OT: 5 March 1910 – John MacLennan

5 March, 1910
The Piobaireachd Society’s Publication
Edinburgh, 28 February, 1910
Sir,–the fourth part of the Piobaireachd Society’s publication, just issued, is an insult to intelligence, and ought to be withdrawn in deference to the worldwide reputation of Celtic music. It is got up in the most haphazard, ram-stam method possible, without the slightest aim at design or form, and the simplest rules of scientific notation are entirely ignored. The celebrated veteran pipers, Angus MacDonald, Morar; Ronald Mackenzie, Fochabers; John Michael, Oban; and Angus MacRae, Blair Atholl, had no hand in it; and probably those who had would have noted the tunes aright but for the paragraph in the first part issued, which says: “the only infallible guide to selecting what is right, and correcting what is wrong, is a perfect and thoroughly trained ear, combined with great musical taste and executed skill,” for which they might be led to believe that in the case of piobaireachd a knowledge of the science of music was not necessary. Be that as it may, the book is full of musical errors, which might easily have been obviated. Over and above the notes allowed for each beat, there are any number of semiquaver’s planted among the grace notes in such a way as to puzzle the readers. All semiquaver should be text notes.
The society state that the gathering, the lament, and the salute are the three varieties of piobaireachd. We have in the books Corrie-an-Essan Salute and a Lament for the Harp. They are both the same; if the one is a Salute so is the other, or if the one is a Lament so is the other. We have also Lochneil’s Lament, Sir Ewan Cameron’s Salute, and the MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute. The three are of the same class, whatever the one is so are the other two. The Piobaireachd Society will perhaps be able to define the difference, and explained their statements.
On Tyneside there is “The Northumbrian Pipe Society” specially got up to cultivate and encourage the art of playing Northumbrian bagpipe, and collect the music of the Borderland. The members are composed of all grades, from the Peer to the pitman. The entrance fees are nominal, and thus every available person has a say, and the Piobaireachd Society would serve the purpose for which it was promoted should the members follow the example of the Northumbrians.
The Stuarts’ White Banner
the urlar of this tune is fairly well-written, but the third part, which should consist of four bars, is made into five–one too many. No piece of properly written music in the Celtic world was written in five bars. This suibhal -ordaig is egregious nonsense as written in four beats–a single note to each beat. To make anything like a melody of it to beat should be put into one. No wonder the intelligent Mr. Malcolm MacFarlane says that the piobaireachd variations are the most common-place in the realm of music. The toarluath and crunluath are not properly timed or tied.
Weighing From Land
There are in all four beats, making one bar of music, in this tune, and these four beats are drawn out to thirty-two–surely enough to weary the greatest enthusiast! The second beat in each bar is wrongly timed, and so is the suibhal. Each beat in the toarluath and its doubling is made into two beats which is most absurd. The crunluath and its doubling our marked 6-8, while all the beats are composed of two quavers and to semiquavers. The signature should be C, or 2-2.
Prince Charlie’s Lament
The beats here are mixed up, and tied to one another in such a way as to make the tune incomprehensible. The first A should be a grace note, capital E, C, and D tied together for the first beat, and capital E alone for the next beat, and the third bar should be treated the same way. The suibhal is written in such a way that when the audience will hear it they will “suibhal” also. The beats in the toarluath and crunluath are again cut up into two by wrong time signatures and bad writing. This is how Mr. Groves, in his second edition of his “Dictionary of Music and Musicians,” Mr. Gratton Flood on the “Music of Ireland,” and several others affirm that the pibroch is outside the rules of music, which means, of course, that it is not music and all. The fault, however, does not lie with the pibroch, but with the unskilled, inefficient musical litterateurs, who mangle the music. Musicians examine the book, and, believing it to be properly written, noted down for some other instrument just as they find it–a note belonging to the one beat tied onto another beat, the melody note which ought to be sustained cut short, and what should only be a grace note lengthened out to a full beat; and when they write a few bars of the stuff they will find it to be all bosh.
A Bhoilach
Vaunting is not the English of bòilich, but delirium, and it is the most appropriate name possible for the tune as written in this book. In one place you’ll find D the beat note of the urlar. When you come to the same beat in a variation it may be G, and the next variation it is E, which shows no method whatever. Slight variations from the ground are allowed, but to wander at Large, as we find here, is something unusual. The crunluath is not written in accordance with the time signature.
Lord Lovat’s Lament
We now come to the crux of the volume–a labyrinth almost impossible to describe. The urlar and its doubling contain twenty-two bars of four beats each, eighty-eight in all, while the variations contain twenty-two bars of only two beats–exactly half of the urlar–and this discrepancy does not arise from more notes being in the one than in the other, but from the chaotic method of timing and tying the notes, each beat being cut up into two. The editor says this is the recognized setting, but I am quite certain that David Fraser, the composer, never taught anyone the maze we have here. He was a talented first-rate player, having been taught at Lord Lovat’s expense by the best performers of the day. He never allowed his friends to forget that he was the only living man who had been taught by a real MacCrimmon, however many there may be who were taught by those who called themselves MacCrimmon. Unfortunate Morair Sheim! he drank the unpleasant cup. In his life, written by himself (London: 1797), he bitterly complains Of the cruel treatment he received from the head of an ancient and noble family in this country; but had he seen this production he would certainly have raised an interdict to prevent his name being connected with it.
The Mackenzies’ Gathering
The urlar here is well-written, but that suibhal-ordaig is not. There are four beats in each bar; they should be reduced to two. All the variations are badly timed.
Lord Breadalbane’s March
The crunluath here is marked 6-8 time, but written in 2-2 time; otherwise the tune is the best written in the book.
Lady Doyle’s Salute is a tune culled from the MacLeod’s Salute and the MacLeod’s Controversy. There are several notes belonging to one beat stuck to another in the ground; and while the crunluath is marked four crotchets in the bar, each beat has a quaver to many.
Captain MacDougall’s Lament
The two beats, F E, E F, in the third bar of the first part of the ground, and everywhere they occur throughout the ground and variations, are both tied in time to wrongly. In the toarluath and crunluath they are correctly written. The fourth bar of the second part of the urlar, and everywhere it occurs, is B, B, B, F, while in the doubling of the suibhal (first bar, top of p.16) the notes are E, C, E, C. This is probably a printer’s error, but it is there, the piper will very likely have to play the error and all, or lose the prize. The toarluath and crunluath have time signatures which not correspond with the writing.
The editor writes, in his brief preface to this book, that the various competitions were well patronised. Personally, I can only speak for the Northern Meetings at Inverness, and during the piobaireachd competitions I only saw three or four elderly gentleman and one young lady and gentleman, who seemed to be oblivious to the surroundings, sitting in the back seat of the spacious grandstand. The remainder was vacant, showing a disinterested neglect, which was disappointing in the extreme.
The Piobaireachd Society must be in a position able to show that their music can draw and be appreciated by the classes before it can be pronounced a success, and this book may drive away, but never will draw an audience.–I am, etc.,
Jno. McLennan