OT: 8 June 1929 – Somerled MacDonald “Joseph MacDonald and the Noting of Pibroch”

The Oban Times, 8 June, 1929

Joseph MacDonald and the Noting of Pibroch


 Inverness, 25 May, 1929

Sir,–In reply to Mr. MacInnes’ letter of the 26th April, in your issue of the 11th May, he states that he does not believe that Joseph MacDonald had more than a nodding acquaintance with pipe- playing, and quotes plain notes, etc., as being impossible for a chanter to play. These notes he must know to be misprints. I presume he has taken the trouble to read the preface. He also remarks “Clearly this man’s music was not for the pipes” etc., and finishes up by calling Joseph a “total outsider.”

I agree with Mr. Malcolm MacFarlane as to the value of the “Treatise.” It clears up finally many questions that have been debated for years. For example; The method of composing pibroch, the number of drones and, whether the MacCrimmons used the practising chanter, etc.

It shows that many notes and beats have been absolutely lost, that even certain different kinds of pibroch have been lost, by this I mean other kinds of classical music besides laments, gatherings, salutes, marches, etc. He also shows that the best Masters in the Isles of Mull and Skye composed jigs and airs as well as Pibrochs.

Further, some of the terms used in Pibroch to the present day were unknown to the MacCrimmons and other Masters, while much that was known to them is lost to us. Lastly it clears up the muddle of the “Taorludh” and “Crunluadh” beats.

This kind of criticism offered by Mr. MacInnes is not going to help in the matter of research, and I may say here that he would do well to adopt a somewhat different tone towards the “Piobaireachd Society” and others who are doing their best for Pibroch. I can assure him that the tunes as given out by the “Piobaireachd Society” are not published without careful research, while much latitude is allowed in the playing of them at competitions. Constructive criticism is quite a different thing.

One would think that a work such as this, however badly misprinted, would be only too eagerly sought after. Here is what we have all longed for– a work written by a first-class musician, a pupil of the old masters, and a well-known performer in his day on the pipes.

Joseph MacDonald, far from being a total outsider, was an excellent piper, he both played and composed Pibroch and made a collection of different kinds of true pipe music with historical notes. He was one of the greatest musical geniuses of his day, and his premature death was looked upon as a national misfortune.

Doubtless if Joseph had lived to correct his proofs, all the notes would have been in their right places. The work is, however, not difficult to anyone who has a knowledge of pipe playing as it was taught, say, a hundred years ago. It is not particularly palatable to some, especially to those who have written so hotly regarding the method of rendering the “Taorludh” beat.

I should like to explain some of the notes and tables in Joseph McDonald’s “Treatise” which may appear somewhat obscure, and I could show that the beat “Riludh” is a perfectly correct beat when used in its proper place and in the proper manner. It is not the equivalent of what we call “Taorludh.”

In this controversy of the “Taorludh” beat, Mr. MacInnes’ letter could not be allowed to pass without a reply. – I am, etc.,

Somerled MacDonald