OT 9 July 1927 – Seton Gordon “Piobaireachd Music”

The Oban Times, 9 July, 1927

Piobaireachd Music

Duntulm Lodge, Isle of Skye,

3 July, 1927

Sir,–Mr. Angus MacPherson believes, perhaps, that, like the late Lord Fisher, the Piobaireachd Society has adopted the motto, “Never apologise.” Well, perhaps there is something in that, but I want him to know that the present listed tunes have been revised and corrected with great care.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the Piobaireachd Society does not lay down the condition, or even desire, that pipers in their competitions should play its own settings. Any setting is accepted, provided it be a recognised one. It merely publishes the tunes; pipers may adopt its settings or not as they please.

I think this point should be made clear, because there is a widespread belief among pipers that there is a moral obligation to play the Piobaireachd Societies’ setting. I am, etc.,

Seton Gordon

OT: 15 December 1928 – Crunluath “Pipe Band Contests”

The Oban Times, 15 December, 1928

Pipe Band Contests

3 December, 1928

Sir,–As most pipers read the “Oban Times,” the columns of which invariably contain something of particular interest to admirers of Scottish music, I ventured to ask your valuable space for a few remarks on the subject of pipe band contests.

Judges of these contests must comply with the directions issued to them by the promoters. In my view, these directions are not always satisfactory, and if a judge were to follow them implicitly he would require a shorthand writer at his elbow to make the reports desired on each performance. I consider it is impossible for any judge to mark down everything, and at the same time pay every attention to the performers. The judge should be left free to devote his full attention to the character of the performance, which is undergoing constant changes.

It is also my view that pipers should play alone without drums, and that the drum Judges should also never submit to the present system of judging; a good band of pipers may suffer a severe loss of points through their drummers, and vice versa. Committees should bear in mind that it is a pipe and not drum band contest. Drummers should be encouraged by providing separate prizes for their performances. Judges should also never submit to the foibles of committees who insist on enclosing them in canvas during solo competitions, for a judge should not be deprived of the aid of any of his natural senses, as they are all needed to do justice to the performers. If a judge cannot be trusted in the open, there is very little hope of him in blinkers!

During the past season I attended several leading pipe band contests and noted the procedure and the results. Of all these, I have no hesitation in saying that the Alloa championship was the best judged, and I should like to tender those responsible my congratulations on their sound judgment.

Might I suggest that the leading piping societies should meet and consider as to framing rules for the guidance of promoters of pipe band contests throughout the country.

The views of your readers would be much appreciated by many promoters whose sole aim is to encourage piping generally, and for whose enthusiasm in the cause all good Scotsmen are grateful.–I am, etc.,


OT: 10 October 1903 – A Lover of the Piob Mhor “The Passing of the Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 10 October, 1903

The Passing of the Piobaireachd

 Sir,–I have read with great interest the three articles headed “The Passing of the Piobaireachd” in your paper of dates 29th August, 5th September, and 12th September, signed “A. M.,” and with your permission would like to make a few remarks thereon.

I will begin by confessing that “A. M.” evidently knows his subject very much better than I do, and if he sees this letter he must make allowance and pardon any mistakes I make; but one thing I am sure, and that is, he cannot be a greater enthusiast about, or a greater lover of pipe music that I am.

Can “A. M.” wonder at “the passing of the pibroch?” When the pibrochs were being played at Inverness this year for the gold medal how many people in the grand stand listened to them or understood them? Some there were certainly; but, alas, how few. The first three or four pibrochs could be heard, but after those, when the fashionable throng appeared, their chatter made it impossible to hear properly. At another swell meeting at which I was present the pibroch players and judges were dispatched to the other end of the ground, so as not to horrify the occupants of the grand stand with the savage sound; and I am not sure if this was not a good plan. My own idea is that the piping should be carried on by itself, and nobody need come and hear it unless he wanted; but this I fear is almost impossible to arrange where so much has to be gone through in one day. I must say, however, I did see one lady listening and evidently understanding the pibrochs on the grand stand at Inverness, and I think she wore the Campbell tartan. It is a case of pleasing the majority, and the authorities at all those meetings must go with the majority.

The very best way to prevent “the passing of the pibroch” is the competition announced by the Piobaireachd Society of Scotland to take place at Oban next year, where they propose giving a first prize of £20, and, what is almost of as much consequence, they give out a list of the pibrochs to be played. This, I consider, the Northern Meeting Committee should always have done. For instance, the gold medal was won this year by a piper who got “Glengarry’s Lament” to play; now anyone who knows pibrochs will understand that this is a short and, comparatively speaking, an easy pibroch, but it was this piper’s luck to be asked to play it. I don’t mean to disparage his playing, which, in my humble judgment, was very good and well deserved to win; but had he got a long and more difficult pibroch to play there was always the possibility of his pipes going out of tune. The Piobaireachd Society have thus done the very thing required by giving out the pibrochs now, and making them about the same length and difficulty.

I quite agree with “A.M.” as to the judging at many of the Highland games leaving a lot to be desired. At some meetings I could mention judges are appointed for the reason that they have subscribed liberally to the prize-list, or that they are influential men in the district, or from some such motive. My idea of judging is that there should never be less than two or more than five, and I would have silent voting like the ballot without any consultation. If this did not settle the matter, then I would have a consultation, and I would have judges shut up for marches, and reels, and strathspeys, as for pibrochs. Of course, one is supposed to give points for marching, but I consider that difficulty could easily be got over. Speaking of judging, what can one think of the Northern Meeting having only two judges this year owing to the lamented death of Dr. Bett? Supposing those two could not agree, how were they to settle it; only by tossing, and this is not judging. Inverness is supposed to be an example for all other meetings, and I say they distinctly showed a bad example in having only two judges when they must have known there were several competent judges present who would only have been too glad to give their services. One more remark I will make about judging is, that it is a most unenviable position as the writer knows to his cost. Judges cannot please everyone, and the men we want are some more like the late Dr. Bett, who, in my opinion, always gave a perfectly fearless judgment, and had a knowledge of pipe music possessed by few. He was, in my opinion, the very best judge we had, and when we lost him piping lost a good friend. If we had a few more like him “A.M.” need not be afraid of the “pibrochs passing.”

“A.M.” must remember there are not many pipers who can spare the time to get pibrochs; but now that there is a prize of £20 to be won, I expect there will be a good many competitors for it, and that the competition will last for more than one day. If so, I hardly see how it can be held on one of the days of the Oban meeting, or, if so, it must be carried on quite apart from the other competitions. “A.M.” speaks of four pipers as the thread which links our degenerate era with the golden days of past years, but does he not think it is possible that this number might be increased? I confess I don’t know all the pibroch players, but I think I could mention more than four who could play a pibroch even to satisfy him, and by next year, let us hope, there will be four times four competing for the £20 prize. I will conclude my letter by remarking, “May I be there to hear.”

I consider all lovers of pipe music owe more than a debt of gratitude to the compiler of “Ceol Mor,” who, in my opinion, has done more to prevent the passing of the pibroch than any man living.–I am, etc.,

A Lover of the “Piob Mhor.”

OT: 3 October 1903 – J. MacLennan [correction of earlier misprint]

The Oban Times, 3 October, 1903

Sir,–Through a misprint in my letter of last week I am made to say that Dithisd means a compass. What I said was Dithisd means a couple.–I am, etc.,

J. MacLennan

OT: 3 October 1903 – Oilthigh [“The Passing of the Piobaireachd”]

The Oban Times, 3 October, 1903

[The Passing of the Piobaireachd]

28 September, 1903

Sir,–Having read “H.L.I.’s” letter, kindly allow me to say a few words, through your valuable paper, on one or two points. He mentions that if the MacCrimmons were to rise out of their graves they would be surprised to hear in the improvement made in their own composition of the piobaireachd. What I would like to know is where the improvement comes in.

When a piobaireachd is composed it is utterly impossible to alter it to any degree; and surely anyone who composes a tune ought to know how it should be played. The only improvement I am aware of is the superiority of the instrument both in tone and make. When compared with the old make of the pipes are now [sic] vastly superior indeed, but only in the rendering the sound more pleasant to the ear. The fingering, if not worse than it formerly was, it certainly no better.

“H.L.I.” is quite right when he says that nobody in this generation ever heard a MacCrimmon play. But the MacCrimmons have left behind them pipers who can play and teach, as, for instance, the Camerons, who undoubtedly can trace their teaching back to MacCrimmon’s time. If “H.L.I.” is a Highlander, I am very much surprised to hear him giving a march preference to a piobaireachd. In my own opinion it is impossible for anyone to appreciate a piobaireachd who has no Highland blood in him.

I suppose “H.L.I.” would consider a piper insane if he played more than two piobaireachds in one evening. Perhaps that accounts for some of the judging at games being unfair, when the judges have to listen to about a dozen pipers playing piobaireachds. After hearing the first two they begin to get sick of listening to the rest.–I am, etc.,


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