OT: 21 October 1911 – John Grant “Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 21 October, 1911


21 Murieston Crescent, Edinburgh,

16 October, 1911

Sir,–In your last week’s columns, I notice a reply to my letter which appeared in the previous issue. Dr. Bannatyne asks me to state when and where he made the claim that he is one of the two men living who know and understand the MacCrimmon secrets of canntaireachd. I am not prepared to state that this claim on the part of Dr. Bannatyne ever came before the public from his own hand, but I am speaking here now on evidence in print and otherwise in my possession.

I hold a pamphlet printed and written by Simon Fraser, Australia, for which I give an extract as follows, viz.:–

The true key of all secrecy or mystery enables them (the MacCrimmons) to keep their music such a close secret, that there are only two persons living who can write or translate their music, viz., Dr. Bannatyne and myself (Mr. Fraser).

Now I do not say that Dr. Bannatyne made the statement directly, but it was made by Simon Fraser. If it is the case that it is correct let Mr. Fraser says, as I have quoted above, then Dr. Bannatyne can lay claim to be one of the two living who know and understand canntaireachd. If Dr. Bannatyne has not seen the leaflet in question he has had no opportunity of referring to it, but the opportunity stands open now.

I have other information in my possession which I do not wish to divulge in print without Dr. Bannatyne’s permission.

Dr. Bannatyne says–”I only claim to be able to read Captain MacLeod’s canntaireachd, and still make that claim.” Captain MacLeod of Gesto published some twenty or more piobaireachd in the MacCrimmon notation called canntaireachd. This was the MacCrimmon notation or canntaireachd; not “Captain MacLeod’s canntaireachd,” as Dr. Bannatyne says. The MacCrimmons invented the system, and Captain MacLeod only copied and published it; so that Dr. Bannatyne is quite wrong in saying that the notation given in MacLeod of Gesto’s book was MacLeod’s; it was the MacCrimmons’.

In other words, if Dr. Bannatyne claims to be able to read and understand the tunes written in MacLeod of Gesto’s book, which was the MacCrimmon canntaireachd, then he must understand the MacCrimmon sol-fa notation.

Dr. Bannatyne makes a statement in the effect that Mr. Wm. McLean, Glasgow can read and understand MacLeod’s book, and that he learned it in half an hour. Mr. McLean can answer for himself; but I say there is no man living who can play anyone piobaireachd correctly from memory in half an hour; neither is there a man in existence at the present day who could master the secrets of any system in a month, far less half an hour.

Dr. Bannatyne has MacLeod’s book of sol-fa notation, and when he places it against the staff notation this is a guide for him, as he says with years of careful study. But put him or Mr. Fraser to a perfect test outside MacLeod’s book, and both are lost in the wilderness of the mysterious system of notation.–I am, etc.,

John Grant