The Oban Times, 27 May, 1911
22 May, 1911
Sir,–I have read your correspondent, Colonel John MacGregor’s letter, which appears in your issue of last week. He reproduces a paragraph which appeared in some newspapers. I attach no importance to this information, nor the find either.
Colonel McGregor says:–”The bagpipe chanter is certainly the instrument with which Adam charmed the snakes and everything else;” also that “it did not take Adam long to know that the chanter, beautiful though it sounded, was always putting him out of breath.”
One would really imagine, to read this, that Colonel MacGregor lived at the back of a big tree in the far corner of the Garden of Eden! This is purely imagination, if ever anything was, for Adam never saw the chanter of the Highland bagpipe, or any other chanter. If Adam had the chanter, as your correspondent says, he must have forgot to play it to the serpent, or it failed to charm this cunning creature in the fatal hour. Adam chose this instrument, says your correspondent, “because it is simplest,” and from it sprang the flute, etc., etc., as well as all other wind instruments.” If Col. MacGregor means by this that the Highland bagpipe chanter was simple to make or to play either, he is not a pipe-maker, nor a piper either; and to say, or even imagine, from the chanter sprang any other form of wind instrument is pure nonsense.
The Highland bagpipe chanter may be simple to look at, but is very difficult to make with the perfect sound, and is difficult to learn and play. At the back of all its simplicity is the great secret of its ingenious mechanism, as well as the secret of how to perform upon it its own peculiar music, and just the same as the Highlander, though he is simple to look at, when put to the test he is the genuine metal. He concealed in this simple-looking instrument, which from its very infancy had always a bag attached to it, an art which can only be produced by the sturdy or hearty Highlander.
The real piobaireachd is very difficult to play; it requires hard practice and a skilled performer to play it to perfection. A lady may play the bagpipes with weak reeds, but to master a pipe with the stiff reeds of hard ringing and true sound, takes a powerful Highlander of the real Rob Roy type to handle and play it. The rest of Col. McGregor’s letter is very interesting, but it has not settled the question as to the antiquity of the Highland bagpipe or its origin either.
I have great pleasure in thanking your correspondent, “Loch Sloy,” for the very high compliment he has paid me in my endeavours to uphold my national instrument, but I owe him a greater debt than my tongue or pen can tell for his loyalty in coming forward to support me in his warm-hearted love for an instrument and its music which both seem as dear to him as they are to myself. “Loch Sloy” asks the support of my pen in advocating the need of encouraging and furthering the cause of piobaireachd composition. It has always been my special desire, and will ever be, as long as the Highland blood courses through my veins, to uphold the memory and great achievements the old masters of piobaireachd; to cherish and preserve untarnished the contributions to piobaireachd which I have inherited from my forefathers; and finally, to encourage the cultivation and composition of this ancient and Royal art.
While there are many dangers attached to opening piobaireachd composition to competition, I am not a narrow-minded man, but one who would like to give everyone and everything a chance to see what would be the profit or benefit thereof. As suggested by “Loch Sloy,” if it was possible to get up such competition at Oban and Inverness, I most heartily agree with him, and have great pleasure in supporting his recommendation for at least a fair trial. If unsuccessful, such competitions could be abandoned at the discretion of the promoters.–I am, etc.,