OT: 11 November 1911 – John Grant (in Aberdeen) “Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 11 November, 1911


Aberdeen, 6 November, 1911

Sir,–In your issue of 28th October Dr. Bannatyne is trying to get over a difficulty the best way he can, but that is not the point. He is trying, so far as I can see, to put a bone in my mouth, and also those who are interested in this art, instead of proving that he knows the real MacCrimmon secrets of canntaireachd or not.

He has not contradicted one single statement which I have put before him. I said that there is no person living who knows and can read the MacCrimmon verbal notation called canntaireachd. He has not said that there is. As I have taken up a considerable amount of your valuable space already, I am to be as brief on this occasion as possible, and bring Dr. Bannatyne back to the real point by asking him the following questions, viz.:

1. Does Dr. Bannatyne know and understand the real MacCrimmon verbal notation called canntaireachd?

2. Can Dr. Bannatyne prove that the MacCrimmons ever left a scrap or vestige of a scale or key to their system of verbal notation?

3. Can Dr. Bannatyne tell me whether the tunes given in MacLeod of Gesto’s book are the MacCrimmon verbal notation called canntaireachd, or are they a system of notation of MacLeod’s own invention?

4. Can Dr. Bannatyne tell me if the MacCrimmon verbal notation is, or ever was, superior in every manner to that of our present-day staff notation?

5. No qualified piper can mistake the time marks in staff notation or the various notes and grace-notes in that system. Now, Sir, can Dr. Bannatyne prove that any piper can tell what the time of any tune is in MacLeod’s book, what any note or grace-note is, or the length of their duration? The MacCrimmons left no scale or key to guide anyone.

6. Can Dr. Bannatyne tell me whether the tune which he sent me privately by post is a system of verbal notation invented by himself, or is it the real verbal notation of the MacCrimmons, called canntaireachd?

7. Is canntaireachd to live or die, or will pipers in general ever use it as a universal system of notation?

Dr. Bannatyne said in one of his letters that Mr. William McLean, Glasgow, mastered the notation in MacLeod of Gesto’s book in half an hour. I said in my next letter that there is no one living who could commit one single piobaireachd to memory in half an hour and play it perfectly without a mistake–that is, no one living could master any system of musical notation in a month, far less half an hour. Dr. Bannatyne has not contradicted me. His statement is exaggerated in the extreme; mine is very much modified.

In Dr. Bannatyne’s letter dated 23rd October, he states that Mr. William McLean, Glasgow, was taught piobaireachd in Skye by means of vocables. This may be so, but were these the real MacCrimmon vocables? I was taught piobaireachd myself by means of Gaelic vocables, but that is no proof that I was taught by the same system as used by the MacCrimmons.

My object is to prove whether Dr. Bannatyne knows and uses the real MacCrimmon system of MacCrimmon verbal notation. If Dr. Bannatyne cannot prove that he knows the real MacCrimmon canntaireachd then there is no use of going further with the matter, but I say, as I have already said in your columns, that there is no one living who knows and understands the real MacCrimmon secrets of canntaireachd, and that the exhaustive analysis of vocables published in your columns some years ago was Dr. Bannatyne’s vocables system of piobaireachd, and not the ingenious and mysterious system of verbal notation of the MacCrimmons called canntaireachd.–I am, etc.,

John Grant