Original Piobaireachd Society Series – Volume 5

So, here we are: the final volume of Series One edition. In it are eight tunes generally well known today.  The same “Committee” is at work as in the previous book and includes P-M William Ross, John Dougall Gillies, John MacDonald of Inverness and Arthur Cameron.

In this edition are both Editorial Notes (regarding the decisions make by the editors concerning their sources and emendations) and some Historical and Traditional Notes (the apocryphal stories behind the tunes).

This will be last of the publications in this Series.  By the time it was released, major political shifts were underfoot in the Piobaireachd Society: changes in committee composition and by-laws fundamentally altered the internal dynamic of the Society.  It was agreed that the first Series should simply be left behind, and a new, more rigorous effort made to accumulate and study more of the primary source materials.  It wasn’t until 10 years later that the new Series emerged, becoming the de facto standard for performers today.

Lament for Donald Macdonald of Glengarry – Today known as Lament for Donald of Laggan, this setting was taken from Angus MacKay, but with the typesetting stylesheet changes we’ve come to expect.  The editors note that they have altered the pointing of the braebach rhythm of the Taorluath and Crunluath motions to reflect their own performance style.  Interestingly, the editors of the later edition (Book 8) reverted for the Crunluath motions.

Kinlochmoidar’s Salute – from the Ross’ Collection, it is now known and MacDonald of Kinlochmoidar’s Lament V1 (in Book 6). Elizabeth Ross contains two more motions before moving directly to the Crunluath, a cycle that both the editors of this series and the later editors chose to exclude.

Battle of Auldearn – What today is known as Setting 2 (in Book 2), the only significant difference between it and the later publication is that an undocumented Crunluath a mach is printed in the later edition.  The source for this tune is from editors’ hand, adding the second and third Siubhal motions.

Battle of Sheriffmuir – Explicitly choosing MacKay over Donald MacDonald’s setting, they reset the Taorluath gearr (1/16th-note triplets) and converted MacKay crunluaths to the typical compound-time 6/8 phrasing of dot-cut-eight.

Blind Piper’s Obstinacy – “The setting given here is the same as that which appears in A. MacKay’s unpublished MS.”  Only, it isn’t, as they go on to say that the pointing “as been slightly elaborated”. By which they mean, substantially altered. And retained in the later republication.

Lament for Catherine – Again, drawing from MacKay, with the addition of a Siubhal cycle whose origins might be traced by to John MacKay’s MS.

Rout of Glen Fruin – 6/8 setting that does not exist in the primary sources (acknowledged by the editors), they choose to follow MacKay’s structure of Leumluath/Doubleing, Taorluath/Doubling, Crunluath/Doubling over MacDonald’s Siubhal/Trebling, Taorluath/Trebling and Crunluath/Trebling after the Thumb variation doubling. [As an aside, I’ve heard it mentioned that very few Taorluath Treblings exist in the modern collections, which I find odd: out of the 10 tunes in Hannay-MacAuslan collection, two (and possibly three) exist, which is a proportionally astonishing amount, when you think about it. – N.B.]

Lament for MacLeod of Colbecks – A minimally altered setting from Angus MacKay’s book.  They do not even bother to change the Taorluath gearr triplets from his eighth-note printing.

Here they are for you.

What can be said about them?

On the one hand, they were very clearly at effort at standardization and reconstruction of competition dynamics – Set Tunes are still with us today, along with the expectation that those tunes are to be drawn from the standard source.  This was a dynamic created by the Piobaireachd Society, and it is with us today, though thankfully the current leadership is making significant strides in sending out a slightly different message: the PS Books are simply one of several sources that can be used, all of which are now readily available in the public domain for downloading and exploration.

On the other hand, much of what was printed wasn’t all that different from what had been produced in public in the mid 19th Century: it’s Angus MacKay, Redux.  His dominant style, in this respect, was simply furthered by the republication of his works.  And as the shift from orality to literacy gained hold in the culture at large, the importance of re-typesetting this music (along with the insistence by the PS that only these settings were acceptable) was yet another death-blow to much of the fluidity and creativity of performer-musician.  (And the performers knew this and howled.)

Today, these scores represent a curiosity.  They do not contribute much of anything to our understanding of pibroch: the primary sources are better at doing that. And very much of what they did remains more-or-less intact in the Second Series, anyway.  Musically, they just aren’t that interesting.

But, as a cultural and historical artifact, this Series is an interesting glimpse into an era on the cusp of great change: Later the PS would follow McLennan’s and Ross’ lead and destroy the traditional-style performances of taorluaths and crunluaths.  They would continue the consolidation of performative interpretation, even eliminating further the wide variety of movements that had been available to the performer.  They would come to dominate Piobaireachd interpretation and competition.  All of that was by design, clearly indicated in the Editorial Notes found in this series.  In that respect, the scores are a kind of smoking gun regarding the foundational principles of the Piobaireachd Society.

And yet, with these books the seeds of change were also planted:  collection and citation of sources mentioned (though apparently not used) in the notes of the first series would eventually develop into a critical apparatus that accompanied each tune in the later Series.  The implications are interesting: It would suggest that what had been printed was not the whole story.  The effort to find and print pibroch scores began a process that would eventually undermine the very effort of standardization that began that effort.

It would take nearly a century of scholarship and technology to make these primary sources readily available to everyone and anyone willing to hop online and search for them.  But as long as that might sound, it may end up being only a fraction of aberrant time in the deep history of this art form. And while competitors remain perhaps the least curious of all piobaireachd performers today, even they are beginning to take note that the Set Tunes list on the Piobaireachd Society now has links to all sources available for a given tune.

That gives us, at the Alt Pibroch Club, a little bit of hope for the future.


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