OT: 3 May 1913 – John Grant “The MacCrimmon Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 3 May, 1913

The MacCrimmon Canntaireachd

Edinburgh, 28 April, 1913

Sir,–Apparently Dr. MacDonald’s main idea is to make an attempt to prove that “in reality I can know little about the MacCrimmons or their music,” other than what Gesto and your correspondent have told us. Dr. MacDonald’s own knowledge of the art of piobaireachd in any shape or form is not incomprehensible or insurmountable.

In my last letter I said Gesto never wrote a perfect system MacCrimmon Canntaireachd, and Dr. MacDonald asks–” how does he (Mr. Grant) know?” I may ask how does Dr. MacDonald know whether Gesto’s book is MacCrimmon Canntaireachd or not? To save time, I will give your correspondent a chance to prove me to be ignorant. Let me ask your correspondent a few questions on the book that he has crowned Gesto for. In tune No. 3, why does Gesto write a heading for the last part of the tune, “Crunluath-a-mach,” and write a Crunluath Breabach variation below it? How could Gesto or any other man get a Crunluath Breabach in a tune that is not constructed for a Crunluath Breabach? In tune No. 18, in the Crunluath again, why does the doubling entirely differ from the singling? Or, to save misunderstanding of my question, why does the doubling of the Crunluath differ entirely from the Crunluath? In all other settings of this tune, the doubling of the Crunluath is a facsimile of the Crunluath, except the movement here and there in each variation, which cannot agree. In the Crunluath of this same tune there are only three syllables to each group of notes or movement. If Gesto knew what he was writing, he could have seen and understood that there are five syllables in a Crunluath movement. Why does Gesto not write his Crunluath movements in five syllables each, as they ought to be? Finally, meantime, why did Gesto not give the variations in his book their proper names?

I shall be glad to have answers for the above questions.

Dr. MacDonald calls the Gesto Book of 1828 the “Famous Book of 1828.” Let me ask your correspondent what would have become of ancient piobaireachd today if there had been no other collection but that of Gesto’s now in question? Can any piper play from it? Can or does any master teach from it? Is there a single time mark in it? Are there three-score of pipers out of the thousands who play the pipes, in April 1913, who possess a copy of the booklet of 1828? How many thousands of pipers have never even seen the book?–and when they do see it, its contents are hieroglyphics to them.

Your correspondent asks me how I know that the MacCrimmons were not of Italian origin. May I ask Dr. MacDonald how he knows that they were originally Italians, or if he can produce any authentic proof of his statement? The very oldest writings and most reliable traditional history of the MacCrimmons go to say that they were natives of Skye at so early an age that their origin is lost in the mists of antiquity, and so deeply buried in oblivion that Dr. MacDonald can scarcely hope to be their true biographer. I consider that I am safe enough in saying that up to this date our proof is that the first of the MacCrimmons was found in the “Misty Isle,” and the last of them died there. All this happened, of course, before the Doctor was born, and he cannot boast of living with the MacCrimmons or of being taught by them personally to play the pipes anymore that I can.

Dr. MacDonald says that the Gesto book of 1828 is most valuable to antiquarians and scholars. When a book gets into the antiquarians’ hands and becomes very valuable there, then it is sealed forever, and becomes obsolete. Up till now I was never aware that scholars made any use of Gesto’s book of 1828 in any school, or even in the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford or Cambridge. Neither is the book of 1828 made use of by masters or students in science or philosophy. While this little pamphlet of 1828 is in the antiquarian’s shop, if there was no other notation for pipe music except it, it would take some time to count the sets of bagpipes that would also have to be stored there–not to speak of practice chanters, and perhaps pipers too, if no other occupation could be found for them.

Finally, let me ask, if Gesto knew anything about piobaireachd, why has he not given us a clear definition of this ancient art? Gesto gave us nothing to help us. He is now gone forever, and we must let him rest in peace. Piobaireachd stands undefined or explained by anyone today, as it did centuries ago, and my last question to your correspondent shall be–Is he capable of making piobaireachd clear and simple to the anxious student or placing it on a scientific basis, as it ought to be? If he is, that I will not rest till I see him crowned with Highland honours.–I am, etc.,

John Grant