OT: 8 June 1912 – John Grant “The Secrets of Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 8 June, 1912

The Secrets of Canntaireachd

42 Elmfield Avenue, Aberdeen, 3 June, 1912

Sir,–In your last issue, Dr. K. N. MacDonald says that I am wasting a lot of ink and paper over imaginary lost secrets. It is clearly apparent that Dr. MacDonald is also wasting his paper and ink, for from what he writes he knows nothing whatever about the MacCrimmon sol-fa notation. He also says that I will frighten all the pipers out of Aberdeen, but I may inform him that they are all solid-headed men, and not so easily frightened. From what he writes, I should say that Dr. MacDonald is not a piper. He says that if it had not been for Gesto’s book, mine would not have been so well advertised, and but for it I would not know what I now profess. Captain MacLeod’s book has nothing to do with “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” whatever, and there is not a piper in existence who has learned a single note from MacLeod of Gesto’s book. Dr. MacDonald also says that the MacCrimmons had no great secrets beyond the wit of man. If he had a knowledge of piobaireachd he would see that they had secrets in the notation beyond the knowledge of MacLeod of Gesto; and further, if he studied Gesto’s work he could not fail to see that it is nothing short of a delusion so far as accuracy is concerned. As to Captain MacLeod’s large collection of piobaireachd in MS., if these had been written by a MacCrimmon’s hand they would have been perfect in form, whereas MacLeod’s examples are anything but perfect. Regarding my question as to the crunluath mach of tune No. 3 in Gesto’s book, Dr. MacDonald, instead of answering the question, asks me to write out the syllables separately, so that he may see what the divisions are. Dr. MacDonald holds that MacLeod’s examples of canntaireachd are perfect, and it is for him to tell me how many syllables are in the variation he quotes, and he can write them out if he wishes. I maintain that there are seven syllables in each movement, and the Doctor can prove more or less syllables if he can. My question regarding tune No. 18 Dr. MacDonald has passed over unanswered. Captain MacLeod may have been a violin player, and brought a thousand pianos and carriages to Skye, but he was not a piper. If his book of examples of the MacCrimmon notation was correct, I would be the first to rejoice, but they are only imitations or imaginative attempts to record a mysterious notation.

Dr. Bannatyne asks how many piobaireachd were handed down to us in perfect form, or in what notation were they handed down in? I may inform him that piobaireachd was handed down quite independent of notation. It was preserved for us today by instrumental performance. I said Captain MacLeod never invented or had canntaireachd of his own, and neither he had. He had imaginative examples of the MacCrimmon canntaireachd. I said all that we can say with safety is that Captain MacLeod had 21 examples of the MacCrimmon sol-fa. Although the late Rev. Alex. MacGregor wrote saying that MacLeod had some hundreds of piobaireachd written in MacCrimmon sol-fa, what is that to us? Where are they now? That is what concerns us. We have only seen 20 one of MacLeod’s examples. MacLeod may as well never have have the rest, so far as we are concerned.

In his last letter Dr. Bannatyne agrees that it was Lieut. MacLennan, Edinburgh, whom he had to thank for helping him to print an apology for the MacCrimmon sol-fa notation scale. Such stuff was unknown to the MacCrimmons. If they had seen it they would have pitched it aside, as they did the “ceol aotrom,” as useless material for pipe music or piobaireachd. It may interest pipers to draw their attention to what Dr. Bannatyne said in his writings in past years regarding the variations he mentions, viz., Toar-luath and crun-luath. Dr. Bannatyne says toar-luath is a three-fingered movement, and crun-luath is a four-fingered movement. Who ever heard such nonsense? This proves that the Doctor is not a piper, a piobaireachd player, nor a master of it. Toar-luath on low A only is a four-fingered movement; on any other note of the chanter, if he cares to try, he can tell me if there are more or less fingers required to perform this variation. Crun-luath is a five-fingered movement on low A, and he can apply the same to other higher notes is in the toar-luath, and let me know the results.

Regarding the question I asked Dr. Bannatyne about the crunluath mach in tune No. 3 in MacLeod of Gesto’s book, he says that it is a good enough movement when written in ordinary notation. I did not ask anything about ordinary notation when I put the question to him. I said in the examples referred to, and reproduced in your last week’s issue by Dr. K. N. MacDonald, that there were seven syllables instead of five syllables, but seeing that your correspondent, Dr. Bannatyne, has mentioned ordinary notation, would he kindly illustrate to me the way he would write the movement referred to in ordinary notation? Further, Dr. Bannatyne says the movement referred to in MacLeod’s book resembles no modern movement of the same name. May I ask Dr. Bannatyne if he would give some further explanation of this mysterious movement? The movement I referred to is a crunluath breabach, not crunluath mach at all, which proves that MacLeod of Gesto knew nothing about piobaireachd variations; and what is more, the tune that this variation appears in is not constructed for a breabach, making the blunder still the more apparent. Apart from all this, will Dr. Bannatyne tell me how many syllables are in the crunluath mach referred to, and how many should there be in actual crunluath mach? To the question about tune No. 18 in Gesto’s book–crunluath–Dr. Bannatyne admits that he cannot answer this. I asked him if there was any resemblance between the singling and doubling of the crun-luath of tune No. 18. I still want that answer.

Dr. Bannatyne now says he never designated my tunes as piobaireachd. Why did he not tell me the tunes he never imagines they resemble in his first letter? If he asks any piper to examine the book and see that there is neither time nor written in them, how did Dr. Bannatyne take so long to find this out? He says “many good pipers call my piobaireachd eccentricities!” When he be good enough to give me a list of those pipers’ names in your columns? I may inform him that my compositions have been played by the foremost pipers of the day, and praised by them also, but they are “pipers,” and when your correspondent supplies me with his list of names I will produce mine.

Dr. Bannatyne admits that the scale he published was not the real MacCrimmon scale. Therefore it was his own; and used by no one else but himself.–I am, etc.,

John Grant