OT: 27 April 1912 – John Grant “The Secrets of Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 27 April, 1912

The Secrets of Canntaireachd

40 Elmfield Avenue, Aberdeen

22 April, 1912

Sir,–I am very glad to hear from Mr. Simon Fraser, and would like to have a little more information from him. Dr. Bannatyne is silent. I have no grudge against either of those two gentlemen. I am on the field as a keen and honourable sportsman, and if I am found to be wanting in knowledge, or if they can prove their point, then I will give in. On the other hand, they hold out that it is argument alone that I want.

Mr. Fraser says, in your issue of last week, that I am trying to leave the impression that there is no one living now who knows or understands the MacCrimmons’ notation or their secrets. I may inform Mr. Fraser that it is not a case of trying; it is an absolute fact that there is no one living who has proved that he knows the real MacCrimmon secrets of canntaireachd or the scale for their verbal system of notation. Mr. Fraser says that he is in a position to prove that he has all the scales and philosophy of Patrick Mor MacCrimmon. Well then, all that remains for me to say is: Why does Mr. Fraser not prove this and be done with it? Then the matter would be ended. As he has not yet proved this, let me ask you one question. If Mr. Fraser has got the MacCrimmon scale, where did he get it? He has told us already in his writings that the MacCrimmons all died without leaving a record of their scale. Further, Mr. Fraser says that he is willing to show and explain the scales to anyone who cares to call on him personally.

This is rather an amusing barrier to put in the way. Mr. Fraser surely does not expect that I am to take a trip to Australia to call on him personally to receive instructions or explanations on his method of canntaireachd. Mr. Fraser professes to be armed with the MacCrimmon mysteries, while he would try to make out that I would not know whether he knew them or not. Mr. Fraser says I have admitted that I do not understand the real secrets of the MacCrimmon notation, and it only stands to reason that I would. How could I understand the secrets of a thing or system that I have never seen? No man living has ever seen the MacCrimmon notation written by a MacCrimmon’s hand; if so, they have never brought it to light or proved it.

Mr. Fraser says he has proved beyond doubt that Dr. Bannatyne can translate the MacCrimmon notation by sending him unknown tunes. This is all very well to read in the columns of the paper, but were it not that barrier coming in between again in the case of Mr. Fraser–the thousands of miles of ocean waves that separate us–if I had a personal meeting with him and Dr. Bannatyne I would prove in the space of one hour whether they knew the secrets of canntaireachd based on a scientific principle, not to speak of the real MacCrimmon system which they have never seen. Now this is a challenge to both of them.

I have the book known as the “Gesto Collection,” written by Captain Macleod, and I can study it as well as anyone, but it is not based on a scientific principle. Another thing is, Macleod did not know the MacCrimmon scale, or he would have published it. Dr. Bannatyne has already admitted that he only understands the system in Macleod’s book–not the MacCrimmon system. Another thing is, why did Mr. Fraser not answer the questions which I have put to him on previous occasions? Mr. Fraser says that if I think I can prove that Dr. Bannatyne or he do not understand the MacCrimmon notation, he is “afraid that I have undertaken a contract that I will find very difficult to carry out.” It is for them to prove that they understand a system of notation they never have seen, not me. Therefore, no difficulty lies in my way, nor no task, because were it so it would be to me a pleasure. I am not afraid, but on the other hand confident, that I can stand on my ground with him and Dr. Bannatyne, and carry my point to the end, and if they can prove what they claim to be true, I will congratulate them and give in, although there is no sign of this happening.

Another thing I would like to acquaint Mr. Fraser and Dr. Bannatyne of, and that is that canntaireachd is only one system of musical notation, and at the present age or a hundred years back, the verbal system has done nothing whatever for the furtherance or preservation of piobaireachd. It is dead. Those two gentlemen have done nothing to put their knowledge into effect in canntaireachd–only written about it. If they want to bring it back to use, why don’t they publish a volume of it? Then they could say that they had done something in reality, as printing sol-fa notation in type is cheap enough now-a-days.

I have devoted many years and thousands of spare hours to the cultivation and preservation of the form of piobaireachd from harm or degradation by unskilled masters of the art. I have proved my skill or superiority in piobaireachd by putting my productions into two editions before the public, and have met with success.

When the real MacCrimmon notation is found, I will not rest until I can master it, were it for no other reason than the bringing back to use of the system of notation that the professors of Boreraig brought piobaireachd to perfection in. My ambition is to be a master in the art of piobaireachd in every shape and form at any cost, and allow it no longer to like behind. But as far as the verbal notation of Boreraig is concerned, I have yet to see it, as well as my friends.–I am, etc.,

John Grant