OT: 20 March 1926 – Is Fada Mar So Sinn “Pipe-Major William Gray and Toarluath and Crunluath in Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 20 March, 1926

Pipe-Major William Gray
Toarluath and Crunluath in Piobaireachd

Forsyth, Montana, U.S.A., 12 February, 1926

Sir,–in reply to the letter of Pipe Major William Gray in your issue of 23rd January I would like to know why the eminent authorities referred to by him did not modernise the Piobaireachd Society’s music, after they were empowered to do so at the annual meeting held in Oban in 1908.

The following is the preface to part IV of the Piobaireachd Society’s Collection of Piobaireachd:–

“The Society at the meeting above referred to afforded a Sub-Committee to select the tunes for part IV., and with a view to issuing the best renderings that could be obtained the Sub-Committee were empowered to have the tunes in the first instance gone over by the well-known professional players, Pipe-Majors John McDonald, Inverness; J. McDougall Gillies, Glasgow, and Wm. Ross 2nd Scots Guards, and their after by Mr. Alexander Cameron, Acnacarry, on the distinct understanding, however, that the Sub-Committee reserved to themselves full discretionary power as to the settings to be accepted and printed,” etc.

Part IV was issued by the Piobaireachd Society after these eminent authorities had their say as to what ought to be published or not. Why then did not the late Sandy Cameron, the late Pipe-Major McDougall Gillies, and Wm. Ross, Edinburgh, advise the said Society to write their music for Part IV as it is written by Mr. Gray, Mr. Ross and the Society to-day? The Toarluath and Crunluath, etc., in parts II, III, and IV of the Society’s Piobaireachd Book is written as in all standard works, and not as Mr. Gray has these notes in his Tutor; or as Mr. Ross has the Toarluath in his Collection. This is very strange indeed. Will Mr. Gray throw some light on this conundrum?

Will Mr. Gray, or the Piobaireachd Society, furnish me with the names of the eminent authorities who advised them–the Piobaireachd Society–to change the composite notes in Piobaireachd to their present form? It will be interesting to know who they are.

Mr. Gray says:–” Let me inform him (Mr. Grant) that they (the Piobaireachd Society) have consulted the most eminent authorities, past and present, who had all, previous to the Society’s latest issue, certified that there was no redundant ‘A’ in the formation of the notes referred to.”

I believe Mr. Gray’s statement that the eminent authorities, past and present, certified that there was no redundant “A” in the formation of the Toarluath and Crunluath notes, etc., in pipe music. There is not a redundant “A” in these notes when correctly executed because every note, large and small, is sounded; in other words, every note as written in standard works is played. But when these notes are executed like Mr. Gray, Mr. Ross and 99 per cent of the present-Day pipers play them, there is a redundant “A” in all standard works. Why? Because all these gentlemen make a guddle of all these movements, or notes, by failing to play or sound one of these notes in each composite movement. How? They strike an E cut to low A as they raise, or sound it, in the Toarluath, Crunluath, and Crunluath Breabach, thereby omitting a note in each of these movements. They strike an E cut to B and C in the Toarluath Mach–when the movement is on these notes–and strike an E cut to B and C in the Crunluath Mach, thereby omitting a note in each of these movements. The note they omit ought to be heard distinctly before the following E cut is sounded in each of the above movements.

If Mr. Gray and his colleagues will study the Toarluath Fosgailte, they will notice that it is two grips, one each by D and E on the low G if on that note; on low A if on it; on B if on it; on C if on it. All the other composite notes are closed grips as well, but the Crunluath and Crunluath Breabach movements and with an additional play on the fundamental and its fifth A E. There is not one single half grip in any of these notes.

The Toarluath and Crunluath notes as composed by the MacCrimmons do not require eminent authorities to prove which are the right notes or the wrong, because they prove it themselves. These notes stand alone in the musical world, are unexcelled, and are the highest achievement possible on the bagpipe chanter. They will endure for ages as a monument to the memory of the musical geniuses who composed them. It is impossible to improve on them; they are perfect already. The MacCrimmons mastered the chanter–conquered it–because it is impossible to take more music out of it, in one beat of time, than they have done in these composite notes, and that is the reason one move of each finger ought to produce two notes. As Angus Mackay’s foot-note on page 148 states:–”The Chanter is not conquered until this is done.” These notes are all grips, and that is the reason they are so hard, clear, distinct and different from any notes that can be produced on any other musical instrument.

I wish to inform Mr. Gray that the late Pipe-Major McDougall Gillies was strictly against any mutilation of Piobaireachd, as I can prove. Furthermore, I will not believe that he played the Toarluath, Toarluath Mach, Crunluath, Crunluath Mach and Crunluath Breabach as Mr. Gray plays it. I believe Mr. Gillies wrote the music he played, as he played it, and that is exactly as it is in all standard works, and not as it is in Mr. Gray’s book. I can prove, moreover, that he was capable of writing the music exactly as he played it.

If Mr. Gray and his colleagues are not satisfied that their method of noting and playing the composite notes in Piobaireachd is wrong, I will prove to them that it is by the verbal notation of Piobaireachd (Canntaireachd) as taken down from MacCrimmon. Mr. Gray contends a mistake was made in the transference of pipe music to the staff notation, but I do not believe there was, and I will endeavour to prove there was not.

Any piper who will go to the trouble of learning to play the Toarluath and Crunluath, as these movements are noted in standard works, will never wish to play them different again.–I am, etc.,

Is Fada Mar So Sinn