The Simon Fraser letters 6


June 29, 1912,
‘The Secrets of Canntaireachd”
21 Clarendon Crescent, Edinburgh,
June 23, 1912.

K. N. MacDonald’s reply to J. Grant Says in a ps, “A Dr. Ross from South Africa has just written to me expressing the interest that all out there take in the discussion that is going on in ‘The Oban Times’ and gives corroborative proof of Mr Simon Fraser’s evidence.”

July 13, 1912,
“Captain Macleod of Gesto as a Piping Authority”
K. N. MacDonald, July 6th, 1912, reconfirms stories about MacLeod of Gesto’s abilities as a musician, among relatives and others:

Miss Jessie McLeod — my aunt — was a splendid player of pipe music, far and away the best in Skye. She could play “A Ghlas Mheur,” and many other pibrochs, taught by her father. Miss McEwen, a great-grand-daughter of Gesto’s, who lived with this Miss Jessie for some years up to the time of her death in 1882, writes me as follows: “I am very pleased to answer all your questions, and only wish I could remember more of what I heard ‘Aunt Jessie’ say about her father and his music. I used to visit her very often at Caroline Hill (on the Skeabost estate, Skye), and lived with her for some years until her death. When she told me about her father having taught her to play these lovely pibrochs, she mentioned how cross he used to get if she struck a wrong note on the piano, and how patiently he would play it over on the chanter or pipes. She also often told me that he played the bagpipes for her, and was always pleased to play them. Aunt Jessie played the no a great deal after her accident, and it was during that time she talked so much about the old times, and would say she never knew such an authority on pipe music as her father. I think Gesto did keep a piper. At least she spoke of an elderly man who played at their dinner parties, and who was taught by Gesto.”

This plus evidence of —

Simon Fraser
Dr. Bannatyne
old blind piper story
of Lt, MacLennan
Both MacLennan and blind Dundee piper had heard Gesto play.

Adds up to good evidence that Niel MacLeod of Gesto was an authority on pipes.

21 Clarendon Crescent,
Nov. 18, 1912


I enclose herewith a letter from Mr. Simon Fraser, of Australia, whose father was an intimate friend of Captain Macleod of Gesto. It throws considerable light upon the “old stuff,” and those who were making history. I trust that the substitution of “sheantaireachd” for “canntaireachd” won’t put the philologists “into fits!”

I am, etc.,

K. N. MacDonald.

15th October, 1912

My Dear Dr. Macdonald

I have just received your letter from Dr. Watt, South Africa, and I can assure you that I am greatly pleased to receive a letter from a grandson of my late father’s highly esteemed friend, Captain Neil Macleod, Gesto. He was related to my father’s mother, and he took a great fancy to my father when a boy, and they were close personal friends up to the time of my father’s leaving for Australia in the year 1828. Dr. Bannatyne says in one of his letters 1838, but I must have made a mistake in giving the Doctor the wrong date,

In the year 1816 Gesto introduced my father to John Dubh Maccrimmon, with a view of getting him to learn the pipes, as my father was passionately fond of piobaireachd. My father did not persevere with the pipes, but he learned a great many tunes in sheantaireachd, which is the original name. It is not in any Gaelic dictionary. I am not aware that any of the correct beats of the pipers’ language are in any dictionary.

I enclose a copy of the urlar of the last tune that Gesto and John Dubh taught to my father. Gesto was a splendid piper, and excelled in heavy tunes such as the “Glass Mheur,” “Sir William Wallace’s Lament,” “Cumha na Cloinne”, and many others.

He was also a fine strathspey and reel player on the violin, and was splendid in such tunes as “The Marquis of Huntly’s Farewell,” “Miss Lyle,’” “Stirling Castle”, etc. He was taught by one of the Gows. He often played with Knockie, as they used to call Captain Simon Fraser.

I have heard my father often speak of a great night that he had with Gesto, Knockie, and John Bane Mackenzie. Gesto and John Bane played the pipes singly and then together. Then Knockie and Gesto played the violin. “Talk about music!” (my father used to say) “I never heard the like of it before or since!’’ My father was a good scholar, and could write a beautiful hand, consequently he used to assist Gesto in writing the tunes in sheantaireachd.

My father was born in July, 1796, on the same day as Burns, the poet, died, and he used to feel proud of this. Gesto taught Sandy Bruce the pipes, and also gave his son Peter lessons, and it was Gesto who taught Peter the “Glass Mheur’”, or “Finger Lock”, and this was the first tune that Peter Bruce taught myself. It was Malcolm Bruce (Peter’s brother), I think, that was piper to Sir Walter Scott. The last tune Peter taught me (strange to say) is the one enclosed.

I get “The Oban Times” every week, but some copies have gone astray, one especially being the one containing your first letter to Mr. Grant. I have an excellent copy of Burns’ Works, and I honestly believe that Burns wrote or composed those poems and songs. Any schooboy could ask me if I saw Burns write them, and, of course, I could not say that I did. Now, this is the style of argument used by Mr. Grant; therefore I cannot argue with him. I know for a fact that Gesto was a splendid piper and violin player; also that his book of 1828 is genuine old Maccrimmon Notation. I have also several tunes that have never been printed, including “The Lost Pibroch” and “Cave of Gold’. As for what the Rev. A. Macgregor says, I cannot take any notice of that, as he never heard Gesto play, from the simple fact that Gesto left off playing the pipes before my father left Scotland, and in any case, Gesto did not agree with the clergy as to the numerous creeds that have done a lot of harm to pure Christianity. Like myself, he believed in primitive Christianity, free from theological puzzles and all the different creeds. He was a fine scholar and an upright, sterling friend, and you must accept my sincere thanks (both you and Dr. Bannatyne) for your able defense of this great man. May you both live many years to defend Gesto and his work from the hands of those who would try to destroy the Macrimmon music.

Your sincere Friend,
(Signed) Simon Fraser.

P.S. — Re Gesto’s first book, containing the history of the Maccrimmons’ views on Christianity that offended the clergy and caused the book to be suppressed, I can give you full particulars if you wish it.

Urlar, or Ground, referred to.

1 I hiendo dro dro
2 hiendo dro drin
3 hiendo dru diriro
4 beitrie diriro dru diriro
5 hiendo dru diriro
6 bietrie diriro hien driu =
7 hiendo dru diriro
8 bietrie diriro dru diriro
9 hiendo dro drin
10 hiendo dra diriro
11 hiendo dra diroro
12 bietrie diriro hien drin =
13 hiendo dru diriro
14 bietrie diriro dra diriro
15 hien bietrie dru diriro
16 bietrie diriro hien drin.

The above pibroch is not in Gesto’s book of 1838.

In a second letter Mr. Simon Fraser writes:

“Highland Music” and ‘‘Sheantaireachd.”

21 Clarendon Crescent,
Nov. 24th, 1912


Since writing you last week I went out to Mrs. Godfrey Mackinnon, Blackburn, and had a very interesting chat with her about Gesto. She also very kindly lent me your books, ‘The Gesto Collection’ and ‘The Skye Collection of Strathspeys and reels,’ and I must congratulate you by saying that they are the best collections I have ever seen (not bad for a compiler). I have Captain Fraser’s Low’s, Gow’s, and several others. I am considered a good all round player of dance music, and have been playing strathspeys and reels on the violin since 1860, having been taught by a Mr. John Smith, a noted player in Edinburgh for 18 years before he came out here. I told you in my last that Peter Bruce had lessons from Gesto as well as from his father, Sandy Bruce, and he often spoke to me about this when teaching myself, and he taught me in exactly the same way as he was taught himself, by chanting over the beats and then showing me how to finger them on the chanter. I enclose Peter and John Bruce’s photos, as I though you would like to have them. Mrs. Mackinnon knew them both well, and they were both highly respected. Tell Dr. Bannatyne that I wish him every success with his book, as it may be the means of restoring the MacCrimmon notation once more. Judging from your own compositions in your excellent books, I would be greatly pleased to have a copy of any piobaireachd you composed, as we would learn to play it. I have never seen a complete piobaireachd correctly noted in ordinary notation, and I found that out years ago when writing down tunes as I was taught to play them, and when I wrote them down I found the beats to correspond exactly with the beats as in Macleod’s books. The letters I wrote are one of the puzzles in Macleod’s books, and these beats are not there as written in Mackay’s and others: dra and tra are the same, so are dro and tro; I hein and hiein are different, so are I hiririne and hieririne.

Yours truly,
(signed) Simon Fraser.”

I venture to send Mr, Fraser’s letter for insertion in your columns, as it may interest some readers.

I am, etc.,

K. N. MacDonald.

*Who was Simon Fraser?
*Simon Fraser letters 2
*Simon Fraser letters 3
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