OT: 14 December 1912 – John Grant “The MacCrimmon Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 14 December, 1912

The MacCrimmon Canntaireachd

42 Elmfield Avenue, Aberdeen, 9 December, 1912

Sir,–In your issue of seventh inst. there appear two letters, one from the pen of Dr. K. N. MacDonald, and another from Mr. John MacLennan. The text of these letters is that I have challenged the accuracy of Neil MacLeod of Gesto’s booklet of supposed MacCrimmon Canntaireachd.

What I am concerned about is the question as to whether or not the MacCrimmon Canntaireachd written by the great masters exists at the present day in perfect form, as they invented it and taught their pupils from.

It has been said by some of your correspondents that the Gesto book of 1828 is the genuine MacCrimmon notation. Then if it is so, there need be no more about it. But those who know better cannot close their eyes to the number of glaring errors which appear in Gesto’s work.

Dr. MacDonald says in his letter: “It is a mistake to think that a piobaireachd must have 17 variations besides the ‘urlar’.” I never said a piobaireachd should have 17 variations. Dr. MacDonald asks: “who inspired or authorised your correspondent, Mr. John Grant, to search into secrets.” It certainly was not Dr. MacDonald; he would rather like to see me discontinue my search. All the same I will answer his query. I am satisfied that the Gesto book of 1828 is not based on a scientific foundation or a correct system of notation, such as the MacCrimmons used, and Dr. MacDonald or those who oppose me have not proved it to be correct. They have still to do this.

Could any of your readers tell me the difference between my saying that the Gesto book is incorrect and Dr. MacDonald saying that Mackenzie was an incorrect historian? Dr. MacDonald wants to give Gesto the honour of his booklet of 1828 being correct when it is not; and why not give Mackenzie the historian the same?

Dr. MacDonald says there is a vast difference between “could not play” and “did not play.” Perhaps there is, but the Rev. Alex. MacGregor did not say the three words “did not play” alone. He said something more, the meaning of which is quite clear: “Gesto was crazy about piobaireachd, but did not play himself.” This is conflicting evidence. Supposing it was taken for granted that Gesto was a piper, it only proves his ignorance all the more. Dr. MacDonald says that arguing about a subject of which one knows very little is like “beating the air,” and I agree with him. When he makes a minute study of piobaireachd he will understand its nature and construction; then he will see that Gesto’s book of 1828 is anything but correct.

Mr. John MacLennan has got into a needless consternation over the two words “could” and “did.” He says I changed “did” into “could.” Perhaps Mr. MacLennan did not understand “Fionn’s” letter. Let me give him two small quotations from it. Alexander Mackenzie, Inverness, wrote as follows: “Capt. Neil MacLeod (Gesto) was a great authority on pipe music, and although he could not play the bagpipes himself . . .” The Rev. Mr. McGregor also said: “he (Gesto) was crazy about piobaireachd, but did not play himself.”

Now this is the same dish, only that in the case of Mackenzie it is served hot, and in that of the Rev. Mr. McGregor it is served cold. Mr. MacLennan and Dr. MacDonald can partake of either. I cannot see that they can avoid accepting both. Mr. MacLennan says that “Gesto is allowed to be a truthful, honest, and honourable gentleman.” Granted; but this does not prove that he played the pipes, and he does not say in his book of 1828 that he played the bagpipes. The very fact that there is proof that Gesto could not play, and did not play, explains the whole matter, and accounts for the incorrect method of canntaireachd found in his booklet.

Mr. MacLennan, who seems to be very well versed in all matters pertaining to piobaireachd and canntaireachd, did not answer the question I put to him in my last letter. Had I been at fault he would have tripped me up. He writes upon points which are quite useless in solving the question as to whether or not MacLeod’s book is correct or incorrect. When those who oppose me answer the three questions that I have already put to them, which ought to be too well known to be repeated here again, and prove that I am wrong, then I will write an apology to each individually, and also in your columns.–I am, etc.,

John Grant