OT: 17 October 1903 – A Highlander [John Grant] [“The Passing of the Piobaireachd”]

The Oban Times, 17 October, 1903

[The Passing of the Piobaireachd]

13 October, 1903

Sir,–Referring to the long correspondence in your much esteemed paper on “The Passing of the Piobaireachd,” I hope you will give the following remarks a place in next issue.

I am afraid that much of what has been said by the many writers on the subject will not further the efficient playing of our good old Highland music, viz., the piobaireachd.

Some of the writers on the subject do not appear to play piobaireachd; if so, they do not seem to realise the amount of work attached to keeping a big selection of piobaireachd in practice. It may be possible for men such as MacDonald, Inverness; MacColl, Oban; MacDougall Gillies, Glasgow; Center, Edinburgh; etc., whom we may be proud of as Masters of the instrument, to keep a big selection in perfect practice; but men who have their daily occupation to attend to have not the same chance of practising so many tunes, and are unable to do so under such circumstances, although it is surprising how many different times even then “A. M.” may hear at a gathering where ten or twelve pipers who play piobaireachd are present, as they do not generally all fancy the same tunes.

I take a very broad-minded view of what we need as a standing collection from which we may be able to play a bigger selection, and not allow those tunes not already in print be altogether lost. I certainly think it would be a very good plan to print a collection of three hundred piobaireachds, but not in an abbreviated way such as “Ceol Mor.” General Thomason deserves every credit for the work he has accomplished in his collection. It is a very good way to put so many tunes in such a small space, but the style of meditation is familiar only to the compiler, and not to piobaireachd players in general, who want to add a few more tunes to the collection which they already play with the knowledge they have already got without the aid of a teacher. The MacCruimens are all dead, and tuition is not within the reach of all, though from a book printed in a notation like Mackays Collection anyone can learn a tune after having some instruction in, or knowledge of, music.

“A. M.” in his remarks laments having to listen to the same old tunes at competitions year after year and hearing no new ones played, while there are three hundred to choose from. He has roused the enthusiasm of the Piobaireachd Society of London, and they want to have new tunes every year. They have already chosen six new tunes for their competition, which may be held at the Open Gathering next year. Another writer says the same should be done at Inverness.

I am of opinion that this method will not be much good, but, on the contrary, harm to piobaireachd playing. For instance, if half a dozen of the principal games committees were to take the same steps and choose six new tunes every year, even the professional men would have to keep up a total of thirty-six in thorough practice, or, perhaps, more. In this case the average piobaireachd player or amateur is placed in a position that renders him utterly unable to take part in any competition, or, if he does, then the audience will be disgusted with discreditable playing. Competitors, I think, should be allowed to choose their own tunes for competition. If they were they would play with some life and taste which would render the tunes pleasant to the ear, but under such rules they are compelled to play a tune which they have no love for whatever, simply because they have to do so to lift the prize.

One other remark I wish to make before I close it is, that all tunes should be classified. To lovers of them, piobaireachds are very nice to listen to. I would place them first, and look on them as the essence of pipe music. We have the March, Strathspey, and Reel. Where would they come in? Piobaireachd has its place at the competition, the Castle of the Scottish Chief, and many other ways, but the March, Strathspey, and Reel should have their place for the same purpose. So we keep up a collection of Piobaireachd, Marches, Strathspeys, and Reels.

I hope the foregoing remarks will be thought over by players.–I am, etc.,

A Highlander [John Grant]