OT: 4 May 1912 – Charles Bannatyne “The Secrets of Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 4 May, 1912

The Secrets of Canntaireachd

Salsburgh, by Holytown

29 April, 1912

Sir,–It was not my intention to take any further part in this controversy, but seeing that Mr. Fraser’s letter has given Mr. Grant an excuse to continue his sophistries and incidentally drag me in, perhaps you will allow me to recapitulate the subject. This team and honourable sportsman, as he terms himself, began the discussion by stating that I claimed to be one of two men alive who could read the old pipers’ notation. When I challenged him to say when and where I made the claim, he was unable to do so. He next challenged Mr. Fraser and me to prove our point. What point, may I ask? I raised the point, that Mr. Grant did, and therefore the onus of proof lies with him. He says there is no MacCrimmon notation, and by saying so he traduces the honour and veracity of Captain Macleod of Gesto, who published a book of tunes in what he stated was the ancient notation of the MacCrimmons, by which their pupils were taught piobaireachd at Boreraig college, in Skye.

Whether is Captain Macleod or Mr. John Grant to be believed? Captain Macleod is long since dead, and cannot defend himself. He had personal acquaintance with some of the MacCrimmons and an expert’s knowledge of music. Mr. Grant has neither. I believe the statement left by the dead man, and which can be seen on the title page of his book. That page states:

A Collection of Piobaireachd, or Pipe tunes, as verbally taught by the MacCrummen Pipers in the Isle of Skye, to their apprentices. Now published as taken from John MacCrummen, etc.

This is definite enough, and if the notation is not that the MacCrimmons, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that indicated in Mr. Grant letter, namely, that Captain Macleod was a lying imposter–which no sane man will believe.

Mr. Grant admits he knows nothing about canntaireachd, yet he states (1) it is not founded on the scientific principle, (2) he could prove in an hour whether Mr. Fraser and I know it’s secrets based on the scientific principle or not, (3) that these pedantic assertions, coming from one who admits his ignorance of the subject, are a challenge to us. How, I ask, can a man ignorant on his own showing of a specific subject, prove anything or challenge anyone regarding that subject?

Further on he says: “I can stand my ground with Mr. Fraser and Dr. Bannatyne, and carry my point to the end,” etc. Mr. Grant raised a certain point which he can’t prove, and so for weeks he has challenged Mr. Fraser and me to prove an affirmative to his asserted, but unproved, negative. Strange that a man who, if we accept his own estimate contained in his letter of 22nd April, is such a keen and honourable sportsman, should employ such methods of controversy. When cornered he finds refuge by changing his front–right-about-face–or bolts to the cover of a side issue.

But now we have arrived at the application of all his numerous heads, and let me quote it in full. He says:

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

Now, sir, I possess both editions of Mr. Grant’s works, and I am pleased to hear that they were a success. I suppose “success” means they paid! But his tunes do not resemble the form of the three hundred and odd pibrochs which have descended to us from the old masters of the art. I am pleased to learn that Mr. Grant’s greatest ambition is to be a master in the art of piobaireachd in every shape and form, at any cost. Perhaps this humble vessel may insist that desirable ambition, and at least it may help Mr. Grant to remove the beam from his own eye before he attempts to take the motes from those of his brethren.–I am, etc.,

Charles Bannatyne, M.B., C.M.