OT: 15 June 1912 – Charles Bannatyne “The Secrets of Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 15 June, 1912

The Secrets of Canntaireachd

Salsburgh, by Holytown, 10 June, 1912

Sir,–Hitherto in this discussion I have made little or no reference to Mr. Simon Fraser. To begin with, he is far away; and, further, he is quite able to speak for himself. I first made out the scale, etc., which translates Captain MacLeod’s collection of MacCrimmon tunes in 1904. Mr. Grant says the scale is mine, not MacCrimmon’s.

Here is what it can do with the tunes called by unfamiliar names in MacLeod’s book when applied to translate them. Tune No. 2, called by MacLeod “The Royal Oak that saved King Charles,” is found to be “In Praise of Marion.” No. 4, “MacLeod, Gesto’s, Gathering,” is found to be a complete version of “The Gordon’s Salute.” No. 5, MacLeod, Gesto’s, Gathering,” is “The Young Laird of Dungallon’s Salute.” No. 7, “Heads of Corn,” is “The Earl of Ross’s March.” No. 8, “Lament for Don. MacLeod of Greshornish,” is “The MacLeod’s Salute.” No. 10, “Squinting Patrick’s Flame of Wrath,” is “MacDonald of Duntroon’s Salute.” No. 14 is a version of “Macintosh’s Lament.” Nos. 15 and 18 are good tunes unknown to modern pibroch collections. No. 11, “Tullibardine’s Salute,” is the same as “the Marquis of Argyll’s Salute.” The tunes so translated are found to be complete and better versions than the modern versions of the same name. I make no apology for a scale that produces such results. The other tunes under known names differ in a few particulars from modern versions, and this staggers investigators of the type who compare MacLeod’s versions with modern versions. When they come to a difference they throw MacLeod aside and characterise his notation as nonsense. I quote from Mr. Grants last letter some remarks which prove how a man may be inherently an imperfect observer, and his opinion therefore valueless.

Mr. Grant says I admit I cannot tell why the singling and doubling vocables of tune 18 in MacLeod’s book differ. Let Mr. Grant stick to the facts. I did not admit anything! Regarding the crun-luath a mach of “War or Peace,” he now says he meant a “breabach.” He then has another fling at Captain MacLeod. It appears to me he is in a haze. A man who writes as he does in his tunes, a toar-luath breabach, and for its doubling a toar-luath fosgailte, need not cavil at the hiediedru (singling) hididtri (doubling) of Captain MacLeod’s tune 18.

Regarding my contention that taor-luath and crun-luath are corruptions of tri and ceithir-luath, meaning three and four-finger variations respectively, he remarks, “Who ever heard such nonsense? This proves the doctor is not a piper, a piobaireachd player, nor a master of it. Taor-luath on low A only is a four-finger movement, etc., crun-luath is a five finger movement, etc.” If Mr. Grant would indulge less in sweeping generalities and use his faculties a little more, he might persuade people that he possesses the tremendous knowledge of piobaireachd he claims to have. He is not more successful in his enumeration of fingers embellishing a taor-luath and crun-luath then he was in counting the vowel sounds in hiodratatateriri, which he says are seven. Your correspondent fails to distinguish between fingers and notes. Let me teach him! A siubhal or daludh variation is embellished by two fingers, G and D, or G and E; and open tri-ludh is embellished by G, D, and E fingers; a tri-ludh, a steach, is embellished by low G, D, and E, so is a tri-ludh a neach; a ceithir-ludh, a steach, is formed by using F in addition to G, D, and E, and ends by opening E. It will interest genuine pipers, whose attention Mr. Grant draws to this assumed “nonsense” of mine, to note that my contentions are correct. Mr. Grant will be well advised to get some intelligent piper to teach him the difference betwixt fingers and notes, which the thousands of spare hours he tells your readers he has spent in acquiring, as he thinks, an incomparable knowledge of piobaireachd, have apparently failed to teach him.

When Mr. James Center first visited Australia some years ago, he met Mr. Simon Fraser, who gave him the ground of the piobaireachd in canntaireachd, and said–”There! you cannot play that, nor can any man living but myself.” Mr. Center sent the tune home to his father, who in turn sent it to me with the query, “Is this music or a joke?” I translated the tune, which was “Sir James MacDonald of the Isles’ Salute,” a MacArthur tune, and returned it to Mr. Center. The canntaireachd differed slightly from Captain MacLeod’s. It was perfect, and this very perfection which Mr. Grant longs for, let me for a long time to credit Mr. Fraser with having made the notation. By testing all Mr. Fraser’s statements I found no errors. In the course of years I knew all Mr. Fraser’s history relative to canntaireachd–MacCrimmons’, Captain MacLeod, and the Bruces of Glenelg.

Here is the whole story condensed from Mr. Fraser’s many letters to me. “My father came out here in 1836. He knew Captain MacLeod well. It is an error to say MacLeod was not a piper. My father said he was a good piobaireachd player and a violinist, and a fine all-round musician. Captain MacLeod’s son came later to Australia, and he brought his father’s scales and manuscripts with him, and they are in my possession. Both my father and mother knew canntaireachd well. My father was taught by John Dubh MacCrimmon. My mother taught me! She was taught by her grandfather when she was a girl. Her grandfather was a celebrated piper, taught by Patrick Og MacCrimmon, and his name was Charles MacArthur. I am pleased to write to you and wish you were beside me. It is marvelous how you managed to read the oldest forms of MacCrimmon’s notation as presented in Captain MacLeod’s book, MacLeod took the oldest tunes and printed them, as he was under an obligation not to give the whole thing away. I shall send you from my collection anything you like. You should be proud of yourself, because you and I are the only two men alive who know all the MacCrimmon secrets.”

Later on, when I sent Mr. Fraser a copy of part I. of “The Royal Collection Piobaireachd,” he wrote, among other things, “Mr. Grant’s first tune is a palpable variation of an old pibroch called “The Menzies’ Banner.”

Sir, I am not going to answer any more questions regarding the MacCrimmon notation through your columns. I know all the MacCrimmon secrets; and I am willing to teach them to any piper or any interested person who cares to call on me here. I think Mr. Grant has had a sufficient advertisement, and I do not intend to use your columns further to discuss this notation business.–I am, etc.,

Charles Bannatyne