OT: 7 August 1926 – A.K. Cameron “Movements in Piping”

The Oban Times, 7 August, 1926

Movements in Piping
Toarluath, Crunluath, or Leumluath


Powderville, Montana, U.S.A., 6 July, 1926

Sir,–Mr. Gray and other piping experts maintain that these movements have superfluous notes in them as noted by Mackay, and are impossible in time and rhythm. They also claim that a mistake was made in the transference of pipe music to paper, and that extra notes were added to these movements by Mackay and others, so that other musicians would have a better idea of how to perform these movements on other musical instruments. I am unable to agree with that view. The study of these movements as noted by D. McDonald, McKay, W. Ross, and D. Glen proves that no mistake was made. A further study of Colin Campbell Canntaireachd MS. date 1791, and of the Gesto Collection of Canntaireachd (as taken down by Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto, from John MacCrimmon, published in 1828), proves that the notation of these movements by McKay and the other three is correct.

Angus McKay, D. McDonald, and William Ross had first-hand information on how these movements ought to be performed on the pipes, and wrote them accurately. Angus McKay did not care whether the music he wrote was played on other musical instruments or not or he would have mentioned it in the preface of his book. Besides, his music is devoid of sharps and flats, showing it was not intended for other instruments. Moreover, his footnote on page 148 of his book is a true guide, and proves further that he intended that all the notes he wrote in these movements should be played on the pipe he was careful, too, and placed the note alluded to near the centre of his book, so that if any part of it was preserved the key would be preserved also.

Mr. Glen and D. McDonald wrote music for other instruments as well as the pipes; but D. Glen shows clearly on the charts in his Bagpipe Tutor that all the notes in these movements ought to be played on the pipes, and shows, further, how it is done. D. McDonald does not change his notation in the Crunluath a Mach movement, although he states clearly that they are intended for the pipes only.

A study of the variations of “Ceol Mor” shows clearly that they are a succession or series of progressive chords, getting more complicated towards the end, until the limit that can be rendered in one beat of time is reached in the Crunluath Breabach movement. Furthermore, each movement shows and helps to prove how many notes ought to be in the movement following it. There is nothing mysterious about the movements in the variations of “Ceol Mor,” as they are, in a sense, nothing more than arpeggio chords and played in even, rapid succession, and added to the accented notes of the text. There are as a rule chords of the fundamental A and its fifth E. The basic primaries are built entirely on these, and a study of them follows to prove that Angus McKay’s notation is correct.

The five basic primaries are as follows:–

1st– The Siubhal movement is composed of one low A chord, which is added to the accented text note and should not be accented as a rule except where it corresponds with the thiural [sic] note.

2nd– The Leumluath movement is composed of two chords–low A and E. These ought to be played as a semiquaver. The E in this case should not be sounded any longer than low A. The A E chords in this movement ought to be added to the accented text note.

3rd–Toarluath Fosgailte–This movement is composed of three low A chords. These are added to the accented text note.

4th– Crunluath–This movement is composed of three low A chords and one E chord. Those are added to the accented text note.

5th– Crunluath Breabach–This movement is composed of four low A chords and one E chord, and these are added to accented text note.

The secondaries, as branch movements arising from number three, and four, follow in their order–(3) Toarluath, Toarluath Breabach, and Toarluath a Mach; (4) Crunluath Fosgailte and Crunluath a Mach.

The first two movements under (3) are composed of two low A chords each, and these are added to the accented note of the text. The last movement in group (3) is composed of two chords of the text note, and these are added to the next text note.

The Crunluath Mach movement is composed of four chords; three chords of the text note and one E chord; these are added to the next text note.

All the chords in each of the ten movements enumerated above are played in the time allowed for the upstroke of each beat. The downstroke of the beat is on the next text note, and I defy anyone to prove to me that these movements are impossible in time or rhythm as noted in Angus McKay’s book.

Angus McKay’s notation is correct, and he did not make a mistake in transferring it to paper. The methods of present-day pipers are wrong and fatal to the very existence of the ancient music of the Highlands. Its movements are seven notes short since Angus McKay’s time, 1859, and it will dwindle to nothing with time, unless present methods are checkmated before it is too late.–I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron