The Oban Times, 19 September, 1903
The Passing of the Piobaireachd
By “A. M.”
But enough of lamentation. The piobaireachd has traveled far down the road to oblivion. But it is not too late to turn. The remedy has been alluded to before. There is only one, and the Highlander must apply it himself. It is real earnest study of every piobaireachd he hears. Let him be sure that it has a story to tell him, and that the story is comprehensible by any child of the heather and the mist who opens his ears to hear it. If once we get so far, the rest will follow. Piping will retrace its steps and reach the upper air once more, difficult though it may seem.
But what will follow; what must follow? In the first place the old tunes
Must Be Rescued
and put where they can be heard and appreciated. Mention has already been made of the despicable poverty of a modern piper’s repertoire. He knows ten, or perhaps twenty, or possibly thirty piobaireachd. Probably these are all that he has ever heard played. Yet there must be three hundred or more still in existence somewhere. But where are they? Hoarded and guarded with more care than ever miser cherished his store of gold. Written, or unwritten, they are there, noted in old books, scrawled on stray fragments of paper, or engraved on the memory of some old-time piper. They are there to-day. To-morrow they will be gone. The old piper will be dead, and at the emptying and garnishing of his house his books and scraps of papers will be swept out with the rubbish, while that which was in his mind will be buried with him in the grave. Let the Highlander look to it, lest his grandchildren and great-grandchildren curse him as we would fain curse our forefathers, for suffering to be lost what is already lost beyond recall.
Another matter, too, would right itself when once a proper spirit of interest is aroused. This is the judging at the games, to which passing references have been made before. And it will be generally admitted, that, as far as piobaireachd competitions are concerned, the judging nowadays leaves much to be desired. It would not be a hard matter to quote concrete instances, but this would serve no useful purpose, since no one is likely to come forward and claim that the judging of piobaireachd at any but the big games is
Conspicuous For Its Efficiency.
Reform is badly wanted, but there can be no reform until a sufficiency of dependable judges is available–men with some knowledge of what they profess to judge, who will give an honest decision in strict accordance with their own conscience. As far as marches, strathspeys, and reels are concerned, there is no feature of modern piping so pleasant to contemplate as the growth of the amateur player. Let it be said at once that by amateur is not meant the resplendent individual, whom one meets bowing under the weight of metal trophies won at third-rate city competitions. The term is used in its literal sense of one who plays through sheer love of playing. It is too much to hope that our present day amateur pipers, many of whom are the happy possessors of wealth, position, and influence, having proved themselves capable exponents of Ceol Beag, will now direct their ambition into a nobler channel, and set themselves the task of acquiring a thorough technical knowledge of the real music of the piob mor? They are the men to whom we must look to start the work of reform, to stir up a desire for knowledge among their fellow-Highlanders, and to make some organised effort to rescue and preserve the old tunes. They-too-must be our future judges, and, once they are equipped with proper knowledge, no piper could desire better.
When every existing piobaireachd has been placed within his reach, and he has been assured fair treatment when competing for prizes, the professional piper may be trusted to make himself, what at present he is very far from being, a master of Ceol Mor, the big music of the pipes. And then once more the piper’s sole claim to fame will rest upon his piobaireachd playing, and should there be a question of
from competitions through lack of time, those to disappear will be the Highland fling for juveniles, or the semi-amateur marches for the chief’s silver-centered medal, and a Highland audience will listen unwearied to the piobaireachd, which the present fashion condemns as tedious.
But there is no time to waste. Men are dying, tunes are perishing, knowledge is waning. There are four pipers alive in Scotland to-day, and should they all, by some evil chance, die to-morrow, piobaireachd playing would receive a blow which might kill it outright, so slender is the thread which links our degenerate era with the golden days of past years.
To sum up the substance of these articles, the writers purpose has been not to prove, for no proof is needed, but to draw attention to, the barbarous apathy with which our present generation trees the subject of music. He has reminded the reader how few are ever heard nowadays, and how pipers play piobaireachd solely in order to win prizes in competitions, judge frequently by men without the slightest elementary knowledge of the subject. He has tried to show that the fault lies, not with the present-day professional piper, but with those on whose patronage the piper is dependent for his daily bread. He has noticed a few spasmodic attempts which have been made to better the situation, attempts which have been plentifully drenched with cold water. He suggested certain ways in which interest in the piobaireachd may be rekindled, and he has sketched some slight
Plan of Campaign
to be followed once such interest is aroused. He has, nevertheless, insisted throughout that the only remedy rests with the Highlander himself. The writer has, perhaps, put his case rather strongly, but he has done so because he is firmly convinced of the necessity for so doing. It is high time for someone to speak plainly on the piobaireachd question, even at the risk of wounding other people’s feelings. And all that is hoped for is that some reader of this paper, which circulates among Highlanders in every quarter of the globe, will be induced to think over the matter, and to consider what he personally can do to save Ceol Mor. “Prepare, Sunart, for Ardnamurchan has gone to wreck!” and if the piobaireachd dies, then dies also the spirit of the Scottish Gael.