OT: 15 June 1912 – John MacLennan

The Oban Times, 15 June, 1912

26 Arden Street, Edinburgh, 10 June, 1912

Sir,–I had no intention of taking part in this controversy, being prepared to look on. But since Mr. Grant has been so kind as to credit me, on two occasions, with supplying Dr. Bannatyne with materials for a spurious bagpipe scale, I crave a small portion of your valuable paper in order to put the true facts before the numerous readers of “The Oban Times.”

Dr. Bannatyne and I had a conversation regarding piobaireachd generally in the terms used in it especially, which conversation, I believe, was to our mutual benefit–to mine at any rate. Dr. Bannatyne then mentioned that he had mastered Captain MacLeod of Gesto’s canntaireachd, and either said he had made, or was about to make, a scale which would be an aid in the reading of the book, and I simply mentioned the Mackay system. I did not, and was not asked to, aid him in anything of the kind, and the paragraph which Mr. Grant quotes in support of his statement does not say so; it only gives my statement as a small item of corroboration.

Mr. Grant, in his letter of the 8th inst., states–”Dr. Bannatyne agrees that it was Lieut. McLennan, Edinburgh, whom he had to think for helping him to print an apology for the MacCrimmons sol-fa notation scale.” I fail to see any such statement in the Doctor’s letter, and I am sure he never did, and never will, make any such statement. All the same, had it been true, I should be glad to be credited with such a smart piece of work.

Let Dr. Bannatyne’s scale be what it may, if Mr. Grant cares to, and can compare it with the MacCrimmon canntaireachd scale, which the Rev. Alexander MacGregor, Minister of Inverness and of Kilmuir, Skye, got from Gesto and gave in a lecture before the Gaelic Society of Inverness, he will fine, provided he can pronounce the Gaelic alphabet properly, that they almost come to the same conclusion.

In one paragraph Mr. Grant writes:–” there should be no difference in the syllables or notes (beats?) In the singling and the doubling.” The information is quite new to me. The words of several Pibrochs are printed throughout the various Gaelic books, and it will be obliging if Mr. Grant will point out one having the same number of syllables in both.

We now come to the statement–” The tune that this (crunluath) variation is in is not constructed for a breabach.” That is pure nonsense. The crunluath can be written breabach or otherwise as the author has a mind; there is no rule.

Lastly, Mr. Grant sends out the challenge–”Put any questions regarding it (piobaireachd) that I cannot answer.” The readers of “The Oban Times” will, I am sure, be very pleased if Mr. Grant will, without the aid of the Rev. Neil Ross, give them the musical definition–not a description, but the meaning–of the following words in piobaireachd books, viz.:–Crunluath, dochadh an ludan, fridh, ludh chrodh, riluth. toarluath, and urlar.

John MacDonald, a blind piper who died in Dundee in 1876, was taught by Gesto’s piper, and knew the whole family well. He told me that Gesto had an extraordinary fine musical year; that he could to the pipe better than his piper could; that he could sing the words of the great number of piobaireachd; and that he could croon every piobaireachd known in the district. In giving me the story the blind man said, “he had tunes written in a big book which I saw myself.” Should Mr. Grant wish me to prove the statement, I must admit I cannot–no more that I can prove that the Wolf of Badenoch burnt and pillaged the Cathedral of Elgin. Both are true all the same.–I am, etc.,

John McLennan