OT: 28 March 1908 – Simon Fraser “Canntaireachd”

The Oban Times, 28 March, 1908


Warnambool, Victoria, Australia

12 February, 1908

Sir,–When Piper James Center was in Australia last year I challenged him to play from the “canntaireachd,” or “seantaireachd,” as my teacher, Peter Bruce, called it, and gave him a tune written in that notation. Mr. Center admitted at once that he could not play it, but said that he thought Dr. Bannatyne knew the system.

I got into communication with Dr. Bannatyne, and he wrote me to the effect that Mr. Center had sent him the tune in “canntaireachd” to translate. Dr. Bannatyne rightly stated, without hesitation, that the tune was “Sir James MacDonald’s Lament.” I was surprised to learn from the Doctor that none of the Scottish pipers new canntaireachd. I was taught the correct scale of the MacCrimmons in this system by my mother when I was a boy. I later on learnt the pipes by this system from Peter Bruce. My father was well acquainted with A. Munro, who composed “Glengarry’s Lament.” Munro taught the tune in a day or two to the other pipers, who played it with him at MacDonell’s funeral, and taught in the MacCrimmons’ canntaireachd. I myself teach my pupils by means of canntaireachd and ordinary notation combine, and by this means I am enabled to turn out good players in a shorter time than by ordinary notation. It is the true way of teaching piobaireachd, and I venture to say that the man was able to read the old system is in possession at once of all that much-prize and guarded MacCrimmon secrets.

Dr. Bannatyne forwarded me several unnamed tunes in canntaireachd, and I was able to read them and name them to him. I forwarded several unnamed tunes to him, and he sent me correct translations of them by next mail.

His system and mine differ slightly, but anyone who knows the rules of the old system can read any system. Dr. Bannatyne sent me a specimen of Angus Mackay’s system, differing from both his and mine, yet I had no difficulty in reading it. I think it would be to the advantage of all pipers to learn canntaireachd. They would then be better players. It is the true language of piobaireachd music, and is not more retrogressive compared with ordinary musical notation than sol-fah this.

In a controversial letter in your columns last August, a writer asked Dr. Bannatyne “What is your knowledge of canntaireachd?” If you excuse me answering the question, I should say that Dr. Bannatyne’s knowledge of the old MacCrimmons’ and pipe language is complete, and I find no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion the Dr. Bannatyne must be the best authority in Scotland on piobaireachd.–I am, etc.,

Simon Fraser,
Pipe-Major, Warnambool Pipe Band
Victoria, Australia