OT: 12 October 1929 – A.K. Cameron “Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 12 October, 1929


 Powderville, Montana, U. S. A., 9 September, 1929

Sir,–Regarding the so-called “Problems in Piping” there are none! Your correspondents forget that Patrick Mor MacCrimmon settled all the problems long before any of them were born. The problems confronting us to-day are the inventions of modern pipers and those of their tutors.

We have at least three systems of notation and time value of beats, all of which mutilate the old music beyond repair.

The greatest musical curiosity that has been invented so far is Lieut. MacLennan’s “The Piobaireachd”–as MacLennan could not play it! The Piobaireachd Society adopted a similar system, but omitted the most ridiculous part of MacLennan’s, e.g., two and three beats performing in the time of one beat. They patched up their new system by adopting Thomson’s notation, but ignored his text, e.g., omitted what they considered a superfluous “A” in his Toarluadh and Crunluadh. They also tried to translate Campbell’s Sheantaireachd, but ignored the vowels where they considered “A” a superfluous note in the Toarluadh and Crunluadh beats of the system.

Mr. W. Gray claims his notation is from old MS., but fails to state that his notation is, or is not, an exact copy. Why? He also stated in this column that the Toarluadh and Crunluadh notes are written in his book as MacDougall Gillies taught them to him, but Gillies failed to support his pupil. Why? MacDougall Gillies called modern pibroch an “atrocity.”

It appears we are to be plagued and confronted with another new system, e.g., the old Toarluadh in the Urlar and a mutilated specimen of the GDG grip in the conventional variations. The missing “A” is restored, but they must mutilate something.

Is there any class of musicians on earth that would abuse their heritage as we have done? What would the musicians of other nations say to us if we mutilated the music of the great composers–Beethoven, Wagner, and Mozart in the same manner? What would Fox-Strangways say? He would say plenty!

Mr. Somerled MacDonald claims that the MacCrimmons favored the so-called Iuludh in the conventional variation. Is he sure? He also claims the Bruces favoured this movement. Again, is he sure? If Mr. MacDonald and others will consult “Gesto” at pages 9, 15, and 31 they can see what the MacCrimmons and the Bruces favoured! The Bruces taught their pupils from the “Gesto” book of 1828. In this book each vowel is a symbol for a plain note and each “dr” is a symbol for the full GDG grip in the Toarluadh beat. This book is genuine MacCrimmon Sheantaireachd. Are Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Angus MacPherson to ignore this notation? The MacKays called the Toarluadh “Tri” ludh. Can Mr. MacPherson explain what his father and grandfather did with the missing note in this beat?

I challenge any piper or any judge of pipe music to prove to us that “Gesto’s” and Angus MacKay’s notation is wrong in the Toarluadh and Crunluadh beats. This includes all those who write it in modern notation.

The “best piper” depends on the judge! The question is–Who is the “best judge”? Right here is where an elimination contest would be of the utmost value for the preservation and advancement of pipe music.

Why did Piobaireachd flourish before 1745? Because the MacCrimmons kept it pure! Why did it decline afterwards? Because some of the “over smart” pipers altered the Sheantaireachd and its beats, graces, and their time value.

There is only one “Immutable Piobaireachd System,” and that is Patrick Mor MacCrimmon’s! Any piob book is good when its notation, beats, time, graces, and metre conform with Patrick system, and absolutely worthless when these conform with something else.–I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron