OT: 5 January 1924 – H.S. Strafford “The Cowal School of Bagpipes”

The Oban Times, January 5, 1924

The Cowal School of Bagpipes

Dunoon, 15th December, 1923

Sir,–Your correspondent “M ,” under the heading “Instructing Boys in Bagpipe Playing,” animadverts on the general scheme and puts forward certain questions which I would like to answer in the interests of all concerned. I note first a sentence, “At the end of six months they (the pupils) are expected to emerge full-fledged exponents of modern piobaireachd playing.” This is a misconception; there is nothing in the syllabus conveying that impression. The period mentioned denotes simply the end of the session. After the summer vacation, it is assumed that the students will resume their studies under the teachers provided.

Referring to those sufficiently advanced to take up piobaireachd, your correspondent asks, “Where are the boys to be found already qualified to enter these schools?” The answer is, they did not need finding; they found the school, and, to be precise, thirty of them, all with three or more years’ experience with the pipes, are now diligently studying piobaireachd. The earnestness of these youths is beyond question, and this is demonstrated by the fact that many of them live outwith the city and travel long distances to attend classes.

“M” asks, “Why should we not collect the raw material and put them on the right lines,” etc. In view of Mr. Clark Kerr’s challenge trophy for youthful piobaireachd players, the original intention was to confine operations to this section; moreover, the magnitude of a project to teach the pipes to all and sundry was more than we could face. We have, however, been compelled, so far as Glasgow district is concerned, to adopt it. On the first night of enrolment about sixty boys presented themselves as students. We had not the heart to turn them down, with the result there are now twelve classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced pupils in full swing in the city, and the number is being constantly added to.

Your correspondent is right in his assumption that the Boys’ Pibroch Championship is open, and that the competitors must be prepared to play one of the three pibrochs– “MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute,” “Too long in this condition,” and “Struan Robertson’s Salute”– as the judges at the Gathering may decide; but this has nothing to do with the Schools certificates of merit. These will be awarded independent of the Gathering, to the students of the Cowal School of Bagpipes. It is not for me to say what these certificates may be worth.

For the information of your readers at home and abroad interested in the advancement of the art of piping, I wish to state that the promoters of this scheme have under consideration the establishing of an institution on a basis broad enough to extend the benefits of practically free tuition to any district where the demand exists. We are convinced there is a wave of enthusiasm to learn the pipes among the young. How to utilise this to be advancement of “piob mhor” seems to me to be the province of a properly-constituted governing authority composed of those who have interest of the work at heart, and prepared to contribute in one way or another towards its achievement. The formation of such a Council is occupying our thoughts, and any suggestion, practical sympathy or desire on the part of those interested to be identified with the School of Bagpipes will be welcome.– I am, etc.,

H.S. Strafford

Hon. Secy.

OT: 5 January 1924 – J.D. Ross Watt “Piobaireachd To the Memory of Capt. Neil MacLeod of Gesto, Skye”

The Oban Times, January 5, 1924

Piobaireachd To the Memory of Capt. Neil MacLeod of Gesto, Skye

Urlar By J.D. Ross Watt

Heaimbotrao uvetru hein hodin heindrin;
Heaimbotrao uvetru hein hodin heaoinhun. Bis

Hundun hodro, heavarla, hein hodin, heindrin;
Hundun hodro, heavarla, hein hodin, heaoinhun,
Hundun hodro, heavarla, hein hodin, heindrin;
Heaimbotrao, uvetru, hein hodin, heaoinhun.

Var. I

Hindin hachin, hechin huchin;
hechin hochin heindrin;
hindin hachin hechin huchin;
hechin hochin, heaoinhun. Bis.

Hundin hochin, hechin hachin;
hechin hochin, heindrin;
hundin hochin, hechin hachin;
hechin hochin, heaoinhun.

Hundin hochin, hechin hachin;
hechin hochin, heindrin;
hundin1 [sic] hachin, hechin huchin;
hechin hochin, heaoinhun.

Pat Mor M.C. vocables

A celebrated Highland gentleman and Piper, who recorded and handed down to posterity the music of the MacCrimmons and the history of that remarkable family.

Therefore this is composed to his memory by J. D. Ross Watt. May, 1916; completed November, 1923.

[Ed. The Variation was published above the Urlar as a separate “article,” but it is clear from the vocables these two belong together as a single composition.]

1.  Should be hindin

OT: 7 June 1924 – Hold Fast “Piobaireachd Playing”

The Oban Times, 7 June 1924

Piobaireachd Playing

28th May, 1924

Sir,–It was with great interest that I read Mr. McPherson’s [sic] letter on the above subject in the “Oban Times,” and since this subject has been brought up, I should like also to add a few remarks with your permission.

It is indeed fortunate that we have at least one man of Mr. McPherson’s type left to “take up the cudgels” on behalf of those, like myself, who do not consider themselves sufficiently versed in the art of Piobaireachd Playing, to “open” the subject. Still, I hope, now that Mr. MacPherson has shown the way, that some of us who are interested may yet “do our bit” to save the Piobaireachd from the mutilation to which Marches, Strathspeys, etc. have been subjected from time to time.

Now, I am fairly “young” as expert pipers go, but what experience I have is good, “old, solid stuff,” administered to me by one who may lay a very firm claim to knowledge of the teaching and execution of the music as done in the old Boreraig School of the MacCrimmons. It is, therefore, with this little knowledge that I venture to write on the subject, and I hope your readers will consider my remarks as coming from a hurt Highlander rather than from an angry one.

With a view to attempting senior competition works, I have from time to time obtained copies of tunes required to be played by the Piobaireachd Society, and, on proceeding to try and render the pieces as required by our ancestors, I find just what Mr. McPherson points out. Old tunes have been so altered as to become degraded. Those placed as I am, away from tuition for the greater part of the year, feel therefore rather upset when endeavouring to put the genuine old interpretation on such tunes as those for this year’s competitions.

About this year’s tunes. The alteration for the worse in “Cumha Alasdair Dheirg” is truly terrible, and all sense of feeling has been obliterated.

Also, any novice who has been properly taught the principles of Piobaireachd work knows that to take “liberties and departures” such as done in the “Battle of Waternish,” is sacrilege and an insult to its composer.

The senior tunes are even more severely “massacred” then the junior ones, and I think it is time that pipers who truly respect the “Piob Mhor” should arise in protest against such work for competitions of premier status.

A machine may be made to “rest” at the discretion of its maker, the “rested” semi-quavers in the “Finger Lock,” but a man himself–never, unless by accident or extreme proficiency! I shall be interested to hear this tune played by performers at the competitions. “The Prince’s Salute” is just as Mr. McPherson says, an example of self-contradiction and a departure from “first principles” in tune building.

In the “Viscount of Dundee.” Most pipers have been taught the “Crunluath Mach ” movement so as there is only one way of executing it, and that being well known, why play a “Fosgailte” and call it a “Mach”? The “Mach” is a “crowning” movement, and the alteration a crowning effort at taking “licence.”

I will conclude by asking all just readers to help to protect our National Music, and endeavour to prevent further mutilation. The feelings of true Highlanders are strong when their character is at stake and our “Ceol Mor” is part of our character, so let us see justice done to it.

I make no mention of liability to printing errors in the music, as I know had these occurred, they would have been rectified ere now. Thanking you, Sir, for the space you so generously give to such letters. — I am, etc.,

Hold Fast

OT: 21 June 1924 – [unsigned] “Bagpipes For the Drawing Room” [ad]

The Oban Times, 21 June 1924

Bagpipes For the Drawing Room

A Novel Invention

A correspondent writes:–Lovers of pipe music generally, and particularly that section of them who can of necessity only hear it indoors, will be delighted to learn that after many unsuccessful attempts a pipe approaching their aspirations has been invented and patented. The great bagpipes are so inextricably bound up with the history of the Scottish Highlands that wherever Highland music is mentioned the bagpipes come into one’s mind to the exclusion of all other musical instruments. There is an indescribable something in the skirl of the pipes that appeals to Highlanders, whether it be in its interpretation of the wild scenery of the land of bens and glens, of the fighting spirit of the Highlanders from clan times onward and of its having been their inspiration on many a field of battle, the fact remains that at home or abroad the bagpipes produce the sweetest music a Highlander can hear.

Unfortunately the bagpipe is not generally viewed with favour as a musical instrument for the house, especially in towns or cities. This led to the introduction of what is known as the miniature pipes, similar in everything but size and volume, to the great bagpipes. This overcame the difficulty of playing indoors, but it did so at the expense of usefulness as the miniature pipes required more tuning and the sounds were more difficult to blend. To get a pipe that, when tuned, would remain so for a reasonable length of time, and would remain in rhythmical harmony with the piano and other instruments was the ambition of piping experts.

In the end success has come, and a pipe called the Drawing Room Pipe has been invented and patented. The blowing and manipulation are alike easy and simple. There are two drones (bass and tenor) and the chanter reed is that conducting element so to speak. The sweetness of tone is pleasing to the ear and to show how well the tuning is maintained the writer has heard the inventor played ten four-part marches and six strathspeys without having once to touch the reeds or drones. A peculiarly ingenious arrangement does away with the old moisture trouble entirely, and the pipe goes well with the piano.

This invention is the work of a Highlander born and bred–ex-Pipe-Major A. Ross of the Scots Guards, who led that they must pipe band for 14 years. He is a younger brother of the famous Pipe-Major William Ross, who has won the highest honours in the piping world.

OT: 21 June 1924 – A Lover of Piobaireachd “Piobaireachd Playing”

The Oban Times, 21 June 1924

Piobaireachd Playing

11 June, 1924

Sir,–Mr. MacPherson and “Hold Fast” are not alone in their protests against the massacring of our ancient Piobaireachd as handed down to us by the McCrimmons. The real question is, how is this mutilation to be arrested–so abhorrent to the true ear–if we are to hand down to future generations the cherished melody as it actually should be played.

I fear not so long as the Piobaireachd Society remain indifferent to protests by players with undoubted reputation. There are always to be found players who will comply with the Society’s settings for the honour of gaining valuable prizes they offer and so long as this continues there will be two schools of thought–the old and the modern– consequently when the old school have gone west to join the McCrimmons there will probably be nothing left but the modern style. How sad to see this canker growing every year while we have eyes to see and ears to hear and a remedy at hand.– I am, etc.,

A Lover of Piobaireachd

OT: 14 June 1924 – Malcolm MacInnes – “Canntaireachd System of Notation”


The Oban Times, 14 June, 1924

Canntaireachd System of Notation

Johannesburg, South Africa, 25 April, 1924

Sir,–It has been claimed that there existed in Skye over 300 years ago a complete system of notation for pipe tunes made up of combinations and permutations of the English vowels to represent each of the nine main notes of the chanter, and of consonants to represent the grace-notes. It is not known how the Skyemen got their knowledge of the English alphabet, or to what other use it was put.

Though the vowels were short of the number of the main notes of the chanter, and had to be manipulated, the consonants were ample for the grace-notes; but when the grace-notes became complex (sometimes as many as seven following in succession), it was an entirely different matter.

This system, like others, has more exceptions than examples; and so it is not surprising that the illustration quoted by your recent correspondent is in this plight. The illustration is the ground of “Kilchrist”:–

Hindo hodro, hindo, hodro,
Hindo hodro, hindo, hodra,
Hindo, hodro, hindo hindrie,
Hindo hodro, hindo hindrin.

In the sixteen beats given, “hin” occurs four times for note G, four times for A, and twice for something else, probably B or an EA grace-note jump to the high G (hindrie). The H is G grace, I is both main G and main A, and the n is nothing. Hodro has only five letters, but represent six notes g b g d g b. The last note quoted (rin) is curious from the point of view of the rule that consonants represent grace-notes. Here is a grace-note (n) finishing the piece–a physical and musical impossibility. The explanation is that the art of playing a grace-note without its subsequent note (the note grace) died with the MacCrimmons.

It may be thought strange that the great discovery should have been made by people other than Skyemen, especially seeing that there are still in Skye piper descendants of the MacCrimmons and of McLeod of Gesto, as well as many other pipers, and that the traditions of the pipers are perfectly complete so far as the methods of teaching are concerned. The answer is that familiarity breeds contempt, that prophets have no honour in their own country, and that distance gives a broader view, as well as safety.

A more serious objection is that on the view taken by pipers, Gesto’s work is perfectly complete. It makes no claim to be, and it is not, a complete system of notation. Canntaireachd is simply pipers’ chanting, with the additional assistance that the vocables are anomatopoeic [sic], that is, that each vocable roughly represents in its sound, the sound produced on the chanter by the note represented. Thus, roughly, the low notes are represented by broad vowels and the high by small. A, B, C, E, A (doh, ray, me, soh, doh) are um, o, ah, aye, ee. The consonants represent, though very roughly and inadequately, the grace-notes, which divide and embellish the main notes. In teaching “Donald Doo” for instance, the teacher would first show the fingering, and then he would sing:–

Hay habbra hahmbum
Hay habbra hohmbum

This, without the living voice, is of course unintelligible to those who do not know the tune and are not pipers; but pipers might make something of it even as it is, without the showing of pitch or time. I remember the way Calum MacPherson chanted “Raasay’s Salute”:–

Humbayo bahbrabun
Tahayaho brobbun

I also remember that one of his last pupils had frequent difficulty as regards grace-notes, though he remember the chant. There was no rigid uniformity; that was not necessary. But the discoverers of the complete system of pipe notation meet all these facts by the simple method of denial, and the repetition of the theory. I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes


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