OT: 27 November 1915 – John Grant “The Bagpipe Chanter Scale”

The Oban Times, 27 November 1915

The Bagpipe Chanter Scale

27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, 22 November, 1915

Sir,–Your correspondent Mr. Cameron has now turned his attention to the whistle and practically leaves the Highland bagpipe chanter alone. I am not concerned in the least with his “D whistle.” It is the A chanter, which may be interpreted as the “A major” chanter, or, as far as concerns him, the “Ancient Highland Bagpipe Chanter.” Mr. Cameron says that in my locality, old soldiers are common “playing the pipes on the whistle.” Not to my knowledge can I admit this, but if Mr. Cameron himself comes down to my locality and “plays the pipes, on the great Highland Bagpipes” as they are to be, instead of the tin whistle, and if he plays me a tune as it should be played, he will be welcomed.

I have already explained that D. MacDonald used various key signatures, but that was for the guidance of pianists, etc., not for pipers.

For further proof let us turn our attention to Donald MacDonald’s book of ancient piobaireachd and there we will find that he states plainly:–

“The natural and only scale.”
“G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A.”

Here he uses no key signature, and in further explanation he says:–
“The piper is to pay no attention to the sharps and flats marked on the clef, as they are not used in pipe music.”Now, this proves that your correspondents do not use common judgment. If they did they would see that MacDonald believed and saw that the Highland bagpipe chanter had a fixed scale. The bagpipe chanter having a fixed scale, no key signature is required. As my tunes were composed on the Highland bagpipe chanter and meant in the true sense to be playing on it only, I would have been a fool to give a key signature where it is not required. Of course, like MacDonald, I give piano settings to some of my tunes, but that is to gratify the desires of my friends. The grounds and some of the variations of a piobaireachd may be played on the piano, but I maintain that the Toarluath, Toarluath Breabach, Crunluath, and Crunluath Breabach, etc., etc. can be played on no other instrument but the pipes. What happens to the sharps in the key of A major on the chanter is for Mr. Cameron and his friends to find out.

Mr. Cameron makes another attempt to get his reeds to tune to other keys than A. He now wants me to lengthen the “tongue of the big drone reed.” For one thing, this cannot be done without lengthening the reed itself. But what about the other tenor reeds? It would be a jarring production to hear the pipes playing with the big drone tuned to G, and the tenor drones to A.

As the most striking example which I may quote, let two pipers play “The Piobaireachd Society’s Salute,” which is in the key of A major. Let Mr. Cameron, or his friend Mr. MacRae, be one of those to play it on “supposed D” and I will play it in “its reality A.” To the listener the results will be the same, provided both adhere to the fingering used by D. MacDonald, and approved of by those two gentlemen, viz.:–Mr. Cameron and Mr. MacRae.

Mr. MacPharlain think that because “pipers” cannot agree about the chanter scale that practical experience is quite unnecessary. Mr. MacPharlain need not “nimble” any longer and he made with such a powerful magnet. He has been already “too often caught.” He is not a piper and is not using pipe music notation, nor discussing pipe music. Mr. MacPharlain got out of the relation of Gaelic song to the great Highland bagpipe slipping quietly away by a side door into a side room.–I am, etc.,

John Grant