OT: 29 June 1912 – K.N. MacDonald

The Oban Times, 29 June, 1912

21 Clarendon Crescent, Edinburgh, 22 June, 1912

Sir,–I like to see a man fighting against terrible odds, even when he is squashed like a pancake! It shows indomitable pluck, to say the least of it. Dr. Bannatyne’s and Lieut. MacLennan’s thrusts in “The Oban Times” of the 15th inst. are wounds beyond the aid of antiseptics. Both give clear and independent sources of evidence that Capt. MacLeod was not only an authority on the canntaireachd sol-fa notation of the bagpipes as taught by the MacCrimmons, but that he actually played on the instrument.

Now if he actually played on the bagpipes, and was taught by John MacCrimmon, who supplied him with the canntaireachd, all the tunes in his book of 1828 must be absolutely correct and as the MacCrimmons played them, and that settles the whole question as far as Gesto is concerned. If other people could read his syllabic notation that is not his fault, as he gave what the last of the MacCrimmons gave him, and which he evidently understood thoroughly. A man can’t teach other people bagpipe music unless he can play himself and understands the signification of the notes and their position on the chanter.

Now we have overwhelming evidence that he did teach others, including four of his own sons. I have information from several sources, including that of a granddaughter, that Gesto was a musician with a very acute ear for detecting false notes; that he knew the bagpipes thoroughly, and composed pibrochs; and anyone who denies these points is only beating the air for argumentative purposes.

I must now correct Mr. Grant in one important statement. I did not say that “the Gesto tunes are not rightly noted.” What I did say was that “if there is anything lost, it is that the pibrochs have not been noted properly” (in the staff notation). Dr. Bannatyne was quite right in saying that the people who composed pibrochs were dead long ago. He was not aware then that I had composed one, and even if he had been, he might not have considered it equal to a MacCrimmon production. If I had not been more shy than Mr. John Grant it would have been heard on the mountain-tops long ago! Meantime he has not given his interpretation of the “crunluath mach” in five syllables. That’s about the real “glass house,” as it would be impossible for him to prove that Gesto’s version was wrong.

So far as I am concerned, I am satisfied that Gesto’s authority and integrity have been vindicated, and that there is not a spark of evidence to show that his syllabic notation was anything else than what John MacCrimmon recited to him, and there I must leave Mr. John Grant. The rest of the literary world must not be kept standing still, even to please the detractors of the canntaireachd in Gesto’s work.–I am, etc.,

K. N. MacDonald

P.S.–A Dr. Ross from South Africa has just written to me expressing the interest that all out there take in the discussion that is going on in “The Oban Times,” and gives corroborative proof of Mr. Simon Fraser’s evidence.

K. N. M.