OT: 26 September 1903 – H.L.I. [“The Passing of the Piobaireachd”]

The Oban Times, 26 September, 1903

[The Passing of the Piobaireachd]

Sir,–”A. M.,” who is writing these articles, is apparently troubled with cacoethes seribendi [insatiable desire to write], and consequently inflicts upon your readers some extraordinary views anent “Piobaireachd.”

 In my humble capacity as the President, of what I naturally consider one of the best of pipe bands in or out of the regular volunteer or private pipe bands, including even Lord Archibald Campbell’s Pipe Band, and having studied the pipes and the music thereof–pibroch, marches, and dance music–I am naturally a little bit amused at your correspondent, “A.M.’s,” third article. “A.M.” says, to begin with, that he only knows about six pipers who can play pibrochs. Who are they? He continually quotes “MacCruimen” as the greatest of authorities, but let me ask him did he ever hear a “MacCruimen” play? I may be wrong; but I think all these pipers are dead some little time ago; aye, even an hundred years ago. I should like to hear his explanation why pipers can’t improve as we advance, just the same as they do in other music.

If, as he says, a pibroch is a theme with variations (the story with additions) then that dispels the popular idea of what a Pibroch really means. I grant that there is not the same opportunity with pipes as with other instruments, as the pipes only have one octave, the toarluath being the only means of cutting the other notes when it is impossible to sound two E’s consecutively on the pipes.

The writer of the article on the “Passing of the Piobaireachd” says he has no desire to pose as an authority on this subject, but at the same time he quotes some very learned theories in support of his “passing away.” He says “the Piobaireachd is too often regarded as the primary form of pipe music, old-fashioned and barely intelligible, little suited to the present age of civilization, and consequently little appreciated.” Of course it is! The later generation of pipers have very considerably improved on the music of their forefathers. “A.M.” is not to think I mean those pipers who endeavour to play the “Honeysuckle and the Bee,” but these pipers in Glasgow alone who not only play well pibrochs, marches, and reels, but can also read and write the music set down by the famous “MacCruimen” and improve on it, and themselves compose very excellent music.

Unfortunately for “A.M.,” but fortunately for us of modern times, we have not the time or inclination to be Helen Macgregors, to sit down and listen to the coronach being played, while there is a chance of calling in the nearest doctor to save life and not lament over the dying. The sentiment may have been very appropriate some two or three hundred years ago, but its day is gone, and, I think, for ever. About two piobaireachd skin one evening are enough for any sane modern Highlander.

Unfortunately there are a good number of the old-wife Highlanders who seem to revel in this lamenting over the passing away of the piobaireachd. To a certain extent “A.M.” is quite right in advocating the keeping up of the old tunes, not necessarily laments, that are just as well rendered by the pipers of to-day as by the “MacCruimens,” whom nobody of this generation ever heard. As in everything else we must go forward, and I have not the slightest doubt that if any of the “MacCruimens” could rise up and hear their own piobaireachds, they would be amused at the improvement.

Then “A.M.” talks about different fashions and styles on the pipes. Everyone will admit that there is always room for improvement, but as to fashion, well, I don’t think there should be any fashion. Style is quite a matter for the player, but it he fingers his notes properly, keeps proper time, and what is very necessary, has a good carriage, and gives a sympathetic rendering and shows that he feels himself part of the music, it is all we can expect. From a personal point of view the writer has always thought, and thinks he voices the feelings of the majority of Highlanders when he says that there is nothing more inspiriting than to see a piper with good physique and carriage playing a stirring march on the war pipe. It appeals much more to his manly feeling than to hear a piper (endeavouring to emulate a “MacCruimen” he never heard) droning out a lament without object or purpose, unless it be on the platform competing for a prize to be awarded by a judge possessing the usual ignorance of pipe music.–I am, etc.