OT: 25 November 1911 – Charles Bannatyne “Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 25 November, 1911


Salsburg, 20 November, 1911

Sir,–Mr. Grant in your issue of 11th inst. says I am trying to get over a difficulty as best I can. I am in no difficulty, but Mr. Grant is. He begins by asserting that I do not know the mysterious MacCrimmon secrets, whatever they may be, and it lies with him to prove his assertion. To meet him halfway, I asserted that I can read any canntaireachd in existence, and asked him to test my power through your columns, but his only reply consists of some laboriously adroit questions designed to force me to admit that I know or don’t know his bogey, the mysterious MacCrimmon secrets.

While I am sorry to encroach too much on your valuable space, yet I feel constrained to answer Mr. Grant’s questions categorically:

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

If Captain MacLeod’s Collection is the real MacCrimmon verbal notation, the answer is “Yes!”

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?

They left the tunes published by Captain MacLeod, and they contain the scale, or they could not possibly be tunes.

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?

The title of Captain MacLeod’s publication is: “A Collection of Piobaireachd, or pipe tunes, as verbally taught by the MacCrummen pipers in the Isle of Skye to their apprentices, now published, as taken from John MacCrummen, piper to the old Laird of MacLeod and his grandson, the late General MacLeod of MacLeod.” A reprint can be had from Messrs. J. & R. Glenn, Edinburgh, for half-a-crown.

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.

Mr. Grant, in the preface to the latest edition of his book the tune says it is! As a means of memorising pibroch, grace-notes and all, it has no modern superior. In the vocables, take, say, himbodrao, him-bo-dra-o. If Mr. Grant’s ear is not fine enough to distinguish the different time lengths of the syllables I cannot help them by argument. The vowels are sounds, and the consonants, as h and dr, are grace-notes.Diriro is the gracing of B by doubling low G by D and C; hieririn is the low A opened and then sounded twice by the little finger beats; horiro signifies the B beats; hiavarla or hiardla signifies the D beats; hodro is doubling of C or B according to how it occurs in the tune; bitri is doubling of D or F, according to the occurrence in the tune.

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?

The tune I sent Mr. Grant is, I think, No.7 in Captain MacLeod’s book. It is called their “Cean Deas.” I write from memory, as I do not exactly remember the tune I forwarded. It may be No. 4, “MacLeod Gesto’s Gathering.” If it is No. 7, the modern name of the tune is “the Earl of Ross’s March,” if No. 4 the modern name is “The Gordon’s Salute.” The MacCrimmon canntaireachd is dead, but all the pipers I know using system of their own. I never invented a musical system of any kind.

Mr. Grant should not be so positive in his statements about who is or who is not able to memorize piobaireachd. I would undertake to memorize any pipe to in existence in a quarter of an hour by means of canntaireachd. I was taught staff notation in my younger days, and five years ago I mastered Curwen’s sol-fa in three days. I question Mr. Grant’s right to say this is exaggeration. He is not competent to be the judge of the power of either my intellect or memory.

He states his object is to prove whether or not I know and use the real MacCrimmon notation. Well, let him do so! I have given him some little assistance by means of this letter. He says the exhaustive analysis I published in your columns some years ago was my own local system. It was not! It was and is an analysis of the vocables published by Captain MacLeod as being the MacCrimmon notation. Perhaps Mr. Grant has not seen the publication. He writes of the notation as being ingenious and mysterious. If, as he says, no one living understands it, then he doesn’t. It is therefore mysterious to him. No man can call anything ingenious the working of which he does not understand.

Why should the MacCrimmon notation not be solved by students? The once mysterious hieroglyphics on the tombs of the East yielded their secrets to earnest students. I cannot read these, but I would hesitate to place on record the sweeping statement that there is no man living who can.

In a previous letter Mr. Grant said, “but put Dr. Bannatyne to a perfect test outside of MacLeod’s book, and he is lost in the mazes of a mysterious system of notation.” I asked Mr. Grant to put me to any test he liked, either with regard to MacLeod’s book or any other system of vocables. Heretofore I have never been put to any kind of test on the subject. Now, Sir, can any offer be fairer? I do not imagine part of the MacCrimmon mantle has descended on my devoted head, as I would not care to asperse the dead masters.–I am, etc.,

Charles Bannatyne, M.B., C.M.