OT: 15 January 1927 – Malcolm MacInnes [“Toarluath and Crunluath”]

The Oban Times, 15 January, 1927

[Toarluath and Crunluath]

 Drumfearn, Skye, 3 January, 1927

 Sir,–This discussion is exhausted; but I would like space for a few words to do with the irrelevancies that have been introduced.

Mr. Cameron and Mr. Grant have so much to say in praise of the playing the MacCrimmons that they create the very wrong impression that that is the question in dispute. They protest against the dropping of notes, as if notes had been dropped. They say that unless the movements are played as noted in the old books, pibroch had better be totally abolished, though the movements were never played that way at any time by any piper so far as is known. They give greater weight to a style of noting difficult movements than to the whole traditional personal teaching and copying, including the traditional work of the pipers that did the noting. Surely this is a flattering of the paper as compared with the piper, especially seeing that among pipers the art of musical noting was but little developed.

What is the evidence of Mackay’s knowledge of musical theory? Some of his tunes have piano accompaniments. Did he write these also? All MacDonald’s tunes have accompaniments. I suggest that the writers of the accompaniments also wrote down the tunes to the playing of the pipers. This slow playing would account for many strange things in the times. In Mackay the only thing clearly done by himself is the explanation on page 148. He looks at the explained beat. He does not notice that it has a mistake–an A for the second (redundant) C. He finds that he cannot play it as written. No one could–this having been before the time of Mr. John Grant. In despair he writes the explanation, and in his wrath at theoretical musicians runs out for the air, noticing quite well that the explanation does not suit the beat explained (as the C he asks us to hold onto is wrongly put down as A). Another mistake in the same variation is C for A in the fourth last beat of the part.

Unimportant points are that Mr. Cameron’s explanation of his use of the word chords is quite inconsistent with the use he made; and that his contention that there are only three syllables in the toorla movement written in the old style, contradicts Mr. Grant who says that there are four even in the new style. Mr. Grant is right; but as the fact is against his case, I leave it at that. Mr. Cameron uses the syllables of Gesto and Lorn as if they were the same thing, though they differ almost totally Gesto is canntaireachd–a system of beautiful chanting. Lorn is a mere monster–an attempt to use English alphabet to do the work of the symbols of music and dispense with chanting. “Chelalbo” could not with safety be pronounced, not to speak of chanting it. It makes one feel bad even to look at it. It suggests the sucking clicks in the tongue of the Kaffirs.

As to the MacCrimmons, if they were here today they would as before be at the front in advancing and improving. Had they heard MacLennan, the MacDonalds and Ross at the last Portree games they would have had a revelation at least in tone and technique and the lighter music; and they would have had a very late night in which they would have received almost as much as they would have given.–I am, etc.,

Malcolm MacInnes