OT: 22 March 1924 – “H.S. Strafford” Untitled [A Tribute to Dr. Charles Bannatyne]

The Oban Times, March 22, 1924

Rosegarth, Dunoon, 15th March, 1924

Sir,–As Secretary of Cowal Gathering, I crave space in your columns to put on record my appreciation of the late Dr. Bannatyne. The service he rendered in the cause of Piping, his earnest zeal, his willingness to help in any experiment [?] that had for its object the advancement of “Piob Mhor” are qualities that will always command my respect and admiration.

His connection with Cowal Gathering extends back twenty-five years, and I do not think he was absent once during that period, certainly not since 1906, when the Argyll Shield Band Contest was inaugurated. During all these years he has acted as a judge of Band Contests or Solo Piping, giving decisions without fear or favour, with credit to himself and, as far as possible, satisfaction to competitors.

An annual subscriber to Cowal Gathering and the donor of the trophy for band contests, the Bannatyne Shield, he was certainly one of us, and we hope by the latter to keep his memory green. Probably his last proposed public act, in the cause he loved, was the examination of the boy pupils of the Cowal School of Bagpipes. This was to take place on Wednesday night before he died.– I am, etc.,

H. S. Strafford

OT: 28 June 1924 – Crunluath “Piobaireachd Playing”

The Oban Times, June 28, 1924

Piobaireachd Playing

Johannesburg, 28th May, 1924

Sir, The “Oban Times” is a weekly source of pleasure to me, more especially when, as is frequently the case, it contains articles and letters on Piobaireachd.

I was greatly interested in reading a contribution from Mr. George MacKay in a recent issue, the subject being “The Prince’s Salute.” I do not know just what Mr. MacKay means, but he says the “Prince’s Salute” as generally played nowadays is wrong. Living so far away from the hub of Piobaireachd I do not often have opportunities of hearing first-class players and do not know if the style complained of is that given in “Glens Ancient Piobaireachd.” I have tried the transposition of the notes as suggested, but to my mind the change seems to put the whole tune out of gear.

Mr. MacKay writes in what one might term a fairly authoritative vein. Might I ask what his authority is for the statements he makes, and what means he has of knowing how the “Prince’s Salute” was played in 1745. There has been a great deal of controversy over Piobaireachd, and many claimants to the mantle of MacCrimmon have come and gone; surely it’s not too too [sic] much to ask for something more weighty than the bare assertion of even the best of them. Amidst all this, however, it is refreshing to read of the great revival of Piping and of the work of the various bodies that do so much to encourage young players.

I have had for several years past the annual book of original compositions published by the Cowal Society, whose yearly competition for the best original tunes is responsible for creating so much interest. Might I offer the suggestion that only the prize-winning tunes be published. I have often felt sorry for the judges in their task in having to wade through so much absolute rubbish as most of the tunes are; in fact I cannot help thinking that the mathematical possibilities have been almost exhausted, and that there cannot be many more remaining ways in which the notes can be arranged.

Another matter that I think calls for comment is the light-hearted way in which some of the fine old tunes are mutilated. It seems to be a point of honour with almost every piper to have his own set of most of the good old tunes until the ordinary piper literally does not know where he is. I recently had one of the latest publication sent me and in going through it was dumbfounded to see that the third part of “McAllister’s Dirk” had been cut out and a part from another tune substituted almost note for note. Can effrontery go further? It is surely time that standard settings were adopted and prizes only be awarded to competitors playing such.

Apologising for taking up so much of your space, –I am, etc.,


OT: 12 July 1924 – J.D.R. Watt “Pibroch and Pat Mor System”

The Oban Times, July 12, 1924

Pibroch and Pat Mor System

East London, South Africa, June 3, 1924

Sir,–Having been asked by correspondents about the vowels in my tunes you published–”The Fathers Lament” and the “Tune in Memory of Neil McLeod of Gesto”–I have to say that the Sheantaireachdt was written in McLeod’s books by the MacCrimmons, as he got all his knowledge from them, and the New Notation or Perfect System (of Pat Mor) was in McLeod’s unpublished book. This is the style I used, “and I have no doubt that this latter is the style that would have still been used later on had the MacCrimmons and their pupils continued in the land teaching and composing and writing music.” The advantage of the “New System” or “Perfect System” is that each note has a separate vocable for it, with the exception of one or two which only come into use for the sake of liquid euphony.

I very much regret to note the passing of Dr. Bannatyne and Lieut. John McLennan, from whom I had theory lessons. It was Dr. Bannatyne who first put me on the track of finding the true system used by the Australian expert, Simon Frazer. I have all the Doctor’s notes by me, and I think he would have been a greater expert still had he followed Simon Frazer’s teaching.

One of the puzzles to sheantaireachdt students is the fact that certain beats seem to follow a method only known to the initiated; hence there can be no confusion. Time marks also existed different in different schools. It is to be hoped the system of the MacCrimmons will yet be printed, but human nature in the present, as in the past, dearly loves a secret. Some hold that sheantaireachdt is dead. I do not hold this idea. The soul of a tune and the soul of the composer are fully contained in the spoken words of the speaking chanter.

Differences in tunes arose because pibroch players who knew the tunes were unacquainted with staff notation, while staff notation players were unacquainted with the vocables. Meanwhile, staff notation is only a picture or skeleton of sounds requiring interpretation by the player, and the result is that there are considerable differences in interpretation.

I am glad to know that young players are taking up pibroch. It is to the MacCrimmons that we owe the original style of pibroch. They taught the MacArthurs, MacKays, Campbells, McIntyres, and others, but each of their pupils adapted styles of their own, and the original system would therefore have been lost had it not been for Neil McLeod of Gesto.

Some people go so far as to say that the various canntaireachdt styles very just as the dialects of different counties do. This is not so, for the MacCrimmon style is based upon English, though Gaelic speakers may have taught it.

I do not follow John McLennan’s style of grace notes at all; these are “off” the MacCrimmon vocables altogether as proved by the syllables of canntaireachd. A good many people seem to be under the impression that Mr. Simon Frazer, of Australia, invented the improved system of Pat Mor MacCrimmon. To admit this would be to make him more clever than the MacCrimmons themselves.

It is a very difficult matter to play properly from Gesto’s little printed book. It seems that Mr. Frazer is the last man living who can say that he was taught to play and learned from this book; and if pipers really understood this, help might be forthcoming to record all he knows pertaining to the great Masters. –I am, etc.,

J. D. R. Watt

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