OT: 29 September 1923 – [Unsigned Review] “A New Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music”

The Oban Times, 29 September 1923

A New Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music

This book, which is certain to be welcomed warmly, is probably unique in at least two respects. No previous collection of Marches, Strathspeys and Reels has appeared in print at a moment where its author’s fame as a successful winner of prizes was at its zenith, and no such previous Collection has exhibited the same signs of careful preparation.

The title page states the contents to be as played by Pipe-Major Ross himself, and those who have the good fortune to be familiar with his playing will find this to be an accurate description, not only of the settings, but also of the manner of rendering them. The elaborate system of pointing adopted is a more serious attempt to demonstrate the exact method of playing than any which we can recollect in other publications, and is particularly noticeable in the reels, which previously were often represented by a long row of quavers of equal length.

To the student of Highland music in general and of pipe music in particular the most interesting arrangements are those of familiar competition marches such as “The Abercairney Highlanders,” “Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Sterling,” “Bonnie Ann,” “The Glengarry Gathering,” and “The Highland Wedding.” In the seventies of the last century prizes for marches at the Northern Meeting were won with simple tunes in 6/8 time. The more intricate four and six parted March in 2/4 time was brought into prominence either by the late William Maclennan or during the time when he was competing at the Games, and was developed still further by his famous successors, Angus MacRae and John MacColl. Throughout the last twenty-five years the tendency has been to embellish this classic music with more and more grace notes, largely, we believe, as a result of the uncanny facility for such ornamentation displayed by an illustrious contemporary of our present author. The outcome up to the year 1923 is clearly pictured in the book before us. To what lengths the tendency will continue it is impossible to foretell, but the difference between any one of the tunes mentioned above as played on a platform in the early nineties and as played to-day is considerable. There are those who say that the old style was the best, yet the public taste undoubtedly prefers a modern style.

The popularity of the competition march, strathspey and reel music of to-day, whether or not it will endure, is at the present moment established firmly. If it is a mere phase, it is a phase in the history of Highland music which no conscientious historian can ignore, and Pipe-Major Ross’s book, compiled as it is by an habitual winner of competitions, is, in the first place, a valuable historical record of what is considered in the year of grace 1923 to be competition music in its highest form. What would not the piobaireachd lover give for an accurate record by one of the prize-takers of the piobaireachs played at the eigthteenth century competitions of which we read in Angus MacKay’s book?

Secondly, there are doubtless many pipers in the Dominion who have never heard a competition in Scotland and who now have the opportunity of seeing exactly how prizes are gained there. For such a purpose this book can be commended with every confidence.

Thirdly, and principally, nine out of ten pipers all the world over cherish an ambition to excel in difficult marches, strathspeys and reels, and they will find here precisely what they have long hoped to obtain, instruction for which use of the most famous performer of the time has assumed responsibility.

Of the dance music pipers will find several old favourites arranged in pleasing form, notably “The Cameronian Rant” (reel), “The Rejected Suitor” (reel), “MacAlister’s Dirk” (reel), “John MacKechnie” (reel), where there is an unusual, but effective, use of the E grace note; “Delvinside” (strathspey), “Tulloch Gorm” (strathspey), “The Piper’s Bonnet” (strathspey), “Miss Proud” (reel), “Pretty Marion” (reel), in eight parts; and “The Shaggy Grey Buck” (jig) in ten parts. In some of these the elaboration of grace noting is almost startling, but it is in faithful accordance with modern practice.

The book contains a few recent compositions of merit, and of them “Mrs. J. MacColl,” march by John MacColl1; “Kantara to El Arish,” march by Pipe-Major W. Ferguson of the famous City of Glasgow Pipe Band, and “Mrs. Hugh Calder,” march by Roderick Campbell, are worthy of special attention.

It is hoped that the useful series of which this book is the beginning will be a long one. There is no question of the value of the first part, and the appearance of the second will be awaited eagerly.

Pipe-Major W. Ross’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music.–Patterson, Sons & Co., 152 Buchanan Street, Glasgow. –4/-net.


[1. This tune is not in the current edition of this Collection. ed.]