OT: 10 May 1930 – A.K. Cameron “Piobaireachd Notation”

The Oban Times, 10 May, 1930

Piobaireachd Notation

Broadus, Montana, U.S.A., 1 April, 1930

Sir,–As your correspondent, Mr. Somerled MacDonald, makes much of what he finds in Joseph MacDonald’ s Tutor, it would be interesting to us to know what he thinks of the notation in the ungraced tune at page 34 of Joseph’s book. Mr. MacDonald favours the Taorludh–AAA–in the urlar or theme of pibroch tunes, but he is of the opinion that a different form of movement was used in the runnings. He also holds there were two schools, one teaching “Taorludh” and the other teaching “Iuludh.”

We know there was only one school where Pibroch was taught, and we also know that all the other schools sprung from this one. There was no Pibroch, nor a school in which it was time, in the British Isles until Petrus Bruno, who invented the Sheantaireachd system, introduced it to those in Ulster, Ireland, in the year 1510. There was no Pibroch, nor a school in which it was taught, in Scotland until John, Petrus Bruno’s son, and his son Donald introduced it to those in the Isle of Skye in the year 1548. Two Pibroch systems were never taught in the school nor in the school in Ulster. From 1548 until John Dubh died in 1822, the notation in the Skye school was never altered. Patrick Mòr improved and simplified the vocable system, and this was the only alteration in their system. Although the vocables were altered, the corresponding notes were never altered. Where, then, did the new Pibroch system spring from?

Donald MacDonald was all over the Highlands of Scotland collecting Pibroch tunes for his book, but there is not a single hint in his book that he discovered a different system of notation from the one he used in his book. Although he used a fancy system of introducing grace notes that are different from those that were used by the MacCrimmons, his text notes are practically the same as MacCrimmon’s. The notation of D. MacDonald, Angus Mackay and William Ross (Queen’s Piper) is supported by all the old Pibroch MSS that I have seen. May I ask: Who has a genuine old Pibroch manuscript that supports the modern method of notation? The champion pipers of to-day claim that they learnt the new method from the descendent pupils of John MacKay and from the pupils of Donald Cameron, but I find that some of Donald Cameron’s pupils play the questionable “A”, and one of them, Mr. Farquharson, London, tells me that he plays it to this day–4 March, 1927, and that no Pibroch can be played without it.

It may be of some interest to pupils in general, and to those who claim that they got their method from the descendent pupils of John MacKay in particular, that I have the “Lament for the Dead” as it was taken down from the fingers of John MacKay by one of his pupils. This pupil and Angus MacKay (John’s son) received their Pibroch instruction from John MacKay at the same time. The questionable “A” is in the Leumludh, Taorludh and Crunludh movements of this tune, therefore those who claim that John MacKay played these movements as they do are not supported by the notation in this tune which Mr. Simon Fraser, Melbourne, Australia, preserved for us. What, then, is the use of harping about this new method?

When Lieutenant MacLennan was compiling his Pibroch book he met the following snags in the Taorludh movement:–GAA, BGG, BDD, (and GGG in themes). He also met similar snags in the Crunludh movement, both of which are to have open his eyes. But it seems they did not, as he went ahead and finished his book, although he saw that these notes could not be played in a manner that would be rhythmically consistent with his new notation and theory. When he was asked why he failed to Work These notes over to be consistent with his other notes, all he could say was: “These are odd notes.”

It can be seen that the MacCrimmon Taorluadh system contains no “odd notes” and that it is uniform throughout. The beats contain three notes, in fact ninety-nine percent of their beats contain three notes, as any piper can see. Moreover, any piper who plays GAA, BGG and BDD mixed in with the new notation of two notes has much to learn about Pibroch and rhythm. Try it as in “War or Peace.”–I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron