OT: 19 September 1903 – A.M. “The Passing of the Piobaireachd – Part IV”

The Oban Times, 19 September, 1903

The Passing of the Piobaireachd
By “A. M.”
Part IV.–(Conclusion.)

 But enough of lamentation. The piobaireachd has traveled far down the road to oblivion. But it is not too late to turn. The remedy has been alluded to before. There is only one, and the Highlander must apply it himself. It is real earnest study of every piobaireachd he hears. Let him be sure that it has a story to tell him, and that the story is comprehensible by any child of the heather and the mist who opens his ears to hear it. If once we get so far, the rest will follow. Piping will retrace its steps and reach the upper air once more, difficult though it may seem.

But what will follow; what must follow? In the first place the old tunes

Must Be Rescued

and put where they can be heard and appreciated. Mention has already been made of the despicable poverty of a modern piper’s repertoire. He knows ten, or perhaps twenty, or possibly thirty piobaireachd. Probably these are all that he has ever heard played. Yet there must be three hundred or more still in existence somewhere. But where are they? Hoarded and guarded with more care than ever miser cherished his store of gold. Written, or unwritten, they are there, noted in old books, scrawled on stray fragments of paper, or engraved on the memory of some old-time piper. They are there to-day. To-morrow they will be gone. The old piper will be dead, and at the emptying and garnishing of his house his books and scraps of papers will be swept out with the rubbish, while that which was in his mind will be buried with him in the grave. Let the Highlander look to it, lest his grandchildren and great-grandchildren curse him as we would fain curse our forefathers, for suffering to be lost what is already lost beyond recall.

Another matter, too, would right itself when once a proper spirit of interest is aroused. This is the judging at the games, to which passing references have been made before. And it will be generally admitted, that, as far as piobaireachd competitions are concerned, the judging nowadays leaves much to be desired. It would not be a hard matter to quote concrete instances, but this would serve no useful purpose, since no one is likely to come forward and claim that the judging of piobaireachd at any but the big games is

Conspicuous For Its Efficiency.

Reform is badly wanted, but there can be no reform until a sufficiency of dependable judges is available–men with some knowledge of what they profess to judge, who will give an honest decision in strict accordance with their own conscience. As far as marches, strathspeys, and reels are concerned, there is no feature of modern piping so pleasant to contemplate as the growth of the amateur player. Let it be said at once that by amateur is not meant the resplendent individual, whom one meets bowing under the weight of metal trophies won at third-rate city competitions. The term is used in its literal sense of one who plays through sheer love of playing. It is too much to hope that our present day amateur pipers, many of whom are the happy possessors of wealth, position, and influence, having proved themselves capable exponents of Ceol Beag, will now direct their ambition into a nobler channel, and set themselves the task of acquiring a thorough technical knowledge of the real music of the piob mor? They are the men to whom we must look to start the work of reform, to stir up a desire for knowledge among their fellow-Highlanders, and to make some organised effort to rescue and preserve the old tunes. They-too-must be our future judges, and, once they are equipped with proper knowledge, no piper could desire better.

When every existing piobaireachd has been placed within his reach, and he has been assured fair treatment when competing for prizes, the professional piper may be trusted to make himself, what at present he is very far from being, a master of Ceol Mor, the big music of the pipes. And then once more the piper’s sole claim to fame will rest upon his piobaireachd playing, and should there be a question of

Omitting Items

from competitions through lack of time, those to disappear will be the Highland fling for juveniles, or the semi-amateur marches for the chief’s silver-centered medal, and a Highland audience will listen unwearied to the piobaireachd, which the present fashion condemns as tedious.

But there is no time to waste. Men are dying, tunes are perishing, knowledge is waning. There are four pipers alive in Scotland to-day, and should they all, by some evil chance, die to-morrow, piobaireachd playing would receive a blow which might kill it outright, so slender is the thread which links our degenerate era with the golden days of past years.

To sum up the substance of these articles, the writers purpose has been not to prove, for no proof is needed, but to draw attention to, the barbarous apathy with which our present generation trees the subject of music. He has reminded the reader how few are ever heard nowadays, and how pipers play piobaireachd solely in order to win prizes in competitions, judge frequently by men without the slightest elementary knowledge of the subject. He has tried to show that the fault lies, not with the present-day professional piper, but with those on whose patronage the piper is dependent for his daily bread. He has noticed a few spasmodic attempts which have been made to better the situation, attempts which have been plentifully drenched with cold water. He suggested certain ways in which interest in the piobaireachd may be rekindled, and he has sketched some slight

Plan of Campaign

to be followed once such interest is aroused. He has, nevertheless, insisted throughout that the only remedy rests with the Highlander himself. The writer has, perhaps, put his case rather strongly, but he has done so because he is firmly convinced of the necessity for so doing. It is high time for someone to speak plainly on the piobaireachd question, even at the risk of wounding other people’s feelings. And all that is hoped for is that some reader of this paper, which circulates among Highlanders in every quarter of the globe, will be induced to think over the matter, and to consider what he personally can do to save Ceol Mor. “Prepare, Sunart, for Ardnamurchan has gone to wreck!” and if the piobaireachd dies, then dies also the spirit of the Scottish Gael.

OT: 2 February 1935 – John MacKay “Reminiscences of a Long Life”

The Oban Times, 2 February 1935

 Reminiscences of a Long Life
by John MacKay

Through the courtesy of Mr. George J. Campbell, Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of the Piobaireachd Society, we were enabled to publish in last week’s Oban Times a letter from Judge Calder of the County Court, Caribou, British Columbia, dealing with Iain Dall, the friend and pupil of Patrick Og MacCrimmon, and also two pictures of Iain Dall’s chanter.

The following contribution is a copy of an article sent by Judge Calder to Mr. Campbell, giving interesting details of the Gairloch MacKays, a family famous in the annals of piping. The article is written by a member of the family.

 The Narrative

My forefathers on my father’s side were originally (I believe) from Lord Reay’s country, the most northerly parts of the mainland of Scotland; and those on the mother’s side from Kintail. My mother was a MacRae, and traced connection through some second or third cousin with Sir Roderick Murchison, the eminent geologist and president of the Royal Society of Great Britain. A grand ancestor of that gentleman was at one time Episcopal minister of Kintail, and my mother was also a descendent, by her mother, of the same Episcopal clergyman–his name was Murchison.

My father, grand-father, and a great-grand-father were successively pipers to the Lairds of Gairloch, and as such held free lands under successive Lairds. My great-grand-father was blind, and was known far and near under the name of “Piobar Dall,” that is “The Blind Piper.”

He was a poet as well as a piper, and some of his pieces are published in almost all collections of Gaelic songs, especially in MacKenzie’s collection, published in Glasgow in 1841, in which work there is also a short sketch of “The Blind Piper’s” life. The celebrated Gaelic poet “William Ross” was this blind man’s grandson by a daughter; and thus William Ross and my father were first cousins. I have no recollection of seeing William Ross, for he died quite a young man; but I remember seeing his father, John Ross, often at our house.

 A Good Scholar

My grand-father, Angus MacKay, was, I believe, a good scholar–a rare thing in the Highlands in those days. When a young man he traveled a good deal with the young Laird, Sir Alexander MacKenzie, and they were on the closest intimacy during the rest of their lives. They both died comparatively young: the Laird first, my grandfather attending him on his death-bed. My grand-father, Angus MacKay, left two children, my father and a sister. Of my grandmother on my father’s side I do not know much: only that she was a Fraser, and was aunt to MacKenzie of Baddachro. Baddachro and my father were thus first cousins, and the late Donald and Murdoch Fraser, Robertson’s Lake, were relations of my father on the same side.

Both my father and his sister had some education. My father was some time at Thurso, Caithness-shire, and was also at Inverary, Argyllshire, at school. He must have understood the English language well, for he was the best (extempore) translator of English into Gaelic that I ever heard attempt it.

My father, besides being the recognised and paid piper of the Gairloch family, was also gamekeeper, and had charge of the woods and forests on the Estate; and as a matter of course this threw him into the company of the Lairds and of all strangers that might get permission to hunt on the Estate; and this introduced him to the best company in the place, strangers or otherwise.

This short sketch of the history of my forefathers will show that although not wealthy, they were respectable, and held a good position in the country of their nativity, and enjoyed advantages not attained by many in those days in the Highlands of Scotland. And far better than all this, I have good reason to believe they were God-fearing people, my grand-father, Angus MacKay, eminently so.

When Sir Alexander MacKenzie lay on his death-bed, his early friend, Angus MacKay, was scarcely ever from his side, praying with him and for him, and counseling and instructing him in the things of the coming world. The dying man often declared that he found more comfort in the prospect of death from the conversation and counsel of Angus MacKay than from any other human source whatever.

With respect to my own father, I can testify that he was verily a painstaking man. There was a large family: ten girls and two boys–besides generally a servant man. We were some ten miles from the nearest Church: very few could go and very few did go. I have no recollection of seeing a Minister in our house for the purpose of catechising. There were about ten families in the village, and my father kept worship and reading every Sabbath day for all the villagers. Some understood English but himself, and there were no Gaelic books in those days. Even the Bible could not be got in Gaelic. My father translated from the Bible, and from Boston, Baxter and Dyer, and then after the reading was over and the villagers dismissed the family exercises would commence. He was very exacting upon his children in these exercises, and insisted on the strictest compliance with all his requirements in the matter of our tasks and lessons.

My father had one way of dealing with his children that I never saw practised in any other family. When a daughter or son arrived at the age of fifteen, he would on a Sabbath evening call that one up in the presence of the rest, and then explain to him or her the import of the Baptismal Vows, and how he (the father) had become bound, on behalf of the child, for its godly uprearing, until it (the child) came to years of discretion, and now that it was of such an age he placed the Vows upon its own head. Young though I was, I can never forget the solemnity of those scenes.

Picturesque Place of Nativity 
I was born at the south side of one of the largest and most picturesque fresh water lochs in Scotland. It is in length something over twenty miles, and its breadth is from two to four or five miles. I do not know its depth, but believe it to be very deep, from the fact that no part of it ever freezes. It abounds in trout and salmon. The River Ewe, by which it discharges its surplus water, after a run of something less than two miles, is celebrated for the excellency of it salmon fishing.

There is a range of high mountains along the north side of the loch running nearly its whole length, rising sheer out of the loch in the height of from three to four thousand feet. The bases of these mountains are covered with Scots fir, and coppis wood of birch, ash and hazel, while their bare and sterile backs are raised high in their savage grandeur of craggy rocks and precipices, covered for ten months in the year was snow. Along the north side of the loch, in its whole length, there were only ten places giving room for cultivation between the mountains and loch, and pretty places they are: “Letter Ewe” and “Ard Lair,” two seats of the MacKenzies of “Letter Ewe,” a branch, I believe of the Gairloch family.

The formation on the lands on the south side of this loch differs greatly from that on the North. Here the mountains are thrown back leaving a broad margin of comparatively low grounds between them and the loch, with a good deal of arable and cultivated land. Three small rivers fall into the loch from this side, each forming a considerable strath (or dale); and at the time of which I speak there might be ten families residing on each of them. My father farmed one of these straths for many years, and there I was born in 1794, and there I passed my childhood and boyhood until I was eleven years of age. Oh! how well I do remember, even at this distant period, Those haunts of my childhood, where I roamed at large without a care or thought, enjoying the wild luxuriance of the scenes around me! The green glassy glades, the giant oak trees, the rivers and brooks, and waterfalls, the rent and rifted rocks and especially the smooth and glassy surface of the loch, with its yellow border of golden sand, and its trout and wild geese and swans and ducks.

About the middle of the loch, and, as far as I can guess, three miles from my father’s place was an island. It would be a mile and a half or so in circumference. It was covered with heath, and here and there large boulders of white stone lying scattered on the surface, as if sown broadcast in primeval times. On this island thousands of herring gulls hatched every year. Three boys of the place, not older than myself, used to go with me in the dead of night, take my father’s boat, row to the island, moor our boat on the same beach, sleep until daylight, and gather eggs until our baskets were filled. This was surely delightful work for boys.

We sometimes came across a grey goose’s nest with its five eggs, sometimes a duck’s nest with nine eggs and sometimes a moor fowl’s nest (red grouse) with twelve eggs; this however, being a game bird, we dare not take the eggs. If we did, we were sure of a thrashing. In this way we went to the island at least once a week during the month of May, after which time the birds were allowed to hatch their young undisturbed, and in this way I passed my early boyhood. Can it be wondered at, that these scenes were the subjects of many of my after night and day dreams? We left the Loch and came to Pictou [Nova Scotia] in the summer of 1805.

OT: 3 September 1927 – Review – “A Complete Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe – Part II”

The Oban Times, 3 September, 1927 

“A Complete Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe”
Part II.

It is interesting to find the beat he calls “Riludh” or “Iuludh” (Toarluath) contains the middle note regarding which there has been much controversy of recent years. He describes that beat as follows (the words in brackets being added by the writer of this review, to save the reader the necessity of fingering out the beat on the chanter)– 

 Riludh–consists of a number of Notes, beginning with opening the 1st and 7th fingers (the G cut to the A); then stop the 7th open the 4th, and, after again stopping it (the GDG grip), open the 7th and keep it so (thus sounding the disputed A) till you open the 3rd then stop it (the E cut to the A) still keeping the 7th open till you begin again. 

This should surely settle the matter once and for all and it is to be hoped the piping Societies will face the position cheerfully and encourage their members to get ahead with serious work and not waste time disputing an obvious fact! 

His “9th cutting” (a mach beat, followed by another note) is another case where his description does not entirely agree [with] his illustrated “holes,” but it is clear his intention is the full GDG grip (some beats clearly show the three note grip). In this case also, it is interesting to find the mach beat contains the middle note. 

Dochan an Ludan. 

Dochan an Ludan is the run-down from C etc. to low A through B, with a little finger and it is interesting to find the first note of such beats is the accented one, as was pointed out in a recent publication on piobaireachd, and not the A, as is commonly written to-day. “Barludh” is the beat from say a low A to high G with the grip EAFA and some of the fancy “cuttings” of the Crunluath Breabach nature (to use today’s terms) finish with “Barludh.” “Ludh an Chrodh” is the doubling of the D. In his “10th cutting” (Siubhal from A and G upwards) is cutting grace notes are E and D except where the previous themal note is E when the G cut is employed. To-day these cuts are G and D and not E and D! In the “Ludh Sleamhain 2d species,” it is interesting to find that cuts to the pair of E’s are G and F against the practice to-day of using two G cuts. There are many other interesting points which are best brought out by careful study of the work itself. 

After dealing with the method of fingering the various beats and giving exercises upon them the author proceeds to the other sections of his work already referred to. 

Rhythmic Phrasing. 

Statements are often made now-a-days, even by people of education, that piobaireachd is irregular in metre, and not governed by any of the natural laws of music. These ideas are largely responsible for the absence of rhythmic phrasing so common two-day, even with our best players, for there are really but very few who can be called good piobaireachd players, in spite of popular belief to the contrary. Even the Piobaireachd Society judges seem more disposed to award prizes to those whose mechanical execution, (fingering) is good, apart entirely as to whether or not their rhythmic phrasing is good, bad or indifferent. It is perhaps a fortunate thing for the future of piobaireachd that Joseph MacDonald’s work make it clear that the music is “regular.” It is not inappropriate to quote from his work. He says:– 

 The first Composers of Pipe Music having never heard of any other instrument or known any of the Rules ever invented of Music, except what was suggested to them by Nature and Genius; and here it may not be improper to discover the general Rule by which the original Composers of the Pipe Music, guided chiefly by the ear, taught and regulated the time, knowing nothing of Common or Triple Time, Crotchet or Quaver. This Rule may, with some propriety, be called The Rule of Thumb for it was by the four fingers of the left hand that all their time was measured and regulated, e.g., an Adagio in Common Time of such a style must not exceed, or fall short of, such a number of Fingers, otherwise it was not regular. 

If the March was to be but a short Composition, the ground must be of so many Fingers, for Bars they had not heard of; if a gathering, commonly of such a number. If a Lament, if a March, etc., according to the occasion, it must consist of such a number; they were sure to have no odd number in any piece they designed to be regular. Their Adagio’s, when regular, commonly consisted of four Quarters. In each Quarter there were such a number of Fingers which we count as a Bar 2, 4, or 8, as the Quarters were long or short; or the Bar was subdivided into more Fingers according to their length, and thus the Adagio’s and Grounds counted upon their 4 fingers, and measured by their Ear, and when the Finger and Ear corresponded all was well. 

The ordinary length of a Pipe Adagio being 16 Fingers, computed about 16 Bars, 4 in each Quarter. The regularity preserved only by the help of this Rule, in all their Compositions, is very surprising. 

It could not in the least be wondered at though there should be little excressencies and deficiencies in the Time, by this method of Composition; but very few are to be found. 

His closing remark and his expressions “they designed to be regular” and “when regular” may be clung to by some of the stubborn ones, in support of their views, but there can be no doubt the few cases where “little excressencies and deficiencies” exist are not the work in any of the great Masters, and in any case irregularities such as three or four bars missing or three or four bars too many are not met. Such gross irregularities can be done only to mutilation since a tune was first composed, possibly players getting on wrong notes and not being able to complete their “finger” musically without additional bars, or the converse–getting on a wrong note and having to finished a “finger” before the proper time. His expressions “they designed to be regular” and “when regular” cannot be read, it is considered, to indicate that the old composers on occasions deliberately designed irregular compositions. They were too great natural musicians to go against the natural law of music. 

The work is therefore a very strong refutation of the crude ideas existing in some quarters. To argue that because the old composers knew nothing of bars and modern staff notation (which, after all, is only a scientific method of recording a time) their music was not regular in metre and rhythm is to give little credit to the musical genius of such a master as Patrick Mor MacCrimmon. Indeed, such views are an insult to his memory. Once and for all let such ideas be cast aside and let us look for metre and rhythm in all tunes put forward for competition and for rhythm and phrasing in the playing of them, mere fingering not being deemed one of the principal points in piobaireachd playing. 

Mr. Alex.MacDonald, Inverness. 

Mr. Alex.MacDonald, Inverness, is very greatly to be commended for his courage in reprinting this valuable work, for such efforts are not usually remunerative, and he should receive support from far and wide, from all interested in our national music. Indeed it is the bounded duty of all interested in the music to support such efforts and thus enrich our knowledge of the ancient art and encourage its investigation. The publication of this work comes at a time when much interest is being taken in piobaireachd matters and it is sincerely to be hopes its lessons will not be lost and that a wider view of points in playing will be taken than is now apparent, and that many will be less inclined to the stubborn view that what they were taught is not open to any criticism. 

 Mr. MacDonald has written an excellent preface to the reprint and has added at the end of the book “Notes” drawing special attention to certain misprints, in the original. He has also given an excellent “Appendix” dealing with Bagpipe terms. These will prove most valuable to the student. The “Reprint” is very admirably printed by Aird & Coghill, 24 Douglas Street, Glasgow. 

Orders for the desirable work should be sent to Mr. Alexander MacDonald, Glencona Inverness.

OT: 10 April 1909 – Unsigned “A New Composer of Piobaireachd” [Review]

The Oban Times,  10 April 1909

A New Composer of Piobaireachd

In the ancient days the verbal notation or “canntaireachd” of the MacCrimmons preserved to posterity not a few eminent pieces of Ceòl Mòr, which otherwise would undoubtedly have been lost. In our time a new composer has arisen, who combines in a happy degree general musical culture with the special ability and enthusiasm required for the production of piobaireachd. When that old art has fallen on evil days, it is refreshing to know that such a man appears, whose heart is in the work, and his success has been so signally recognised.

We refer to Mr. John Grant, 21 Murieston Crescent, Edinburgh, the author and publisher of “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” which has recently appeared. Mr. Grant inherits the spirit of his fathers, who, in the romantic valley of the Spey, not only gave rise to a special branch of pipe music still popular, the strathspey, but have also embodied the spirit of steadfastness for all Celts and for all time in their clan slogan “Stand Fast Craigellachie.” On the banks of that smoothly gliding river, as if itself moved to some subtle melody, our author dwelt, in the vicinity of heath and corrie, he was nursed in the olden memories till the love of piobaireachd “haunted him like a passion.” In and around that district Mr. Grant, when quite a lad, carefully noted all the traditional and unpublished fragments of old music that he met with. His practice in this respect was a proof of his enthusiasm, and a good preparation for more ambitious flights of original composition. At this stage he used to walk over twenty miles twice a week to be instructed by a leading piper of that day. He early became a member of the pipe band of the third Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (volunteer), and his activity in this connection proved a source of incitement and emulation to his contemporaries there. His unwearied diligence in collecting the rarest and newest settings the tunes, enabled him in 1904 to submit to the Highland Society of London, through its President, the Marquis of Tullibardine, D.S.O., a collection of about eight hundred tunes, comprising piobaireachd, marches, strathspeys, reels and all other types of bagpipe music. On this colossal achievement our author received official recognition and approbation of the most encouraging nature. It is not to be wondered at that having acquired such an extensive knowledge of existing pipe music, and having been hailed and thanked from such an authoritative source, Mr. Grant should attain the loftier ambition of adapting his talents for some years to the well-nigh lost art of piobaireachd composition. And for the past five years our author has confined himself exclusively to this classical department of pipe music. He collected and copied out in full notation in number of piobaireachd tunes not in print, in a volume of over two hundred pages. From certain advantages in his professional work he has been enabled to cultivate the art of manuscript embellishment at the same time.

The volume in question is a charming illustration of the designers art, and is all hand copied and adorned from beginning to end. From this volume he proceeded to the writing of another volume, the largest collection of piobaireachd that has yet been put together. This MSS. volume is 17 by 23 inches. It is made on the newest principle of binding, the loose leaf, and admits of any tune being removed or inserted at will. The use of Celtic designs and ornamentations of olive green, violet, and other coloured inks, the skillful calligraphy in the masterly disposition and appearance of all the pages, remind one of the olden days when the art of the Celtic scribe was at its best. In this instance, indeed, may be seen whether culture and enthusiasm can do, not only for the recording but for the illumination of piobaireachd. When we consider that all this is done outside business hours the wonder grows, for this single volume alone might well represent the toil of many years.

In line with such a method of illumination Mr. Grant has also developed a way of writing clan piobaireachd in a form suitable for framing. The intention is that those interested in their own particular clan tunes may have them hung on walls, instead of secreting them away in some music folios, or concealing them in a cupboard. In this development our author has had single satisfaction. Tunes prepared in this way have been accepted by the King, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Connaught, and the King and Queen of Norway. Mr. Grant is the proud possessor of five royal letters of acceptance and thanks. Apart from musical worth these productions have the merit of rare calligraphy. Done in the ancient Celtic fashion, they bear heraldic designs and shields for mottos, family badges, and armorial bearings.

And now, finally, comes the crowning work of all. That is the original work, The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd. It is a production by the merit of which the author is willing that his reputation as a composer should stand or fall. It is unique as being the only original book of piobaireachd published by one man. It bears for a fitting frontispiece a splendid reproduction of the well-known and weird picture called “The Pibroch” by the late artist, Mr. Lockhart Bogle. The collection received the title “Royal” because the opening tune is a salute to his Majesty King Edward, who accepted the tune. Mr. Grant received the honour of special thanks from his Majesty for this inspiring composition. Another excellent tune in the collection is a Salute to the Piobaireachd Society. It seems to embody and express the patriotic zeal of that Society to resuscitate the practice of an ancient and noble art. The book contains six original tunes, all possessing musical merit of a high order, fine feeling and technical correctness, a very difficult feature in the composition of piobaireachd. We follow the career of this new composer with patriotic interest. Such men deserve our regard and respect. To conclude, it may be remarked that the favourite piece, according to the opinion of competent pipers, is the lament for her late Majesty, Queen Victoria. And it was only right that the best efforts of a fresh composer should be dedicated to a most fragrant and illustrious memory, even to the memory of her who endeared her name to every Highland heart by her preference for Highland customs and her devotion to and encouragement of the practice and preservation of the ancient art of piobaireachd.

EN: 1 August 1942 – Unsigned “Major John MacRae Killed” [Article]

Edinburgh Evening News, 1 August, 1942

 War Casualties
Major John Macrae Killed

 Word has been received by his parents in Rothesay that Major John MacRae, D.S.O., Scots Guards, has been killed in Egypt. He was the only son of Sir Colin and Lady Margaret MacRae and a nephew of the Marquess of Bute. He was awarded the D.S.O. earlier this year. Prior to the war Major Macrae was with the Scots Guards and Palestine, and received the Palestine Medal.
© Copyright Pipe Major John Grant - Designed for Dr. Alan Armstrong