OT: 7 October 1911 – John Grant “Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 7 October, 1911


21 Murieston Crescent, Edinburgh

1 October, 1911

Sir,–Your issue of September 23rd contains a reply from Mr. Simon Fraser, Sydney, to my letter of 24th June last on the above subject. Mr. Fraser and Dr. Charles Bannatyne, claim to be the only two men living who know and understand the real MacCrimmon secrets, and to them my letter of 24th June was an intended test as to whether they really know the secrets of the MacCrimmon verbal notation called canntaireachd or not. Up to this date your readers have had a reply from Dr. Bannatyne to my letter of 24th June.

In Mr. Simon Fraser’s explanation now before me I cannot see that it is at all proof that ever he got the MacCrimmon secrets of Canntaireachd in theory or practice, and I shall deal with the most important items in his letter systematically.

Mr. Fraser says: “As Mr. Grant does not suggest why Sheantaireachd was altered to Canntaireachd, I will call it by the latter term to please him.” I had no need to suggest why Canntaireachd was ever altered to Sheantaireachd, but perhaps Mr. Fraser will enlighten me where in the Gaelic language I will find his form of the word. Why does he give in and accept the word Canntaireachd really to please me if Sheantaireachd is correct? This is no proof that either he or I are correct in the minds of those who are not capable of judging for themselves. Canntaireachd, which is absolutely correct, means to chant, or sing over, piobaireachd or pipe tunes. Sheantaireachd was never known to the MacCrimmons,, or even understood in Skye. It is not a proper Gaelic word of any description. Therefore it Mr. Fraser does not understand right from wrong in the Gaelic language, on which the MacCrimmon verbal quotation was based, how can he possibly know and understand fully the secrets of this mysterious notation?

In Neil MacLeod’s song, “An gleann’s an robh mi og,” we find the lines:

“Greis air sugradh, greis air dannsa,

Greis air canntaireachd is ceòl,” etc.

If Mr. Fraser is right, perhaps he will give me as good an explanation of the word Sheantaireachd, which he uses, or tell me where I can find it in the Gaelic language, dictionary, or in fact any shape or form.

Mr. Fraser in the course of his letter says: “In the year 1853 my mother commenced to teach me the Canntaireachd, and the secrets of the MacCrimmons.” The next question which arises in my mind and those who are interested in the art of piobaireachd is: “Was Simon Fraser’s mother qualified to teach her son such an ingenious system of notation in theory and practice? Was she a professional piobaireachd player? Had she a perfect knowledge this verbal notation equal to that of the best of the great MacCrimmons?” Such are the necessary qualifications she would have had to acquire before she could have taught her son. We must have real proof that the system is still alive and understood.

From Mr. Fraser’s letter I understand that he intended printing a book piobaireachd, which was to have been written in the staff notation and, below the stave, in the sol-fa system of the MacCrimmons. This is in itself proof that his verbal notation is no use without the staff notation along side of it. On the other hand, if Mr. Fraser has the perfect system of the MacCrimmons and he can bring it back to use, why does he not print his tunes in the same form as MacLeod of Gesto did? It would be a very cheap method of publishing his book, and if the system is real that the production of this publication would prove its correctness, this being the only means by which he could bring it back to use if it is real. I have composed not a few original tunes, and have given them in the most perfect system of musical notation in existence. It can be read, played, and understood by all. It now lies in all parts of the world. I have sent copies by my own hand to India, Africa, Australia, and America, etc., and I have received many congratulations of success. I have not challenged or condemned others who work for the good of the art until I have been challenged or condemned, and on this basis I am defending myself.

Mr. Fraser says that the verbal notation of the MacCrimmons is the only means by which piobaireachd can be properly played, and he has now to prove his point. Again I will repeat my statement that there is no more perfect system of musical notation under the sun than the staff notation. Any one with ordinary intelligence can understand and play correctly from it, whereas the verbal notation of the MacCrimmons, however perfect it may have been in its day, was only of use to the pupil when sung and the sounds represented and shown by the teacher to the pupil. In Canntaireachd there are no time marks, nothing to show the duration of any note or whether any one word represents one or more notes, whereas in the staff notation an E is always an E, and F is always an F, a crotchet is a crotchet, a quaver is always a quaver, and so on. By this musical system no performer can mistake the name of any note, grace-note, or their value.

I congratulate Mr. Fraser on the good-humoured manner in which he takes my letter, but I say that there is no one alive who knows or understands the MacCrimmon system of verbal notation called Canntaireachd, and up till now we have no proof that there is anyone alive who does know it.–I am, etc.,

John Grant