OT: 2 March 1929 – A.K. Cameron “Noting in Pibroch”

The Oban Times, 2 March, 1929

Noting of Pibroch


Powderville, Montana, U.S.A., 21 February, 1929

Sir,–I observe that your correspondent, Mr. Malcolm MacInnes, in writing about pipe music states that the old books and MSS. were not written by the old pipers, but by music theorists to whom they played. I beg to differ with him, and challenge him to prove his statement.

Joseph MacDonald was a pibroch player and a violinist, and wrote pipe music in his book as he played it; D. MacDonald was a pibroch player, and wrote the tunes in his book as he and others played them. The proof of this will be found in “Musical Memoirs of Scotland,” by Mr. J. G. Dalzell, Angus Mackay and W. Ross (Queen’s piper) were pibroch players, and wrote the tunes as they played them.

Simon Fraser’s father and Peter Bruce’s father was well acquainted with D. MacDonald when he was collecting and noting the tunes in his book, and they both advised him to leave his own introductory grace notes out of the tunes.

Peter Bruce was well acquainted with Angus Mackay when he was collecting and noting the tunes in his book, and advised him to write the “G E D” introductory and cadence notes as played, but Angus followed his own ideas and introduced many of these notes in the tunes that should not be there. D. MacDonald did the same thing. The only theorists who wrote these books were D. MacDonald and Angus Mackay.

Mr. MacInnes claims that Angus Mackay wrote the taorluath the old way, but played the modern way, and taught it the modern way to the father or grandfather of Angus MacPherson. As there are many of the name of Angus MacPherson, I should like Mr. MacInnes to be more explicit.

I presume he means a Mr. Macpherson who was in Australia some time ago, and who claimed to be the “champion piper” of the World. It may be news to Mr. MacInnes that Macpherson did not play the true MacCrimmon taorluath and crunluath notes, and did not learn the Angus Mackay notes from his father or grandfather. Furthermore, it was Munro that taught him these notes, and he taught him the wrong notes at that; and so this player has been trying to teach the wrong notes to others ever since. Moreover his son had to go to one of Donald Camerin’s [sic] pupils to learn the correct notes.

Mr. Gray and a few others claimed that MacDougall Gillies taught them the taorluath and crunluath notes the modern way, but MacDougall Gillies failed to support their statements. In one of his letters to me he called the modern way of playing pibroch an atrocity.

I agree with Mr. MacInnes as to the noting of the “Big Spree” in some books. It is the “Greatest Musical Spree” that was ever noted in black and white, and the fine example of the musical knowledge of those who tinker with Highland music. There is not a single pibroch tune correctly noted, timed and written in ordinary notation.

I shall not go into the rhythmic arguments on taorluath raised by Mr. MacInnes, as A, A A movement is perfect, and “those that do not care for genuine pipe music have no ear for music and no soul,” as John MacColl said so long ago.

Before closing I shall give Mr. MacInnes and the other modernists a little puzzle to show them how futile their efforts are in trying to establish the modern taorluath. I hope they will explain how to play the following beats so as to be consistent with “their rhythmic theory”:–Ho-dra-ha: (B, D D). Ha-dra-ha: (D, D D). Ho-drun-un: (B, G G). I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron