• From the February 2001 Piping Times.

The conclusion of the talk on the history of the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor, given at the Piobaireachd Society conference last year [2000].

By James Campbell

James Campbell
James Campbell.

Then there were two matters raised by Rothiemurchus which I suspect stemmed from conversation with John MacDonald. The first of these concerned the second line of the variations of the Lament for the Old Sword. In the PS series the last bar of that second line was shown as EBAA, following Angus MacKay. The alternative sequence, shown by Donald MacDonald, is ECBA. Of a course description of this alternative way was included in the notes to the tune, but as we all know very few people read the notes, and the MacKay score, which was reprinted in the Kilberry Book, had come to be seen as ‘the way that the Piobaireachd society want it’. Before referring to the relevant letter I will illustrate these two authoritative ways of playing that bar with reference to the doubling of the dithis. Way 1 is EBAA. Way 2 is ECBA |both played].

And here is the letter to Rothiemurchus, obviously replying to an expression of regret that ‘way 2’ had not been preferred.

“I played the 2nd line of the variations of the Old Sword for years ECBA, and so recorded it in my manuscript book. Donald Macdonald had it this way. But investigation proved that the other way had the weight of evidence, Angus MacKay, Ballindalloch MS and Gillies. I certainly think ECBA the prettier. Ceòl mòr has it so, but also other less attractive differences. It is one of the tunes worked out by the General before he got the MacKay MS. Yet in 1871 he recorded (presumably from Donald MacKay) EBAA in his own MS book, so the upshot is two quite legitimate alternatives.”

The second matter concerned the use of time signatures. Here I make reference to my own experience in the study of ceòl mòr, which is that I have never derived the slightest assistance from time signatures, nor from assertions that this or that ground or variation should be written or presented in common time, in ¾ time, in 6/8 time or whatever. I believe time signatures to be wholly alien to the study of piobaireachd and that their adoption is at best useless and at worst positively misleading. That is the only personal opinion which I seek to inflict on you, and I now turn to the point dealt with in this letter and which I fancy was concerned with the writing of certain tunes in the Kilberry Book in common time, as opposed to 3/4 or 6/8 time. And here is the passage in this letter to J. P. Grant in February 1949.

“As regards time signatures, I have had dissertations at various times from John Macdonald, starting about 45 years ago and I am not convinced that he knows a great deal about them. Probably we both regard 3/4 time, for instance, as something different. The wisest advice I had was from you, to leave them out. I did not do so because I did not want to be accused by cranks (who might influence pipers) of being yet another eccentric trying to foist new theories and new ideas of his own. After months, if not years of cogitation I finally, almost at the last minute, altered several tunes from 3/4 to common time. I came to the conclusion (and I still think rightly) that to divide most tunes into bars of four crotchets is the best method of demonstrating what I was taught to ordinary pipers.”

A third ball which fell to be played was bowled by J. P. Grant in October 1949. This concerned the famous third line of the ground of the Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar. The authorities for that tune are two: the book of Donald Macdonald and the manuscript of Angus MacKay. Both wrote the third line of the ground in seven bars, which is three more than orthodox structure requires. There have been a number of attempts to rewrite that line in orthodox four bars, and the two which have relevance to this exposition are those portrayed in the Kilberry Book and by Stewart of Ensay in the old PS series. The Ensay amendment reduced the seven bars to four. My father had his own shot at a similar reduction but in the end he printed the whole of MacKay/Macdonald aire: telescoping the seven bars into four. I shall demonstrate these in each case prefacing the third line by line two. Here is the Macdonald/MacKay third line as found in the Kilberry Book. [Played] And here is what is found in the old PS series. [Played]

And here is the letter in reply to J. P. Grant, dated 22nd October, 1949:

“Re Macdonald’s – Lament. Ground line 3. What John Macdonald remembers is the old PS book version. Everything that I can find out is in the present PS. Editorial notes. I prefer my own curtailment to either Ensay’s or Ceol Mor. I discussed the tune at length with Gillies, and possibly we may have evolved this. I cannot remember, but I do remember that he knew of no authority for Ensay’s version or Ceol Mor. Last year I had some correspondence about the tune with Brown who, with Nicol, is fond of it. I suggested that line three might be left as Macdonald and MacKay have it and speeded up a little in comparison with lines one and two. He agreed and said this is what he does. Consequently at the last moment I altered the ground into common time (which I fear John Macdonald reprobates) and squeezed the seven bars into an orthodox four.”

So there was the Kilberry Book well and truly launched in 1949. But it is not quite the end of the story because within two years it became apparent that a reprint would be necessary, and advantage was taken of this to make some improvements and additions. The improvements were concerned with a number of (mostly insignificant) misprints, and the additions included some further thoughts on the structure of certain tunes labelled as ‘tertiary’, also the addition of four more tunes, bringing the total to 118. In the matter of misprints there was the usual to-ing and fro-ing with the printers, evidenced in a letter to Alastair Anderson in March 1953, seemingly in reply to a suggestion from the publishers that the scrutiny of music proofs could await the proofs of the entire book, a suggestion which was not at all well received.

‘I am determined to try to get the music absolutely correct once and for all, down to the humblest dot. This means going over the proofs again and again and again. And, if the printer has left out one dot, back go the proofs with a request for another proof in order to be sure that the correction has been made. It is wasting more time to wait until Harper can send me the whole book. I do not want the whole book until satisfied that the mistakes in the music have been rectified. If you could persuade Harper to send me the music proofs alone I should be very grateful.”

All this took time and it was not till 1955, two years later, that you find an expression of satisfaction in a letter to Seton Gordon who had written to suggest the publication in The Scotsman of an advance notice of the impending appearance of the second edition of the Kilberry Book.

David Murray
David Murray … revealed misprint in MacSwan of Roaig.

“I am not disposed to patronize The Scotsman with writings on piping until it mends its ways in the treatment (or rather ignoring) of important piping competitions and other events.” He went on to claim that in all important respects the second edition is a perfect book which he is glad to have lived to publish. He somewhat rashly asserted that misprints were now limited to two – a single gracenote with three tails instead of two, and a single gracenote with two tails instead of three; I have since thought of him turning in his grave when David Murray revealed to me a less trifling misprint in the first line of the ground of Lament for MacSwan of Roaig. I leave to you the amusement of spotting what that error is. There may be other errors which have yet to come to light but by and large the boast in the letter to Seton Gordon seems to be justified and I conclude with a reference to an earlier episode which followed on after the original publication in December 1948. At some time in 1949 the question must have been raised about the Society making some sort of recognition to the author, because on 8 January, 1950, you get this letter written to J. P. Grant a propos the forthcoming annual meeting of the General Committee.

“I see on the Committees agenda the item “report re Kilberry Book” and I seem to remember that some question of doing something in regard to me personally was mentioned last year and adjourned to this. I don’t myself see anything that could or should be done, and I don’t want anything done. If you could get the matter quietly shelved and nothing said or recorded about it, discussion and head scratching and general waste of time would be saved.”

And an extract from the minutes of that meeting of the General Committee runs thus: “Referring to the Committee’s decision to recognise the Author’s Labour, the President, at Mr A Campbell’s special request, suggested that no steps should be taken in this matter. The Committee agreed, however, that a specially bound volume containing an appreciation of the Author’s services should be procured and presented to Mr Campbell. It was remitted to Mr Alastair Anderson and the Hon. Secretary to arrange this matter.”

Well that was done, and I retain the presentation copy of the book. It contains the following inscription: Presented to the Author with the grateful thanks of the Piobaireachd Society for his most valuable work in compiling The Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. – JP Grant, President.

• Since publication the Kilberry Book has gone on to be the biggest selling probaireachd book ever produced. It currently sells in excess of 400 copies annually. If you are interested in more information on its contents, and the correspondence Archibald Campbell entered into with some of the top piping names of his day, then read Sidelights, available from The Bagpipe Shop priced £15.00 (includes p&p).