OT: 17 August 1929 – A.K. Cameron “Concerning Piobaireachd Playing and Chanter”

The Oban Times, 17 August, 1929

Concerning Piobaireachd Playing and Chanter

 Powderville, Montana, U.S.A., 12 July, 1929

Sir,–In my letter of 18th May, I stated that ‘Donald Cameron was taught by MacCrimmon.’ This information is from a pupil of Cameron’s, who was under his tuition in 1861. Evidently your correspondent ‘Scal-Piob” has been reading Donald Cameron’s history, as given in W. L. Manson’s book, and is upbraiding me for Manson’s omission.

Regarding Angus MacPherson, Portree, there is nothing further to add to, or to detract from, the explanation given already. We cannot ignore Angus Mackay’s notation and text! This is no doubt very distasteful to those who would have us believe that he wrote one third of the notes in his Pibroch book for the piano, instead of for the bagpipes. Mr. MacPherson, Invershin, forgets that the so-called “piano notes” were written in Sheantaireachd notation, and performed upon the bagpipes long before the first piano crossed the English Channel.

The ancient bagpipe was a powerful organ toned instrument, and was second to none. See “Musical Memories of Scotland,” plate III. It is said that the instrument could be heard at the distance of eight miles. This must have been at sea-level. At three to five thousand feet above sea level–in a dry atmosphere–the limit is a mile.

The diameter of the cone in ancient chanters was nearly one-eighth of an inch larger than modern models, and the bore of the drones was large in proportion. The vents were further apart. The High A vent was further from the tip of the reed, and the pitch as a whole was lower.

The small drones were tuned in unison to D of the Chanter, and a large drone an octave below that. And the lowest note of the Chanter compares with the lowest note in the German Flute. (See Blackie’s Encyclopedia, 1880).

Modern chanters are violin toned and lack the carrying power of the ancient war pipes. The ancient pipers made chanters with a red-hot iron, and these were equal, if not superior, to some of the shrill and thin toned instruments of to-day. The tone of the older instruments was deeper.

The secret for making chanters was never lost. I know men in Argyll and Inverness-shire who make pipes to-day. John Bain Mackenzie’s lathe and bagpipe making tools were sold for twenty-six shillings. Some of his pipes and chanters are in the Highlands to this day.

The ancient scale of the Highland bagpipe was “D” upwards, but to-day it is “A,” because the pitch was raised in the sixteenth century.–I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron