OT: 7 July 1923 – H.S. Strafford [“Piobaireachd Playing at the Cowal Gathering”]

The Oban Times, 7 July, 1923

[Piobaireachd Playing at the Cowal Gathering]

Rosegarth, Dunoon, 3 July, 1923

Sir,–Dr. Bannatyne’s views are, I believe, based upon a restricted knowledge of the activity presently prevailing amongst the piping fraternity. I have good reason to know there never was a time when the desire to excel in piping existed to the extent as now. Whether the fingers of a youth at 18 or under are as capable as those of older men for the necessary execution for pibroch I am unable to say, but this I know that this competition is already an assured success, inasmuch as the entries already reach well nigh a round dozen. I am gratified with personal letters reaching me approving of the project, and at least one youth from the far north of Sutherland is coming to compete. It will further interest the youthful MacCrimmons to know that next year, by the generosity of a piping enthusiast, a silver-mounted set of pipes will accompany the first prize of a gold medal. –I am, etc.,

H. S. Strafford

OT: 7 July 1923 – Spaidsearachd Chlann Domhnuill “Piobaireachd Playing at the Cowal Gathering”

The Oban Times, 7 July, 1923

Piobaireachd Playing at the Cowal Gathering

2nd July 1923

Sir,–I am very much surprised that Dr. Bannatyne, of all men, should say that the fingers of a lad of 18 years and under are incapable of playing a piobaireachd with effect. Notwithstanding the Doctor’s undoubted knowledge of anatomy, I beg, through your courtesy, to express the direct opposite view. If a lad at 18 years cannot play a piobaireachd, the likely result is that he will not do it at 28 years, and if not then never.

Permit me to congratulate Mr. Strafford and the Cowal Gathering Committee upon the excellent lead they have taken in this matter. It is to be hoped that all Highland Gatherings worthy of the name will follow their splendid example. If so, Dr. Bannatyne and the rest of us who are so jealous of our Highland bagpipes and music will in a short time hear playing that will be more to our taste then the “Tin-whistle-bagpipe playing” so evident these days. –I am, etc.,

Spaidsearachd Chlann Domhnuill

OT: 7 July 1923 – Highland Officer “‘Flowers Of the Forest’ and ‘Lochaber No More'”

The Oban Times, 7 July, 1923

Flowers Of the Forest” and “Lochaber No More”

1st July, 1923

Sir,–Your correspondent “Manu Forti” writing in your issue of June 23 last, points out an aspect of modern piping which certainly requires attention being drawn to it. With a great number of appropriate and suitable old Highland laments, both piobaireachd and “small music,” it is indeed surprising to find that two Scottish songs–”The Flowers of the Forest” and “Lochaber no more”–are nowadays almost exclusively used for playing at funerals, commemorations, etc., especially as they are both but ill adapted for the piob mhòr. The custom of so playing them is not an ancient one, and probably owes its origin to their use in Scottish Regiments, who appeared to have first adopted them in the latter half of last century.

As you are Correspondent rightly observes, such a tune as the “Macintoshes Lament,” first three parts, would be eminently more suitable. There are also many others, easily learned by the average piper, such as “Lord Lovat’s,” the ancient and pathetic air of “MacGregor of Ruara’s Lament,” etc.

To break away from the present practice should not be difficult, and in the true interests of piping. Unfortunately, in the Army the “Flowers of the Forest” and “Lochaber no more” are accepted (together with “The Land of the Leal)” as the standard funeral tunes. It will require a united effort by all the Scottish regiments to effective alteration, but may we hope that this will yet be done. –I am, etc.,

Highland Officer

OT: 30 June 1923 – Enthusiast “‘Canntaireachd’ or the Vocable Method of Recording Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 30 June, 1923

“Canntaireachd” or the Vocable Method of Recording Piobaireachd

Sir,–It would be interesting to know if any manuscript recording pibrochs by the MacCrimmon system, other than that taken down by Captain MacLeod of Gesto, exists.

The Gesto record was published, and the reprint dated 1880 appears to contain many clerical and printer’s errors, and is, in consequence, not as valuable to enthusiasts as it might otherwise have been. If the manuscript still exist it is a pity a reprint could not be arranged.

In spite of manifest errors, the publication referred to undoubtedly shows that a regular system of recording this music existed among the old pipers, and this is confirmed by the article on “Nether Lorn Canntaireachd,” by Major Grant yr. of Rothiemurchus in “The Pipes of War.” If other manuscripts exist, emanating from MacCrimmon sources, it might be possible to reconstruct the system and thus correct the versions in staff notation in the case of many Pibrochs undoubtedly incorrectly recorded. –I am, etc.,


OT: 30 June 1923 – Charles Bannatyne “Piobaireachd and Cowal Highland Gathering”

The Oban Times, 30 June, 1923

Piobaireachd and Cowal Highland Gathering

Salsburgh, by Holytown, June 25, 1923

Sir,–To kill two dogs with one stone, may I be allowed to bracket together and reply to two letters in your issue of 23rd inst. I may say I am in favour of the competition for piobaireachd for youths of 18 and under, if competitors can be gat, which is moot point. Fingers of 18 and under are not of the calibre to play a piobaireachd with effect, but the intention of the competition is good and worthy of encouragement. I believe we should stick to the traditional method of playing the old tunes if we know it! But every teacher of Ceol Mor swears he has the only method, and consequently we have 1000 traditional methods. The nearest to tradition is that method which conserves the melody, but that method never gets any support. Humbug and syncopation carry the day every time.

Regard “Port nan Diornaig”– “The Tune of the Small Stones “–it refers to that taking of Rothesay Castle in 1333. Then the Butemen were in league with Campbell of Lochow, and hearing of the storming of Dunoon Castle, the Rothesay men who remained at home stormed Rothesay Castle, armed only with stones! The keeper then was John Mac Ghillebride, whose father, Ghillebride Mac Amalyn, was a grandson of the then Celtic Earl of Lennox and ancestor of the Bannatyne’s of Bute. Amalyn’s name appears as witness of a MacFarlane charter in 1296, and he is called the second son of the Earl of Lennox. Wyntoun calls the battle in which the Rothesay men took the Castle from John MacGhillebride Mac Amalyn “The Battle (Batayle) Dornang.” or “Dornaig,” the Gaelic for a small stone.– I am, etc.,

Charles Bannatyne, M.B., C.M.

OT: 23 June 1923 – Manu Forti “Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 23 June, 1923


Box 510

Cape Town, 24 May, 1923

Sir,– From the criticism which always follows the publication of the Piobaireachd Society’s Tunes for the year there would appear to be some enthusiasts left who take an interest in the old martial music. I have no doubt the Society welcomes fair criticism, but while criticising them we must not forget to give them credit for the good work they have done in reviving and encouraging the art of piobaireachd playing, which at the time of the Society’s inception had sunk to a very low ebb.

I agree with your correspondent, Mr. McPherson, that innovations in piobaireachd should be discouraged. The nearer we keep to the original the better, as after all piobaireachd is mostly sentiment. We love it as a relic of the past and for its associations, and it is also interesting as an index to the life and manners of the people of the times. No one hearing these tunes can have any doubt as to the warlike nature of the Highlanders even if other evidence were wanting. It would also be interesting to know in how far these wild tunes would appeal to other warlike, primitive peoples. I am sure some of these would you like the heart of a wild Zulu. I have listened to a native in the tall chanting and air which was exactly similar to the first bars of “Horo mo Nighean donn bhoidheach.”

Your correspondent, “Bratach Bhan,” mentions the tune, “Blar nan Doirneig,” as an instance of misinterpretation by the Piobaireachd Society, but they do not tie the competitor down to any particular style now, and it is open to anyone to play what style he pleases and be judged on its merits. At the same time the multiplicity of styles is a great disadvantage. It seems to me that the best way would be to take all the styles , pick out the best of each and fuse them into one, making that the standard style. Would the Society disqualify a competitor who did this?

I noticed a correspondence asking for a history of the Battle of “Blar nan Doirneag,” but there has been no reply. The name itself has often been the subject of discussion. Perhaps some Gaelic scholar would favour us with the derivation. The name seems to indicate that the battle was fought with stones in lieu of other weapons, but I dread the wrath of etymologists and so desist from further conjecture.

While on the subject of piobaireachd, is it not an extraordinary thing that upon all occasions where laments are played we cannot get away from the “Flowers of the Forest” and “Lochaber no more,” both unsuited to the pipes. Anyone who knows the beautiful song, “The Flowers of the Forest,” would never dream of trying to play it on the pipes, and the air to which the modern words of “Lochaber” is sung is too high in the second part for the pipe scale. Surely with all our laments we could play something native to the pipe–for instance, “MacIntosh’s Lament,” first three parts. It is simple enough for anyone to learn and easily understood.

I hope some of our leading pipers will show some originality in this matter and play real pipe tunes as laments instead of trying to squeeze airs into the compass of the pipe which were never meant for it. Has anyone ever listened to an amateur pipe band trying to play “Scotland the brave”; it is enough to make the angels weep. Those of us who love the pipe are jealous of its dignity, and it hurts us to see it turned into a glorified penny whistle. It is deserving of all English honour for the part it and its bearers have played in the making and maintaining of the British Empire.–I am, etc.

Manu Forti

OT: 23 June 1923–H.S. Strafford “Cowal Highland Gathering”

The Oban Times, 23 June, 1923

Cowal Highland Gathering

Rosegarth, Duncoe, 2 June, 1923

Sir,–Referring to the suggestion by “Lochgorm” that a competition for piobaireachds, confined to youths of 18 and under, be added to the list of events in the Cowal Highland Gathering programme. I beg to say that such a competition has been included and information broadcasted accordingly. The event will take place on Saturday forenoon, and prizes this year will be gold and silver medals. If the competition finds favour among young pipers, a challenge trophy and more valuable prizes will be put up next year.

Considering the importance attached to piobaireachd playing, as indicated by the prize list at Highland Gatherings and by Societies whose main object is the encouragement of the art, it seems to me that the youthful aspirant has hitherto not received sufficient consideration. One has only to note the results of competitions in piobaireachd to realize how very few, comparatively, really good piobaireachd players there are. In your paper, I note from time to time lengthy arguments as to the correct rendering of certain piobaireachds, and it would appear that the Piobaireachd Society’s main object is to have those works of the old masters performed according to tradition– a very laudable and desirable purpose. I think, however, there is young talent in composition and performance that should be encouraged.

From time to time requests have reached me to run a competition for piobaireachd composition. I have shirked it for obvious reasons. Who would or could judge original composition piobaireachd? Is there need for a book of modern piobaireachd? Some of your readers are better able to judge than I am. The fact, to my mind, remains however. The production of modern piobaireachd, written and played, should be encouraged. If the piobaireachd is a lament of sorrow and sighing, a song of triumph and victory, then there never was a time in its history when these sentiments swayed as much, or gripped the heart of the player of pipes as now. Think of the poignant memories of those never to be forgotten war days, when the gallant old instrument’s martial strains resounded over the Continent in years sad, terrible and glorious. One has only to pause and think over what scenes the notes of the pipes have sped to realize there is a wealth of musical poetry wanting to find expression.

We purpose that youthful competitors will this year play what ever pibroch they wish. Ere another year perhaps some of your interested readers will take the matter up seriously, decide upon tunes and the rendering they should be given. Any other suggestions appearing in your columns would be welcome and interesting.–I am, etc.,

H. S. Strafford

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