OT: 19 March 1910 – John Grant (Mal Dhonn)

The Oban Times, 19 March, 1910

14 March, 1910

Sir,–I have just received a copy of Part IV, of the Piobaireachd Society’s competition tunes, and Highlanders cannot but feel grateful to the society still continuing this excellent work. Mr. MacLennan, Edinburgh, has again opened fire, so to speak, on this publication. In suggesting the withdrawal of the book “in deference to the worldwide reputation of Celtic music,” his criticism on this occasion has reached a climax.

It may be true that Angus MacDonald, Morar; Donald Mackenzie, Fochabers; John McCall, Oban; and Angus MacRae, Blair Atholl, had no hand in the preparation of the tunes, but one thing I can vouch for is that those who did prepare them are all men of ability in piobaireachd, and masters of the ancient art in the very highest sense of the word.

I have examined the book carefully, and find that Prince Charlie’s Lament, The Vaunting, Lord Lovat’s Lament, Lord Breadalbane’s March, and Lady Doyle’s Salute are all, if anything, a marked improvement on the settings in Angus Mackay’s book of piobaireachd. I have in my possession, in manuscript, copies of Weighing from Land and MacDougall’s Lament, in which Mr. MacLennan finds so much fault. I have compared the settings in the Society’s book of my own, and find them note for note, and I had no hand in the preparation of the music.

It must not be forgotten that Mr. MacLennan published a collection of piobaireachd himself in 1907, entitled “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It.” There is ample room for the critic to find fault with even the title of his publication as over half the tunes in the volume MacCrimmon never saw, far less played. The work in question is not free from printers’ errors and otherwise, for example, see page 7, “I Got a Kiss of the King’ s Hand.”

Mr. MacLennan complains of the “haphazard, ram-stam method in which the Society’s tunes are got up,” and asserts they do not tie their notes as they were written by the composers, while he overlooks, perhaps, that he took it upon himself to change the time of every tune comprised in his own book. He changes large notes into grace notes and ties others to suit himself; thus departing from the tune laid down by the composer, which should stand for ever. It is not really with the intention of criticizing that I lift my pen, but only to bring Mr. MacLennan’s own publication side-by-side with that of the Piobaireachd Society, in order that anyone with a knowledge of pipe music may judge for himself which is the better of the two.

I do not suppose that anyone with common sense would say that “piobaireachd is not music at all.” Music can be classified, and piobaireachd, or pipe music, is a separate variety. The gentlemen referred to by Mr. MacLennan–viz., Mr. Groves and Mr. Gretton–may be men of great musical skill, but that does not signify that they have an intimate knowledge of piobaireachd, which they would require to possess before they condemn it.

I understand that the Piobaireachd Society publishes tunes for one purpose–for the guidance of competitors who wish to play for their prizes. They pay the piper, and therefore they have a right to choose the tune, and it is gratifying to see that the noblemen and gentlemen of the Society have awakened to the necessity of keeping a heroic art like piobaireachd from falling into oblivion. I have no hesitation in recommending their collection to anyone who wishes to add it to his library of pipe music. No piper who knows anything at all about piobaireachd will find any difficulty in being able to play the tunes. I believe the Society’s publication has always had a ready sale, and this alone testifies to the popularity of the work.

I remember talking to the Colonel of one of our Highland regiments not long ago, about a collection of piobaireachd for the Regiment, and he told me that they would never think of such a thing, as they had definitely adopted the Piobaireachd Society’s tunes to be played at mess or as occasion required.

From the reports which sometimes appear in your valuable columns, it can be seen that the Piobaireachd Society are in a flourishing condition and long may they continue so. The Society do not interfere with any outsiders ideas regarding piobaireachd, and if the Society cannot be encouraged in their arduous labours, surely it is unnecessary for anyone to endeavour to hinder their valuable work?–I am, etc.,

Mal Dhonn