OT: 15 December 1923 – M. [“Instructing Boys in Bagpipe Playing”]

The Oban Times, 15 December, 1923

[Instructing Boys in Bagpipe Playing]

23 November 1923

Sir,–The Cowal Highland Gathering Committee are making a new departure in their policy of encouraging the playing of the bagpipes. They are establishing schools in various centres throughout the country where boys, on payment of a nominal fee, may be thoroughly grounded in piobaireachd, theory as well as practice, and at the end of six months they are expected to emerge full-fledged exponents of modern piobaireachd playing.

Various reasons are advanced for this innovation, such as the lack of proper tuition, the prevalence of “ear playing,” and the inability of working lads to pay for private tuition.

There seems, however, to be something wrong with the Committee’s scheme. As set forth in the pamphlet issued from Dunoon, the scheme is intended only for such boys, under 18 years of age, as are already sufficiently advanced to enter upon the study of piobaireachd, qualification presumably being a certain proficiency in March, Strathspey, and Reel playing.

If, as stated in the pamphlet, there is such a “want of guidance in the form of proper tuition,” and “that a great many boys have devoted their time learning a few simple tunes by ear and playing them from memory,” where are the boys to be found already qualified to enter the schools, and, if found, does not that show that they are already in good hands, and is there any convincing reason for disturbing them. Why should the Committee not collect the raw material on their own account, put them on the right lines, and fit them to take their place in those bands mentioned in the pamphlet.

The progress made by the pupils will be tested towards the end of the session, and certificates awarded to those who satisfy the judges:  A “Scottish Championship for Juvenile Piobaireachd,” for which Mr. A. Clark Kerr of Inverchapel has generously provided a handsome trophy for the events at Cowal Highland Gathering next year, where the young pipers can show their paces.

It is assumed that this competition is open, and in that case what happens in the event of the school not being represented in the prize list? What value will their certificates be then?

The foregoing are a few of the weaknesses that suggest themselves to a disinterested outsider. –I am, etc.,


OT: 15 December 1923 – H.S. Strafford “Instructing Boys in Bagpipe Playing”

The Oban Times, 15 December, 1923

Instructing Boys in Bagpipe Playing

Rosegarth, Dunoon, 18th November, 1923

Sir,–Doubtless those of your readers who love the pipes, and there are many, will be interested to know that in pursuance of the primary object of Cowal Highland Gathering Association, viz:–”To foster and encourage the playing of bagpipes”–classes are being formed in Glasgow, where youths of 18 and under will be taught to play piobaireachd by a competent instructor, Pipe-Major R. Reid, at a nominal charge imposed purely as an incentive to regular attendance.

This, I may say, is the first step in a scheme which proposes to establish schools for teaching the pipes in the principal centres in the country. Through the kindness of Messrs. Patterson, Sons & Co., who have taken a lively interest in the project, the classes are held in their premises, Buchanan Street, Glasgow. It is intended to take up the study of three of the comparatively simple piobaireachds, viz:–”MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute,” “Too Long in This Condition,” “Struan Robertson’s Salute,” all from MacPhee’s Collection, published at 1s.

At the end of the session, probably in May, and examination by qualified judges will take place. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be presented as prizes and certificates of merit awarded to those deserving same.

Mr. Arch. Clark Kerr of Isverchapel is presenting my Committee with a handsome silver challenge shield for piobaireachd playing by boys. The trophy, with which is incorporated the Boys’ championship, will be competed for annually at the Cowal Gathering. Pupils who have secured a certificate will be eligible to compete for the trophy and championship.

It will be recalled that a competition in piobaireachd for youths was instituted at Cowal Gains in August last. As the project evoked some comment in your columns, may I, for the benefit of those who were not at the Gathering, report results. There were in all 16 or 17 youths under 18, who I believe made their first attempt at piobaireachd in competition. The playing, on the whole, was poor, and according to the judges report, just a third of the number should have attempted to compete. It should be remembered, however, that the announcement of the competition was not made public until about six weeks before the Games, and probably many of the boys had not practised longer than that. We, however, are satisfied that there is a desire to learn; hence the movement intimated above.

For the information of the boys I should mention that the three piobaireachds will be test pieces at the next Cowal Gathering. I may also state that I have interviewed several of the best piobaireachd players of the present day as to whether or not there is anything to prevent a young piper from playing as efficiently as an older one, and that their answers were in the negative.–I am, etc.,

H. S. Strafford,
Hon. Sec.
Cowal Highland Gathering

OT: 15 December 1923 – Piob-Mhor “Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 15 December, 1923


Calcutta, 3rd November, 1923

Sir,–I was interested to read your correspondent, J. C.’s letter in your issue of 15th September. I, too, have given much study to “Gesto’s” publication (the 1880 reprint by J. & R. Glen), but I cannot think it a “fake!” It appears to me to be rather the results of want of real knowledge of the subject in its recording, for, apart from undoubted clerical and printer’s errors, it shows unmistakable signs of being a genuine system. It must be remembered that “Iain Dubh” was an old man at the time the tunes were recorded, and the method of recording was not calculated to assist in a correct production. To-day, with a thorough understanding of the idea, it would need considerable practice to record a tune correctly from a piper’s dictation!

In these days of modern staff notation, the old system may be a little practical use. What is wanted, as I indicated in my letter of your issue of September 1, is the discovery of genuine MSS. so that the many undoubted errors in metre and rhythm may be corrected and old tunes recovered.

If “J. C.” would favour me with the address of Mr. Simon Fraser, the Australian authority (you, Mr. Editor, would no doubt pass on the information to me), I should endeavour to get into touch with him, as I am most anxious to do all possible to assist in the publication of really genuine MSS., etc. I am in touch with an enthusiast in South Africa, who appears to have some knowledge of what he calls the Patrick Mor system. –I am, etc.,


OT: 3 November 1923 – Contributed “Piping in 1923” [Report]

Oban Times, 3 November 1923

Piping in 1923


Another season of Highland Gatherings has come and gone, and it is now possible to write something of the playing of the foremost exponents of the art of pipe music.

In Piobaireachd playing John MacDonald of Inverness has shown us that, on his day, he is still superior to any. Unfortunately, he has not been able to compete much this season, for his duties in another sphere leave him very little spare time. At Lochaber, where he was first, he gave us a glimpse of his old brilliancy.

Among the younger generation, Pipe-Major Robert Reid, of the 7th Highland Light infantry, has enhanced his already great reputation, and his playing of Piobaireachd both at Oban and Inverness was delightful to listen to. Reid is a pupil of MacDougall Gillies, of Glasgow, and this distinguished teacher must be gratified at the success of his pupil. At Oban, although the weather was all against good playing, Reid played his tune, “Lament for Donald Ban MacCrimmon,” faultlessly, and brought out all the melody of that testing Piobaireachd. The attractiveness of Reid’s playing is that he gives full value to each note, so that one is held by the rhythm of the tune. In addition to this, his fingering is very fine, this being specially noticeable in his Crunluadh and Crunluadhamach.

At Oban, Reid carried off the first prize, and at Inverness he and Pipe-Major W. Ross, late of the Scots Guards and now Pipe-Major of the Lovat Scouts, tied. For a tune they were both asked by the judges to play “Gille Chriosd,” and in the afternoon, on the playing off of the tie, they both played the “Unjust Incarceration.” Ross played the tune through without mistake.

Reid made a couple of slips in the first variation, which allowed Ross to win the clasp to the gold medal. But, apart from the mistakes, and perhaps a slightly hesitating start, Reid’s playing was very fine indeed, his Crunluadh-Amach being brilliantly executed.

In the piping of the lighter music–March, Strathspey and Reel –George MacLennan, late of the Gordon Highlanders, was easily first, and it is doubtful whether a more brilliant performer in this class of pipe music has ever existed. When so many of the lesser-known pipers have had their playing perpetuated on gramophone records, it is astonishing that MacLennan has never, as far as is known, been approached by the makers of records in order that his skilled playing may be handed down to future generations of pipers. Of other performers, Pipe-Sergeant John MacDonald of the Scots Guards, gave an unusually good rendering of the march “Highland Wedding,” at the Northern Meeting.

Island pipers, on account of the inaccessibility of their homes, have little chance of competing at the great meetings on the mainland, which is a pity, for at the local Uist Games some really first-rate piping was heard.

Mull is fortunate in having the Secretary of the Piobaireachd Society (Brig. General Ronald Cheape) in residence on the island. General Cheape is doing much by his own example and enthusiasm to encourage piping in his part of the world, and the leading Mull players have acquitted themselves well this summer. The Piobaireachd Society last spring held classes at Islay and South Uist, both islands having the experienced teaching of Pipe-Major William Ross.

OT: 6 October 1923 – E. “Record Chanter Playing”

Oban Times, 6 October 1923

Record Chanter Playing

29 September 1923

Sir,–In your interesting article on “Donald Cameron, Piper to Seaforth,” it is stated that he (Cameron) “could keep up a continuous sound when playing the practice-chanter.. . . . . ; The meaning, I suppose, is, that when he drew breath the “continuous sound” of the music did not stop. As the practice chanter has not the accompaniment of the bag, such a performance would appear to be a physical impossibility. And yet,–and that is why I write–a pipe player in Oban some years ago, was credited with the ability to perform the same aerobatic feat of lung and windpipe!! His name, I recollect, was Roderick MacDiarmid. A brother of his, John, was a noted shinty player in Oban, where he went by the name of “Benstarra” He was subsequently a piper in the Gordons, and–along with Findlatter, V.C.–was one of the pipers who led the Gordons at the storming of Dargal. Another brother, Angus, was with the Black Watch et Tel-el-Kebir. –I am, etc.,

E .

OT: 29 September 1923 – [Unsigned Review] “A New Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music”

The Oban Times, 29 September 1923

A New Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music

This book, which is certain to be welcomed warmly, is probably unique in at least two respects. No previous collection of Marches, Strathspeys and Reels has appeared in print at a moment where its author’s fame as a successful winner of prizes was at its zenith, and no such previous Collection has exhibited the same signs of careful preparation.

The title page states the contents to be as played by Pipe-Major Ross himself, and those who have the good fortune to be familiar with his playing will find this to be an accurate description, not only of the settings, but also of the manner of rendering them. The elaborate system of pointing adopted is a more serious attempt to demonstrate the exact method of playing than any which we can recollect in other publications, and is particularly noticeable in the reels, which previously were often represented by a long row of quavers of equal length.

To the student of Highland music in general and of pipe music in particular the most interesting arrangements are those of familiar competition marches such as “The Abercairney Highlanders,” “Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Sterling,” “Bonnie Ann,” “The Glengarry Gathering,” and “The Highland Wedding.” In the seventies of the last century prizes for marches at the Northern Meeting were won with simple tunes in 6/8 time. The more intricate four and six parted March in 2/4 time was brought into prominence either by the late William Maclennan or during the time when he was competing at the Games, and was developed still further by his famous successors, Angus MacRae and John MacColl. Throughout the last twenty-five years the tendency has been to embellish this classic music with more and more grace notes, largely, we believe, as a result of the uncanny facility for such ornamentation displayed by an illustrious contemporary of our present author. The outcome up to the year 1923 is clearly pictured in the book before us. To what lengths the tendency will continue it is impossible to foretell, but the difference between any one of the tunes mentioned above as played on a platform in the early nineties and as played to-day is considerable. There are those who say that the old style was the best, yet the public taste undoubtedly prefers a modern style.

The popularity of the competition march, strathspey and reel music of to-day, whether or not it will endure, is at the present moment established firmly. If it is a mere phase, it is a phase in the history of Highland music which no conscientious historian can ignore, and Pipe-Major Ross’s book, compiled as it is by an habitual winner of competitions, is, in the first place, a valuable historical record of what is considered in the year of grace 1923 to be competition music in its highest form. What would not the piobaireachd lover give for an accurate record by one of the prize-takers of the piobaireachs played at the eigthteenth century competitions of which we read in Angus MacKay’s book?

Secondly, there are doubtless many pipers in the Dominion who have never heard a competition in Scotland and who now have the opportunity of seeing exactly how prizes are gained there. For such a purpose this book can be commended with every confidence.

Thirdly, and principally, nine out of ten pipers all the world over cherish an ambition to excel in difficult marches, strathspeys and reels, and they will find here precisely what they have long hoped to obtain, instruction for which use of the most famous performer of the time has assumed responsibility.

Of the dance music pipers will find several old favourites arranged in pleasing form, notably “The Cameronian Rant” (reel), “The Rejected Suitor” (reel), “MacAlister’s Dirk” (reel), “John MacKechnie” (reel), where there is an unusual, but effective, use of the E grace note; “Delvinside” (strathspey), “Tulloch Gorm” (strathspey), “The Piper’s Bonnet” (strathspey), “Miss Proud” (reel), “Pretty Marion” (reel), in eight parts; and “The Shaggy Grey Buck” (jig) in ten parts. In some of these the elaboration of grace noting is almost startling, but it is in faithful accordance with modern practice.

The book contains a few recent compositions of merit, and of them “Mrs. J. MacColl,” march by John MacColl1; “Kantara to El Arish,” march by Pipe-Major W. Ferguson of the famous City of Glasgow Pipe Band, and “Mrs. Hugh Calder,” march by Roderick Campbell, are worthy of special attention.

It is hoped that the useful series of which this book is the beginning will be a long one. There is no question of the value of the first part, and the appearance of the second will be awaited eagerly.

Pipe-Major W. Ross’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music.–Patterson, Sons & Co., 152 Buchanan Street, Glasgow. –4/-net.


[1. This tune is not in the current edition of this Collection. ed.]

OT: 22 September 1923 – C.G.G. “The Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 22 September, 1923

The Piobaireachd

15 September 1923

Sir,–May I ask you of your courtesy to allow one who is neither a musician nor a Celtic scholar, but who takes a modest interest in these subjects to make a few remarks on the interesting article on the Argyllshire Gathering in your issue of September 15.

The bagpipe is an instrument common to all parts of Scotland, to Ireland, and to some continental countries, but the ancient music known as the Piobaireachd is entirely peculiar to the Highlands. These compositions were inspired by dramatic incidents, of which they are commemorative or descriptive, and were named accordingly in the language of their composers. But in mentioning the tunes played by competitors their real names are not given at all, but only an English translation. Is this fair to the composers or to their compositions? Presumably this is done for the benefit of our visitors from the South, and had the translation been in addition it would have been harmless; but if the original name is left out it will soon be entirely forgotten.

The Games were started not for the visitors, welcome as their presence is, but for the inhabitants of Lorn and the surrounding districts, where the language of the vast majority is Gaelic.

There is another matter I should like to mention. Girls are now being encouraged to compete in the sword dance, a manly and warlike exercise, which lends itself–as does the Highland Fling–to an exhibition of masculine vigour and agility rather than to a display of the feminine grace, which is so attractive in women –I am, etc.,


OT: 15 September 1923 – Musician – “Juvenile Piobaireachd Playing”

The Oban Times, 15 September, 1923

Juvenile Piobaireachd Playing

8 September, 1923

Sir,–Two competitors in above event that held at Cowal Highland Games played “Glengarry’s Lament,” and the “Little Spree,” the first from MacKay’s Collection, and the second from David Glen’s. They were stopped playing for repeating the groundwork before playing the crunluath. I would like to know if the judges were right as it is distinctly marked repeat in both cases in the above-named books. Should not some proper standard be fixed for such matters as the above? –I am, etc.,


OT: 15 September 1923 – J.C. “Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 15 September, 1923


4 September, 2013

Sir,–Being interested in the above, I corresponded from Grantham Camp in 1917 with Mr. Simon Fraser, the Piobaireachd authority, in Australia. I had a reply from him with a short pamphlet in which it was stated, as far as I can remember, that Capt.MacLeod of Gesto published a “true” work which was afterwards withdrawn and destroyed and a “fake” work constructed for the mystification of the public. I enclosed Mr. Fraser the price of the outline the “system,” but possibly the mail was torpedoed for I never heard more about it.

Mr. Fraser stated that Dr. Bannatyne, another authority, had the “system” from him and was able to play Pibrochs properly from it. Can Dr. Bannatyne or other authority kindly say if this is so and if there is a likelihood of its being published, and if there is anything in it?

Messrs. J. & R. Glen, the old bagpipe firm, High Street, Edinburgh, have, or had, a number of years ago, a small pamphlet with the “Gesto” system–possibly the “Fake.” I tried it carefully, comparing it with the ordinary notation, but can faithfully say that it was unsatisfactory and not consistent in its syllabic notation. Anyone can try it for himself and form his own ideas on it.

As there are only nine notes on the chanter and the same phrases constantly recur, any simple system of syllabic chanting could be readily constructed, and I fancy that there would be various local systems used in the old days.

MacDonald’s original book published by J. & R. Glen as above, of which I have an autographed copy, has musical mistakes, and is unsatisfactory for modern learners. It appears to be the source of all later publications.

I doubt if “Piob Mhor” will be able to find any “Gesto” manuscripts other than Mr. Simon Fraser’s. Mr. Fraser told me in the correspondence of 1917 that he was to publish his papers “after the War,” but would not trust his manuscript overseas until then. Has there been any publication of them and can any reader throw any light on the matter? –I am, etc.,

J. C.

OT: 26 May 1923 – [Unsigned] – [Untitled Report: Pipe-Band plays for Irish Governor]

“The Maids of Glendaruel” was played by the Pipe Band twice during the State entry into Londonderry of the Governor of Northern Ireland.

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