OT: 10 October 1903 – A Lover of the Piob Mhor “The Passing of the Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 10 October, 1903

The Passing of the Piobaireachd

 Sir,–I have read with great interest the three articles headed “The Passing of the Piobaireachd” in your paper of dates 29th August, 5th September, and 12th September, signed “A. M.,” and with your permission would like to make a few remarks thereon.

I will begin by confessing that “A. M.” evidently knows his subject very much better than I do, and if he sees this letter he must make allowance and pardon any mistakes I make; but one thing I am sure, and that is, he cannot be a greater enthusiast about, or a greater lover of pipe music that I am.

Can “A. M.” wonder at “the passing of the pibroch?” When the pibrochs were being played at Inverness this year for the gold medal how many people in the grand stand listened to them or understood them? Some there were certainly; but, alas, how few. The first three or four pibrochs could be heard, but after those, when the fashionable throng appeared, their chatter made it impossible to hear properly. At another swell meeting at which I was present the pibroch players and judges were dispatched to the other end of the ground, so as not to horrify the occupants of the grand stand with the savage sound; and I am not sure if this was not a good plan. My own idea is that the piping should be carried on by itself, and nobody need come and hear it unless he wanted; but this I fear is almost impossible to arrange where so much has to be gone through in one day. I must say, however, I did see one lady listening and evidently understanding the pibrochs on the grand stand at Inverness, and I think she wore the Campbell tartan. It is a case of pleasing the majority, and the authorities at all those meetings must go with the majority.

The very best way to prevent “the passing of the pibroch” is the competition announced by the Piobaireachd Society of Scotland to take place at Oban next year, where they propose giving a first prize of £20, and, what is almost of as much consequence, they give out a list of the pibrochs to be played. This, I consider, the Northern Meeting Committee should always have done. For instance, the gold medal was won this year by a piper who got “Glengarry’s Lament” to play; now anyone who knows pibrochs will understand that this is a short and, comparatively speaking, an easy pibroch, but it was this piper’s luck to be asked to play it. I don’t mean to disparage his playing, which, in my humble judgment, was very good and well deserved to win; but had he got a long and more difficult pibroch to play there was always the possibility of his pipes going out of tune. The Piobaireachd Society have thus done the very thing required by giving out the pibrochs now, and making them about the same length and difficulty.

I quite agree with “A.M.” as to the judging at many of the Highland games leaving a lot to be desired. At some meetings I could mention judges are appointed for the reason that they have subscribed liberally to the prize-list, or that they are influential men in the district, or from some such motive. My idea of judging is that there should never be less than two or more than five, and I would have silent voting like the ballot without any consultation. If this did not settle the matter, then I would have a consultation, and I would have judges shut up for marches, and reels, and strathspeys, as for pibrochs. Of course, one is supposed to give points for marching, but I consider that difficulty could easily be got over. Speaking of judging, what can one think of the Northern Meeting having only two judges this year owing to the lamented death of Dr. Bett? Supposing those two could not agree, how were they to settle it; only by tossing, and this is not judging. Inverness is supposed to be an example for all other meetings, and I say they distinctly showed a bad example in having only two judges when they must have known there were several competent judges present who would only have been too glad to give their services. One more remark I will make about judging is, that it is a most unenviable position as the writer knows to his cost. Judges cannot please everyone, and the men we want are some more like the late Dr. Bett, who, in my opinion, always gave a perfectly fearless judgment, and had a knowledge of pipe music possessed by few. He was, in my opinion, the very best judge we had, and when we lost him piping lost a good friend. If we had a few more like him “A.M.” need not be afraid of the “pibrochs passing.”

“A.M.” must remember there are not many pipers who can spare the time to get pibrochs; but now that there is a prize of £20 to be won, I expect there will be a good many competitors for it, and that the competition will last for more than one day. If so, I hardly see how it can be held on one of the days of the Oban meeting, or, if so, it must be carried on quite apart from the other competitions. “A.M.” speaks of four pipers as the thread which links our degenerate era with the golden days of past years, but does he not think it is possible that this number might be increased? I confess I don’t know all the pibroch players, but I think I could mention more than four who could play a pibroch even to satisfy him, and by next year, let us hope, there will be four times four competing for the £20 prize. I will conclude my letter by remarking, “May I be there to hear.”

I consider all lovers of pipe music owe more than a debt of gratitude to the compiler of “Ceol Mor,” who, in my opinion, has done more to prevent the passing of the pibroch than any man living.–I am, etc.,

A Lover of the “Piob Mhor.”