OT: 3 July 1926 – Donald G. MacLeod – “The Pibroch Controversy”

The Oban Times, 3 July, 1926

The Pibroch Controversy

5-2 Malacca Street, Singapore, 25 May, 1926

Sir,–I receive a copy of your esteemed paper every week and as I am a keen Highlander, and incidentally a piper and dancer, I have been following the discussions on the movements in piobaireachd with much interest. On behalf of several other pipers in this part of the world let me say that we are more than grateful that you have permitted such exhaustive correspondence.

Previous to your issue of April 17th the controversy was most instructive and interesting, but the article in that issue by C. M. P. calls for a little comment. Personally, I do not think C. M. P. has performed any useful service in writing such an article. To start with, there is no point in his letter at all beyond a reference to the origin of some of the Gaelic terms which characterise some of the notes in piping. I am sure that neither Pipe-Major Gray nor Mr. Grant would take it upon themselves to criticise some of the intricate movements of, shall we say, violin playing, and I fail to see why C. M. P. should decide that the various movements in piping are of such little importance that discussions between authorities on the subject are a waste of time. In this case a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and if C. M. P. knew a little bit more about piping he would realise that it takes years of study to be able to even discuss it intelligently.

The Real Test for Pipers

To characterise as being the vulgar side of piping, shows that he does not know the subject. Would C. M. P. For instance allude to that beautiful “Cha till MacCruimen,” as “vulgar”? It may interest him to know that at MacCrimmon’s College of Piping, reels and strathspeys were not encouraged. The executioner piobaireachd is the real test for a piper. I daresay C. M. P. would applaud a violinist for expertness of fingering in the performance of a piece of music. Why not admire a piper from the same point of view? In both cases correctness of execution is the outcome of much practice, there being a definite and correct method of playing various notes and movements. C. M. P. makes a bold statement when he suggests that he voices his opinion of those who are not pipers that have knowledge of their music. I am certain that no one with any knowledge of pipe music, whether a player or not, would identify himself with C. M. P.’s remarks.

Art of Highland Dancing

As regards his observations on dancing I would suggest that he knows even less about that subject than piping. I, myself have competed at Highland Gatherings and spent many years learning under one of the finest Highland dancers that Scotland ever produced. C. M. P. discusses what he terms the quick finale in exhibition Highland dances. He says they are not conceived in the spirit of art. To start with, he is wrong when he talks of a quick finale. Both in the “Shean Trubhais” and the “Sword Dance” the time changes but in each dance the finale is done to strathspey time which is not particularly quick. Even in the Strathspey and Reel the latter is easier of execution than the Strathspey, which necessitates a certain amount of restraint. I would be quite prepared to demonstrate to C. M. P. if a few thousand miles did not separate us, that there is just as much art attaching to the performance of Highland dancing as of any other type of dancing.

Is exhortation to further the Gaelic cause comes as rather a surprise after the effusion about piping and dancing. If C. M. P. had done as much for the Gaelic as Pipe-Major Grant or Mr. Gray have done for piping we should have perhaps seen a few more interesting discussions on the subject in the “Oban Times.” I should follow any articles C. M. P. chose to write on Gaelic orthography with as much interest as I have evinced in the discussions on piobaireachd.

I regret that my letter will arrive sometime after the appearance of the article by C. M. P., but nevertheless it will serve to show that Highlanders in this part of the world are as keen as those at Home. Thanking you for the courtesy of your columns.–I am, etc.,

Donald G. MacLeod,
Hon. Pipe-Major
Associated Scottish Pipers of Malaya