OT: 11 May 1929 – Malcolm MacInnes “Noting in Pibroch”

The Oban Times, 11 May, 1929

Noting of Pibroch

Ostaig, Skye, 26 April, 1929

Sir,–Mr. A. K. Cameron’s whole case is that the noting attributed to Angus Mackay shows his style of playing, and yet he agrees when I point out that specific styles attributed to him are absurd. Mr. Cameron writes:–” Joseph MacDonald was a pibroch player and a violinist, and wrote pipe music in his book as he played it.” Neither Joseph nor any other could play on the pipes the music in Joseph’s book; and I do not believe that Joseph had more than a nodding acquaintance with pipe-playing. He has notes below the pipe range, he has successive notes of same pitch without a separating grace-no, he has grace movements that are totally meaningless–(e.g., “18th cutting, low G eg eg fg eg eg egg eg B”) all the small notes being cut four times); and his descriptions of finger movement are sometimes wrong.

He has a whole foolscap page of a march without a single grace, though full of beats with repeated notes–mostly tripled. He has a poor style of “John MacEachin’s Reel” (for which she does not seem to have a name), full of the same mistake. Clearly this man’s music was not of the pipes. And yet we are told that Mr. Malcolm Macfarlane considers this “compleat” book “the most sensible of them all.” Its sole value is as evidence of the progress that has been made since it was written–by a total outsider.

Mr. Cameron says that Gillies called the modern way of playing pibroch and atrocity. That may be true, but it does not touch the dispute–the way to play the toorla. There is nothing surer than that Gillies taught but one A–the chanter to be carefully closed for the g d g. As to Gillies playing of it, that of course is another matter. It is the most difficult thing in piping. Mr. Cameron also quotes John MacColl, but not to the point, either. MacColl was particularly good at this movement, so were W. Maclennan, Angus Macrae, and the MacDonalds of Morar. Reference has been made to Pipe-Major Ronald McKenzie of the Seaforths, and he is claimed by Mr. Grant as playing A A, but only if the previous heavy work is lacking. I always took it for granted that the A A finish was due merely to inability to do the correct thing–gdge A.

Mr. Cameron’s “puzzle” of the open toorla on B and D or the B G G of the same rhythm is no puzzle at all. The fact that the first two come so frequently in rhythm with the last proves my case, as the last can be only three syllables. The “vaunting” gives an instance:–

G A A; Agdge A; Bgdge B; Bgdge B
Bg D D; Bgdge B; Agdge A; Agdge A

All this justifies my old cry for a Committee of pipers to discuss and decide. On what authority does the Piobaireachd Society change the structure of “Waternish” in the toorla and croola?–for the worse, I think. The Gaelic in their second book is a big advance, but they cannot yet give the correct Gaelic for “The end of the Great Bridge.” “Ceann Drochaid Mhoire” is awful.–I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes