OT: 22 April 1911 – [unsigned] “Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union” [report]

 The Oban Times, 22 April, 1911

Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union
Lecture by Dr. Bannatyne

 The Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union recently held a most successful recital in the Shepherds’ Hall, Bath Street, Glasgow. Major A. Patterson, the president, occupied the chair, and referred to the aims and objects of the Union. An interesting programme was submitted, and its performance left nothing to be desired. The selections by the pipers of the Union were played as precisely as if done by one man, while the dancing showed that the Union is already doing excellent work by insisting on a uniform order of steps, which adds so much to the gracefulness of the performance. The pibroch playing could not have been excelled. The programme was as follows:–

Selections, pipers of the Union; reel, Messrs. Cameron, Stewart, McEwen, and Kay; pibroch, Pipe-Major MacDougall Gillies; sword dance, Misses Murray, Cameron, Stewart, Pearson; bagpipe selections, Piper James McIvor; Hungarian top-boot dance, Misses Marshall and Swan; pibroch, Piper William Gray; Lochabers sword dance, McKenzie-Kay Troupe; bagpipe selections, John McColl, Oban; Highland Fling, Messrs. Neil Cameron, C. McEwan, and E. MacDonald-Stewart; bagpipe selections, Piper Donald Cameron; Irish jig, McKenzie-Kay Troupe; bagpipe selections, Pipe-Major McKenzie; sailors hornpipe, Messrs. Cameron, Stewart, Scott, McEwen; specialty dance, Sisters Cameron; bagpipe selections, Messrs. Swanson and Gordon; Shean Triubhais, Misses Pearson and Marshall; bagpipe selections, Mr. J. Johnstone; Highland Fling, Miss Minnie Swan; Reel of Tulloch, Messrs. Cameron, Stewart, McEwen, Kay; bagpipe selections, pipers of the Union.

History of the Bagpipes.

During the course of the evening Dr. Charles Bannatyne delivered an able and exceedingly interesting lecture on the history of piping and dancing. There were, he said, many kinds of bagpipes in the universe, but the greatest of all these, and the most celebrated in its music was the bagpipe peculiar to the Scottish Highlanders. The bagpipes were practically unknown in the Highlands till the end of the sixteenth century. It was primarily a war instrument, but they were concerned that night with the bagpipes as an instrument of peace, not one of war; an instrument of friendship and good comradeship, which had been the means of bringing them there that night in a unity, from which had sprung their Society, the Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union. The bagpipe had only a range of nine notes, G to A, in the key of D, the low A being made prominent by the pedal accompaniment, in unison, of the two tenor and one bass drone. From this

Small-Scale had Sprung

a remarkable collection of marches, strathspeys, reels, jigs and piobaireachd. To those who love the pipes, but had no skill of the fingers, he might explain a few points. The fixed scale presented, owing to the bag, an unbroken flow of sound, and in order to give character to the music, to present consecutive notes of the same pitch, and to embellish the tunes, grace-notes, singly and doubly and in groups, were added, and were responsible for the warbling of the plaintiff sounds, which had no equal in the music of any other known nation. In a pibroch they had, first, the groundwork or theme, and this was worked up through the succeeding variations in a way that taxed the skill and endurance of the performer in a remarkable way. By this greater music the Highlanders celebrated

Their Great Occasions.

War, marriage, love, and death formed the basis of the themes of this music, and in addition they used the pipes as a means of rallying and keeping together the units of their forces in turbulent times. The great masters of piping were in olden times, as to-day, also teachers, and not having a notation as we have it, they formed one of their own, and this he called the “Pipers’ Sol-fa.” Dr. Bannatyne then dwelt at length on the scale in this notation, which is the MacCrimmon scale. They were met as the legitimate successors of the old-time players who originated and performed the sounds. He was pleased to notice Mr. Henry Whyte (“Fionn”) among them. No man living knew more than he about the history of the old tunes. He hoped Mr. Whyte might soon see his way clear to publish another edition of his “Martial Music of the Clans.” Another fine work of his was published by Mr. D. Glen, Edinburgh, in the form of “Historical and Legendary Notes regarding Piobaireachd,” a carefully edited and trustworthy book, published at the price of 3s, and worthy of all praise. There they would find much concerning

The Old Players,

men who had to undergo a long and severe course of training, extending from seven to eleven years, at one of the several “Colleges of Piping, “which then existed in the Highlands of Scotland. Their profession was highly honourable, for they were educated musicians, holding a high social and professional place under the old clan system. Each had a servant to carry his pipes until such time as he required to use them. They were men fit to grace any company, and though they were dead they had left behind them an imperishable monument in their music. A study of this music proved how great these men were. To-day they had myriads of performers who upheld this music and kept it to the front, and that Union hoped to add such performers to its ranks.

History of Highland Dancing.

He now came to the subject of dancing. It had been a favourite amusement in all ages, and had been by means of pantomimic action the vehicle for expressing sacred and festive joy, exultation and victory, or were like determination before setting out to battle. Our own Highland dances were relics of a warlike race, and might have originated among the old Druidical priests and warriors. The old sword dance was probably used to stimulate the Keltic youth to deeds of valour. There were three methods of performing this dance–(1) The grand dance, used on solemn occasions; (2) as a trial of skill and agility in swordsmanship; and (3) as an exhibition by one person. The grand dance was likely similar to that of the northern Goths and Swedes. It was an exercise for youth. First with swords sheathed and erect in their hands they danced in a triple round, then with

The Swords Drawn

held erect; then they extended them from hand to hand, laid hold of each other’s points and hilts, wheeling about and changing their order; then they formed a hexagon called a rose, but presently raising and drawing back their swords, they undid that figure to form a four-square rose that might rebound over the heads of each, and at last they danced rapidly backwards rattling swords and scabbards. This they did to the sound of pipes. At first it was a slow measure, but the conclusion was very rapid. In the second style of sword dance there were two performers armed with sword and targe. It resolved itself into a trial of skill, and finally the victor placed the two swords on the ground and danced around them and

Exultation and his Victory

over his adversary. From these descriptions could be followed the meaning of the figures of our modern sword dance. The Highland Fling also had its origin in the defeat of an adversary. It was originally danced on a targe, and was accompanied by voice as well as pipes. in the Fling the dancer should keep as near as possible to one small circle, representing the size of the targe, and should avoid raising the foot of one leg higher than the lower edge of the knee-cap of the other. Each foot as a rule marks time for its fellow. The Strathspey at one time was a twosome dance, but now is mostly a foursome. It consisted of the reel and setting steps, each of about eight bars. The reel proper and the Reel of Tulloch were often danced with and after the strathspey. Another graceful dance, founded on some of the old dirk, sword, and fling dances, was Shean Triubhas, a graceful and dignified dance. All the old dances called for grace, agility, and muscular vigour. All the amusements and games of the Highlander were those of an exceptionally powerful and

Vigorous Race.

Had the Gael moped about his glens and hills as the “Celtic gloom” tribe would like to make out, he would hardly have been likely to have evolved exercises like the tossing of stone, hammer, and caber, games like shinty, dances like the Reel, Fling, and Sword, all calling for great strength, great agility, and much-practiced art. In concluding his lecture Dr. Bannatyne expressed the hope that they would all join the Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union, and get their friends to join. The best pipers and dancers in the world had already joined their ranks. They had many good things for the future still in store, but it was by enthusiasm and energy of the great rank and file of pipers and dancers that their Union would attain the fame and prestige it was anxious to prove it deserved. (Loud applause.)

The meeting resulted in quite a large accession to the membership of the Union.