OT: 28 August 1937 – North Argyll “The Status of Pipe-Major”

The Oban Times, 28 August, 1937

The Status of Pipe-Major


 16 August, 1937

Sir,–Highlanders in general and all admirers of our military pipe bands must deprecate the Secretary of State for War’s action regarding the granting of Warrant Rank to Pipe-Majors in the Army.

His reasoning can be termed illogical as the Pipe-major of a band is undoubtedly a Bandmaster, and military Bandmasters can qualify for Warrant Rank why should the Pipe-Major not enjoy the same privilege? The pipe band is a great inspiration to a Regiment, more so on the battlefield that [sic] the brass band, and its leader, the Pipe-Major, exposes himself to danger far more that [sic] the bandmaster.

The position calls for men of ability, but if military red-tape persists in making the distinction of “flesh of one and fish of the other,” as it happened to be doing regarding Pipe-Majors and Bandmasters, it stands to reason that pipe bands will work under a grievance. And when any person has a well-founded grievance can he give of his best? “The poet is born, not made,” and what applies to him, applies to a large extent to the Pipe-Major. The natural ability must be there, and any action which acts as a deterrent to the furtherance of this ability is wrong.

I am, etc.,

North Argyll

OT: 29 August 1903 – A.M. “The Passing of the Piobaireachd – Part I”

The Oban Times, 29 August, 1903

The Passing of the Piobaireachd
By “A. M.”
Part I.

 Optimism is not perhaps a word to be used in connection with the Highlands or anything Highland to-day. One after another the old families are giving place to the English merchant. The old customs are fading, the old language is dying, while year-by-year the colonies and the Lowland towns reap their Highland harvest and leave the empty land emptier still.

But if the spirit of optimism reveals itself in all, it is with regard to the pipes, once regarded as the peculiar possession of the Highlands, and now claimed by all Scotland as her national instrument. Never, men say, was piping at such a high level as it is to-day. Never were so many fine players alive at one time. Never were the pipes so popular, or so thoroughly appreciated.

At first sight this would seem to be the case. Very probably there never was a time when so many individuals blew into a bag or fingered a chanter. Very probably the audience, which stamps and whistles in the gallery at a Glasgow evening concert, is the most demonstrative that has ever assembled to listen to the pipes. Certainly there are more stands of bagpipes in existence to-day than there ever were. Besides twelve battalions of Highland regiments, eight of Scottish regiments, and three of Scots Guards, all averaging at least seven or eight pipers each, there are about twenty militia battalions, and some forty or fifty volunteer battalions, in addition to several industrial schools, training institutes, and boys’ brigades, all of whom possess

Bands of Pipers.

In India, too, and Egypt, many native regiments have pipers, while the number of local pipe bands in the towns and villages is rapidly multiplying, both in the Highlands and Lowlands, as well as in South Africa, Canada, Australia, and the other colonies.

But what of the players, and what do they play? Is the piping of this heterogeneous aggregate of performers such as would have found favour with the men who fought at Inverlochy, or even Culloden? Would they have shouted applause at the local pipe and drum band strutting through the streets of the Lowland town, and rendering some composition by the gifted pipe-major to celebrate the band’s welcome to, or return from, some place? No! Give them the old piper at home on the brae above the sea, playing “Scarce of Fishing.”

The classical music of the pipes is the piobaireachd. This will be admitted by all, perhaps even by those who organise competitions for the championship of Glasgow, and leave out the piobaireachd, in order to give time for semi-amateur strathspeys or reels, and exhibitions of children’s dancing. It follows then that no one can be called a piper in the true sense of the word, unless he possesses a master’s knowledge of piobaireachd music–that is to say, of the classical music of the instrument he professes to play. This being granted, the question may now be asked–has piping advanced during the last three hundred years or not? The answer is–no! To-day there are thousands of players on the pipes, but of true pipers, how many? The present writer knows of six, who are perhaps worthy of the name. There are probably not more than ten in the whole world. Three hundred years ago ten as good, if not better, could have been mustered

In Skye Alone.

Not that there may not be just now in Scotland twenty or even thirty players, each of whom can render eight or ten piobaireachds in good enough form to win the gold medal at Oban or Inverness with any one of them. This does not make him a master of his craft. More than this is wanted.

The decadence of the piobaireachd is strikingly apparent to anybody who attends three or four Highland games in the summer, and that listens carefully to half a dozen of the leading pipers of the day competing for the piobaireachd prize. That he will hear fine playing is unquestionable. For sheer brilliancy and accuracy of execution, and (in one or two cases) scholarly interpretation of the music, the exhibition will be all that could possibly be desired. What is depressing, however, is to hear the same old round of six or seven tunes played time after time, day after day. “The Glen Is Mine,” “The Massacre of Glencoe,” “I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand,” “Pibroch of Donald Dubh,” “Donald Dugald MacKay,” “Moladh Mhairi,” and “Glengarry’s Lament,” are most frequently heard. There are a few more, which are not played quite so often–” The Blue Ribbon,” “Mackay’s Banner,” “Seaforth’s Salute,” “Too Long in This Condition,” “Clan Chattan’s Gathering,” “Lament for the Only Son,” “The Battle of Waternish,” “McCruimen’s Sweetheart,” and “Chisholm’s Salute.” These are all very beautiful tunes known., but do they represent all the piobaireachd music which has been composed for the pipes? As far as the general public is concerned, and pipers who are not members were pupils of the old piping families, it is a melancholy fact that they do. There can be only one reason for this, namely, the utter lack of interest in and proper

Appreciation of Piobaireachd

prevailing among the Highlanders of the present day. This is why the judging of piobaireachd playing at many of the games is so scandalously bad as to discourage pipers from making any effort to improve themselves as masters of piobaireachd music. This is why no attempt is being made to preserve and record the many fine old tunes which still exist, but which will be lost ere long.

Three or four years ago a small book appeared called “Ceol Mor.” It was published by Major-General Thomason, R.E., and it contained some two hundred and seventy-five piobaireachds, the result of many years’ collection by the publisher. It might have been expected that this book would have been hailed with delight by pipers, clan associations, Highland antiquarians, and Celtic societies all over the world. On the contrary, it was accorded a remarkably chilly reception. All seemed to take their cue from the so-called leading pipers of the day, most of whom condemned the book without seeing it, or just glanced at it, and turned away, saying that it was pure nonsense. Some even said that the tunes Were mostly general Thomason’s own composition, and that he had simply brought out the book in order to demonstrate his own cleverness in inventing a form of notation which no one could read. It possibly never occurred to these gentlemen that these who hold the rank of general in the scientific corps of the Army possess as a rule mental qualities somewhat above those of the average professional piper. They might be excused ignorance of the distinguished services which General Thomason and his family have rendered to their country in fields where intellect is a sine qua non. But this, at least, they should know, that any educated man, whoever he is, who has made a life study of any subject, no matter what it may be, is entitled to be listened to with spec and attention on that subject. The present writer holds no brief for General Thomason, or for his methods, but maintains that he is at least entitled to

A Fair Hearing,

and that he has not hitherto received it. Had this book been taken up when it appeared, had its contents been carefully examined and intelligently criticised, the piobaireachd question would not have reached its present deplorable condition.

The welcome accorded to General Thomason’s book might well deter anybody from attempting a similar venture, and it has done so. The late Peter Henderson, of Glasgow, assured the writer once that the last thing he would ever think of doing would be to publish a book of piobaireachd music, as he would only lose money by so doing. No one appears willing to sacrifice money or anything else in order to prevent the music, which alone can make the pipes sound like the pipes, from being buried in the depths of oblivion. One bright instance, however, should be mentioned, that of the Clan MacLean Society, who not long ago took the trouble to collect and publish their clan music, including several hitherto little known piobaireachd. This was a most praiseworthy undertaking, the more so as it was a strong hint to other societies to go and do likewise, which hints, sad to say, has not been acted upon.

(To Be Continued.)

OT: 2 February 1935 – [unsigned] “Prince of Wales as Composer” [Review]

The Oban Times, 2 February, 1935

Prince of Wales as Composer
Slow March For Scots Guards
Pipe-Majors’ Verdicts on Royal Tune

 The Prince of Wales has composed a slow march for the bagpipes entitled “Mallorca,” and has presented the original score, written in his own hand, to the Scots Guards.

The pipe bands of both battalions are at present practising the music under the direction of Pipe-Majors Alexander MacDonald and J. B. Robertson, and it is expected that it will be used exclusively at the changing of the guard ceremonies in Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace, being particularly suitable for that purpose.

The tune was heard for the first time in public on Friday night at the London Burns Club dinner at Grosvenor House. It was played as a surprise item by Pipe-Major D. Taylor of the Royal Caledonian Schools, Bushey, and was loudly cheered by the many experts present. Pipe-Major Taylor said afterwards: “The Prince has written a very fine march with a beautiful melody. It will be very popular.”

 Learned Piping at School

The Prince of Wales has always been fond of pipe music, and is president of the Scottish Piper’s Society. When he was at Eton he received instruction in the playing of this difficult instrument from Pipe-Major William Ross of the 2nd Scots Guards, and later when he was at Oxford he was in the habit of practising with his former tutor once or twice a week. The Prince of Wales often played the music of the bagpipes for the reels at any of the dances which were held in his college. Pipe-Major Ross speaks of him as a very apt pupil who took a keen interest in his playing.

 The Prince of Wales again started practicing the pipes a few months ago under the tuition of Pipe-Major Henry Forsyth, piper to the King. He has also interested himself in the history and technique of pipe music, and as a result decided to try his hand at composing. His first attempt, “Mallorca,” was so good that the Prince of Wales decided to offer it to the Scots Guards, who have received it with enthusiasm.

A Rare Tune”

“A rare tune” was the comment of Pipe-Major MacDonald when speaking of the music. “The Prince has obviously spent a great deal of time and trouble over it, and has produced a really fine piece of pipe music–and pipe music is not easy to write.”

Pipe-Major Robertson, who is in charge of the band at Wellington Barracks, was equally enthusiastic. “The tune has been included in our regular repertoire,” he said, “and we shall probably play it at the various ceremonies.”

OT: 17 November 1934 – Donald MacIntosh “Pipes and Drums”

The Oban Times, 17 November, 1934

Pipes and Drums

Glasgow, 7 November, 1934

Sir,–It is evident that the correspondence anent “Pipes and Drums,” which you have been good enough to publish, is arousing considerable notice among those interested in the advancement and progress of pipe bands.

The position of the Scottish Pipe Band Association is that the annual general meeting decides matters of policy and rules. The question of “time judging” was very fully discussed by the annual general meeting of 1934, and it was decided by a large majority that the piping judge should continue to judge “time.” One would naturally conclude that the bands are in the best position to come to a final decision on such a matter, and that if the position were satisfactory to the bands there need to be no further argument.

Apparently, however, some of your correspondents desire to learn the reasons which caused the bands to vote in favour of the “time” being judged by the “piping judge.” To begin with, everyone agreed that “time” is dictated by the drummers, but it does not follow that the drum judge is on that account the most suitable judge of time. Drumming is an accompaniment to the pipe tune, and the real purpose of “time” marks is to determine the merits of the speed at which the Pipe Tune is being played. The drum judge is less acquainted with the pipe tune than the pipe judge, hence the reason why the bands believe him to be less qualified to act as “time judge.”

The other points brought up by your correspondents I will deal with individually.

“Caber Feidh” is dogmatic about time, but is he (himself) prepared to play a march, strathspey and reel in open competition, and leave the judging of the “time” to the Drum-Major? He is quite at sea regarding the test piece question. The Scottish Pipe Band Association rejects the idea of a test piece for their own championship contests, but made no pronouncement for “test pieces” (either drum or pipe) for any other contests.

“Drum-Major Seton” says if the drum judge awarded every band the full quota of marks, the pipe judges are in a position to place every band in the contest, and as a result of this wisecrack he says, “Is this Scottish Pipe Band Association justice?” The obvious answer is that judges are appointed to judge and mark bands according to merit, and any judge who gave every band the possible number of points would be failing in his duty, and would be guilty of gross betrayal of trust. Did it ever strike the genial Drum-Major to reverse his query, and alter the position of the drum and pipe judge? The championship contests held at Sterling and Renfrew in 1933 were judged with one pipe judge undercover, and the same contests in 1934 were judged with all drum and pipe judges also undercover. So far as I know, no objections were raised by the bands to this innovation.

“Craigellachie” will not get many to agree with him regarding the stagnation in the drum sections. It is beyond doubt that pipe bands in general have improved tremendously since the war, and the improvement is much more pronounced in the drum than in the pipe section. At no time has there been such intimate collaboration between the two sections, and in particular between the Pipe-Major and his leading drummers. It is not so long ago since any two-four beating was considered suitable for any two-four tune, but at present nearly every band has a special beating for each tune, and this is as it should be. Cases of a good general performance being wrecked by over-dominance of drumming are so extremely rare as to be almost negligible.

“An Ribean Gorm” need not lose any sleep over the pert questions which he is anticipating. The success of under-cover judging will be one of the subjects to be discussed at the next annual general meeting of the Scottish Pipe Band Association, and “An Ribean Gorm” should see that the views of his band are thoroughly represented there. The pipe judge is allocated ten points for time, and presumably he would make deductions therefrom in respect of time which did not meet with his approval. This correspondent falls into the error of most of your correspondents regarding the drum and pipe sections as being distinct and separate units, when he writes of the penalty on the pipers of bad time by the bass drummer. The judge does not penalise the pipe section–he penalises the band, and this phase of the question cannot be too highly stressed.

There has been so much loose writing of drumming faults that I have looked up the results of past contests in order to find whether the condemnation was justified by the actual results. I am enclosing a statement showing the results of the most recent Grade I contest judged by each of the panel judges in order to make my point clear.

Possible points. 100.


  1st 2nd   3rd 4th
Dunoon 97 96   95 93
Inverkeithing 92 91   91 88
Renfrew 89 85   84 80
Crieff 89 98   95 94
Renfrew 92 89   88 88
Glasgow Police Sports 92 90   82 80
Inverkeithing 95 93   90 90
Dunoon 97 96   96 95

Each of these contests was judged by different judges, and the table shows the opinions of the whole panel of judges regarding the standard of drumming of the four highest placed bands. In my opinion, the figures show a very high standard of efficiency, and they provide a definite contradiction to the present critics. As a matter of fact the figures speak so eloquently for themselves that it is needless for me to add anything further respecting this aspect of the discussion.

I am, etc.,

Donald MacIntosh, Secretary,
The Scottish Pipe Band Association

OT: 6 August 1927 – Another of the Clan MacRae Society “Clan MacRae Association”

The Oban Times, 6 August, 1927

Clan MacRae Association
 Inverness, 30 July, 1927

Sir,–The writer has observed a report on the subject of the unveiling ceremony at Clachan Duich, Kintail. What occurs to the reader is that apparently there are two points to consider in regard to this “auspicious occasion” in Kintail.

First of all it occurs to the writer 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, and stated, “All that need now be asked would be a new grant of such, but to enable me to make this I should require clearer proof of the existence of a Chiefship then has been produced.” No further evidence, so far as the writer knows, has been produced to show that the late Sir Colin G. MacRae was entitled to call himself Chief of the Clan MacRae. Furthermore, the Rev. John Anthony MacRae, Sir Colin G. MacRae’s son, has recorded Arms in the Lyon Register and in this grant of Arms there is no reference made to the Chiefship of the Clan MacRae.

The second point is, that it appears to the writer extraordinary that a Minister of the Church of Scotland should put himself in a ridiculous position by trying to assume a position to which apparently neither he is nor his father was entitled, according to the Court of Law which tried the case. In the ruins of the old Church of Kintail there is no certainty whatever that any member of the Inverinate family was ever interred inside these ruins.

About twenty or thirty years ago the writer believes a small piece of ground was railed off and a tablet put up on the wall of the Church intimating that the Chiefs of the Clan MacRae lie buried here. There is no certainty that these “bogus” Chiefs were interred there, any more than the antecedents of a dozen other families whose tombstones indicate that they are buried inside the ruins of this church.

Can any of your readers say for certain where Mr. Farquhar MacRae, the last of the Inverinate family, according to the history of the Clan, who resided in Kintail and died in 1789, was buried?

One would have thought “that if it was necessary to unveil a memorial to this gentleman (the late Sir Colin G. MacRae), it would have been more appropriate if it had been performed in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh,” where the writer understands the late Sir Colin G. MacRae and his forebears since the days of Mr. Farquhar MacRae, who died in 1789, are buried.–Yours, etc.,

Another of the Clan MacRae Society

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