OT: 9 October 1915 – Donald MacRae “The Highland Bagpipe and Gaelic Song”

The Oban Times, 9 October, 1915

The Highland Bagpipe and Gaelic Song

Huntly, 2 October, 1915

Sir,–The correspondence in your last issues interests me greatly, especially as two new correspondents have entered into this very interesting discussion.

The letter of “Musaeus” in particular is very gratifying to me, as he confirms my statement that the bagpipe and Gaelic song have borrowed from each other. “Musaeus,” however, does not agree with me that “The MacRaes’ March” was composed in 1491, led by some strange irony of fate, there appears on the very page where his letter is published, a confirmation of my statement. I refer to your review of Mr. Grant’s book on “Piobaireachd.” He also objects to “Black Donald Balloch of the Isles,” who, he says, never existed. At present I am not in a position to dispute the point with him, but, if he cares to wait a little, I shall have more to say on the subject.

As Mr. MacFarlane and Mr. Grant have a difference of opinion regarding the Highland bagpipe scale, it may not be out of place to quote, from “The Harmsworth Encyclopaedia,” the following definition of the scale:–

“In the present system of music, the interval of an octave is divided into 12 semitones, and the resulting series of sounds of different pitch constitute what is termed the chromatic scale. Seven of these sounds, with the addition of the octave of the lowest note, are selected to form what are termed diatonic scales.”

According to this definition, then, the Highland bagpipe scale extends from low A too high A inclusive, and corresponds, with the exception of the high G, to the major scale of A. In some tunes, such as the well-known “The Barren Rocks of Aden,” the high G has to do duty as a natural G, while in others, e.g., “My Native Highland Home,” it takes the place of G sharp, but such is the nature of the instrument that, with the chanter is properly and tune, no mistake can be detected in either of these tunes.

Writing on this subject reminds me that, as yet, your correspondent “Ceither Luath” has received no reply to his inquiry regarding several bagpipe tunes. I am sorry that most of these tunes are unknown to me in their bagpipe form, and therefore I prefer to say nothing about them. Were it not that many of them are to be found in pianoforte collections, I would suspect that they had been lost, but that cannot be the case, and, as I am very much interested in clan pipe music, I beg to add my petition to that of “Ceither Luath.” Surely some of your numerous readers can tell us something about these tunes.–I am, etc.,

Donald MacRae