OT: 1 March 1930 – A.K. Cameron “Piobaireachd Playing”

The Oban Times, 1 March, 1930

Piobaireachd Playing

Broadus, Montana, U. S. A., 25 January, 1930

Sir,–Your correspondent “Kintail” asked me if I have heard the late G. S. MacLennan playing pibroch as it was written by his father, Lieut. MacLennan. Yes, I have; but I never heard him playing pibroch as John Dubh MacCrimmon wrote it and taught it to his pupils.

“Kintail” recommends the “Musical Curiosity,” as follows:–

“To the musically educated piper and to the musicians, this book is not a “musical curiosity.” It is the work of a man who, as well as being an authority on bagpipe music, had successfully passed in theory through the School of Music at Heriot Watt College, Edinburgh. This book commends itself not only to those who may have views of their own about Piobaireachd playing, and wish to know what an authority has to say on a thorny subject but to those who are learning to play the bagpipes, and want competent guidance.”

I shall outline to pipers and to “Kintail” how competent a guide it is.

Lieut. McClellan, in his instructions for playing Pibroch, informs us under his index that superfluous notes in the Tri-ludh and Cheithir-ludh are done away with. Will “Kintail” explained to us how Lieut. MacLennan’s Tao such rluadh is “Tri”-ludh and his Crunludh is “Cheither”-ludh when he omits a note in each movement?

Under index, he claims that the Minim is the standard note for the beat, but it is not, and never was; because all of the pibroch tunes cannot be expressed by using a single unit of time.

On Plate 3, he shows how to finger the Chanter and shows the high G note is sounded in pibroch with the AEFG fingers off the Chanter, but the F finger is always on the Chanter while sounding high G note in pibroch. Why? Because the high G must be a true octave of low G in this music.

On page 2, he gives the Chanter Scale with high G sharp, as in the A major scale; but the high G is never played sharp in pibroch, because the F finger must be on.

On page 8 he states:–

“March to your Urlar at the rate of say 40 steps per minute and continue it throughout the piece, put two beats of the singling into one of the doubling, three of the singling into one of the trebling, and four of the singling into one of the quadrupling, the performance of which will thoroughly test your dexterity and technique.”

I should say it will! The joke is–he was unable to perform the music as he outlined it: although he omitted one note in each be in the Singling of the Taorluadh, two notes in each beat of its Doubling, three notes in each beat of its Trebling, and four notes in each beat of his quadrupling. He also omitted the same number of notes in the Singling, Doubling, and Trebling of the Crunludh movement.

40 steps or beats per minute allows us one and a half seconds for each beat in the theme and all its variations. We had the “Devil in the Kitchen,” but where is he now? This is not Piobaireachd as MacCrimmon played it. What a conglomeration of expressionless notes we will have in “MacIntoshes Lament” when it is performed as here outlined. Who can perform three beats of the Crunluadh in 1 ½ seconds? Nobody can! Who can perform two beats of the Crunluadh Breabach in 1 ½ seconds? Nobody can! Not if they play true MacCrimmon notes in these beats. Try it as in “Mary MacLeod’s Lament.”

If your readers will look at “Donald Balloch of the Isles” in part I of Donald MacPhee’s Pibroch Book, they shall see that the metre of this tune is 6, 6, 4, or 32 beats. According to Lieut. MacLennan’s system there are 32 beats in the theme and 1st variation, 16 beats in the doubling of this variation, and 10 and 2/3 of a beat in the Trebling. It will be seen that the Tripling ends on an incomplete beat. Not only that, but the phrases are mixed up and over-lap. This error in his system will also be found in the tripling of the Taorludh and Crunluadh of this tune.

The metre of the “Bells of Perth” is 12, 12, 8, or 64 beats. According to MacLennan’s theory there are 32 beats in the doubling of the Taorluad variation, and 10 and 2/3 of a beat in the tripling of this variation. This error will also be found in the tripling of the Crunluadh variation of this tune.

This error will also be found in the triplings of “MacGregor’ s Salute,” and also in the triplings of many other tunes.–I am, etc.,

A.K. Cameron