OT: 6 January 1934 – Feadan ["The Music of the MacCrimmons"]

The Oban Times, 6 January, 1934

[The Music of the MacCrimmons]

 16 December, 1933

Sir,–The letters in your issues of 25th of November and 2nd December, the first from Mr. A.K. Cameron; the second for Mr. A. McPherson, are interesting.

Mr. Cameron apparently suggests that the music of the composers should be published in both staff notation and canntaireachd “in its original form–free from mutilations and corrections.” Perhaps Mr. Cameron is unaware that much of the MacCrimmon music has reached us in a mutilated condition, both in staff and canntaireachd (especially some of the tunes in Gesto’s pamphlet), and how much music can be published free from mutilations and corrections seems a puzzle.

He suggests that much of the music as played to-day is a disgrace, not to the MacCrimmons, but to the players. While this may be true in some cases, even with some gold medallists, it should be realised there are in this country quite a few really good players, whose rendering is almost all that can be desired. At the same time it must be admitted many good players play mutilated versions, not knowing or realising they are mutilated! For this, perhaps, some blame may attach to the Piobaireachd Society, for they themselves published mutilated versions, perhaps not knowing they were mutilated. This Society could really do much for the music, but, perhaps, more by publishing the second volumes of MacDonald and Mackay than by publishing unknown tunes, some of them of little value.

Mr. Macpherson seems under some misapprehension regarding Mr. Cameron’s letter, as Mr. Cameron writes from Montana, U. S. A., and not from Australia. His references to Australia, therefore, seem beside the mark. Pipers, as a rule, are not given to much investigation of the music they play. They are inclined to accept what is told or taught them without thought or question, and this accounts for mutilation being passed down unquestioned.

It would be interesting if Mr. Cameron or Mr. Macpherson were to give us in canntaireachd or staff the first line of the “Lament for Rory Mor” (1626) free from the mutilation shown in Mackay; or free from the correction in the Society’s version. The Society’s correction is certainly better than the mutilation in Mackay, but is it likely to be correct, and, if so, why? The words of the lament are, of course, no guide, for they must have been composed long after the time itself.

I am, etc.,


OT: 6 January 1934 – A. Mackay “The Music of the MacCrimmons”

The Oban Times, 6 January, 1934

The Music of the MacCrimmons

 R.M.S. “Edinburgh Castle,” Union Castle Line, 16 December, 1933

Sir,– Amongst the correspondence which came on board at Southampton, I had a copy of the Oban Times 25th November, in which I noticed a letter from your correspondent, Mr. Cameron, Montana, in support of a previous letter from Mr. MacInnes on the above subject.

After reading these letters I must say, even at the risk of being thought obtuse, that I fail to see what these gentlemen are aiming at. Is the object to gather all the known tunes of the famous composers into one volume for the sake of convenience, or is the intention–as one would gather from Mr. MacInnes’s letter–to publish supposedly more correct versions of the tunes? If the former, I am afraid that, from a business point of view, it would not pay. If the latter, who is to be the judge of correctness?

Mr. Cameron says there are two hundred MacCrimmon tunes in canntaireachd still to be translated into staff notation. I would like to think that there were. It would add some zest to life if some entirely new compositions were to be found, but I am afraid not. Practically all the tunes in Gesto’s canntaireachd are known. The same applies to Campbell’s canntaireachd. There are some who invest canntaireachd with mysterious properties and regard it as a key to all sorts of ancient musical mysteries, but it is safe to say that most of the mystery is in their own imagination. As a universal system it never existed. Each man was a law unto himself and invented his own mode. It was useful in the absence of something better for jotting down tunes.

Mr. Cameron makes mention of an aged piper who is the only one living who understands all about canntaireachd in relation to modern notation, but while this old gentleman’s ideas would be most interesting to all lovers of the old music, we are fortunately not dependent upon any living authority alone, most of the tunes extant being straight from the fountain-head and not in any mysterious obscure form but in modern notation.

John Mackay, piper to MacLeod of Raasay, was acknowledged to be the best piobaireachd exponent of his day. He was taught by a MacCrimmon, and his illustrious son Angus–a genius in that line–wrote down all his father’s tunes from his playing, in staff notation. They are there to-day for all to see, in plain notes, free from obscurity. What more can any reasonable man one, or what further proof of their authenticity and correctness?

I am, etc.,

A. Mackay

OT: 6 January 1934 – A.K. Cameron “Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 6 January, 1934


 Cohagan, Montana, U. S. A., 21 December, 1933

Sir,–Allow me to inform your correspondent, Mr. Malcolm MacInnes, regarding his letter of 18th August, that there has been no development in the construction of Piobaireachd tunes since Padruig Mor and Padruig Og’s time. After their time the construction of pibroch tunes of merit became a lost art outside the family circle. Iain Odhar, Donald Mor, Padruig Mor, and Padruig Og were the greatest composers and it was during their time that one of these reached the zenith, perhaps it was Padruig Mor?

Every piper they taught started out on his own, and altered many of their tunes, hence “The Piob” tune “The Lament for the Great Music.” Charles MacArthur and Alexander Bruce were the only pipers that played the pibroch as they were taught by the MacCrimmons. We must remember that the same petty jealousies among pipers to-day existed in their time, and due to this we inherited over 300 jigsaw puzzles instead of pibroch tunes.

Regarding the “Lament for the Children,” Charles MacArthur had a different setting–not in any book. If Mr. MacInnes will compare the “Salute at the Birth of Rory Mor,” with this tune, he will see that it is a contrapuntal duplicate, that is, the notes are raised or lowered by thirds and fifths, and so on. This method formed new phrases, hence the “Salute.”

The “Red Hand” is a contrapuntal duplicate of “MacGregor’s Salute,” composed by Padruig Og. Some time afterwards Padruig Og said he could compose a tune along the same line as his father’s, and yet be different, hence the “Red Hand.” The “Red Hand” is a jigsaw puzzle in A. Mackay’s book, and cannot be compared to Padruig Og’s method.

Regarding “MacCrimmons Lament,” tradition says the words were tacked onto the notes of second variation and not to the notes of the theme. Anyway, the theme is not as composed in any book. Perhaps that is why your correspondent cannot get the words to hitch with the notes. This method was also used in “Macintosh’s Lament,” composed by Iain Odhar, i.e., words hitched onto the notes of first variation instead of to theme notes.

The original metre is 8, 8. in Sheantaireachd notation. The “High A note” does not exist in the original notation for this tune. It is my judgment that pibroch will never be popular until the phrases in “Macintosh’s Lament,” and in many other tunes, are rearranged, and the original tunes restored. Moreover, superfluous phrases and variations should be omitted. The omitted note in the beats should be restored so as to preserve the true rhythm of beats and phrases, as well as the rhythm of every tune.

When we compare the notation in the Lorn MS., in D. MacDonald’s MS., and in A. Mackay’s MS. with the notation of the MacCrimmons, we can easily see that their version of the tunes is nothing more than a mutilated form of the original tunes, i.e., phrases arranged in a different manner and new phrases added on, metre altered, new variations tacked on, and the original variations altered. In fact, MacCrimmons method was omitted, and that of Mackay and others preserved. To-day MacCrimmon and Mackay’s methods are omitted, due to the fact that we have a scientific form of pibroch that is neither rhythmical nor musical.

I am, etc.,

A.K. Cameron

OT: 19 October 1929 – The Pibrochs of MacCrimmon and Others (Review of Ross Collection)

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.

New Version

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-

OT: 24 August 1929 – J.C. “Pipe Music Terminology”

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.

J. C.

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