OT: 27 August 1927 – Review of “A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe”

The Oban Times, 27 August, 1927

A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe”

Part I.

 Joseph MacDonald was a son of the Rev. Murdoch MacDonald, a Minister of Durness in Sutherlandshire, and early in life showed a great musical genius. He collected many of the old airs of his district, and besides being a player upon the violin was keenly interested in pipe music. In 1760 he went to the East Indies in the service of the East India Company. Before his departure he wrote out a number of the vocal airs which he had collected and left the manuscript with a sister. These airs form the first and greater part of the collection subsequently published by his brother, the Rev. Patrick MacDonald, Kilmore.

During his lengthy voyage to India and to while [sic] away his leisure moments in that country he wrote his treatise on the “Scots Highland Bagpipe.” From letters to his father it seemed he was anxious to publish his collection so that the music would “not be allowed to sink and die away.” Alas! poor Joseph died in India before he had been little more than a twelve-month in that country. His manuscript, however, was discovered in Bengal by Sir John Murray MacGregor, who, on his return home, forwarded it to the Rev. Patrick MacDonald, Joseph’s brother. In the meantime, the Rev. Patrick had in 1784, published a collection of Highland airs, the major portion of the collection being Joseph’s.

“Scots Highland Bagpipe.”

In 1803, the Rev. Patrick published his brothers treatise on the “Scots Highland Bagpipe.” It would seem clear that Joseph’s manuscript was not completely ready for publication at the time of his death, and his brother, Patrick, was possibly not sufficiently conversant with pipe music to edit and correct manifest clerical errors, etc., in the manuscript. In studying the “Theory,” therefore this point should not be overlooked and the fact remembered that but for Joseph’s premature death we might have had an even more valuable work than that now before us.

Joseph’s work was probably the very first attempt to produce pipe music in modern staff notation, and though Donald MacDonald’s collection may have come before the public very soon after the “Theory” was published, Joseph’s manuscript was, of course, much older than Donald MacDonald’s. Indeed, it is more than likely that Donald MacDonald’s method of recording his collection in staff notation is the result of the publication of the “Theory.” The scheme in Joseph’s mind would seem to have been to write out tunes, etc., showing only the big or themal notes, or style of variation. This seems evident from the method of explanation he adopts. He writes out the “plain” notes of the various beats and on a second staff underneath a beat is “sett down at large, with its dividing notes.” His method is progressive, leaving from the fingering of the scale, shown by illustrated “holes,” open or closed (as in Glen’s collection) to the various beats used in piobaireachd, including an elaborate set of “cuttings” of the style of what to-day would be call Crunluath Breabach beats. He then proceeds to discuss Time, Rests, Keys, Methods of Composition, etc., and gives some valuable information as to the “style” of the instrument. His work opens with a list of “The Original Terms of Art belonging to the Bagpipe” and closes with “a March (piobaireachd) for a beginner.”

Terms of Art

 Coming first to his “Terms of Art” it is clear beyond question that the termination “luath” commonly used to-day, is incorrect and should be “ludh,” meaning “art.” In fact his heading, already quoted, is in itself perfectly clear evidence of the point. The word “Creanludh” is used, and as Mr. MacDonald says in his preface to the reprint, this word, instead of “Crunluath,” is probably the correct one and substantially a harp term. The word “Taorludh” does not appear in Joseph’s list of “Terms of art,” but in the context of the work the word “Tudhludh” appears. Mr. MacDonald considers the correct word is “Taobhludh” and Joseph’s writing this is as it is frequently pronounced in some districts or by some people. It is quite possible the prefix “Taor” has arisen through the mist printing of the phonetic “Taovludh” as “Taorludh” the “r” having replaced the “v,” an error easily understandable in manuscript writing.

The beats known to-day as “Toarluath” is called “Riludh” or “Iuludh” in the work. The word “Riludh” does not appear in his list of “Terms of Art,” but “Iuludh” does and yet on the next page “on the signification of Terms mentioned in this Treatise” he calls the beat “Riludh” and describes its fingering (of which more anon). He then describes “Creanludh,” as the adding to “Riludh” of the doubling of the E, the term not meaning the “whole ‘Crunluath’ beat as we know it to-day, but only the end of it.” He then describes what we to-day call the “Crunluath” beat as “Iuludh and Creanludh together.”


Close study of the work makes it quite clear that “Riludh” and “Iuludh” are one and the same beat and as the word “Riludh” is not known to Gaelic scholars the question arises whether “Ri” is not a misprint for “Iu.” In setting print from manuscript (the I having two dots over it) a mistake might easily occur. Were the word “Iuludh” substituted for “Riludh” throughout the work it would not in any way upset the context, which fact supports suggestion of a possible misprint. It is to be regretted the original manuscript is not available to settle such points. It is said to have “mysteriously disappeared” from the place in which it was deposited. His fingering of the scale shows the second finger of the upper hand “on” when sounding high G and A (sometimes sounding G, the little finger “on” also), and also the little finger of the lower hand “on” when sounding C.

His description of the various beats, etc., is most interesting but it is impossible to deal with all points within the short compass of an article such as this, even though they may throw much light on modern practice and discount many of the firmly held ideas of modern players! A few may be referred to, however.

It has to be admitted that, at times, it is somewhat difficult from the modern staff notation point of view, to follow some of this illustrated fingering of the beats, for he may by this method illustrate only two notes of a grip and yet from the letterpress it would seem clear he intends the full grip. A case in point is the beat called “Riludh” or “Iuludh.” Without careful study of the work the reader might easily jump to the conclusion that the beats were different, the difference being the omission in “Iuludh” of the last G in the GDG grip. Reference to his “Exercise on the 4th Table” however, where he illustrates the grip in the first bar by the notes GD only, proves he means GDG, as his figure “3″ refers to the number of the beat in the 4th Table itself which beat is distinctively given with the GDG grip. There could hardly be two separate beats with so fine a distinction between them as the omission of the last G in the GDG grip, although it might be said that many play the grip imperfectly to-day, sounding A instead of the last G.

The “Reprint” is very finally imposed and is a credit to the publishers. Orders for copies should be sent to Mr. Alexander MacDonald, Glencona, Inverness

A Musical Genius of the 18th Century

OT: 20 August 1927 – Malcolm MacInnes “Styles of Pibroch Tunes”

The Oban Times, 20 August, 1927

Styles of Pibroch Tunes

 Drumfearn, Skye, 16 August, 1927

Sir,–Mr. Angus Macpherson’s letter suggests indirectly the most crying need in the style of pibroch–the collecting of the styles of the master players. We have lost MacDougall Gillies, and with him a wealth of musical knowledge that was seldom given if ever possessed by one person. A further but less important step would be the selection by a committee of competent pipers of the styles considered best. The extreme difficulty of this task is shown at once by the single point mentioned by Mr. MacPherson–the relation of the variations to the ground. He insists on rigid uniformity. This ought certainly to be the general rule, and some exceptions seem needless, as in “Landed my King” and some seem totally bad as in the last bar of the first line of the doubling of the first variation of MacSwan of Ruag in the volume of the Piobaireachd Society where D and B change places in the first and second beats. But would Mr. MacPherson e.g. put E instead of D in the variations of the Finger Lock so as to follow the ground–BA: EA: BA: BA instead of BA: DA, etc.? Or would he reject the F in the variations of the “Lament for Glengarry” seeing that the F in the ground is a mere passing note? I think the test ought, within limits to be the sound and not conformity to the ground; but there is clearly a case for the appointment of a committee.–I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes

20 August 1927 – John Macrae-Gilstrap “The Clan Macrae Chiefship”

The Oban Times, 20 August, 1927

The Clan Macrae Chiefship

 Ballimore, Otter Ferry, Argyll, 12 August, 1927

Sir,–I observed a letter in your issue of 12 inst., signed “Iain Macrae” below the excellent letter, if I may say so, on the “Chief of the clan Macrae” by Rev. Alex. Macrae, Shephall Directory, which from a public point of view appears to leave very little to be said as, no doubt, the public will realise. There are certain statements, however, in your correspondent, “Iain Macrae’s” letter which appear to me to require contradiction.

Your correspondent is wrong where he says “the late Sir Colin G. Macrae did not ask the Lyon King to officially recognise him as Chief of the Clan MacRae.” The words used in the Petition are that his position

“as Chief of the Clan Macrae might be officially recognised by your Lordship.”

He certainly did so, with the result that after an exhaustive trial the Lyon King said:

“I should require clearer proof of the existence of a Chiefship than has been produced.”

It appears to me quite clear that your correspondent has apparently not read the Petition of Sir Colin George MacRae and the Lyon King’s judgment thereon, which was published in the “Oban Times” on the 1st of May, 1909. If he had, I can hardly think he would have taken the attitude which he does, as it would appear to me that no words could more clearly express the opinion of the Lyon King than the following quotation namely:–”

I should require clearer proof of the existence of a Chiefship than has been produced.”–I am, etc.,

John MacRae Gilstrap, Lieut. Colonel
President of the Clan MacRae Society.

OT: 13 August 1927 – Iain Macrae ["Chief of the Clan Macrae"]

The Oban Times, 13 August, 1927

[Chief of the Clan Macrae]


 Glasgow, 4 August, 1927

Sir,–In your issue of the 6th July, there appears a letter entitled Clan Macrae Association, in which your correspondent contradicts certain statements on the subject of the Unveiling Ceremony at Clachan Duich, Kintail, which appeared in your valuable paper of that date.

Your correspondent states that in 1909, after an exhaustive trial, the Lyon King dismissed the petition of the late Sir Colin G. MacRae, asking to be officially recognized as the Chief of the Clan MacRae. The late Sir Colin G. MacRae did no such thing.

(1) For the simple reason that the Lyon King never had the power to decide on the Chiefship of the Clan.

(2) What the late Sir Colin G. MacRae applied for was matriculation of the coat-of-arms with supporters as used by his ancestors.

The Lyon refused this petition on the grounds that the petitioner had failed to prove user of arms or supporters previous to the passing of the Act, 1672, Cap. 47. In the notes appended to his decision, the Lyon says–

“It is not a matter of pedigree which is primarily involved, still less is it one of the Chiefship of a clan with which this Court is concerned only so far as it might be the warrant for a matriculation of supporters, and… as he (the Petitioner) only asks for a matriculation of arms on the ground that his ancestors use them before 1672, and as I have found that he has not proved this, it does not appear to me that it is necessary for me to go into the question of Chiefship in detail.”

No words could more clearly express the purpose of the petition or the opinion of the Lyon that his decision was not on any question of Chiefship, as has been erroneously suggested. “To live in hearts they leave behind, is not to die.”–Yours, etc.,

Iain MacRae

OT: 13 August 1927 – Alexander Macrae “Chief of the Clan Macrae”

The Oban Times, 13 August, 1927

Chief of the Clan Macrae

 Shephall Directory, Stevenage, Herts., 6 August, 1927

Sir,–It is with no small reluctance that I return to the sordid controversy about the Chiefship of the clan Macrae, but I see that a memorial has recently been erected in Kintail to the late Sir Colin Macrae, who is described as the late Chief of the Clan Macrae.

With regard to this claim I should like to point out once more that it is as certain and has been as incontrovertibly proved as anything in history can be, that the Macrae’s never had, never claimed, and never served or acknowledged any other chief than Seaforth, whose clan they were in a very special sense.

Some years ago the Registry House in Edinburgh was searched by an expert for information about the Clan Macrae, but no reference was found to a Chief of that name. If there ever had been such a Chiefship how is it that it is the only Highland Chiefship of which no documentary evidence is anywhere to be found.

There is no evidence to show that the Inverinate family ever owned a single acre of land in Kintail. Such lands as they occupied they held like other members of their Clan from their Chief the Earl of Seaforth, and so far as I could ever learn there is not even a local tradition that any member of that family ever acted as Chief of his own or of any other Clan.

The Inverinate claim was investigated by the ablest lawyers in the court of the Lyon King, but not a scrap of evidence was produced in support of it. This was nineteen years ago, but no evidence of a Macrae Chiefship has yet been discovered, yet one documentary mention of such a Chiefship before the office of Highland Chief was abolished in 1747, might possibly be quite sufficient to establish this claim.

The present claimant has recently recorded arms in the Lyon Register. If he is a Chief or the lineal heir of a Chief, why has he not received the arms of the Chief?

The tradition of an Inverinate Chiefship appears to have been invented by a member of that family, who joined the Highland Society of London half a century after the Highland Chiefships were abolished by Act of Parliament. This was at a time when there was a great deal of irrelevant talk about Chiefships by men who had very erroneous ideas of Highland history. There are several ridiculous claims to Chiefships among Highlanders, but so far as I know these claims are usually to Chiefships the historic genuineness of which is not in question. The present case is the only one I know of in which a tradition of Chiefship had to be invented in order to form the basis of the claim.

There is a well-known MS. history of the Macrae’s, written by one member of the Inverinate family and continued by another, but that history contains no reference to a Macrae Chief. Seaforth is always the Chief and master whom these historians are proud to acknowledge and to serve. In this they showed more zeal for the honour and importance of their Clan than the present representatives of the family, who would make the Macrae’s the Clan(which can only mean the servitors) of a tenant farmer or at most a wadsetter, for that is what the heads of the Inverinate family really were. I therefore beg leave to protest as strongly as I can against all ill-advise and ignorant efforts to deny to my Clan the honour of the Chiefship of the great historic Earls of Seaforth, and I claim and expect the support of all the Macrae’s who are proud of their Clan and sufficiently intelligent to understand something of its true history.

To disparage the present claimant or any of his family is very far from being my desire. There is no way in which I should not rejoice to see them honoured, but I am not prepared to accept any tortuous reading of history that would seek to deprive us of our proud and undeniable Clan heritage of the Seaforth Chiefship.

I have asked the protagonists of the Inverinate claims over and over again, these last twenty years, to explain the points which I now raise, and to give direct answers to the questions I ask, but they have so far made no attempt to do so. “Let them therefore now speak, or else forever hereafter hold their peace.”–I am, etc.,

Alexander Macrae

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