OT: 23 June 1923 – Manu Forti “Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 23 June, 1923


Box 510

Cape Town, 24 May, 1923

Sir,– From the criticism which always follows the publication of the Piobaireachd Society’s Tunes for the year there would appear to be some enthusiasts left who take an interest in the old martial music. I have no doubt the Society welcomes fair criticism, but while criticising them we must not forget to give them credit for the good work they have done in reviving and encouraging the art of piobaireachd playing, which at the time of the Society’s inception had sunk to a very low ebb.

I agree with your correspondent, Mr. McPherson, that innovations in piobaireachd should be discouraged. The nearer we keep to the original the better, as after all piobaireachd is mostly sentiment. We love it as a relic of the past and for its associations, and it is also interesting as an index to the life and manners of the people of the times. No one hearing these tunes can have any doubt as to the warlike nature of the Highlanders even if other evidence were wanting. It would also be interesting to know in how far these wild tunes would appeal to other warlike, primitive peoples. I am sure some of these would you like the heart of a wild Zulu. I have listened to a native in the tall chanting and air which was exactly similar to the first bars of “Horo mo Nighean donn bhoidheach.”

Your correspondent, “Bratach Bhan,” mentions the tune, “Blar nan Doirneig,” as an instance of misinterpretation by the Piobaireachd Society, but they do not tie the competitor down to any particular style now, and it is open to anyone to play what style he pleases and be judged on its merits. At the same time the multiplicity of styles is a great disadvantage. It seems to me that the best way would be to take all the styles , pick out the best of each and fuse them into one, making that the standard style. Would the Society disqualify a competitor who did this?

I noticed a correspondence asking for a history of the Battle of “Blar nan Doirneag,” but there has been no reply. The name itself has often been the subject of discussion. Perhaps some Gaelic scholar would favour us with the derivation. The name seems to indicate that the battle was fought with stones in lieu of other weapons, but I dread the wrath of etymologists and so desist from further conjecture.

While on the subject of piobaireachd, is it not an extraordinary thing that upon all occasions where laments are played we cannot get away from the “Flowers of the Forest” and “Lochaber no more,” both unsuited to the pipes. Anyone who knows the beautiful song, “The Flowers of the Forest,” would never dream of trying to play it on the pipes, and the air to which the modern words of “Lochaber” is sung is too high in the second part for the pipe scale. Surely with all our laments we could play something native to the pipe–for instance, “MacIntosh’s Lament,” first three parts. It is simple enough for anyone to learn and easily understood.

I hope some of our leading pipers will show some originality in this matter and play real pipe tunes as laments instead of trying to squeeze airs into the compass of the pipe which were never meant for it. Has anyone ever listened to an amateur pipe band trying to play “Scotland the brave”; it is enough to make the angels weep. Those of us who love the pipe are jealous of its dignity, and it hurts us to see it turned into a glorified penny whistle. It is deserving of all English honour for the part it and its bearers have played in the making and maintaining of the British Empire.–I am, etc.

Manu Forti