My last analysis of the John MacDougall Gillies Manuscript brought to prominence a Nameless tune ‘No 96’, and it is pleasing to see that the editors have chosen to include it in the new Book 16 in the Piobaireachd Society’s series.
However, tune 96, as reproduced in the book, is altered significantly from what appears in the MS. The editors have considered it a draft and set about manipulating into a shape they think better represents what the composer?/compiler intended. They are perfectly entitled so to do and stand or fall on the success or otherwise of their endeavours. Pipers might like to compare the two.
And PDF copy for printing: tune 96 MacDougall Gillies.
We’ll have more on Book 16 in the future, but for now I want to turn your attention to the MS in question. The John MacDougall Gillies manuscript is the property of Glasgow University Library (MS No.1457) and can be viewed on application. A trip to the library (opposite the main gate and up the hill) is well worthwhile, and staff are very accommodating and helpful. For those who can’t make the trip, a copy of the MS is on the Piobaireachd Society website.
It was written between 1879 and 1884 by MacDougall Gillies, a man credited with perpetuating the ‘Cameron’ style of piobaireachd playing, and who, through his teachers Sandy and Keith Cameron, can be viewed as part of the carrying stream of our piobaireachd tradition. The MS has a hard back cover and runs to 120 pages. Inside the front cover are two documents, the first a resumé of Gillies’s life and learning by James Campbell, Kilberry. Dated 1977, it reads:
‘John MacDougall Gillies (1854 – 1925) was a native of Cowal and was well known as one of the finest and most cultured pipers of his generation. He was acknowledged especially as a master of pibroch [sic]. He was a pupil of the Camerons – Sandy, Keith and Colin, whose father, the famous Donald Cameron, was taught by John MacKay, Raasay. He himself had many pupils, famous among whom were Pipe Major W. Gray and Pipe Major R. Reid. He was, for 22 years, manager of the bagpipe firm of Peter Henderson, Renfrew Street, Glasgow. At one time he was piper to the Marquis of Breadalbane at Taymouth Castle, and he was also piper to the Glasgow Highland Club for about 28 years. This manuscript, modestly described by him as ‘just a scrawl’, was made as an aide memoir, and does not seek to portray the actual playing style of the author.’
Far be it from me to dispute James's assertions re 'aide memoir', but I do think the book more than just that; and in writing what he did James was in some way going along with MacDougall Gillies's self-deprecating 'just a scrawl' comment made in the interesting letter we are about to examine. The book is too well done for it to be either a 'scrawl' or just an aide memoir.
After acknowledging the book's safe arrival, Gillies comments on the playing of Lament for Donald Ban MacCrimmon by his protégé Robert Reid. I find the reference to the low '8s' in the taorluath and crunluath intriguing. By 'low 8s' does he mean low As, 'redundant 'low As'? And is he therefore criticising Reid for not playing them in a satisfactory manner? Certainly the MS has all T & C movements written with them in place. (See crunluath example bottom right in tune 96 above).
'He [Reid] can play it but seems to forget it when he has most reason to keep it in mind,' writes Gillies. When I was taught to play these movements by RG Hardie, Reid's pupil, he made the point that the crunluath should be practised with the 'redundant' low A but when performed should never interrupt the rhythm of the gracenotes - it should never intrude in the movement's flow. If it did, it was not being executed properly. The 'redundant A' was played in the taorluath too, but the same rules applied. And, said Hardie, you had to have skill to execute them properly, especially in the taorluath.
Reid did and was renowned for the brilliance of his crunluath movement in particular. Here is a recording of him playing both T & C with the 'redundant A' slowly and then quickly:
And now the great man in action on the great pipe with the crunluath doubling from I Gave a Kiss to the King's Hand:
• To be continued with a more detailed look at the MacDougall Gillies MS. To research the playing of Robert Reid join the Piobaireachd Society and search the archives.