OT: 13 November 1915 – John Grant “The Highland Bagpipe Chanter Scale”

The Oban Times, 13 November, 1915

The Highland Bagpipe Chanter Scale

27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, 8 November, 1915

Sir,–Your correspondent Mr. James Cameron says in last week’s issue that “this matter was thrashed out (the previous week) and I need not introduce fresh issues.” Your correspondent has arrived at a premature settlement. You will perhaps agree with me as well as your many readers that it is by producing fresh issues that I hope to gain my point, and it is the terror of losing that makes Mr. Cameron object to my procedure.

Mr. Cameron says:–”As regards tuning the drones to other keys than A, that could be done if they were much longer.” Now we arrive at the crux, and Mr. Cameron’s theme. It is just because the drones are not longer and cannot be judiciously or successfully made longer that they cannot and never will tune to other keys than A major. This now proves that according to the laws of harmony the bagpipe chanter is confined entirely to the scale of A major, and even if it were possible (which it is not) to play a tune on D major it would be absolute rubbish to say that the drones could be tuned to the keynote of another scale (A major as it is).

Mr. Cameron says that I passed over the remark by Mr. MacRae regarding the “Piobaireachd Society’ Salute” which I composed. I have passed over nothing. The tune in question was composed by me, not Mr. MacRae, and in conjunction with the instrument on which I composed it I lay down the law, and it is not left for Mr. MacRae to do so. It remains for Mr. MacRae to prove that “The Piobaireachd Society’s Salute” is on the scale of D as he says.

Moreover, I asked Mr. MacRae where his D octave is to be found on the pipes. No tunes can be said to be in the key of D in the instrument on which it is played does not produce a full octave scale. Our chanter only has D, E, F, G, A. Where are we to complete the scale of D when the B, C, D notes of the octave are missing. From the concluding lines of Mr. Cameron’s letter it can be clearly seen that he is groping in the dark.

Can “J.P. M.” give us his authority for saying that the ancient pipers knew about pentatonic scales? Or is it his own statement? I say it is entirely imagination on his part and is calculated to create a stumbling block to young pipers, which can only be solved by himself and his colleagues. There is no ground for such imaginary ideas, and we will protect the right path and make it clear to all.

“J. P. M.” Says that “rhythm is a thing that can only be handed down from master to pupil.” I beg to differ. If a pupil has a perfect ear rhythm is one of the points that come naturally to him almost at the outset of his career, while there are many other things neglected by the “master.”–I am, etc.,

John Grant