OT: 13 August 1910 – Charles McPhater “Musical Notation and Pipe Music”

The Oban Times, 13 August, 1910

Musical Notation and Pipe Music

Glasgow, 6 August, 1910

Sir,–in reading the discussion of piping, canntaireachd, and the MacCrimmons that has been going on in your columns for some time back, I was struck by the fact that no mention was made of musical notation as we now have it, quoted any earlier than the present time. I started to search in my Gaelic books for any mention of present-day notation, and find that the first mention I have been able to glean is in the Turner MS. occurring in “Moladh Chintirre,” page 315 “Reliquæ Celticæ,” Vol. II.:–

 ‘S eulacarach, binne-ghobach òrdoil
a sheinneas an smeórach san fheasgar
An uiseag as a clonn gu h-uallach
an lon ‘s a’ chuach a’ cur beas lea
Cha ‘n ‘eil fear-ciuil ‘s s’ choille chúbhraidh
nach seinn le dubhrachd a corus
Gu fileant’, calant’, dionach, siubhlach
a’ roinn na h-uine gu h-cólach
An caomh comh-sheinn poncail órdail
freagairt a móramh ‘s a minim
Gu h-eignigh, teibnigh ceólmhor
orgain a ‘s glórmhoire ‘s a’ chruinne.

The date of this problem, I would say, lies between the Union and the’ 45, and although his name is not given in the Turner MS., you’ll find it in old Peter MacIntosh’s “History of Kintyre,” which I have not beside me; but, if I remember right, he belonged to the Southbend district of Kintyre, and was as ready as Burns in braid Scots or his contemporary, Donnachadh Bàn, in his native Gaelic.

Several writers about pipe music were for making the minim the ground. This poet gives “móramh,” which, I suppose, means semibreve, but I have not come across the name “móramh” anywhere else. Perhaps your learned correspondent, Dr. K. N. MacDonald, or some of your musical contributors, can throw some light on the subject.

This same poet has several references to bagpipe playing–some of it complimentary, and the some of it sarcastic, which shows that he knows what he was talking about, in his “Moladh na Pibe”:–

An urram thar na chunnaig mo shúil
Don’ tha Muile dhiobh Ntras
Mac Chruimain o bhuinginn e Cliú
Leig don Duine sin támh
San gu Nurrie Connduilich air thús
Iain Mac Uilliam a dhá
Pádruig an treas duine don triur
Nach Uireasfach lámh.

Which of the MacCruimains does he hear refer to? He appears from the reference to be domiciled in Mull in the problem which follows, “Di-moladh na Piobe. He mentions the Battle of Sheriffmuir, so that it must of necessity be between 1715 and 1745.

Another matter that may be of some interest to your readers when mentioning Burns in the above is that Dr. Alexander Carmichael, of Edinburgh, has traced Burns’s ancestors to Glen-loanin, near Taynuilt, and that their name was Campbell. The one that had to clear was a poet of no mean standing.

Being often in that district in the time of Mr. Carmichael’s investigation, I made inquiry as to whether there were any descendents of these Campbells in the district, and to my surprise I found our friend, “Fionn’s” people were of that ilk, and that he is almost, if not altogether, of Campbell origin. I trust you will pardon my digression into his pedigree; but I am sure that it would interest his admirers both at home and abroad to have his Campbell connections from himself, as these are too intricate for me to go into them properly. Being very much interested in everything pertaining to Burns, the discovery was very interesting to me, seeing the position “Fionn” holds in the Gaelic world today. “Théid an duthehas an aghaidh nan Creag.” I am, etc.,

Charles MacPhater.