John Murdoch Henderson (1902-1972)
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The Bagpipes in Peace
Greg Dawson Allen

Page Two

PIOBAIREACHD (pee-broch)

Piobaireachd or Pibroch, as Sir Walter Scott phonetically introduced the word into his text, means "pipe playing", but it is the Ceol Mor – the Great Music, the classical repertoire of the bagpipes and is separated from the Ceol Beag (Little Music) of the reels, strathspeys and marches.

There are three further distinctions, which categorise the composition of the piobaireachd:
Cruinneachadh: Gathering
Cumhadh: Lament
Failte: Salute

Joseph MacDonald in his “Compleat Theory Of The Scots Highland Bagpipe” published in 1803 gives a variation on the terminology "Invented and taught by the first Masters of this instrument in the Islands of Sky and Mull".

Poirst Tinali (Port Tionail): A gathering of the Highland Clans
Cumhe (Cumha): A lament
Failte: A salutation.

Connections with the types of music played on the bagpipes can also be made with the cruit (harp). The god Dagda played "The three things whereby cruit-players are distinguished".

Sleep-strain: Music to induce sleep
Smile-strain: Music to bring laughter
Wail-strain: Music to shed tears.

In piping music the three definitions can be interpreted as lullaby, dance tune and lament.

CANNTAIREACHD (can-ter-ach)

Piping teachers of the 15th century wrote no music. Instead, their students learned to hear and translate the music to their instruments by ear alone, becoming instinctive to the tuning, tunes and intricacies of the piece. Music was taught in the musical and oral tradition, and although a pupil may have a particular skill with the pipes, if he could not learn to play by ear and retain the tunes, then he had little future as a piper.

Teaching was in three parts, all of which took place in the open air:
At first the students were taught and asked to repeat the ‘words’ known as the Canntaireachd, spoken in syllables.
The second stage saw the students fingering the tunes on the chanter as heard from the Canntaireachd.
The third stage was to ease the tune from the chanter by blowing.
The last, and ultimate challenge, was to play on the full set of pipes – the Piob Mhor.

Individual teachers had their own method and style of teaching. The MacCrimmon’s Canntaireachd was written down in 1828 by Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto, containing twenty Piobaireachd.

A proficient player of the bagpipes can sight read the Canntaireachd and immediately transpose the ‘urlar’ ( ground or theme) to music. The vowels represent notes and the consonants finger movements or grips that ornament them. (PURSER)

In combining the versatility of the intricate varieties of grace notes and vibrating capable on the bagpipes, the piper can use the nine notes available and play a tunes from the Canntaireachd containing more than sixty syllables. An example from Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto as taken from John MacCrimmon, piper to the old Laird of MacLeod and his grandson, the late General MacLeod of MacLeod is as follows;

(The True Gathering Of The Clans)

I hodroho, hodroho, haninin hiechin,
hodroha, hodroho, hodroho hachin,
hiodroho, hodroho, haninin hiechin,
hodroha, hodroha, hodroha, hodroha,
hodroha, hodroho, hodroho hachin,
hiodroho, hodroho, haninin hiechin,
hodroha, hodroho, hodroho, hodroha,
haninun, haninun, haninun, haninun.

Ist. Var. I hodroho, hodroho, haninin, hodroho,
hodroha, hodroho, hodroho, hodroha. . . .

And so forth for another six blocks with instructions for ‘Doubling’ and ‘2nd, 3rd and 4th Variations’ with a final “Crouluigh Mach” or “Finishing Measure” which could be compared with an ‘Envoy’ which finalises a Sonnet in poetry;

Last Part:
hiodratatateriri, hodratatateriri, hiendatatateriri, hodratatateriri,
hadratatateriri, hadratatateri, hodratatateriri, hadratatateriri,
And so on.

Canntaireachd remained in the oral tradition of song and music for the past two centuries, but a tutor published in 1803 attempted to set the difficult and often carefully guarded methods of piping in print.

Sir John Murray MacGregor, Chief of clann MacGregor and Auditor General of Bengal found the ‘Treatise’ written “In the course of a tedious voyage to India” in Bengal.

The writer was Joseph MacDonald, an officer in the service of The India Company. It was compiled over three years, between 1760 and 1763 by MacDonald, the third son of the eleven children of the Reverend Murdo MacDonald, minister in the parish of Durness in north west Sutherland. (DONALDSON 2)

"The Compleat Theory Of The Scots Highland Bagpipe" was published in 1803, posthumously by Patrick MacDonald, brother of Joseph, as MacDonald died in Calcutta of a malignant fever at the young age of twenty four. He would never see his work in print. (MACDONALD. HIGHLAND VOCAL AIRS PREFACE).

Joseph MacDonald was born on 26th February 1739 and music featured largely in his childhood, being able to lead the psalmody in the church of Durness by the age of eight years. As well as the pipes, Joseph could play the fiddle, flute, and oboe, and was gifted in learning; he could speak and write French, Latin and Gaelic.

Through his father’s far-reaching contacts, the fifteen-year-old Joseph was sent to study at the grammar school in Haddington in East Lothian. He kept up his musical tuition, studying under the classical Italian violinist and composer, Nicolo Pasquali.

It is for the bag-pipes, however, that Joseph MacDonald is remembered. ‘The Compleat Theory Of The Scots Highland Bagpipe’ has become a fitting legacy for the young MacDonald, this being the first publication of its type and so specific was it that it is of a standard other exponents in the same field strive for today. There was very little MacDonald left out in his manuscript, the title page listing the contents:

"A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe"
Containing All the Shakes, Introductions, Graces, & Cuttings which are peculiar to this Instrument.
Reduc’d to Order & Method: fully explain’d & noted at Large in 58 Tables & Examples.


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