OT: 3 September 1910 – Simon Fraser “The Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 3 September, 1910

The Piobaireachd


Victoria, Australia, 26 July, 1910

Sir,–Kindly accept my best thanks for publishing my last letter, and in answer to “Loch Duich” may I say that I do not wish to discuss piobaireachd with any correspondence unless they have a good knowledge of the MacCrimmon music.

There are several points of piobaireachd that cannot be put into the ordinary notation. If this is possible it would have been done long ago by the great master of the pipes Patrick Mhor MacCrimmon, for according to MacLeod he understood the ordinary notation well, and was about the first that translated their system. If it was an improvement no doubt Patrick Mhor would have adopted it.

I would respectfully suggest that “Loch Duich” prevail upon the Piobaireachd Society to send a good piper out to me, and I will undertake to teach him all I know free of charge. I think this would be a step in the right direction, as I was taught to sing from the sheantaireachd long before I got a chance of learning the pipes. I have been very successful as a teacher, and my own sons prove this, as one of them has beaten every piper he has met so far. I teach on the same lines as the old teachers–by singing the beats as well as playing them on the chanter. I have been told that one of the best teachers in Europe teaches the violin in the same manner–I sing the notes to his pupils.

I would advise all those who have been writing on piobaireachd to read Abdy Williams’s “Story of Notation,” page 218, as they will find his remarks very interesting.

I quite agree with “Loch Duich” that the minim should be the long note, as it is strictly in accordance with Patrick Mhor’s time-marks in his improved system of sheantaireachd. I have been playing the violin from the ordinary notation since 1862, so I ought to know whether the pipe music, or piobaireachd, can be played properly from it or not.

I had started writing a book, with the language written under the notes, but owing to differences of opinion and jealousy among pipers I have–for the present, at any rate–abandoned the idea. However, if the society falls in with my suggestion, I will give them all the assistance I can gratis. As the old Cremona theory has been touched upon I enclose a letter I wrote to a paper here some little time since, which you can republish if it will interest your readers. It is to MacLeod’s History:–

It is a strange coincidence that, while Piper Fraser and his critic are wrangling over pipe music in Australia, the same subject is being warmly discussed in Scotland at the present time. Letters upon letters are being published in “The Oban Times” on the correct settings or versions a different pibroch tunes, and some of the letters, like my worthy friend’s, (Mr. Mac) are very amusing. Dr. Bannatyne has written to me on the subject, and sent for my versions of four different tunes in the MacCrimmon notation, which I sent to him a short time ago. Mr. McDougall Gillies has also requested me to write the Comely Tune in the ordinary notation which I had translated and sent him also. You will see by this that I am in communication with the two best authorities in Scotland on pipe music, as Mr. Gillies is the champion Pibroch player of the world. . . . You will see by Fionn’s letter on the MacCrimmon ancestry that he is pleased that a Mr. MacLeod agrees with him that the “Cremona origin of the MacCrimmons must be abandoned.” Why so, Mr. Fionn? Don’t you like the story? Now Mr. Editor, I will, to the best of my ability, explain this rather delicate story with Highlanders in the long ago. The MacCrimmons left Cremona, Italy, some four or five centuries ago, and went to Ireland, settling down there. Their fame as pipers soon began to spread, and one of the MacLeod’s went over from Scotland to Ireland to hear them play, and he was so deeply impressed with their fingering of the chanter that he induced Dun-coloured John and his Donald to go to the Isle of Skye with him to found or start a college for pipe music. The oldest known Pibroch is a Lament composed by one of these pipers (while in Ireland) on King Brian. According to this, Ireland can therefore claim to be (perhaps) the first country where Pibroch were composed and played. It is not known what the real name of the celebrated race of pipers was, but they took the name of Cremmon or Crimmon, and as they settled in a part where the Mac (Gaelic), or son (English), was generally used, such as MacShane, McArthy, and numerous other Macs, it seemed proper to them to adopt the name of MacCremmon or MacCrimmon. Regarding the MacCrimmon language or system of teaching, this was begun in Ireland, and afterwards rendered more perfect by Donald and Patrick Mhor in Scotland. Patrick Mhor went over to Italy about the middle of the 17th century, and study the Italian Solfeggi for over two years, and on his return he perfected a system that I use, and which Mr. Mac calls my bush music. As the system cannot be improved upon by translating it into the ordinary notation, then if it is my invention or bush music, it must be good. I have two books of the old MacCrimmon music, and can read or translated all. I hardly think Mr. Mac would have much of a chance in playing Pibrochs against me. Of course, he may (like others) argue that the MacCrimmon music is retrogressive and of no use, but this only applies to something that can be improved upon, and the person must be conversant with the subject before he can tell whether it is right or wrong.–I am, etc.,

Simon Fraser