OT: 3 September 1927 – Review – “A Complete Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe – Part II”

The Oban Times, 3 September, 1927 

“A Complete Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe”
Part II.

It is interesting to find the beat he calls “Riludh” or “Iuludh” (Toarluath) contains the middle note regarding which there has been much controversy of recent years. He describes that beat as follows (the words in brackets being added by the writer of this review, to save the reader the necessity of fingering out the beat on the chanter)– 

 Riludh–consists of a number of Notes, beginning with opening the 1st and 7th fingers (the G cut to the A); then stop the 7th open the 4th, and, after again stopping it (the GDG grip), open the 7th and keep it so (thus sounding the disputed A) till you open the 3rd then stop it (the E cut to the A) still keeping the 7th open till you begin again. 

This should surely settle the matter once and for all and it is to be hoped the piping Societies will face the position cheerfully and encourage their members to get ahead with serious work and not waste time disputing an obvious fact! 

His “9th cutting” (a mach beat, followed by another note) is another case where his description does not entirely agree [with] his illustrated “holes,” but it is clear his intention is the full GDG grip (some beats clearly show the three note grip). In this case also, it is interesting to find the mach beat contains the middle note. 

Dochan an Ludan. 

Dochan an Ludan is the run-down from C etc. to low A through B, with a little finger and it is interesting to find the first note of such beats is the accented one, as was pointed out in a recent publication on piobaireachd, and not the A, as is commonly written to-day. “Barludh” is the beat from say a low A to high G with the grip EAFA and some of the fancy “cuttings” of the Crunluath Breabach nature (to use today’s terms) finish with “Barludh.” “Ludh an Chrodh” is the doubling of the D. In his “10th cutting” (Siubhal from A and G upwards) is cutting grace notes are E and D except where the previous themal note is E when the G cut is employed. To-day these cuts are G and D and not E and D! In the “Ludh Sleamhain 2d species,” it is interesting to find that cuts to the pair of E’s are G and F against the practice to-day of using two G cuts. There are many other interesting points which are best brought out by careful study of the work itself. 

After dealing with the method of fingering the various beats and giving exercises upon them the author proceeds to the other sections of his work already referred to. 

Rhythmic Phrasing. 

Statements are often made now-a-days, even by people of education, that piobaireachd is irregular in metre, and not governed by any of the natural laws of music. These ideas are largely responsible for the absence of rhythmic phrasing so common two-day, even with our best players, for there are really but very few who can be called good piobaireachd players, in spite of popular belief to the contrary. Even the Piobaireachd Society judges seem more disposed to award prizes to those whose mechanical execution, (fingering) is good, apart entirely as to whether or not their rhythmic phrasing is good, bad or indifferent. It is perhaps a fortunate thing for the future of piobaireachd that Joseph MacDonald’s work make it clear that the music is “regular.” It is not inappropriate to quote from his work. He says:– 

 The first Composers of Pipe Music having never heard of any other instrument or known any of the Rules ever invented of Music, except what was suggested to them by Nature and Genius; and here it may not be improper to discover the general Rule by which the original Composers of the Pipe Music, guided chiefly by the ear, taught and regulated the time, knowing nothing of Common or Triple Time, Crotchet or Quaver. This Rule may, with some propriety, be called The Rule of Thumb for it was by the four fingers of the left hand that all their time was measured and regulated, e.g., an Adagio in Common Time of such a style must not exceed, or fall short of, such a number of Fingers, otherwise it was not regular. 

If the March was to be but a short Composition, the ground must be of so many Fingers, for Bars they had not heard of; if a gathering, commonly of such a number. If a Lament, if a March, etc., according to the occasion, it must consist of such a number; they were sure to have no odd number in any piece they designed to be regular. Their Adagio’s, when regular, commonly consisted of four Quarters. In each Quarter there were such a number of Fingers which we count as a Bar 2, 4, or 8, as the Quarters were long or short; or the Bar was subdivided into more Fingers according to their length, and thus the Adagio’s and Grounds counted upon their 4 fingers, and measured by their Ear, and when the Finger and Ear corresponded all was well. 

The ordinary length of a Pipe Adagio being 16 Fingers, computed about 16 Bars, 4 in each Quarter. The regularity preserved only by the help of this Rule, in all their Compositions, is very surprising. 

It could not in the least be wondered at though there should be little excressencies and deficiencies in the Time, by this method of Composition; but very few are to be found. 

His closing remark and his expressions “they designed to be regular” and “when regular” may be clung to by some of the stubborn ones, in support of their views, but there can be no doubt the few cases where “little excressencies and deficiencies” exist are not the work in any of the great Masters, and in any case irregularities such as three or four bars missing or three or four bars too many are not met. Such gross irregularities can be done only to mutilation since a tune was first composed, possibly players getting on wrong notes and not being able to complete their “finger” musically without additional bars, or the converse–getting on a wrong note and having to finished a “finger” before the proper time. His expressions “they designed to be regular” and “when regular” cannot be read, it is considered, to indicate that the old composers on occasions deliberately designed irregular compositions. They were too great natural musicians to go against the natural law of music. 

The work is therefore a very strong refutation of the crude ideas existing in some quarters. To argue that because the old composers knew nothing of bars and modern staff notation (which, after all, is only a scientific method of recording a time) their music was not regular in metre and rhythm is to give little credit to the musical genius of such a master as Patrick Mor MacCrimmon. Indeed, such views are an insult to his memory. Once and for all let such ideas be cast aside and let us look for metre and rhythm in all tunes put forward for competition and for rhythm and phrasing in the playing of them, mere fingering not being deemed one of the principal points in piobaireachd playing. 

Mr. Alex.MacDonald, Inverness. 

Mr. Alex.MacDonald, Inverness, is very greatly to be commended for his courage in reprinting this valuable work, for such efforts are not usually remunerative, and he should receive support from far and wide, from all interested in our national music. Indeed it is the bounded duty of all interested in the music to support such efforts and thus enrich our knowledge of the ancient art and encourage its investigation. The publication of this work comes at a time when much interest is being taken in piobaireachd matters and it is sincerely to be hopes its lessons will not be lost and that a wider view of points in playing will be taken than is now apparent, and that many will be less inclined to the stubborn view that what they were taught is not open to any criticism. 

 Mr. MacDonald has written an excellent preface to the reprint and has added at the end of the book “Notes” drawing special attention to certain misprints, in the original. He has also given an excellent “Appendix” dealing with Bagpipe terms. These will prove most valuable to the student. The “Reprint” is very admirably printed by Aird & Coghill, 24 Douglas Street, Glasgow. 

Orders for the desirable work should be sent to Mr. Alexander MacDonald, Glencona Inverness.