OT: 29 June 1912 – John Grant “The Secrets of Canntaireachd

The Oban Times, 29 June, 1912

The Secrets of Canntaireachd

Aberdeen, 24 June, 1912

Sir,–Dr. Bannatyne says Mr. Simon Fraser is far away, and perhaps it is as well for both of them! If they were both put under Dr. MacDonald’s test of being each confined to a separate room and stripped of all information, their knowledge in canntaireachd would be found to be very much less than what they profess or can command with their pan and all their means of help around them. Then the revelations which Dr. Bannatyne’s scale can lay bare would be less surprising and lead to more frivolous amusement! Dr. Bannatyne took care not to admit anything regarding tune No. 18 in doubling and singling of the crunluath. This is an admission that he cannot tell why the singling and doubling differ.

Tune No. 3 was entirely beyond his knowledge, and outside the compass of his imperfect scale. Dr. Bannatyne will find in Dr. MacDonald’s portion of this letter that there is no turning round on my part regarding “War or Peace.” Gesto gives the title “crunluath mach,” and under it he prints a “crunluath breabach” variation.

Dr. Bannatyne says I will be well advised to go to some intelligent piper for instructions, but from what he writes your correspondent cannot be termed one of those “intelligent” and exalted few. He can say notes of fingers, chanters or thumbs, or anything he has a mind to, but he is hopelessly wrong in saying in any shape or form that toarluath is a three-fingered, and crunluath a four-fingered movement. I am not ashamed to admit that I have spent thousands of spare hours in the study of piobaireachd, for in my efforts I have been more successful in theory and practice than your correspondent, whom I am prepared to challenge in any manner, at a suitable time and place, under proper judging or arbitration.

Dr. Bannatyne says he sent Mr. Simon Fraser a copy of “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd.” He said he never designated my tunes as piobaireachd. Why does he do so now? He must be of a peculiar mind. When he sent my piobaireachd to Mr. Simon Fraser, Mr. Fraser said “King Edward VII Salute,” of which I have had royal sanction, was a palpable variation of an old pibroch “The Menzies Banner.” To show your readers have grossly erroneous these assertions are regarding this beautiful tune in question, I can swear upon my oath that I never set eyes on the tune “Menzies’ Banner,” nor ever heard a note of it. Therefore, injustice, this accusation is based on pure jealousy or something else. I am a Highlander, too loyal to my country and my late Sovereign, to offer his late Majesty anything but the genuine first-fruits of my labours. Such accusations can only be put forward by men of the most narrow-minded type.

Now I am going to give your readers something new. Dr. Bannatyne says his scale is analytical, and that he got it from MacLeod of Gesto’s book. The Gesto book contains no scale, and how could he get it there? Dr. Bannatyne also says Mr. Simon Fraser uses an improved system. Now this proves that they are not so much in harmony as Dr. Bannatyne would try to make out in his last letter.

Further, Dr. Bannatyne says: “where the same vowel denotes two different notes, the correct rendering is that which gives harmony.” Now if a piper was deprived of all other information or means of knowledge, what could he make of a system of notation so imperfect as this, which Dr. Bannatyne professes to know so much about? He says he knows all the MacCrimmon secrets, but if this is an example of them, I am very sorry for the pupils he attempts to enlist from his letter of last week. He says I have had a sufficient advertisement. I pay for my advertisements in “The Oban Times” when I advertise, which I can prove from my receipt. What he has said about “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” is not in keeping with his advertisement. Finally, he says he is not to discuss this matter any further. That is surely because he cannot hold his ground or prove himself a master of canntaireachd. He certainly does not retire from the field with a glorious victory.–I am, etc.,

John Grant