OT: 13 April 1901 – [unsigned] “Caledonian Pipers’ Club, Edinburgh”

 The Oban Times, 13 April 1901

Caledonian Pipers’ Club, Edinburgh

The annual dinner of this Club was held in MacPherson’s Hotel, George Street, Edinburgh, on Friday, the 29th ult., when there were about thirty members present. In the unavoidable absence of the chief (Mr. P. Cameron, Corrychoillie), Mr. Peter Johnston, the chieftain, presided. The usual loyal and patriotic toasts were proposed and cordially responded to, after which the Chairman submitted the toast of their Chief. He paid an eloquent tribute to Corrychoillie for all he had done to uphold their national instrument, and particularly for his splendid services to their own Club. His interest and enthusiasm never abated, and with him still at their head he did not fear their future prospects. They would go on flourishing as in the past. (Applause.) the toast was received with Highland honours. The toast of the Club was given by Mr. W. G.  Cumming the energetic Secretary, who was able to show the Club in as good a condition as hitherto, and expressed the hope that it might long continue to uphold their Highland music on the bagpipes by the Pipe-Major, and size contributed by members during the evening a very enjoyable programme.  The health of Mr. Jas. Bennet, a member of the Club was enthusiastically drunk, as he was taking his departure that night for Philadelphia Many of the members present express their good wishes for him, and hope for his posterity.

OT: 6 April 1901 – [unsigned] “Pipers and Dancers” [announcement]

The Oban Times, 6 April 1901

Pipers and Dancers

Still another bagpipe competition is announced. This time the tests of skill will take place in the Assembly Hall, Bath Street, on Friday first. Mr. Neil Campbell Colquhoun, of the Clan Colquhoun Society, will occupy the chair. There is likely to be a large attendance.

OT: 6 April 1901 – [unsigned] “O, Gur Mis’ Tha Sona Dheth” [mus]

OT: 30 March 1901 – David Glen “Puirt-a-Beul ‘Cille Chriosda'”

The Oban Times, 30 March 1901

Puirt-a-Beul –

“Cille Chriosda”

8 Greenside Place, Edinburgh
March 25, 1901

Sir,– Permit me space in which to state that if you were celebrated contributor Dr. K. N. MacDonald, will consult Part IV of my collection of ancient piobaireachd he will therein find the above tune written in a manner which, I think, will please him. I write the urlar and first var. in common time, and gives sixteen bars to each. The notes of this setting were given to me by the greatest living authority on this class pipe music, namely, Colin Cameron, late piper to the Duke of Fife, and I have not the least doubt that every note in my setting was played by the MacCrimmons. I am etc.,

David Glen

OT: 30 March 1901 – Keith N. MacDonald “Supplement to the ‘Puirt-a-Beul'”

The Oban Times, 30 March 1901

Supplement to the “Puirt-A-Beul”

The Faroe Isles – “Kv-ad Digtning,” or Song-Dance.

A singular circumstance in corroboration of my contention that the “Puirt-a-Beul” were a very ancient institution has just come to my knowledge.

My friend Mr William Martin, of Inverkeithny, an excellent Danish scholar, and one of our minor poets, as well as being one of the best Scottish violinists of the day, has sent me the following translation of a recent article from a Copenhagen paper, the “Dannebrog.”

“Thanks to the secluded position of the Faroe Isles, the old song-dances of the middle ages are still sung there, especially in winter, when the Faroe men mostly keep within doors, and they are akin to the French ‘Carole”* and the German “Tanz,” which were song-dances in the days of the troubadours and minne-singers. As we look upon the Faroe song-dance we seem to feel a breath from far-off or vanished days, blowing upon us a breath from the golden age when the dance went merrily not only through the hall but over the fields, aye, and even in the Church! It is mostly from Norway that these dance-songs came to the Faroe Isles, and many other Norse relics and features of Norse life still exist there. But even from Scotland, and especially from Denmark, these songs have been transplanted to the Faroe Isles, and some of them, especially the ballads that refer to Queen Dagmar, to the appropriate dance. Is it not a singular thing that while we here in Denmark are content with reading the old pathetic ballads such as

‘Queen Dagmar lies sick in Ribe’,
‘The King rules over the castle,
And over many a land,
And over many a gallant knight
Who wields his goodly brand’, &c.

Away in the Faroe Isles these ballads are still sung by the living mouth to old and young who never weary of dancing to them!”

Mr. Martin further remarks that in a subsequent issue of the “Dannebrog” an account is given of a concert that was a complete reproduction of a Faroe home with all its features and accessories, and the singers and dancers were all arranged in the costume of the islanders.** ‘The Copenhagen audience was more struck by the singularity of the scene, than by its intrinsic charm; but this is just what one might anticipate.

If Ossian should appear in a London saloon and thunder forth his lungs, we may imagine the flutter among the dilettante of today.”

In quitting this subject for the present, I may as well here give a note of warning to future searchers after Highland folk-lore not to be led away because many of the Highland dance-songs have been welded to comparatively modern airs. The composers of these would have been more or less influenced by still earlier tunes they had been hearing from their infancy, and as there was no supervision over them, they would unconsciously reproduce the older airs in many instances slightly altered; some perhaps improved to suit modern instruments, and the modern style of dancing which increases in speed “pari passu” with each succeeding generation! Still there are a significant number of the ancient ones preserved of which no record at all can be found except that they have been handed down to us by our forefathers from the dim and distant past – of which no one but a person well versed in Highland music can judge. This warning is necessary, as there are at the present day so many smart people amongst us who take their cue from foreign scholars, and who can’t see that any Highland music or poetry can be more than one hundred and fifty years old! I do not share these views, nor do I think so ill of my countrymen that they would for one moment countenance an “age of imposition” for the purpose of deceiving posterity.

* ‘Carola’, an Italian Song-dance
** Mr. Martin has kindly promised to procure a sample of these Song-Dances with music, which will appear in a subsequent paper.

OT: 23 March 1901 – Keith N. MacDonald – “Puirt-a-Beul ‘Mouth Tunes’ or ‘Songs for Dancing'” [Mus]

The Oban Times, 23 March, 1901


“Mouth-tunes,” or “Songs for Dancing.”

By Dr. Keith N. MacDonald


Many Highlanders of the advanced school may consider that the foregoing “Puirt-a-Beul” mouth tunes, or articulate music, were not worth preserving. Certainly as far as the poetry is concerned there may be some truth in the statement, but we do not claim the rhymes as poetry. It would be a great mistake to do so, as no effort has ever been made to rank them alongside the more serious efforts of the muse. They were, as a rule, entirely spontaneous, or strung together with little effort, and reflect rather the humorous side of the Highlander in his gayest mood, and are, to say the least, intensely human. The sallies of wit, humour and irony, are numerous throughout, which one ignorant of the language, customs, and habits of the people, will can hardly appreciate. But it was for none of these reasons that the “Puirt” were collected, but to prove beyond the possibility of a doubt that the Highlanders have been from a very remote period an intensely musical people, and had an inexhaustible stock of tunes and songs, and could not therefore have been such an ignorant lot of savages as some historians, and others, endeavour to make them out. Generations before the well-known Strathspey and reel composers were born, the Highlanders had great numbers of these tunes and danced to them in every village, strath and glen throughout the Highlands. Indeed, there is very strong evidence to show that much of our strathspey music was taken originally from the Gaelic. These dancing songs, which are here preserved, are only a fragment of what was once actually in circulation generations and even centuries ago. Not only had many of Marshalls’ and the Gows’ music been laid under contribution, but hundreds more that were never known anywhere else. When we consider that many more must have died out since instrumental music was first introduced into the Highlands, it is a marvel that they did not become entirely extinct long ago. Their preservation is a powerful argument in favour of the tenacity of the tradition in the Highlands.

The first attempt to preserve articulate music was made by Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto, who, in 1828, published a collection of ancient “Canntaireachd’”- piobaireachd – or pibrochs, as verbally taught by the MacCrimmon* pipers in the Isle of Skye, and taken down from John MacCrimmon, piper to the old laird of MacLeod and his grandson the late General MacLeod of MacLeod. There are twenty pibrochs given in this collection, syllables being used instead of notes, the system which was in vogue before the staff notation became general for piping music, which it did some time prior to 1837. This system was not confined to the MacCrimmon pipers and their disciples. The MacArthurs, pipers to the Lord of the Isles, the Campbells of Lorn, and other teachers had different words, which have not been recorded, but which agreed in rhythm with the MacCrimmon system.

If we take an example of the MacCrimmon system of articulate music, we find the syllables that were used fit in pretty exactly with the staff notation. The system was evidently based on the composer’s conception of the sounds of the notes, which accounts for different words being used by different pipers. No two individuals would retain in the memory the same conceptions of the sounds of the music, but by observing a certain rhythm in their compositions it can readily be understood how it was possible for one piper to read the composition of another, or even an outsider conversant with the pipes. The first step was to compose the air. Then, by constant repetition and practice, the tune was impressed upon the memory, and the words and symbols in a regular order were used to impart the full signification of all the intricacies of the piece to the pupils and others. Take for instance “Iseabail N’ic Aoidh” in Captain MacLeod’s book: the words of the first four bars are:–

I hirerine ho botrie,
hiaverla ha botrie,
hierero ha botrie,
hiaverla ha radin.

These are the words for the first four bars, but, both Captain MacLeod and John MacCrimmon having been unacquainted with the staff notation, they went straight on instead of making a sign that the first four bars should be repeated. There are 16 lines in the first measure, each corresponding to a bar, and it is obvious that the first four must have been repeated, as the symbols are identical, either that, or they played it differently from what we do at the present day, as it has been noted down in staff notation. I suspect also they should have had long and short acute and grave accents upon some of the words. The word “radin”’ – the last word in the fourth bar – should, in my opinion, have been written rà-din, the “rà” being a minim in its significance.

Then again, “Cille Chriosd” – “Christ’s Church” – has in the music 17 bars in “MacDonald’s Martial Music of Scotland.” I fancy the last bar should be only played the last time so as to make the piece one of 16 bars in the first measure to suit the 8 lines of syllables, each line occupying 2 bars. This will be seen from the accompanying music:

I hin dro, ho dro, hin do, ho dro,
hin dro; ho dro, hin do, ho dra,
hin do, ho dro, hin da, chin drine
hin do, ho dro, hin do, ho dra.

In the late J.F Campbell’s “Canntaireachd” or articulate music, published in 1880, he gives “Cille Chriosd” in the staff notation, with the syllables from Captain Macl.eod’s collection, but he must have given it to a German professor, as it has been turned out on five flats, 6/8 time and hardly recognisable!
Mr Campbell mentions that in February, 1880, Duncan Ross, the Duke of Argyll’s piper, who learned tunes orally in Ross-shire from the chanting of John MacKenzie, who was Lord Breadalbane’s piper, and a pupil of the Skye school, read the book of 1828, and played from it at sight. The upshot of Ross’ demonstration was that when three notes occurred together on the same line of the stave, by striking three notes with the little finger, two of which were opened and one closed, representing “hiririn” or hir-ir-in. The same Duncan Ross above-mentioned asserted that 150 years ago the pipers did not use grace notes, and their pipes had only two drones. That can hardly be correct, as we have got a picture of a bagpipe that was played in the ’45 and it had three drones, the longest being very long, and it could be heard at a distance of eight miles.

No doubt many would have [had] pipes with only two drones. As to the use of grace notes by the earlier pipers, I suspect they have been in use for a very long time. They were evidently used by the MacCrimmons. I can tell that from their articulate music. but probably not to the same extent as they are at the present day. Duncan Ross was probably right in saying that they played mostly ceol mòr – great music or pibrochs – ceol beag or small music being beneath their notice. The bagpipes must be much older than we have any conception of, for I find that amongst the very earliest form of worship, long before the dawn of any civilisation, proper processions were formed headed by a piper, which would be at least two thousand years before the Christian era. One thing the “Puirt-a-Beul” show very clearly, and that is that they have grown with the people, and are in all human probability as old as their language.
* This name is variously spelled “MacCrimmen” or “MacCrimmon.”

The above is from MacDonald’s “Martial Music of Scotland,” but I am inclined to believe that the MacCrimmons actually played it [‘Iseabail NcAoidh’] with minims as follows:

I agree entirely with Lieutenant MacLennan of Edinburgh that many of our pibrochs were never noted down properly.

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