The Oban Times, 10 June, 1911
Piobaireachd and Poetry
5 June, 1911
Sir,–As your correspondent, Mr. John McClellan, wishes to hear more from you regarding piobaireachd and poetry, I hope you will permit us to thrash it out under a heading for ourselves, and not molest the whole of the members of the Clan MacRae with an argument which may not interest them in the least.
Piobaireachd, I said, has nothing whatever to do with poetry, and neither it has. Mr. MacLennan says: “The information is new to me.” I am very glad to hear it, and anything that I can do to help Mr. MacLennan to understand and believe this will give me great pleasure.
Mr. MacLennan as: “I have always been led to understand that the language and poetry of a nation had everything to do with its music.” I am afraid Mr. MacLennan has allowed himself to be led, and has not sufficiently studied this question to form an opinion. We have here in the language, poetry, and music of any nation three different arts. The language–an eminent novel writer can write a story in prose that might never be equaled, yet he could not compose a poem for his life or create a new melody for any instrument, or play it either. The poetry–The greatest living poets that ever existed could compose fine poems, yet none of them could set music for their poems. The finest composers of musical themes could not compose three lines of poetry to save their lives. Thus prose, poetry, and music are three entirely different arts; although poetry and prose are both literature in the language of any country, yet they remain different arts and separate gifts.
When we all play music on an instrument, instrumental music gives you no words in language, neither poetry nor prose. Therefore instrumental music is complete in itself without either language or poetry. To prove my argument as regards songs alone–Burns composed a poem, “Scots wha ha’e,” to rhyme, but he gave no music with it. It was set to music by Sir Herbert Oakley, Mus. Dr. Of course, when one goes to sing this song he applied the air which is conveyed to the ear by the voice and musical instrument to the hands, and thus combines them, music and word in one instantaneously, but when the pianist plays the tune “Scots wha ha’e” on the piano, he requires neither language or poetry, but music only.
Now the same with piobaireachd–it is instrument music, and you require no language nor poetry to play it. Can Mr. MacLennan tell me what words or poetry follows the pipe tune, “The Marchioness of Tullibardine,” being a march, or “Ceol Aotrom”? Can he tell me what words or poetry follows “Mal Dhonn,” i.e., “MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart,” which, perhaps, he has heard of before or plays? When one plays piobaireachd on the Highland bagpipe he catches in his ear a melody only, and no words in poetry or language. Therefore piobaireachd has nothing to do with poetry. Should this not be sufficient proof to satisfy Mr. MacLennan, I will be glad to give him more information on the subject which will help him. – I am, etc.
Boreraig [ John Grant]