OT: 5 September 1931 – A.K. Cameron “A MacCrimmon Memorial and Two Classes of Their Music”

The Oban Times, 5 September, 1931

A MacCrimmon Memorial
Two Classes of Their Music

 Cohagen, Montana, U.S.A., 6 August, 1931

 Sir,–We find Scotsmen at home and abroad blowing their horns about Ceol Mor or the great music of the Highlands of Scotland. After listening to the blarney of these enthusiasts, we are surprised that only a few in four and three-quarter millions subscribed to the Memorial Fund. We also meet Scotsmen in every quarter of the globe who neither know who the MacCrimmons were nor what made them famous–a clear reflection on those in charge of our educational institutions.

We hear the slogan, “Suas leis a Ghaidhlig,” and we wonder why ceol mor, its music, is neglected. Again, we profess to admire the MacCrimmons because they composed a distinct class of classical music, and we waste a lot of money in a vain effort to preserve it, but instead we only preserve the form of it that a MacCrimmon would not listen to. Why? beause a lot of stupid and partial people pose as judges of bagpipe music and distribute prizes.

Captain N. MacLeod of Gesto did more to preserve genuine MacCrimmon music than any other man, but his greatest effort was in vain, because his first book, in 1826, was suppressed when the Highlands of Scotland were “whitewashed” by the so-called Puritans, but, as luck would have it, two copies escape the censors.

This edition contained fifty tunes in Sheantaireachd Notation (Old and New System), Time Symbols, Shean, Scales, Beat Scales and other rules laid down by Ian Dubh; also the history of the MacCrimmons and verses to several tunes by Patrick Mor, and, strange as it may seem to-day, it was due to the history and verses, and because MacLeod explained the real meaning of their vocable notation, that the book was suppressed. Had this book been published, there would be no argument to-day as to which is genuine MacCrimmon music, and it would not now be sunk so deeply in the mire of ignorance and false theories in which we find it. The mental vision of those who collected bagpipes and burnt them, along with their music, was very narrow indeed in those days, as is proved when bagpipes were re-sold “on the sly” by some of them. Naturally, the result of suppressing MacLeod’s book could not be foreseen by such men.

In 1828 Captain MacLeod published his second book of twenty tunes in Shean notation, Old Style. This is the only published book in which the initial note of every tune is given as played by the MacCrimmons. It also contains six variations that are never played by professionals and Highland gatherings. The finishing movement, “Hio dra ta ta te ri ri,” called “MacCrimmon’s Pride,” is also there, and no pupil was considered perfect by the MacCrimmons until he mastered this most difficult of all variations. Although this book contains genuine MacCrimmon music taken down by MacLeod from the fingers of Ian Dubh and copied from Patrick Mor’s manuscript, we find that those with an axe to grind will have nothing to do with it. Why?

The Gesto book of 1828 is the greatest classic in Europe, as there is far more in it then appears in the surface. It is a language within a language, and a language in musical form, and no man living will ever get at the root of all it contains, because every vocable had, and has, and esoteric meaning which the modern piper and his tutors fail to see, and therefore destroy by omission in beats.

We should remember that the MacCrimmons were the first to compose Ceol Mor. Several generations of them laboured a lifetime at its construction. In their tunes they expressed their feelings in various modes, which depend on their mood, and which we can follow and render their feelings with full expression, providing we strike the “lost chord” as they did in the most expressive tunes that can be constructed for the pipes. What tune could be more expressive, pathetic and appealing than “Patrick Mor’s Wail for His Children” when seven of them died within a year? It is as follows, Book 1826:–

Hear me, dear Saviour, hear me now,
All my loved children but one are laid low;
Spare him, dear Saviour, spare him for me,
To play the Lost Pibroch far over the sea.

Patrick Mor’s History, Book 1826, pages 3-4;–”Patrick Mor was the greatest of all the MacCrimmons as piper, composer, poet, scholar and philosopher.”

A cold shaft of granite as a memorial to the MacCrimmons may be all right in one sense, but it is not enough, as it will not preserve their music; not only that, but a large number of subscribers will never see it unless a photograph of it appears in the Oban Times. Therefore, I suggest that a memorial in book form be published, in which would be their tunes in both their notations. By this means their music and systems of notation would be preserved, and much available information could be disseminated and their (so-called) music sheared of a lot of trash. Then those interested could see for themselves that the metre, time and rhythm of the MacCrimmon music is perfect; that it is the music of poetry and not of prose; and also that Patrick Mor’s system of notation cannot be improved upon. These facts should spur every Highlander on to do his duty in order to preserve it. This can be done to-day as well as in 1826.

The more we play the music, the nearer we get to the various moods and feelings of the great MacCrimmons while they were passing through joy and sorrow. A monument gets us nowhere; it’s a dead issue! But their music is as much alive and as full of feeling to-day as it was when they composed. They lived when war was rife and strife was the order of the day, therefore their tunes were composed when they were in a sad or mournful mood. It can be seen that six generations of them used the lower or mournful notes of the chanter with only a sprinkling of high A notes. The doubling of the high A note or variation, when found in “their” tunes is not their composition. It is not in “Gesto” or in the book of 1826, nor in the MS from which they were copied. But Ian Dubh’s compositions are different. Patrick Mor helps us to understand their mental attitude towards war in the following lines from book 1826:–

Why talk of peace, ‘tis waste of breath,
There is no peace except in death;
The silent grave, our last abode,
Our dust lies here; our souls with God.

It seems to me that this verse of Patrick’s should be their epitaph.–I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron