OT: 6 January 1934 – A. Mackay “The Music of the MacCrimmons”

The Oban Times, 6 January, 1934

The Music of the MacCrimmons

 R.M.S. “Edinburgh Castle,” Union Castle Line, 16 December, 1933

Sir,– Amongst the correspondence which came on board at Southampton, I had a copy of the Oban Times 25th November, in which I noticed a letter from your correspondent, Mr. Cameron, Montana, in support of a previous letter from Mr. MacInnes on the above subject.

After reading these letters I must say, even at the risk of being thought obtuse, that I fail to see what these gentlemen are aiming at. Is the object to gather all the known tunes of the famous composers into one volume for the sake of convenience, or is the intention–as one would gather from Mr. MacInnes’s letter–to publish supposedly more correct versions of the tunes? If the former, I am afraid that, from a business point of view, it would not pay. If the latter, who is to be the judge of correctness?

Mr. Cameron says there are two hundred MacCrimmon tunes in canntaireachd still to be translated into staff notation. I would like to think that there were. It would add some zest to life if some entirely new compositions were to be found, but I am afraid not. Practically all the tunes in Gesto’s canntaireachd are known. The same applies to Campbell’s canntaireachd. There are some who invest canntaireachd with mysterious properties and regard it as a key to all sorts of ancient musical mysteries, but it is safe to say that most of the mystery is in their own imagination. As a universal system it never existed. Each man was a law unto himself and invented his own mode. It was useful in the absence of something better for jotting down tunes.

Mr. Cameron makes mention of an aged piper who is the only one living who understands all about canntaireachd in relation to modern notation, but while this old gentleman’s ideas would be most interesting to all lovers of the old music, we are fortunately not dependent upon any living authority alone, most of the tunes extant being straight from the fountain-head and not in any mysterious obscure form but in modern notation.

John Mackay, piper to MacLeod of Raasay, was acknowledged to be the best piobaireachd exponent of his day. He was taught by a MacCrimmon, and his illustrious son Angus–a genius in that line–wrote down all his father’s tunes from his playing, in staff notation. They are there to-day for all to see, in plain notes, free from obscurity. What more can any reasonable man one, or what further proof of their authenticity and correctness?

I am, etc.,

A. Mackay