OT: 10 March 1934 – A. MacPherson “The Music of the MacCrimmons”

The Oban Times, 10 March, 1934

The Music of the MacCrimmons

 Inveran Hotel, Invershin, Sutherland, 3 March, 1934

Sir,–it is quite evident that your correspondent Mr. Cameron and I are so divergent in our views with regard to piobaireachd that, even with a valuable aid of your esteemed columns, I fear it is quite hopeless for me to endeavour to impress the fact upon Mr. Cameron that we do owe more to the school of tradition and to any other source, and this is not confined to music alone.

In support of his case, Mr. Cameron gives the names of two pupils of the Donald Cameron school; it is, however, a fact that in this country we have other men still going strong who claimed to have been taught by sons of Donald Cameron, and who make the different movements in piobaireachd exactly the same as they were taught to me. Surely, then, Donald Cameron did not teach his own sons anything different from what he himself played.

With reference to the Bruce school, Mr. Cameron says they played from the “original vocables.” Yes! in other words, from the spoken word or traditional teaching; and they handed it down in like manner, and to one–my grandfather–a relation of John Bruce of Skye, one of the last of the Boreraig school; for five generations this link remains unbroken, as does also the style imparted.

I am quite satisfied that, as did the great majority of the best pipers of the past play according to tradition, so do those of the present generation, and so will those who come after, and that they neither had nor will have anything to do with any redundancy, however well flattered and noted by Mr. Cameron or those who think with him.

I am, etc.,

A. MacPherson

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

The Oban Times, 6 January, 1934

[The Music of the MacCrimmons]

 Ostaig, Skye, 20 December, 1933

Sir,–I welcome every support for the proposal that all available records of music be collected and published; but clearly Mr. Cameron’s object is not the same as mine. Pipers will certainly be glad to see his contribution, though it appears to be merely his own style of chanting tunes that are in staff already, and tunes that he or his teacher probably learned from a published book. The Piobaireachd Society ought to publish all possessed by them; they would get willing subscribers.

A recent correspondent asked for information about a Macdougall mentioned in A. Mackay’s MS. If this MS were published, his chances of a reply would be greater. The position suggests that the Piobaireachd Society ought to be compelled to publish. My motive is to trace the evolution of the structure of the Ceol Mor, though I fear that little evolution has taken place since our first record of it–D. MacDonald’s book. Another reason is the question of name and authorship of tunes.

I have already referred to the “Lament the Children,” attributed to a MacCrimmon who lost his sons. Is it not strange that this tune is not in Gesto, which was collected from the MacCrimmons? I consider it improbable that a father who had lost seven sons would have composed an intricate pibroch about it. I also consider that the same man composed the “Children” and the “Lament for Lady MacDonald,” attributed to MacArthur: they are practically the same.

I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes

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

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