The Simon Fraser letters 8


From The International Piper, October 1981.

‘Gesto and Canntaireachd’

6 Vernier Street, South Geelong,
Melbourne, Australia, 7th Dec. 1914.


In enclosing my annual subscription for ‘The Oban Times,’ permit me to say that I always find your valuable paper very interesting, and the account of the War news is excellent. With regard to a controversy with Mr. John Grant as to Gesto’s book, I enclose you a three-syllable beat from No. 18 of Macleod’s book of 1828, which has puzzled Mr. Grant and others, to show you that such a beat can be put in ordinary notation and played as well.

Gesto’s book is in the old MacCrimmon notation, but I am afraid Mr. Grant does not want to know this, and he appears to be the only one who doubts that Gesto’s book is not genuine. I believe with others that the book contains the book contains the old MacCrimmon notation.

The important thing now to consider is – has this notation been written in ordinary notation? I am in a position to prove that this has not been done, so far as I have seen, by the books of Macdonald, Mackay, Ross and others. The important essential in the old and improved system of Patrick Mor is to know to play those beats in Macleod’s books. Mr. Grant asked in one of his letters why I have not written a book. I had one one partly written, but when the controversy started about the correct settings of tunes, I came to the conclusion that it would be wasting time to do so. When I asked a friend of mine in Sydney why he had not learned piobaireachd, he replied “What the use? No two pipers in Scotland seem to agree as to the correct settings of tunes.”

I made a fair offer to Mr. Grant to get a good piper to call on me and test me as to my ability, and that offer is still open to any one interested, whether in Scotland or Australia.

I am, etc.,

Simon Fraser.

‘Gesto and the MacCrimmon Notation’

6 Vernier St., South Geelong,
Australia, March 30, 1915.


Bacon, in his essay “Of Truth,” writes — ‘What is Truth,’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for answer.”

Perhaps Mr. John Grant treats the matter in the same way. At any rate, he would try to make the readers of your valuable paper believe that I, Simon Fraser, could give Ananias a long start, and a beating also, in the careless handling of Truth!

However, as Mr. Grant appears to be the only one that disbelieves what I say respecting Gesto and the MacCrimmon Notation, I think I can well afford to look over anything he has. Written respecting myself, and not to take him very seriously. He says that I accuse him of many things in a letter that I wrote him. If I have done so, Mr. Grant’s best plan is to publish that letter, so that the piping fraternity and others interested can read it and judge for themselves.

I certainly did write some of the beats in ordinary notation to show that it was in existence and could be played, and I feel certain that if Mr. Grant calls on you, Mr. Editor, that you will be kind enough to show it to him. If I can write and play this beat myself, it is just possible that I can do so with the other syllables that appear in your paper,

Respecting “The Bells of Perth,” if Mr. Grant will give you, Mr. Editor, a guinea towards the Belgian Fund, I shall be very pleased to write him out the complete tune in ordinary notation, with the syllables under the staff or stave, and also directions how to play the tune, I think this is a fair offer to Mr. Grant, and ought to convince him that I do not want him to pay me for my trouble.

In conclusion, I am in a position to prove all that I say or have said, if Mr. Grant or anyone else, likes to call on me and put me to a practical test.

Thanking you, Mr. Editor, for past favours.

I am, etc.,

Simon Fraser.

P.S. — “The Bells of Perth” I copied out of Gesto’s unpublished book over forty years ago.

“The MacCrimmon Music,”

Alexandra Avenue, Geelong, Victoria,
Australia, July 23, 1915,


As a constant reader of ‘The Oban Times’, I am much interested in the many subjects discussed in its highly entertaining and instructive columns.

Among the many subjects arresting attention may be included the controversy upon the genuineness or otherwise of the Canntaireachd of the MacCrimmons. In order to test the worth of any evidence, all personal elements must be totally eliminated, and the question judged purely on the weight and the value of the statements tendered by the contestants, All who are desirous of preserving the works and name of the greatest exponents of pipe music of whom we have any knowledge would like to see this question brought to a satisfactory finality. Our only means of valuing Mr. Grant’s claim to be an authority on the question in dispute is gathered from his letters that have appeared in your columns. In reading Mr. Grant’s contributions one is forced, reluctantly, to conclude that if he would assert less, and prove more, he would be more effective in argument.

Mr, Fraser’s conduct in this connection is prompted by the purest motives. He is, and has been all his life, an ardent student of pipe music; he has already explained, through your columns, hows he acquired this knowledge, the source from which he drew his information, In this he was supported by the late Dr. Keith Norman MacDonald, who stood pre-eminent as an authority upon all questions pertaining to Highland music and Highland history, and the fact that he was a composer and a player himself added much value to any opinions he chose to offer.

Again, Mr. Bruce bears out fully all that Mr Fraser and Dr. MacDonald had to say anent the genuineness of the ‘Gesto Collection of Canntaireachd.’ Mr, Fraser Fraser’s whole object in this matter is to secure the cooperation of pipers and admirers of pipe music to put the MacCrimmon Notation to a test, side by side with the staff method. There is no other way of settling this question. Simon Fraser is the only man living who can interpret the MacCrimmon Notation. He can not only thoroughly explain the meaning of the Notation by word of mouth, but he can play all the beats in such a clear and artistic manner as would convince the most sceptical that what he contends he is capable of proving by invincible evidence.

Mr. Fraser’s eldest son, John, one of the best pipers that Australia has ever produced, was a piobaireachd player of the first order, and specialised in the MacCrimmon Notation as a result of his father’s teaching. I heard him play, according to the staff and the MacCrimmon Notation, ‘The Lament for the Big Music’, ‘MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart’, and the ‘Lament for the Children’. Unless dead to all powers of discernment and taste in music, the verdict to the MacCrimmon Notation would be immediate and unanimous.

To my mind, Mr. Fraser has suggested an excellent method of testing the authenticity or otherwise of the MacCrimmon notation, viz., let Mr. Grant nominate any piper or pipers of note whom he may know in Australia, to call upon Mr. Fraser, so that a thorough and searching test and an examination of the Notation may eventuate. I feel sure that all who have a keen and genuine desire to preserve the master work of the MacCrimmons will welcome a satisfactory settlement of this much discussed question, Knowing Mr, Fraser so well, there is nothing that would give him greater pleasure than to be subjected to the most searching inquiry on the matter. He is a man endowed with the most amiable disposition; nothing will ruffle his temper, and he is most generous and considerate in dealing with those who may differ from him.

Mr. Fraser is a most versatile man. He is an exquisite performer on the violin; he is the best strathspey player I have ever heard, and furthermore, he makes his own violins. As a whipmaker he has no equal in the Commonwealth of Australia, When the present King George V. and the Queen were out here some years ago they were presented with a stock-whip made by Mr. Fraser, and so also was the late Sir Hector MacDonald. In his young days Simon Fraser was one of the most fearless and capable steeple- chase riders in the State,

I am, etc.,

Archibald MacDonald.

“Gesto and the MacCrimmon Notation’’

6 Verner Street, South Geelong,
Australia, August 2nd, 1915.


I have just received the issue of your valuable paper containing Mr. Grant’s reply to my last letter, and by the same mail a letter from Mr, Duncan MacDonald, Bordland House, Dunlop, Ayrshire, Scotland, who says:

“I believe in my heart you are perfectly right in your argument against Mr. Grant. I well remember about 52 years ago of knowing an old man named Alexander Macaskill, who was foreman in Captain Neil Macleod’s employment, and I often heard him say repeatedly that Gesto could play both the bagpipes and violin, and that he often used to teach a number of others to play them.”

This further proof of Gesto being a piper.

I also saw in your valuable paper a very able letter from Mr. Bruce, saying there is plenty of evidence that Gesto could play and teach the pipes.

I will now pass over all reference to myself and my failings by Mr. Grant, and keep the main points in this controversy, which are these: Could Gesto play the pipes? Could he teach others to play them? And are the beats in Gesto’s published book of 1828 genuine MacCrimmon Notation? Mr, Grant says they are not Maccrimmon Notation, also that Gesto could neither teach nor play the pipes.

I pointed out in my last letter, I think, that Mr, Grant is the only person who seems to believe so. All others that I have seen or spoken to on the subject differ from Mr Grant. All the evidence that Mr. Grant has is from a letter written to “’Fionn”’ by Alasdair Ruadh,

I would point out that Mr. Grant is not very consistent as to the whole of this letter, He is greatly taken up with the statement — “But did not play himself,’” but does not take too kindly to the following one, viz. — “He knew, I believe, almost every piobaireachd in existence — their names, their composers, their origin and the causes for composing them’ When he gets to this statement Mr. Grant is very sceptical — “He had a large manuscript collection of MacCrimmon_ piobaireachds, as noted by themselves,” etc,

In a letter to “The Oban Times” of 20th May, 1912, Mr. Grant writes —

“Dr Bannatyne says Captain Macleod had a collection of 200 tunes, This has often been written, but never proved; all that we can say with safety, from what we have seen, is that he had 21, and to say that some of the 200 were written by Patrick is sheer nonsense,” etc.

In conclusion, I have much pleasure in informing Mr, Grant that this valuable manuscript book of genuine MacCrimmon music is still in existence, and may be forwarded on to Dr. Bannatyne very soon for his perusal, as I am fully convinced that he is the best and most reliable authority on the MacCrimmon Notation in Scotland.

I am, etc.,

Simon Fraser.

*Who was Simon Fraser?
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