Archive copy of ‘Highland Wedding’ from John MacDougall Gillies

Interesting letter today posted by Jimmy McIntosh re the performance of John Burgess in the Clasp contest at Inverness and mentioned in our Famous Pipers column last week. Read the letter here.


Pipemaker Blue MacMurchie has again delved into his copious archive for the benefit of Piping Press readers. This time Blue has sent us a handwritten copy of the 2/4 march Highland Wedding in a setting by John MacDougall Gillies. The manuscript was given to Blue’s father John many years ago and has been in the family ever since.

Students of the tune will see right away that it has the cut up to the high A at the beginning, a style usually referred to as the ‘Robert Reid setting’. That maestro did indeed play the tune that way but the source for it can now be revealed as Reid’s teacher: Gillies. Perhaps we should now be referring to it as the Gillies/Reid style. Here is the six-parted score:

Highland Wedding as per John MacDougall Gillies
Highland Wedding as per John MacDougall Gillies

Looking closely, however, we see that Gillies has a grip to the high A where Reid inserts a birl. This grip is unusual in that it looks as though the D gracenote is on low A. Further examination reveals a strange way, to us, of writing the grip C to E too. Here the second low G is given decidedly more time than the first.

It is these ceol beag idiosyncracies that that P/M Willie Ross did away with when he began his series of books 1 -5 for Patterson’s Publications in the 1940s. Ross standardised all movements, grips, taorluaths, throws, to what we write today and most pipers would agree that this has been a good thing.

The score above is noteworthy too in that there are no dots and cuts applied. This may be considered as either a time-saving device or as a means of leaving the music free to pipers to stress as they wished. Certainly Reid pointed the music well, bringing the melody sharply into focus in the process. GS MacLennan was another who shied away from dotting and tailing his tunes, though all the evidence we have is that he played in an anything but ’round’ style as his music would seem to indicate at first glance.

‘Highland Wedding’ is one of our most popular competition 2/4 marches both with soloists and bands. It is generally believed to have been adapted from the tune the ‘Reel of Stumpie’ by Angus MacKay. The tune was used by Burns in his bawdy song, the first verse of which fits our first part and the second our second:

‘Wap and rowe, wap and row
wap and row the feetie o’t,
I thought I was a maiden fair,
‘Till I heard the greetie o’t.

‘My daddie was a fiddler fine,
My minnie she made mantie O;
And I mysel a thumpin quine,
And danc’d the reel o’ stumpie O.’

John MacDougall Gi
John MacDougall Gillies

John MacDougall Gillies was one of the great figures in late 19th and early 20th century piping. He was one of the few pipers to win a World Pipe Band Championship title (at Cowal) and also a Clasp at Inverness. Bill Livingstone, Canada, is the only other piper we can think of who has achieved this double.


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One thought on “Archive copy of ‘Highland Wedding’ from John MacDougall Gillies”

  1. Those are half-grips, evidence for which we see in the 1812 Hannay-MacAuslan collection of pibrochs.

    As today we have both “light” and “heavy” D-throws, it appears we had “light” and “heavy” grips.

    As with ceol mor, so with ceol beag: the question of whether 20th century standardization has been a “good” thing may best be left open. As more information comes to light, more opportunities to explore are presented.

    Certainly the nimble fingers of our top competitors are capable of learning and playing them. It would be interesting to hear them again.

    What is without question a good thing is Mr Wallace’s efforts to locate and publish these early scores!

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