OT: 16 April 1910 – John Campbell of Kilberry

The Oban Times Saturday, 16 April, 1910

Killberry, Argyllshire

5 April, 1910

Sir,–I desire to offer a few comments on the excellent letter of “Padruig Og” in your issue of 26th March.

In all that he says regarding the publications of the Piobaireachd Society I concur, but he is wrong about the genesis of the Society.

He writes that “A.M.’s” articles were the cause of the society being started. The first series of those articles appeared in”The Oban Times” in August and September, 1903, whereas the Piobaireachd Society was founded by me in the end of 1902. I was then home on leave from India, and had, in the first place, securing the support of the two best amateur piobaireachd players I know, who were then both serving in that country. Fortified by this, I approached a few more good amateur pipers if the Argyllshire Gathering of 1902, and then issued a circular-letter to perhaps a dozen of that class. The result was that the Piobaireachd Society came into being.

I had to return to India in the winter of 1902, and so had nothing to do with the management of the Society after it was launched. It is true (as “Padruig Og” says) that the first Committee did, against the wish of a few of the originators of the idea, “appeal to the uninitiated public,” and I can say with perfect truth that I was alarmed for the future of the movement when I heard of the extraordinary increase in the membership. As “Padruig Og” says, “it became the fashion to join.”

The result was–to me–very melancholy. I do not know what “A. M.” “dreamed,” but his “dream” (as described by “Padruig Og” in the last two paragraphs of his letter) very nearly coincides with the intentions with which I founded the Society.

I had never contemplated such a state of affairs as existed in 1904-5, when the Society had a very large number of members, of whom 90 percent, could not even put their fingers on a chanter, much less play a piobaireachd, while owing to the well meant influences some of those members, they had secured control of the principal piobaireachd competitions at Oban, Fort William, Portree, and–with a qualification–Inverness.

We hoped, when we began, to establish, in the first place, our claim to be considered an authority on Ceòl Mòr by publishing after careful study, a few tunes every year, with the most detailed notes on every portion of each, stating how and why we had arrived at the decision that ours was the best setting available. Further, it was our determination to make it clear that every first publication of a tune was to be considered provisional, and that we desired the fullest criticism upon every disputed point. By this procedure we hoped through time, to be able to publish piobaireachd in a style which would be accepted by all who were qualified to give an opinion as to the most correct obtainable, and also by this, and by offering instructional facilities to promising pipers, to establish the position at which we aimed.

Then–and not till then–we intended to ask the great Gatherings for recognition as the authority on piobaireachd. I remember saying, at the foundation of the Society, that I should be well pleased if, by 1912, we found ourselves in the position to ask the Argyllshire Gathering to allow us to supply the judges for the piobaireachd competitions. We should not have been able to give big prizes, for our funds would have been devoted to the collection, study, and teaching of Ceòl Mòr.

However, things went very differently. An acute controversy arose regarding the method of recording piobaireachd music. I, and most of the original members, were opposed to the idea that what others call the “ordinary notation” should be considered incapable of improvement. We inclined towards the system in General Thomason’s “Ceòl Mòr,” but thought that even it might be improved upon. We were also opposed to the policy of expending the funds of the Society on prizes and publications only (as was the state of affairs at that date), and so the secretary (Mr. J. MacKillop), I, the founder, and several other of the original and early members–most of the piobaireachd players–left the Society in 1905.

That is a brief history of the Piobaireachd Society, so far as I know about it. I think I may ask “Padruig Og” to take it from me that, if there was one publication which led to the foundation of the society, it was General Thomason’s “Ceòl Mòr,” and not the “A.M.” articles.

By the way, it would appear that he has not read the second series of “A.M. (“Oban Times,” September-October, 1905). In one of them he will find recorded in actual instance where the Society insisted on the disqualification of a player who did not point the “Prince’s Salute” according to their setting. In that case the Society’s judges gave the competitor a prize, but the Committee held a meeting and reversed their own judges’ decision.

I agree entirely with his remarks on the second variation of “Scarce of Fishing.”

In conclusion, I baked to assure “Padruig Og” that I have derived much pleasure and information from his letter, and to join with him in suggesting that “A. M.” should once more, in spite of the discouragement he has probably felt, take up his pen in order to do his utmost to prevent “The Passing of the Piobaireachd.”–I am, etc.,

John Campbell of Killberry.