OT: 13 December 1913 – Report: “The Pipe and Its Music” by J.P. Grant

The Oban Times, 13 December, 1913

The Pipe and Its Music

by Mr. J. P. Grant, Jun.

St. Oran’s Ceilidh met last Thursday evening in the Free Gardeners’ Institute, Picardy Place. The Rev. J. Campbell McGregor presided, and introduced Mr. J. P. Grant, advocate, yr. of Rothiemurchus, who read a paper entitled “The Pipe and its Music.”

Among those present were–Rev. J. Campbell McGregor and Mrs. McGregor, Mr. and Mrs. John MacCulloch, Miss MacKinnon, Mr. MacLucas, Mr. Ross, Pipe-Major A. R. MacLeod, Pipe-Major Hugh Calder, Pipe-Major James Sutherland, Mr. J. J. Angus, Mr. H. McGregor, Mr. K. Maclachlan, Mr. Wm. Begg, Mr. J. Grant, etc.

Mr. Grant, in his lecture, said that he proposed to lay before his audience some facts concerning the pipe and its music which might be of interest to Highlanders in general. He alluded to the extraordinary prevalence of the pipe in some form throughout Europe, Asia, India, and Africa. The bagpipe, or that form of pipe kept continuously sounding by inflating a bag, had been found in many European countries; while among the Pathans in India, the Burmese, the Chinese, and Somalis, the pipe or chanter alone, without the bag, is still found. Mr. Grant then exhibited a Burmese and an Indian chanter used by the Pathans, a mountain race, which were both held in the hand in the same way as our Highland chanter. This similarity between our instrument and that of the Indian hill tribes had had the excellent effect of drawing the native hill regiments into closer touch and sympathy with our own Highland regiments. Many of these regiments had adopted our Highland pipe and its music. Mr. Grant exhibited two photographs of native pipe bands, which had been instructed in pipe music by pipers in Highland regiments. One of the photographs showed the instructor of one of the bands, Lance Corporal A. Robertson, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, Quetta, India. The photographs showed these hillmen to be stalwart, clean-limbed mountaineers, with a fine soldierly bearing. They wore plaids of Black Watch Tartan. One Regiment had lately petitioned for leave to where the kilt, but without success. Though they were fond of our pipe music, he was informed that their performances on our pipes were very mechanical and expressionless.

Mr. Grant pointed out that the chanters exhibited had a brass sole, which was loose, and intended to be rattled about as a sort of accompaniment to the music. These Eastern chanters had all small reeds, which were put directly into the mouth and blown.

In commenting on the difference between the scale of the pipe and that of the piano, Mr. Grant stated that it had been discovered by Professor J. H. Ellis, a famous English musician, that the scale of the pipe was almost identical with that in use in Arabia for the last 1100 years. The Professor was of opinion that the pipe had been introduced into Europe from the East during the Crusades about the 13th century personally, he preferred the view that the Celtic peoples–wave after wave of whom came West from the East long before historical times–brought the pipe with them, and left it wherever they spread. There was, however, one noticeable fact in this connection which he was unable to explain. Brittany, Cornwall, Northumberland, the Lowlands, and the Highlands of Scotland had each their own form of pipe, but among the Welsh alone of all Celtic peoples could he find no trace of the pipes in any form.

The Pipe in the Highlands

Opinions differed extraordinarily on the question of the antiquity of the pipe in the Highlands. In the absence of definite evidence either way, it seemed to him probable that it had been with them from the earliest times. The fact that little was recorded about the pipe before the 16th and 17th centuries might be explained, he thought, in two ways, first, that Highland records in which they might expect to find mention of pipes and pipers have not, for many plain reasons, survived; and, secondly, that before that date it seemed that it was the harp, and not the pipe, which found particular favour.

It was probable that the pipe was brought into popular estimation by the cultivation of certain musical families, first among whom were the justly famous MacCrimmons. They were a numerous clan, and there were at one time over 200 of the name living between Galtrigal and Loch Bracadale in MacLeod’s country, and another large colony of them in Glenelg. These men, the pipers to the Chief of MacLeod, held a farm or farms in virtue of their honourable office and profession, and the “John MacCrimmon, who composed ‘Fhuair mi pog do lamh an Righ’ (I got a kiss of the Kings hand), on being honoured by King James, was called by his fellow pipers, “King of Pipers.”

In those days the profession of a piper was held in honour. A long and careful training was required of a piper. Neil Munro had exactly caught the spirit of it when he wrote in his “Lost Pibroch,” “To the make of a piper go seven years of his own learning and seven generations before.” “If it is in, it will out, as the Gaelic old-word says; if not let him take to the net or the sword.” This was the first point, he must be musical to produce music. Having proved his ability in this direction under perhaps some local player–the laird’s piper–the young piper would be sent by the laird to Skye to be taught or finished by the MacCrimmons or MacArthurs. These two families kept what were called colleges. Here the pupils would stay for years–even 12 years in some cases.

An Indenture of Agreement

The following is an indenture of agreement for this sort of apprenticeship:–

“At Beaufort, the nynth day of March, 1743. It is contracted and agreed upon betwixt the Rt. Honble. Simon, Lord Lovat, on the one part, and David Fraser, his lordship’s servant, brother-german to William Fraser, tacksman in Beauly, his lordship’s musician, and the said William Fraser, as cautioner and surety for his said brother on the other part, in manner following, That is to say, whereas the said Simon, Lord Fraser of Lovat, has out of his own generosity cloathed and maintained in the said David Fraser for the severall years past, and has also bestow’d upon him during that time for his education as a pyper with the now deceased Evan McGrigor, his lordship’s late pyper, and that his ldshp. is now to send him upon his own charges to the Isle of Skye in order to have him perfected a Highland pyper by the famous Malcolm McGrimon, whom his ldshp. is to reward for educating the said David Fraser. Therefore, and in consideration of his ldshp.’s great charity, kindness, and generosity, the said David and William Fraser’s have become bound, and hereby bind and engage themselves conjunctly and severally, that the said David Fraser shall honestly and faithfully served the said Simon, Lord Fraser of Lovat, or his air or successor, by night and day for the haill space of seven full and compleat years from and after the term of Whitsunday next to come, and that he shall never do or commit anything inconsistent with, or contrary to, that duty and obedience which a faithful servant owes to a bountiful master, but shall serve them uprightly to the utmost of his skill and capacity. For which caused and on the other part, the said Simon, Lord Fraser of Lovat, binds and obliges himself and his ldshp.’s heirs, executors, and successors, whatsoever to maintain the said David Fraser his servant, during the space above-mentioned in Bed, Board, and Washing, and to furnish and to provide him in cloathes, shoes, and stockings, and likewise to satisfy and pay to him yearly ilk year the sum of fifty merks Scots money in name of wages during the said space of seven years, commencing from Whitsunday next, and in the meantime to send him with all due convenience to the Isle of Skye to be perfected a Highland pyper by the above named McGrimon, the charge and expense where of his ldshp. is to defray as said is, etc.

“Here follows testing clause, etc.

William Fraser.
David Fraser.

John Forbes, witness.
Hugh Fraser, witness.

In describing the old form of Highland bagpipe, the lecturer showed pieces of a bush which he had cut in Argyll, which is still called “Craobh nam piobarean,” or the piper’s tree, from the tubular branches of this bush; they made reeds also of Spanish cane. Mr. Grant insisted on the need there was for the increased attention of pipers to Ceol Mor. In olden times a man was not deemed a piper unless he was well-versed in this the deeper and grander major music of the pipes. He also commented on the work the Piobaireachd Society were doing in the way of raising the standard of piping in the Army and in teaching piping in the Outer Isles, where many promising lads were being taught through the Society’s agency by Mr. John MacDonald, while on periodical visits, and by local pipers.

Mr. Grant’s paper was listened to with keen appreciation by the audience, to accompany imparted much of his own enthusiasm.

Votes of thanks to chairman and lecturer terminated the meeting.