WS: 15 January 1953 – John Grant “Piobaireachd CAN be Written Now!”

The Weekly Scotsman, 15 January, 1953

Piobaireachd CAN be Written Now!

“NOWADAYS no one can compose a piobaireachd which will satisfy the ear of an expert in the music,” according to Mr. Archibald Campbell, of Kilberry, in the address to the Scottish Piping Society of London reported in the Weekly Scotsman last week.

As I am one of those who have spent much time and money in reviving the composition of ancient piobaireachd, I cannot permit the matter to pass without comment.

The main theme of Mr. Campbell’s remarks in his London address is that the new compositions “do not sound like piobaireachd,” and “that pipers have refused to play them.” While he can find no sound like piobaireachd in the new compositions, perhaps he overlooks the fact that the tunes in his book certainly do not look like piobaireachd.

“Pipers have refused to play them”! Well, I can tell him of one person who has done so. I composed a piobaireachd in the year 1909, entitled “Captain John Campbell of Kilberry’s Salute” and I possess the letter of acceptance in which Captain Campbell says: “The tune is a beautiful one and I have been at it with the chanter,” and he closes his letter with the words: “Assuring you of the honour I feel at having a tune called after me.”

It would appear that Mr. Campbell would like to shelve all efforts to revive the composition of new piobaireachd, but he will never manage to do that. I am not the only piper who has revived this class of Highland bagpipe music. There are many Highlanders overseas who have composed new piobaireachd, and several times I have had their tunes sent to me for criticism or assistance in helping them in their patriotic endeavours.

Those who compose piobaireachd nowadays do not require to find a new name for their compositions; their name is “piobaireachd,” not “Ceòl Mòr,” which is Mr. Campbell’s title. Piobaireachd is a Gaelic word meaning the classical music of the Highland bagpipe. The words “Ceòl Mòr” in English are “Great Music” which can be applied to any class of music.

The Young Pipers

The notation in Mr. Campbell’s book wipes out every chance for the young pipers whom we have to help in every manner to understand and follow the real form of ancient piobaireachd.

Joseph MacDonald never gave us any information whatever which would throw any light upon “piobaireachd, its origin or construction.”

In conclusion, I can only say that Mr. Campbell has destroyed the old piobaireachd and despises the new. I, therefore, leave his views (other than with the remarks which I feel it my duty to make) to all other pipers at home and abroad for them to form their own opinion.

John Grant, F. S. A., Scot.

Lochnagar, 35 Groathill Avenue, Craigleith, Edinburgh.