Piobaireachd Dhuneideann – The Edinburgh Piobaireachd – was composed by Captain John MacLellan (1921-1991) in 1981 to mark the many piping occurrences which have taken place in Scotland’s capital city over the past couple of centuries.
“At the beginning of the 19th century,” MacLellan wrote in the October 1981 edition of his International Piper magazine, “Edinburgh was a centre of bagpipe manufacturing. Donaid MacDonald, David Glen, J. & R. Glen, J. & W. Hutcheon, J. Center, James Robertson, William Sinclair, Hugh MacPherson, James Tweedie, R. & G. Kilgour, and Allan Stark have all been firms who followed the traditional craft of pipe making in Edinburgh. The publication of bagpipe music has been continuous in the city from the publishing of Donald MacDonald’s book of ceòl mòr (c.1810) through to Binneas is Boreraig by Dr. Roddie Ross in the 1960s.
“From 1783 until 1844 the major piping competitions were held in the city and this tradition continues with major events still being organised.
“Edinburgh,” he continued, “has always been fortunate that pipers of repute should domicile themselves in the city, including Duncan MacDougall, and the illustrious Pipe Major Willie Ross M.B.E. who resided in Edinburgh Castle and taught countless pipers there for 40 years and where the famed Army School of Piping thriving now, as never before, was established in 1918. [Note: The Army School moved from the castle to nearby Redford Barracks in 2000 – Editor.]
“Pipe bands, too, have been nurtured in the city of Edinburgh and in that sphere of piping’s art, few pipe bands have more claim to fame than the Lothian and Borders Police Pipe Band, or as many will still have them named — the Edinburgh Police — so well-known by the tourist at [Edinburgh] Festival time for their Prince’s Street Parades, but sought out by piping afficiandos on the contest tuning parks not for their glamour, but for their playing expertise.
“Edinburgh pipers do not forget the social side of piping. The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society (a hundred years old this year) is a private piping society for amateur players, while both the Highland Pipers’ Society established at the turn of this century, and the Eagle Pipers’ Society (formed in 1960) hold open court for the many visitors who come to the capital city seeking the sound of the
“The good fortune of Edinburgh housing the National Library of Scotland has brought together under its roof the priceless collection of ancient manuscripts which contain the heritage of piping.
“That then, is what the title Piobaireachd Dhuneideann wishes to commemorate. Time and the criteria applied by pipers will be the arbiter of any success the work may have in the future.”
During a presentation to the 2016 Piobaireachd Society conference on the subject of his father’s compositions, MacLellan’s son, Colin said of The Edinburgh Piobaireachd: “I don’t think the start of this is completely original. My father used always to tell me that the greatest opening in pìobaireachd is the big Nameless tune. He thought that was the grandest piece of pìobaireachd there is. If you play that tune, just make it as big and as magnificent as you can. I think that there are similarities at the start of this tune.
“There is a funny story about this tune, aside from the fact that it is a magnificent tune. It was composed specifically for a pìobaireachd composing competition that I think the Piobaireachd Society may have had a hand in organising. It was sponsored by Kennerty Dairies. I remember that my father was very excited about this tune and I hope you agree it is very good. There were many entries sent in, and he eagerly awaited the result as he did for most of them because he always thought he was going to win. Most of the time he did, but sometimes he didn’t. This one was one of the times that he didn’t, because all the entries were returned as being not any good.
“It was a grievous insult to my father and I remember that he took it very badly. I remember being at a Grant’s Championship ceilidh, when it [the Glenfiddich] was called the Grant’s Championship, and he was bemoaning the fact to Seumas MacNeill that his tune had been sent back with the “shower of other tunes,” as I think was how he described it. Seumas was one of the one or two people who had the nerve and wit to make fun from time to time of my father. The other was my great friend, Euan Anderson who could wrap my father round his little finger. Seumas could do it as well, and he put his arm round my father and said, “Well, never mind John. We will publish it in the Piping Times ….”
“My father’s face lit up at this. He thought that it would be a good consolation prize, until Seumas totally deflated him by adding the aside, “… under the title ‘Rotten Piobaireachd of the Month’”.
“That is why I say that sometimes the result of these composition competitions are unreliable in that it results in possibly some of the very best tunes being overlooked. Some tunes which have been successful have been placed ahead of other tunes which on further reflection warranted a much better look at them.
“That is one of the reasons I am holding the dinners [the annual recital dinners organised by the Captain John A. MacLellan Trust] with the recordings, so that the tunes are heard.”
The Edinburgh Pìobaireachd has certainly stood the test of time and, thanks to the work of the Captain John A. MacLellan MBE Trust, it is being heard more. In 2019 it was set for the Senior competitions at the major solo piping events. It is indeed a beautiful piece of music.