fact, execute these notes.
Pipe-Major Gray, on the other hand, contends that the Taorluath and Crunluath notes are not, in practice, played as written by Angus MacKay, that they cannot be played in time and rhythm, and that he, himself, is unable to execute them as they are detailed. He states that in every case Angus MacKay included a redundant “A,” except in the “D”combination, and that effect was never, and cannot be given to that note.
Widespread interest has been aroused in the controversy amongst the Piping Fraternity, a fact which was, at once, obvious when, on the night of the proceedings, the hall was soon crowded beyond its limits. Many notabilities were present in the persons of Sir John Lorne MacLeod, Mr. Alistair MacKillop, Mr. Burn-Murdoch, Sheriff Jamieson, Mr. Parkhouse, Mr. Seton Gordon, Mr. Duncan Cameron, J. P., Mr. Somerled MacDonald, Mears W. And A. Cameron, Mr. R. Johnston MacDonald, and most of the leading Pipe-Majors, past and present.
Pipe-Major Grant led off the debate. He traced the history of the Piobaireachd from the time of the great MacCrimmon Masters. He explained their position as hereditary pipers, how they devoted their whole lives to their art, how perfect their productions were, and how they invented and developed the system of “Canntaireachd.” He narrated how they founded the school at the Castle at Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, and how the various Chieftains sent their pipers there to be taught by them–the hall-mark of ability. He mentioned the famous pipers who originated from Borreraig–the MacArthurs, the Mackays, the Macleans or Rankins, the Campbells, and the MacIntyres.
He detailed the MacCrimmon system of teaching:–The teacher playing with the pupil, then by silent fingering, and lastly by means of “Canntaireachd” chanting. The seriousness with which they regarded their profession he revealed by stating that an apprenticeship lasted from seven to eleven years before proficiency was attained. The MacCrimmons left no MSS. or, at least, none has ever been discovered, and naturally, as Pipe-Major Grant pointed out, the manner and execution of playing by their pupils became the accepted and correct method. Pipers taught in this way were said to be traditionally trained in their art. Then came the advent of Angus MacKay, himself a pupil of the MacCrimmons, who collected and put in staff notation the first really serviceable book of pipe music.
Angus MacKay devoted his whole life to his task. He took infinite pains to ensure that his work was correct, and although it contains various errors, Mr. Grant contends that it ill behoves anyone now to alter the compilation of that great man who did so much towards preserving the noble music of Caledonia. It has been said, continued Mr. Grant, that Angus MacKay’s work was adapted for other styles of music beside the bagpipes, and therefore various notes were inserted to allow these musicians to obtain the effect of the Piobaireachd, but he himself could state, from personal knowledge, that Piobaireachd music was unique in itself and could not be played on any other instrument.
Pipe-Major Grant’s Claim.
Mr. Grant stated he was taught by Pipe-Major Ronald McKenzie, a pupil of John Ban Mackenzie, who was taught by Angus MacKay, and who, in turn, was taught by John “Dubh” MacCrimmon. Surely that is the direct line, he added. Positively he could assert that he received the assurance of Ronald MacKenzie that John Ban Mackenzie always played the Taorluath as written by Mackay. Is there any reason, he demanded, why Angus MacKay should insert the “A” in all his tunes if he did not intend it to be played? Is there any reason why John Ban Mackenzie should say he played it, and as a matter of fact taught Pipe-Major Ronald Mackenzie to do so, if he did not? Is there any reason at all for these men to tell falsehoods about the matter? To my mind, he continued, there is none.
These great pipers, traditionally taught, played the Taorluath and Crunluath notes giving effect to the “A.” I play it in the same manner, and I demand to know from Pipe-Major Gray, and also from Pipe-Major Ross, whose name has been brought into the controversy, what authority they had in altering the compilation of Angus MacKay as they have done in their books. I say emphatically they are wrong, and if they cannot play the Taorluath, as written, then they are not proficient in their art and are not Piobaireachd players. All the standard works on the Piobaireachd include the “A” in the Taorluath. Are all these works wrong?
Pipe-Major Grant then intimated that before proceeding to the actual test of playing he would vacate the platform in favour of his opponent if he desired to make any remarks.
Pipe-Major Gray signified that he did not wish to say anything at that stage, and requested Mr. Grant to carry on with the actual playing.
Before complying the latter explained the different forms or species of tunes of the Piobaireachd, viz.: –The Salute, the Welcome, the Lament, the Farewell, the Gathering, the March or Challenge, the Battle Tune, and the Warning, giving in each instance a short description as to when and how they were used.
The Pipe-Major then selected “The Macintosh’s Lament” from Angus MacKay’s book, as being an exceptionally fine example of the Taorluath and played the piece through on the Chanter. Concluding, he asked Pipe-Major Gray if he had rendered the Taorluath giving effect to the “A,” and was greatly taken aback when met with a direct negative. He played the single note again and again, but was unsuccessful in persuading Mr. Gray to admit the correctness of his execution.
Pipe-Major Gray’s Claim.
Pipe-Major Gray stated emphatically that the redundant “A” could not be rendered in time and rhythm, and that the Taorluath was not played by the hereditary pipers or their pupils the way it was written by Angus MacKay. He said he was taught in the direct line through Pipe-Major J. MacDougall Gillies, and he could authoritatively state that neither he, nor John McColl, nor the Cameron’s ever played the “A” in the Taorluath. He had also the authority of Pipe-Major Ross and Pipe-Major McLennan for stating that, in practice, the “A” was always omitted.
Quoting from Angus MacKay’s book he read:–” He hopes the public will treat with leniency any defects that may be perceived.” Many errors had been discovered in Mackay’s book, and it was obvious the redundant “A” was also in that category. Why was Mackay not uniform? Why did he not insert the “A” in the “D” note?
“I am not here as an orator,” continued Mr. Gray, “my time is limited. I must catch a train from Glasgow, and, so far as I am concerned, Pipe-Major Grant has signally failed to convince me from his playing that he is correct in his assertion. As a further test I will ask him to play the ‘Leumluath’ in ‘The Glen is Mine’.”
Pipe-Major Grant did so, but beyond a smile and a significant shrug of the shoulders which indicated his opinion Pipe-Major Gray made no remark.
Sir John Lorne MacLeod in a few words thanked both gentlemen for their demonstrations of the niceties of a very fine point, and the proceedings terminated.
The whole affair from the point of view of an impartial spectator was left in a very unsatisfactory state. Neither side is, in any degree, any further forward.
Pipe-Major Grant, who conveyed the impression that his whole object was the preservation of the traditional playing, proved himself from his discourse a very fine Piobaireachd student. He was more a student been a practical player, and from his lack of accomplished execution was unable to convince his audience as to the correctness of his contentions. Nevertheless, if, perhaps, a really proficient Piobaireachd player had been called upon to execute the disputed note, it is a matter of conjecture that verdict might have been returned.
Pipe-Major Gray had a very simple task. He did not prove Mr. Grant was wrong. He simply, baldly and pointedly stated that Pipe-Major Grant had not given effect to the “A,” and that, in fact, he had played the note in a similar manner to himself.
The test was badly organised. Expert and disinterested judges should have been appointed to decide on the merits of the dispute as demonstrated by the opposite side and though the writer prefers not to give any opinion, he feels that for the future guidance of those who study and play the Piobaireachd the point should be thoroughly and officially inquired into and a definite decision made.