OT: 3 April 1926 – George S. McLennan “Toarluath and Crunluath and Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 3 April, 1926

Toarluath and Crunluath and Piobaireachd

Aberdeen, 27 March, 1926

Sir,–With your kind permission, I should like to reply to the letter of Mr. Grant in your issue of to-day’s date.

In your issue of March 13, Mr. Grant says–”I have written Toarluath and Crunluath on D inserting a B in place of an A.” I pointed out that he did nothing of the sort, but inserted a B in place of the D, and showed no redundant low A. In your issue of to-day’s date, he says–”For Mr. MacLennan’s information I would again say (to make matters clear) that I wrote the Toarluath on D, as D B A melody notes, with a high g grace note on D, a low g grace note between D and B, and a low g grace note between D and A, and then e grace note on the A. I also wrote Crunluath on D, as D B E E melody notes, with a high G grace note on D; a low g grace note between D and B; another low g grace between B and E, and a group of a f a grace notes between the two E’s. This is surely now clear. Only one A is necessary in this movement in the Toarluath, and no A at all in the Crunluath, as I have explained it.”

This, presumably, is the nearest Mr. Grant can permit himself to candidly admitting that he does not show the redundant low A in writing these notes. I thank him for it, and would remind him that I also asked him to say why?

In the next paragraph, Mr. Grant says:–”But I was also taught to play these movements on D, as D A A melody notes and Toarluath, and D A E E melody notes in Crunluath in the same manner as those played on A B C E F G and high A. There are two methods of playing the movements, and it is for me to make a choice of which I am to write and play; although I favour the latter for performance.”

That is, Mr. Grant writes these movements one way and plays them another. What an admission from the one who, a few weeks ago, indignantly asks–”

Then, why did these men (Mackay, MacDonald, McPhee, etc.) write one thing and play another? The question Mr. Grant reminds me of was, I understood, set aside a fortnight ago as not being within the present controversy.

Mr. Grant is above open competition as a means of proving his ability as a piper. Being a composer, he is on a plane by himself. The Highland Society of London “hall-mark” was given to him, whereas ordinary pipers have to compete for it. In a very modest review of his achievements and honours, Mr. Grant tells us he has a “very valuable and comprehensive work on the art of Piobaireachd, which lies in the library of the War Office, and for which I hold an official receipt.” No doubt the receipt was intended as equivalent value. Then he says–” The Piobaireachd Society also accepted from my hand an original piobaireachd entitled ‘The Piobaireachd Society Salute’.” It is significant that although the Piobaireachd Society have at different times issued tunes of very doubtful merit, they have not, so far, issued their own Salute.

Having read all Mr. Grant has to say for himself, let me quote from letters which appeared in these columns some years ago on this subject. In May, 1912, Dr. Bannatyne wrote:–

Mr. Grants tunes, I am sure, will go down to posterity, though the point from which they are viewed may not be so appallingly high as that from which their maker regards them. If any of your readers would like to become pibroch composers a la mode, here is a recipe. Take phrases and cadences from every known pibroch, write them down on separate slips of paper, mix them up in a hat or other suitable receptacle, then get someone to draw them out separately. String these together as drawn, give them names, and print them; then pose. This is one method of composing. The other is born in the man. Although born pibroch composers are dead!

In September, 1912, Lieut. J. McLennan wrote:–

Mr. Grant plays on the bagpipes, but he is not a piper, and having no knowledge of the literature, poetry or songs of the Highlands, he is quite unable to compare the notes with the words of the Piobaireachd, especially as he has never been to a school of music. But to his credit, be it said, he has at immense labour gathered a great number of notes which form some twenty-one pieces–a creditable monument to his hard industry–but we can never call them Piobaireachd.

–I am, etc.,

Geo. S. McLennan