OT: 3 April 1926 – Leumluath “The Discussion of Pipe-Majors Grant and Gray on Taorluath”

The Oban Times, 3 April, 1926

The Discussion of Pipe Majors Grant and Gray on Taorluath

 In connection with the debate on the playing of the Taorluath, held in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Forrest Road, on Thursday, 25th March, a large company attended the meeting to hear the differences of opinion between Pipe-Majors Grant and Gray in regard to the Taorluath.

The following gentlemen were present at the meeting:–Sir John Lorne MacLeod and Messrs. Burn-Murdoch and Seton Gordon; Pipe-Majors Ross, Calder, Grant, Gray, Hendry, Sutherland, Mckenzie, McDonald, Gordon and Thomson, and Pipers Calder, Sutherland, McLeod, Bain, McKinlay, Gates, Campbell, and MacDonald (Glasgow Police).

The Chairman, Mr. McKillop, president of Tir nam Beann Society, called on Pipe-Major Grant to give his opinion with regard to the playing of the Taorluath. Mr. Grant claimed to have been taught the pipes as the Mackays played them, and said that he could play the Taorluath with two low “A’s” at the finish as written by the Mackays. He gave a summary of the Piobaireachd and designated the origin of several Piobaireachd. After this Pipe-Major Gray was asked if he wished to say a word before Pipe-Major Grant commenced to demonstrate his method of playing the Taorluath.

Mr. Gray refrained from speaking, merely asking for the demonstration to commence. Mr. Grant along with two boys then commenced to play “Macintosh’s Lament.” Having played the Urlar and doubling together, Mr. Grant accompanied by a youth played the Taorluath, finally playing the Taorluath himself.

On finishing Pipe-Major Gray said that Mr. Grant played the Taorluath exact the same as himself, but with this Mr. Grant did not agree. The Taorluath was then written on the blackboard by Mr. Grant, and he was informed by Mr. Gray that it was impossible for anyone to play it to correct time, as he had written it. Mr. Grant held that it could, and said that it was almost imperceptible to the ear, and it required years of practice before a person could play it successfully.

Mr. Gray then wrote the Taorluath as he played it (being one “A” less than Mr. Grant’s style) and maintained that Mr. Grant played it just as he had written it. His opinion was that in attempting to produce two “A’s” at the end of the Taorluath Mr. Grant was sacrificing a good lock note on the low “G,” which in his opinion was of more consequence.

Sir,–I do not profess to be an authority on the subject, but I feel within myself, after hearing Pipe-Majors Grant and Gray playing their respective styles of the Taorluath, and having for a considerable time now tried to play it to time as Mr. Grant plays it, that there is something about it which cannot be done consistently to proper time. The A note in question it appears to me to be a drag in the Taorluath, and takes away the round movement.

I am, etc.


OT: 3 April 1926 – A. Fuaim “The Piper’s Challenge” [Report]

The Oban Times, 3 April, 1926 

Taorluath and Crunluath
Meeting in Edinburgh.

Pipe-Major John Grant, Edinburgh,
Pipe-Major William Gray, Glasgow

Unique Piping Demonstration and Discussion

Special Reports.

For some time past a controversy, conducted through the courtesy and medium of the Editor of the “Oban Times,” has been proceeding between Pipe-Major Grant, Edinburgh, on the one hand, and Pipe-Major Gray, Glasgow, on the other, as to the correct interpretation and execution of the Toarluath and Crunluath notes in Piobaireachd. 

Epistolary statements from each of these gentlemen not being successful in establishing any definite result on the points at issue, it was ultimately arranged that the two principles would meet, debate, and give practical demonstrations on the pipes in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Forrest Road, Edinburgh, at 8 p.m. On Thursday, 25th March, under the auspices of the Tir Nam Beann Society. 

A brief sketch of the opposing arguments may not be out of place here before proceeding further. Pipe-Major Grant avers that the Taorluath and Crunluath notes, as written by Angus MacKay in his book, are all absolutely necessary and therefore correct, that they can be played in time and rhythm, and that he, himself, was taught to do so, and can, in fact, execute these notes. 

Pipe-Major Gray, on the other hand, contends that the Taorluath and Crunluath notes are not, in practice, played as written by Angus MacKay, that they cannot be played in time and rhythm, and that he, himself, is unable to execute them as they are detailed. He states that in every case Angus MacKay included a redundant “A,” except in the “D”combination, and that effect was never, and cannot be given to that note. 

Widespread interest has been aroused in the controversy amongst the Piping Fraternity, a fact which was, at once, obvious when, on the night of the proceedings, the hall was soon crowded beyond its limits. Many notabilities were present in the persons of Sir John Lorne MacLeod, Mr. Alistair MacKillop, Mr. Burn-Murdoch, Sheriff Jamieson, Mr. Parkhouse, Mr. Seton Gordon, Mr. Duncan Cameron, J. P., Mr. Somerled MacDonald, Mears W. And A. Cameron, Mr. R. Johnston MacDonald, and most of the leading Pipe-Majors, past and present. 


Pipe-Major Grant led off the debate. He traced the history of the Piobaireachd from the time of the great MacCrimmon Masters. He explained their position as hereditary pipers, how they devoted their whole lives to their art, how perfect their productions were, and how they invented and developed the system of “Canntaireachd.” He narrated how they founded the school at the Castle at Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, and how the various Chieftains sent their pipers there to be taught by them–the hall-mark of ability. He mentioned the famous pipers who originated from Borreraig–the MacArthurs, the Mackays, the Macleans or Rankins, the Campbells, and the MacIntyres. 

The MacCrimmons. 

He detailed the MacCrimmon system of teaching:–The teacher playing with the pupil, then by silent fingering, and lastly by means of “Canntaireachd” chanting. The seriousness with which they regarded their profession he revealed by stating that an apprenticeship lasted from seven to eleven years before proficiency was attained. The MacCrimmons left no MSS. or, at least, none has ever been discovered, and naturally, as Pipe-Major Grant pointed out, the manner and execution of playing by their pupils became the accepted and correct method. Pipers taught in this way were said to be traditionally trained in their art. Then came the advent of Angus MacKay, himself a pupil of the MacCrimmons, who collected and put in staff notation the first really serviceable book of pipe music. 

Angus MacKay. 

Angus MacKay devoted his whole life to his task. He took infinite pains to ensure that his work was correct, and although it contains various errors, Mr. Grant contends that it ill behoves anyone now to alter the compilation of that great man who did so much towards preserving the noble music of Caledonia. It has been said, continued Mr. Grant, that Angus MacKay’s work was adapted for other styles of music beside the bagpipes, and therefore various notes were inserted to allow these musicians to obtain the effect of the Piobaireachd, but he himself could state, from personal knowledge, that Piobaireachd music was unique in itself and could not be played on any other instrument. 

Pipe-Major Grant’s Claim. 

Mr. Grant stated he was taught by Pipe-Major Ronald McKenzie, a pupil of John Ban Mackenzie, who was taught by Angus MacKay, and who, in turn, was taught by John “Dubh” MacCrimmon. Surely that is the direct line, he added. Positively he could assert that he received the assurance of Ronald MacKenzie that John Ban Mackenzie always played the Taorluath as written by Mackay. Is there any reason, he demanded, why Angus MacKay should insert the “A” in all his tunes if he did not intend it to be played? Is there any reason why John Ban Mackenzie should say he played it, and as a matter of fact taught Pipe-Major Ronald Mackenzie to do so, if he did not? Is there any reason at all for these men to tell falsehoods about the matter? To my mind, he continued, there is none. 

These great pipers, traditionally taught, played the Taorluath and Crunluath notes giving effect to the “A.” I play it in the same manner, and I demand to know from Pipe-Major Gray, and also from Pipe-Major Ross, whose name has been brought into the controversy, what authority they had in altering the compilation of Angus MacKay as they have done in their books. I say emphatically they are wrong, and if they cannot play the Taorluath, as written, then they are not proficient in their art and are not Piobaireachd players. All the standard works on the Piobaireachd include the “A” in the Taorluath. Are all these works wrong? 

Pipe-Major Grant then intimated that before proceeding to the actual test of playing he would vacate the platform in favour of his opponent if he desired to make any remarks. 

Pipe-Major Gray signified that he did not wish to say anything at that stage, and requested Mr. Grant to carry on with the actual playing. 

Before complying the latter explained the different forms or species of tunes of the Piobaireachd, viz.: –The Salute, the Welcome, the Lament, the Farewell, the Gathering, the March or Challenge, the Battle Tune, and the Warning, giving in each instance a short description as to when and how they were used. 

Macintosh’s Lament. 

The Pipe-Major then selected “The Macintosh’s Lament” from Angus MacKay’s book, as being an exceptionally fine example of the Taorluath and played the piece through on the Chanter. Concluding, he asked Pipe-Major Gray if he had rendered the Taorluath giving effect to the “A,” and was greatly taken aback when met with a direct negative. He played the single note again and again, but was unsuccessful in persuading Mr. Gray to admit the correctness of his execution. 

Pipe-Major Gray’s Claim. 

Pipe-Major Gray stated emphatically that the redundant “A” could not be rendered in time and rhythm, and that the Taorluath was not played by the hereditary pipers or their pupils the way it was written by Angus MacKay. He said he was taught in the direct line through Pipe-Major J. MacDougall Gillies, and he could authoritatively state that neither he, nor John McColl, nor the Cameron’s ever played the “A” in the Taorluath. He had also the authority of Pipe-Major Ross and Pipe-Major McLennan for stating that, in practice, the “A” was always omitted. 

Quoting from Angus MacKay’s book he read:–” He hopes the public will treat with leniency any defects that may be perceived.” Many errors had been discovered in Mackay’s book, and it was obvious the redundant “A” was also in that category. Why was Mackay not uniform? Why did he not insert the “A” in the “D” note? 

“I am not here as an orator,” continued Mr. Gray, “my time is limited. I must catch a train from Glasgow, and, so far as I am concerned, Pipe-Major Grant has signally failed to convince me from his playing that he is correct in his assertion. As a further test I will ask him to play the ‘Leumluath’ in ‘The Glen is Mine’.” 

Pipe-Major Grant did so, but beyond a smile and a significant shrug of the shoulders which indicated his opinion Pipe-Major Gray made no remark. 

Sir John Lorne MacLeod in a few words thanked both gentlemen for their demonstrations of the niceties of a very fine point, and the proceedings terminated. 

The whole affair from the point of view of an impartial spectator was left in a very unsatisfactory state. Neither side is, in any degree, any further forward. 

Pipe-Major Grant, who conveyed the impression that his whole object was the preservation of the traditional playing, proved himself from his discourse a very fine Piobaireachd student. He was more a student been a practical player, and from his lack of accomplished execution was unable to convince his audience as to the correctness of his contentions. Nevertheless, if, perhaps, a really proficient Piobaireachd player had been called upon to execute the disputed note, it is a matter of conjecture that verdict might have been returned. 

Pipe-Major Gray had a very simple task. He did not prove Mr. Grant was wrong. He simply, baldly and pointedly stated that Pipe-Major Grant had not given effect to the “A,” and that, in fact, he had played the note in a similar manner to himself. 

The test was badly organised. Expert and disinterested judges should have been appointed to decide on the merits of the dispute as demonstrated by the opposite side and though the writer prefers not to give any opinion, he feels that for the future guidance of those who study and play the Piobaireachd the point should be thoroughly and officially inquired into and a definite decision made. 

A. Fuaim.

OT: 10 April 1948 – Donald Main “Piobaireachd Music”

The Oban Times, 10 April, 1948

Piobaireachd Music

 Wester Dalcattaig House, Glenmoriston

2 April, 1918

Sir,–That all your readers, pipers included, may fully understand Sheriff Grant’s attack on me, let me explain that I am an Orthodox Scottish musician who spent 12 years in critical analysis of the theory of Celtic Piobaireachd in an attempt to deduce the methods of construction practised by the ancient composers. The findings of my research show the music to be a well-developed art form which can only properly be practised by the educated musician.

This is contrary to the belief of the sentimentalist, traditionalist school, of whom Sheriff Grant is head dictator. Thus the propaganda war.

The issue is quite clear: Either the MacCrimmons, and their fellow-composers were rude, half-savages making a crude uncivilised and unrhythmic din such as we hear from the military school of Piobaireachd to-day–and I, therefore, in the wrong; or those ancient composers were educated musicians with a highly intellectualised technique working in the medium of a highly stylized Sonata form–which I can prove to any person who cares to enquire.

Piobaireachd is a jewel of one old culture which has fallen, through the neglect of our music scholars.

It was in urgent need of a saviour who would restore it to its old glory and reset it in its honoured place in the hearts of the Scottish people. For in the decadent period the Great Highland Bagpipe fell from its place as a highly expressive musical instrument down to the level of a percussion instrument not much higher in aesthetic value than the drum.

I am honoured to undertake the work of restoring the dignity of Celtic Piobaireachd, which as a result of my work, will soon be the common property and common joy of all our people–not merely of a small coterie like Sheriff Grant and his circle of “champion” pipers.

Finally, let me say that I think Sheriff Grant’s call to pipers to protest to the B.B.C. against my programme, whether they heard it or not, must strike a deep feeling of repugnance in the heart of every intelligent person who reads it.

I am, etc.,

Donald Main

OT: 10 April 1948 – Herbert Wiseman “The B.B.C. Piping Broadcast”

The Oban Times, 10 April, 1948

The B.B.C. Piping Broadcast

British Broadcasting Corporation. Glasgow, W. 2.

5 April, 1948

Sir,–My attention has been drawn to Colonel Grant’s letter which appeared in your issue of April 3. As head of the B.B.C.s’ Scottish music, I hasten to assure your readers that I assume full responsibility for the broadcast of two compositions for bagpipes by Mr. Donald Main. Colonel Grant is a member of our “Piping Panel” to which he alludes and, as such, was present, as I was I, at the meeting which was held in January. The panel was then informed, as a matter of courtesy, that Mr. Main was to be asked contribute to a series which our music department is running on Modern Scottish Composers, and that an opportunity would be given in “Arts Review” for a critic, known to the piping panel, to express the views of the traditional pipers. Could anything be fairer?

The immediate reaction on the part of the panel was one of condemnation. We were assured (1) that Mr. Main could not play the pipes, and (2) that his compositions were without merit. This, it will be evident, absolves Colonel Grant and his fellow members.

As, however, the series on Modern Scots Composers is broadcasting, without prejudice, works for piano, violin and other musical instruments, the B.B.C. judged that the bagpipe was worthy of being included. Mr. Main was not presented in one of our piping periods which are reserved for players approved by the panel, but as one who is endeavouring, as a contemporary composer, to make his own contribution to the musical culture of Scotland. He has theories on the Piobaireachd as a particular art form and we felt that, in all justice, he should be given a chance to demonstrate these.

We hope, in spite of what Colonel Grant says, that there are many pipers who listen to a series dealing with contemporary Scots music because their primary interest is in music as an art, not confined to any single instrument.

I am, etc.,

Herbert Wiseman
Head of Scottish Music.

OT: 28 August 1937 – G.C.B. Poulter “The Last Clan Pipers”

The Oban Times, 28 August, 1937

The Last Clan Pipers
MacCrimmons, Mackays and Rankines

 Collingwood Place, Camberley, Surrey

18 August, 1937

Sir,–There is in many quarters a misapprehension that the hereditary clan pipers ceased or died out in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Ian Dubh MacCrimmon (1731-1822), hereditary piper at Dunvegan Castle, was succeeded, according to his friend and contemporary, MacMaster, by his brother, Donald Ruadh MacCrimmon, born in 1743, and referred to as “MacLeod’s hereditary piper” as late as 1815. Donald Ruadh died in 1825, and although we are perhaps to regard him as the last hereditary piper at Dunvegan, it should be noted that his cousin, Donald MacCrimmon of Lowerkill (son of Kenneth), had been a piper in MacLeod’s employment for the previous twenty years. Donald of Lowerkill died in 1843, and his son Kenneth took his place for three years; then came the great potato famine, the castle was let, and Kenneth exchanged his office at Dunvegan for the position of constable at Dumbarton, offered to him by MacLeod, and thus the famous line of MacCrimmon pipers came to an end after more than three centuries of continuous service at Dunvegan.

But for the decline of the MacLeod fortunes in the middle of the nineteenth century, this historic succession would have continued probably to the present day. Kenneth Mor’s daughter is still living at an advanced age, and she states that he was a splendid piper. Kenneth’s son, piper Donald MacCrimmon, died in the island of Bernera, Harris, in 1925, his grandson, Kenneth, is a piper, and his great-grandson, Patrick, now a piper in the Argylls, carries on the family traditions in the twelfth generation.

The Mackays, pipers to the Mackenzies of Gairloch, held their position almost as late as the MacCrimmons. The late Mr. John Mackay, J. P., of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, states that his “father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, were successively pipers to the lairds of Gairloch.” Mr. MacKay further states that his father was “the recognised and paid piper of the Gairloch family” and came to Pichton, Nova Scotia in the Summer of 1805. Mr. John Mackay died in 1884, aged 90, his father, John Roy Mackay, last hereditary piper to the Mackenzies of Gairloch, died in Canada early in the same century, and his grandfather, Angus MacKay was the son and successor of the celebrated Iain Dall or “Blind John” Mackay (1656-1754).

The Rankines, hereditary pipers to the Macleans of Duart and Coll, held their position as late as the Mackays. Duncan Rankine, who is referred to by Dr. Samuel Johnson, came to Coll as the Macleans piper in 1762, married Elizabeth MacCrimmon of Glendale, and died in Coll in 1807.

These three examples are taken at random, and no doubt many others could be given of hereditary piping dynasties continuing up to the nineteenth century.

I am, etc.,

G.C.B. Poulter

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