OT: 21 November 1925 – I.F.M.S.S. “D Note in Pipe Music”

The Oban Times, 21 November, 1925

D Note in Pipe Music

Montana, USA, 1 October, 1925

Sir,–In reply to a letter by “Bagpipe Player” which appeared in your issue of 15th August, I should like to state that in my opinion both D flourishes are perfectly correct and ought to be learned, one being more effective than the other in some passages. The new (?) D flourish is not new, but very old. It is a beautiful and much neglected note, being hard, clear-cut and distinct when correctly executed. The C in this movement is made slightly longer than it is written in any of the books. Great care ought to be taken that the chanter is thoroughly locked when making the D grip on L.G. and that the L.A. finger is held on the chanter while sounding C. This sharpens C slightly, and there is less chance of making a “guddle” of the movement.

The L.G. in the other D flourishes is made a short plain note in some laments and when used as a flourish in Piobaireachd, but not when used in marches and strathspeys, etc. The D flourishes and time settings are correct and up-to-date in Gray’s Tutor, but I beg to differ from “Bagpipe Player” in his statement that Gray’s book is the best published so far.

In my view the taor-luath and taor-luath a mach, the crun-luath and crun-luath breabach are wrong. A note is omitted in each movement. The taor-luath movement is also wrong. A note is also omitted in Pipe-Major Ross’s new book. I advise all bagpipe players to play these movements as they are written in all the standard works on pipe music. If these notes are learned as they are in Gray’s book and as the taor-luath is in Ross’s book it will take years for a player to overcome the force of habit and be able to play these movements the right way. These movements are not improved, but ruined by omitting the note referred to.

Gray in his book says with regard to the grip movement:–

“For over a century this movement has been written wrongly in almost every pipe music book. The result is that the faculty of performing the movement is correctly played by few pipers. The mistake has arisen in the transference of pipe music to the staff notation, particularly in the taor-luath notes and those arising from them. Previously a redundant ‘A’ has been shown which is not in the formation of these notes.”

Then he says:–

“They taor-luath written” (as it is in all standard works) “shows one ‘A’ too many which cannot be played in time.”

Again he says:–”To attempt” (the taor-luath a mach as it is in all standard words [sic =read “works”]) “is wrong and impossible in time.”

All these composite notes can be played and written in perfect time, and I defy Pipe-Majors Gray and Ross or any other pipe-major or piper in the British Isles or elsewhere to prove to me and to the rest of the bagpipe-playing fraternity that the taor-luath and crun-luath, as written in standard works on pipe music, are wrong and impossible in time, and prove it in such a way as to stand the acid test of practical playing. We all know that it is much easier to execute these movements by omitting a note in each, and we know too, that by omitting a note in the taor-luath it is much easier to play “big” marches at 112 and 120 beats per minute. But omitting a note in any of these movements is sacrificing music for execution and speed, and therefore a few of us play the taor-luath the old way.

Any doubters or those desiring more authentic and convincing information as to how many notes ought to be executed in each of the above composite movements will find that information in a footnote to page 148 of Angus McKay’s Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd. The footnote that was copied from the original MSS. in possession of the Highland Society of London. The MS. is by John McArthur, a nephew of Charles McArthur. Charles McArthur was a pupil of Patrick Og McCrimmon, and is said to have studied at Dunvegan Castle for eleven years. John McArthur was trained with great care by his uncle. As John McArthur was capable of writing the music taught to him by his uncle, this footnote by him is the most direct and authentic information we have left as to how these movements were executed by the masters of pipe music in his time.–I am, etc.,

I. F. M. S. S.