OT: 18 May 1907 – David Glen

The Oban Times, 18 May, 1907

8 Greenside Place, Edinburgh,

11 May, 1907

Sir,–Kylie Grammy space in which to give a few extract from the newly published book, “The Bagpipe,” by Dr. A. D. Fraser, which extracts, I consider, give good and timely advice to the experts who lately met in conference on the above subject in this city.

After describing how the Irish and Northumberland pipes have been improved out of existence, the Doctor says, on page 372:–

Now the lesson I draw from all this is, that any attempt at improving the Great Highland Bagpipe must prove futile. It is all very well in theory, but in practice we have before us the fate which has invariably overtaken the improved pipe in this and other countries.

It is an undisguised blessing that the Highlander resisted all such improvements in the past . . and also refused to have the old-world scale of the chanter altered to the modern scale. . . . The Great Highland Bagpipe is par excellence the king of bagpipes, because it has hitherto refused to be modernised. . . It has survived until now, because it has persistently turned a deaf ear to the critics who said “With a few keys added and a truer scale, you would be a much superior instrument.” . . . The vitality of this semi–barbarous instrument is surprising, only because it has been true to itself in the past, and will last, only so long as it is true to itself in the future. With so many theoretical advisors about, it must not forget the lesson–a lesson as much required today as ever–learned from a contemplation of the untimely and to which the improved bagpipe in the past has come. . . . If I have lingered too long over the old world character of the Great Highland Bagpipe chanter, trying to prove that it should on no account be altered to suit modern requirements, it is because there is a real danger of some such attempt being made in earnest one day, when, if it should succeed, then good-bye to the ancient pipe of the Highlands. The expert knowledge and common-sense of our bagpipe-makers have kept things right so far. . . . Leave the Great Highland Bagpipe as it is then I say. Improve the piping by all means. Teach the piper to tune his instrument properly; to use only good reeds; to stick more to the old music, especially pibroch; to avoid modern rubbish, such as waltzes and polkas, and the music of other instruments cut down and altered to suit the pipes. If this were done we should hear less of bagpipe reform in the future. The bagpipe, in fact, needs no reforming–will stand no reforming. The piper may. And the reformer? Let him study the instrument more closely, and listen oftener to its music, so that his ear may get used to its old-world scale, and all will be well with the Great War Pipe of the Highlands in the years to come.

I strongly advise all your contributors to read this chapter in full for themselves.–I am, etc.,

David Glen