Interpreting Primary Source Manuscripts – Part 10

Let’s return to Glengarry’s March (PS 170).

To remind ourselves – this is Hannay-MacAuslan’s version:

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It is written with “streaming” cadences, allowing the primary melodic notes to dominate the performance.  Where there is an appoggiatura cadence, it is clearly indicated (first note, second line).

In comparison, review this:

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And listen to the performance by Bob Nicol, found on Tobar an Dualchais (1953).

The recording is clearly influenced by the MacKay score: long held-E cadences, much shorter themal notes following them.

Of course, this version has come down to us by means of all the wonderful students and devotees of Nicol.  But his was not the only trajectory, by any means.  We hear a very similar renditions in P/M William MacLean’s recording, as well as with Angus Campbell.  Here we note the dominance of the MacKay tradition as reflected in these recordings from the mid-20th century, coming from instruction taking place in the very early-20th, possibly late-19th century.  It is clear that MacKay dominated the scene.

Now, listen to this recording by Callum Johnson on Tobar an dualchais (1955)

This is a very interesting recording. Callum Johnson is definitely playing held-E cadences.  But the main notes very much retain their full value.  It is as if different interpretive traditions came together, one’s (Angus MacKay) dominance impacting the other (MacDonald).

It is just possible that Angus MacPherson is recalling a similar interpretive trajectory in his canntaireachd edition.  He, too, holds onto the themal notes much longer than Nicol does.

Interesting, is it not?  Even as late as the mid-20th century we are hearing the distant echoes of how traditions impact one another in subtle ways.

That said, here is perhaps the most remarkable recording of this tune, performed with full respect to the score, and embracing completely the imagined social context of militia arrogance and pride associated with the story of its composition:

It was recorded by Allan MacDonald at the 1999 Edinburgh International Festival.  It is compelling. It is dynamic. It is powerful.

And it is clearly inspired by what the anonymous transcriber of the Hannay-MacAuslan collection captured over 250 years ago and was published in Donald MacDonald’s book. It is fully in the MacDonald tradition of performance, with no MacKay influence at all.

Tell me this is unmusical, and I will tell you to listen harder…

More to follow…


3 thoughts on “Interpreting Primary Source Manuscripts – Part 10

  1. I think there is a degree of wishful thinking in your listening to these recordings.

    Granted Nicol and Brown played the introductory E’s long, but to my ear, Angus MacPherson (describing I think the teaching of Calum Piobaire) is singing exactly what William MacLean (taught by Calum Piobaire) is playing – with a slightly shorter E and a longer theme note. If you listen to the recording of Angus MacPherson on a practice chanter on T an D, there’s not much in it.  Interestingly Malcolm MacPherson on the Binneas tapes playes it closer to Nichol and Brown than to Angus.

    McLean in his transliteration of Gesto writes the tune almost identically to Hannay MacAuslan so it’s interesting that timing here must reflect his own playing of it.   Food for thought if you are proposing HM as a radical departure from 20th century playing.

    I think the Calum Johnson recording is a red herring – he plays it so slow and drawn out it’s hard to tell how he is timing it.

    If you want a recording to illustrate the ‘short E long theme note’ approach through a different teaching pathway (MacDougall Gillies), Willie Connell’s recording on the website is much nearer the mark.



  2. I suspect that the decline of other styles occurred much earlier than is usually thought, partly due to accident of history, in the case of the MacCrummons having stepped away from piping before the end of the 18th C and at least one of the piping families, the MacIntyres  who could be said to have been schooled by them, also dropping out of piping around the same time. When the competitions first started the MacGregor family just happened to be in the right place at the right time and would have set the ‘tone’ whatever that was.

    The other factor in a narrowing of the amount of natural variation in style was probably set by the pipers themselves which would share the blame with their employers rather than putting all, of it on them. There is a telling comment in a paragraph in a letter from John Ban MacKenzie, but to completely set the scene it starts with his retirement to the north. The Breadalbane estate set out to find a replacement for him and actually recruited Duncan Campbell, (usually called by Dr Donaldson ‘of Foss’ for reasons which I have never understood as Duncan was born at ‘Balentyre’ and as far as I can tell had nothing to do with Foss).

    Duncan who at the time he was issued with his letter of appointment was working as a night watchman at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
    National Records of Scotland, GD 112/16/14/8/1*
    Terms of Engagement of Duncan Campbell presently residing at 49 Rose Street Edinburgh as Piper and general servant in the Establishment of the Marquis of Breadalbane.
    Duncan Campbell engages himself as Piper, and as general servant for indoor and outdoor work, except as aftermentioned, at Taymouth, or wherever else his Lordship may be resident, or shall from time to time direct.
    In particular he shall perform all the duties of a Piper, according to the best of his abilities, and shall be punctual in attendance at the prescribed times. If required he shall learn the Bugle Field Calls , and practice them, and attend and assist at Drills and Parades of the Rifle Volunteers. He shall also attend to such other duties in his Lordships service as may be required of him, either in the house or Stables, or in assisting the Gamekeepers or Wood Foresters, or otherwise, but he shall not be required to do labourers work. He is to take good care of the Bag Pipes, and other Instruments under his charge, and that they be kept in order, and he shall be at all times careful in his dress, and ready to fulfil the directions he may receive.
         He shall receive wages at the rate of Forty pounds per Annum, with house and keep of a cow, Summer and Winter, together with a sufficient supply of the Fuel of the country, for the use of his family. He shall also receive his outer clothing, dress and undress, but not under clothing or shoes. His Engagement to be by the half year, commencing at Fifteenth May next.
           Edinburgh  February 18
     1860                                        signed Duncan Campbell

     However whether he had been celebrating or just unfortunate he promptly had an accident before even taking up his post and died in the Edinburgh Infirmary from gangrene following amputation of his leg eight days later. This meant that the Breadalbane post was still open so the Factor wrote to John Ban MacKenzie for advice which produced the following letter.

    GD 112/18/8/15/31*
    Excerpt letter to Mr Wyllie from John MacKenzie, Greenhill Cottage, Munlochay, as to Piper,
    23 November 1861
     I have a young man here at present, a native of Strathconnan, a well behaved, sober, decent, young man and as great companion of poor D Robertson, and he will in a short time be an excellent Piper, but he is only here at times, as all the Gentlemen are very fond of having him in the hunting season leading their guns for them, and he is in the 4th Regt of Rifle Volunteers. He is fully 5 feet 11 inches
    in height, a real Highlander in appearance, he is a little marked with smallpox but it is not seen much on him, he is well made and looks well in the kilt. Now if his Lordship would wish to see him, I think he would pay the lads expenses, but I tell him my account of him as correctly as if he saw him.
    He speaks English pretty well, tho he is better at Gaelic.
    There are plenty of young Pipers in this country, but none of them are taught, he is the only one who I have been giving lessons to – If the Gentlemen don’t look out, the Pipe Music will soon be gone, my days will be few to teach them now.
    If his Lordship thought proper he take him for a season to see how he would be pleased with him,- He has a small farm on the Estate of Allangrange, If he pleases his Lordship, he may be sure that I will do all I can to bring him forward, he is fond of music and very anxious to learn, his age is 26, I shall say nothing to him about this matter till I hear from you again.

    The relevant paragraph is in italics and implies that those ‘untaught’ pipers were simply acquiring the music as they always had by ear and so had not been shoehorned into playing in any ‘approved style’ be it a piping tutor or written music.

    *transcriptions from the original manuscripts by me 25th June 1976

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