OT: 6 November 1915 – James Cameron

The Oban Times, 6 November, 1915

Edinburgh, 1 November, 1915

Sir,–I am obliged by Mr. Grants reply, but if he reads the answers he got in last week’s correspondence he will see that the matter was practically thrashed out and he need not introduce fresh issues. Mr. Grant may notice that “Cumha Phadruig oig ‘IcCrimin” quoted this work is in the key of one sharp and there are no C’s in it to avoid the C of the chanter and yet it is playable thereon in spite of not being on A! As regards tuning the drones to other keys that A, that can be done if they were much longer, and then more general harmony would be got in different keys than at present where the “harmony” is restricted to the A of the drones and all the nine notes of the chanter and for tunes in the keys of three, two and one sharp, or C.

The difference between the fall harmony with its “bumming” birr of the A drones with tunes in A and the poorer harmony of the A drones with tunes say in D as in “Macintosh’s Lament” is very striking, and hostile musicians call the discord “squealing.” As a matter of fact the “harmony” of the A drones with tunes played on the chanter is wonderful and is simply a lucky hit of scoring more harmony than discords with a given limited assortment of melody notes and one harmony A note. The present fixity of the drones on A, merely a thing that could be altered, is no proof that all the keys of tunes playable on the chanter are in A as Mr. Grant thinks. One could make drones to tune with any scale, then we would have to make the chanter into an oboe of which it is the primitive form and the thing would be done. Mr. Grant seems mixed up about “transposition.” Let him notice what a musical mess pipers make of “Flowers of the Forest” at military funerals. Why have we deserted the proper “Cumha” for tunes quite impossible on the pipes? It is a case of surrendering our native pipe music to the Sasonach and no mistake! Let the Mr. Grant get his pipers to make a beginning with one or two of them playing in unison, say “Cha til Mac Crimin” as a “dead” march. All the parts need not be played. The public already know the tune; also say “Macintosh’s Lament” and other well-known ones. They would like this “real” pipe music immensely. Ignorant people may say of certain airs like “The Flowers” on the pipes, “how fine!” Musicians and pipers know better.

Mr. Grant has passed over the remark of his Aberdeen correspondent that his own “Piobaireachd” is not on A although actually played on the chanter, but instead he gives a rhapsody on the pipes in general. As regards “trade secrets” involved in discussing such a simple and commonplace theme as chanter notes, I believe actually nothing terrible would happen if makers declared the true value of the notes emitted by their make a chanter under given conditions of fingering. At the present time there are many pipe societies and a general interest in the pipes and it is high time that players and those interested in our national instrument knew a little more facts as to the powers of their instruments. This will be achieved by our having standardized instruments, and makers will reap doubling both in sales and in the enhanced satisfaction the buyer will have in something he is sure about and a good deal of the “mystery” of what ought to be a perfectly plain, if not trifling matter, be cleared away.–I am, etc.,

James Cameron