The Oban Times, 19 October, 1929
The Pibrochs of MacCrimmon and Others
Since General Thomason’s work, Ceol Mor, published in 1900, and already so rare as to be almost priceless, there have been few publications of piobaireachd except those issued by the Piobaireachd Society. It is therefore pleasant to welcome Mr. G. F. Ross’s collection of twenty-six tunes, which has just been published. The piobaireachd enthusiast will play over the tunes in Mr. Ross’s collection on his chanter, and will welcome them in a friendly spirit of criticism, because the piobaireachd world is nothing if not critical.
In his introduction Mr. Ross quotes General Thomason’s advice-
“Avoid dawdling and monotony and play a Lament as a Lament, a Salute as a Salute, a Lullaby as a Lullaby.”
and inclines to the belief that the tendency today is to play all piobaireachd as laments. This is sound the criticism. At the Argyllshire Gathering this year a well-known piper ruined his chances by playing his tune far too slow. Mr. Ross believes that there is loss of rhythm these days, and that this loss is caused above all by the over dwelling on the E of the GED cadence, and the rushing of the double beat on A. He writes, “When seeking for the rhythmic swaying of the tune, find the rhythm of the double beat on A by the omission of the cadence. It will be found that the three A’s must be distinctly heard to complete the rhythm, and the insertion of a correctly played cadence before the beat will not upset it. It should be observed that when the double beat on A is followed by a long A to complete the bar, the rhythm of a tune will generally demand the longest accent on the one A of the double beat, rather than on the last.”
Mr. Ross writes on the Crunluadh (or, as he refers to call it, Creanludh) as follows–” Were the player to observe the axiom that the doubling of the E is based on the second note of the beat he would not be likely to go far wrong. In the ordinary closed form, the second note of the beat is A, in spite of recent endeavours to proclaim it a redundant note, consequently the doubling of the E is based on A.” Here the compiler of the volume is treating of a highly controversial subject, but his remarks, simple and lucid as they are, cannot but be read with interest. There is one disappointing feature of the volume, and that is there is no authority quoted for the versions of the tunes which Mr. Ross publishes.
In his preface Mr. Ross writes,–”I would particularly recommend the version of the “Bells of Perth” here given, a version not hitherto published, and one far more likely to be correct than those already before the public. The version of the” Lament for Hector Roy MacLean” also is a better one then those already published.” As a matter of fact, the majority of the tunes in the volume have rather different settings to those published in Ceol Mor, or published by the Piobaireachd Society, and perhaps Mr. Ross, in his second edition (for no doubt the first edition will be quickly bought up by the many lovers of piobaireachd) will mention the authorities for his settings.
Some of the piobaireachd published in this new book are, the Lament for the Earl of Antrim, the Battle of Vaternish, the Cave of Gold, the Lament for the Children, Lord Ross’s Lament, Scarce Fishing, I got a Kiss of the King’s Hand, Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, the Lament for Mary MacLeod, War or Peace, and the Lament for Iain Garbh of Raasay.
The volume is well got up, and the tunes are excellently printed.
“A Collection of MacCrimmon and other Piobaireachd,” compiled and arranged by G. F. Ross, Calcutta. Published on behalf of the compiler by Peter Henderson, Ltd.,
24 Renfrew Street, Glasgow, 1929. Price 5-
The Oban Times, 24 August, 1929
Pipe Music Terminology
14 August, 1929
Sir,–your reviewer of Joseph McDonald’s “Complete Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe” on 27th August, 1927, asks:
“Whether (in the case of Riludh and Iuludh) ‘Ri’ is not a misprint for Iu (?)”
I should say not, but that Ri is simply Crith, a shake; being feminine, A’ Crith is “the” shake. Many speakers very lightly aspirate C, and Joseph MacDonald may not have known Gaelic grammar or may have heard pipers call the word Crith ludh, ” ‘Ri lu”; hence the simple explanation.
As regards Iuludh; these are two separate syllables, Iul-ludh being derived from Crith Cheól, Crith Chiuil; again the aspirate is dropped vernacularly or from ignorance, hence from Crith Cheol ludh we have Iuil ludh. Crith is of course pronounced in phonetic English as Cree.
I used to hear the pipers of the Gordons in the later “Eighties” call what is spelled Crunluadh “Crooluch,” which is very near the original pure Gaelic Crith ludh, and lately one of your correspondents has been upgraded for calling or spelling Croola, which again for those who know know Gaelic is a very respectable every -day pipers’ pronunciation.
Thus a special pipers meaning has to be imparted into what is Gaelic is simply a “Musical ‘shake’ or Trill.” From not knowing their own language, Ri ludh and Tul ludh appear as different definite entities to the uninformed. Practically, however, this is of no practical importance as long as the notes of the movement are known to the person using the expressions.
Similarly, Crith ludh and Crithean ludh are mixed up with Cruinne, “roundness,” and Crún, nearly the same word a crown. D. MacDonald calls his Creanluidh “round,” quick and yielding. Modern writers call their taorluadh or “grip” or taobh ludh, at least as far as the first part is concerned, the “round” movement.
With or without the Joseph MacDonald’s redundant A (opening the 7th note) the “round” taorluadh part combines with the “round” part (second part) of the now Crunluadh, and we have the complete D. MacDonald “round” (Cruinne) movement. Joseph McDonald’s Crunluadh is similarly “Iuludh” (taorluadh) and Creanluadh together. Iuludh as an imperfect term has already been discussed. Joseph McDonald’s description makes for clearness in learning if the extra A is glided. But that’s the rule!
I fancy “Cruinne” may have also meant an “end” movement, or was taken as such and actually expresses this; c.f., Latha na cruinne. As regards “Fosgailte” meaning “open”; D. MacDonald gives his with “open” notes, but, curiously, we find in modern writers an “open” fosgailte and the “closed” fosgailte, a curious and ignorant contradiction!
The “A Mach” seems to practically have had originally a similar meaning to “fosgailte,” as “open” fingering is used in both, and the D. McDonald’s “Clia luidh” seems to be the modern A Mach in principle.
The old pipers do not seem to have been at all squeamish about playing “open” notes which shows that chanter fingering was originally “open,” as with other wood or metal wind instruments. Tinker pipers often played naturally the open-scale. The present fingering is for greater convenience in doing the “grips,” etc. Another question is as to whether the chanter should be made with the notes correct for open scale all the way up, or correct only for the present system of fingering. The open style in the Fosgailte gives a peculiar bleating effect.
If Mr. Seton Gordon’s “committee” sits for the discussion of “movements,” I trust they may find time to take the opinion of a good Gaelic scholar was also a piper or pipe player as to a natural Gaelic nomenclature for the “movements,” the names of tunes and the several parts of the Piob Mhala.–I am, etc.
The Oban Times, 12 February, 1921
Piobaireachd and Piper Saints
Johannesburg, S. A., 18 December, 1920
Sir, Mr. J. MacLennan, in a courageous and convincing introduction to his most valuable book, says, among other things that suggest a commendable intolerance of humbug “the pipers who survived the battle of Cologne not only kept the Pibroch among themselves, but were unfortunately unable to exhibit it in so mysterious a form as not only to impose on, but perplexed, the understanding of their pupils;” and then he goes on to quote authorities to show that the Pibroch had “neither time, rhythm, melody, cadence nor accents.” He states that this is also his own opinion of Pibroch as rendered by the best players of to-day.
That the opinion is correct requires no other proof than the attitude of every audience, Highland or non-Highland who find that, with some exceptions the ground is played with such lapses that they wonder what has become of the melody.
Mr. MacLennan makes another quotation which suggests Sheonaid Vore’s description of the Sunday prayer of the local elder “It begins, goes on, and ends no one knows when or how or where.” (Seonaid said, “Thug e ‘n sin iomradh air aimsir ‘s air bárr, ‘s air na gamhna, ‘s air a h-uile rud a thogair a fheir.”) And though it is true that this is an exaggeration, it is equally true that it is only an exaggeration, for the statements can be truthfully made of Pibroch as played by many.
I do not know what Mr. MacLennan’s authority is for the allegation of imposition: but I am inclined to agree with him as a matter of probability. MacPherson published for a gullible public, and as being as old as Ossian, poems clearly written for one who had read Virgil and Homer, and in quite modern Gaelic, whose idiom is frequently English, and whose source is frequently the dictionary. Just as spurious are some of our songs. The words of “Over the Sea to Skye” are not from the Gaelic, and there is nothing Gaelic about the music. “Loud the winds howl” is false. The author of “Sound the Pibroch” must have had little knowledge of the campaign of Prince Charlie when he spoke of the clans as crying their slogan “From John o’ Groat to Isle of Skye”–a tract of country which contributed but a few isolated stragglers.
The canntaireachd humbug is being tried on us even at the present day: while in the domain of the “collection” of chants and songs, going on recently, and now the greater and perhaps the better quantity is composed and written at the desk and the piano.
There is, therefore, room for a bold man who knows his business to challenge the so-called authorities and ask them to produce their credentials. Though Mr. MacLennan, unfortunately, called his book “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It,” it should have been–”As MacCrimmon Ought to Have Played It”–he does not rely upon tradition. He relies upon the principles of music–coherent melody with rhythm and accent; and many hope that he will be spared long, and that he will find time to publish more and write a fuller introduction.
General Thomason, the compiler-editor of the monumental work, “Ceol Mor,” held the same views: and it seems a pity they did not collaborate, for two heads are better than one in arranging the best set of the tune, provided the heads are candid and not swollen. That each of these individually, notwithstanding much ability, required assistance, is obvious from the mistakes made–though the correctness of “Ceol Mor” is marvellous, considering the number of the tunes and the abbreviated system of notation. It is a minor point that in all the books of pipe music, the spelling of the Gaelic is atrocious, but it seems extraordinary that Thomason should not have got correct spelling when hundreds would have readily obliged him.
The C at the end of the second bar of the ground of “I got a kiss” is, of course only a misprint for B; but the mistake is unfortunate, and should have been easily prevented. The putting of an F and an E in the first bar of the siubhal and subsequent parts is a more serious business. It is very far from the run of the ground, which reserves the climax of the F to the fifth bar, the second last, and maintains the usual musical balance. Mr. MacLennan’s early introduction of the F is not justified by the ground, nor, in my opinion, is it justified on the score of musical effect: in fact, the effect is entirely spoiled, as the point should be as late as possible when you introduce the delightful yell of the F.
I do not think Mr. MacLennan can father the style on MacCrimmon. In “MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart,” MacLennan has at the last note of the second bar and the first note of the third bar, B and A, instead of the usual C and B. I hope this is a misprint; and I also hope that if so it will be corrected, as his authority would carry a much worse phrasing of notes. I notice, however, with humble satisfaction, that the cadence on the last notes of the bars of the third variation are put severely as demi-semis, without pandering to the drawling that is involved in noting the middle note as a semi-quaver.
I am forced to close abruptly, and in case I do not return, I will some up my opinions shortly. Pibroch is not popular, the reason is that so few tunes are played intelligibly. The reason for this is the slowness of playing, which is so extreme that rhythm is obliterated, length being given not only to the main notes, but to the passing notes. It is as if in singing “The Land of the Leal” one dwelt so long on the “We’re” that the audience could not distinguish it as any shorter than the subsequent first syllable of “wearin’.” This is due to too unquestioning a following of the masters, the canonised pipers, to playing what is supposed to please supposed authorities and judges, and to the extreme difficulty of producing Pibroch notes thoroughly as well as smartly. The pipers of to-day are as good as those of the past, and probably better; and there should be no more canonization, although this may be a bit rough on Dr. Bannatyne!
Rhythm and measurable time should be declared the first essential, with discretion as to pauses, but with a stern ban on the lengthening of passing notes. As regards competitions, the tunes should be published in ample time, and the same discretion allowed in the playing of them as in the case of other music. Living, moving and having one’s being in a particular tune produces wonderful results. The best style should be published by a competent committee, which should include musicians other than pipers.
I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 12 February, 1921
Charles MacArthur, a Celebrated Piper
8 February, 1921
Sir, We have it on record of this man that “Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat, being at Dunvegan on a visit to the laird of MacLeod, he heard the performance of Patrick Og with great delight, and desirous, if possible, to have a piper of equal merit, said to MacCrimmon that there was a young man who he was anxious to place under his tuition, on condition that he would not be allowed to return until such time as he could play equal to his master, and when this is the case, you will bring him home, and I will give you ample satisfaction for your trouble.”
Charles MacArthur was accordingly sent to Borreraig, where he remained for eleven years.
We had also on record that in 1721, when the said Sir Alex. MacDonald of Sleat was ten years of age, he was sent to a school in Leith, where he remained for five years: that in 1726, when he was 15 years of age he was sent to St. Andrews University, where he remained for three years, and during that time Charles MacArthur was his piper and valet.
For the one statement, we have Dr. Bannatyne, “Loch Sloy,” Angus MacKay and Pipe-Major John Grant, and for the other we have Skeabost’s Doomsday Book, the Scots Peerage, the Clan Donald History, and the records of St. Andrews University.
I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 20 November, 1915
Arniedale, 16 November, 1915
Sir,–Would any of your numerous well-informed readers supply me with the following information, and much oblige, about the “Clan MacCrimmon,” their origin, crest, Tartan, etc..–I am, etc.,