Piping 100 years ago: 1923 part five with obituaries for Alexander Cameron and John McLennan



On November 17th the Oban Times reported: “Noted Piper. There died in the Belford Hospital Fort William last week, Mr Alexander Cameron, an authority on pipe music, and himself a talented executants on the bagpipe. A Ross-shire man, he was for a number of years piper to the Marquis of Huntly, but during the last thirty years he served with the Lochiel family at Achnacarry, teaching the members of it both piping and dancing. As a composer of pipe tunes, he was well known throughout the Highlands, and the Piobaireachd Society made numerous demands on his services as a critic and reviewer. But Cameron had other hobbies, one of them being a peculiar friendship for the birds and beasts of the wild. At Achnacarry he had names for many of the feathered songsters, who would fly to his head and shoulders at call, feeding out of his hand. It was the same with deer, some of which would follow him like a dog, whilst others would place their forelegs over his shoulder and accept delicacies from him in this position. On one occasion the late Lochiel wanted a small herd of deer removed from the precincts of the Castle to a part of the forest higher up, but efforts on the part of the keepers failed. Cameron ultimately stepped into the gap, and the sequel was something in the nature of a repetition of the Piper of Hamelin episode, for him the deer knew and followed at call. Deceased, whose years were not far short of the four score, was laid to rest in the High Church Cemetery, Inverness, the obsequies being attended by no less than twelve pipe majors. Both on the departure of the cortege from Lochaber and at the graveside the strains of the piob mhor could be heard, the tunes favoured being The Flowers of the Forest and Lochaber No More. His death is a loss to Celtic Scotland; his peculiar niche will be difficult to fill.”

•Alexander – Sandy – Cameron (left) with John MacDougall Gillies.

This was Alexander Cameron 1848-1923, the second son of Donald Cameron. In 1867 he was Piper to Mr Malcolm, Dunoon, and from 1870 to 1880 Piper to Marquis of Huntly. Later he was employed in the Lord Provost’s office Glasgow c1890 and tested chanters for Peter Henderson and Glens. By 1898 he was piper to Cameron of Locheil. He won the Prize Pipe at the Northern Meeting in 1867 and the Former Winners Medal in 1870.

John Grant lecture on piobaireachd

On 1st December the Campbeltown Courier reported on An Comunn Gaidhealach Ceannloch’s opening ceilidh of the winter season held the previous Friday evening in the Town Hall: “In the forepart of the night the audience was treated to a lecture of uncommon interest by Mr John Grant, Edinburgh, one of the foremost living authorities on bagpipe music. Mr Grant is the author of The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd – Piobaireachd, Its Origin and Construction and joint author of The Pipes of War, the latter publication being inspired by the Great War. The subject of Mr Grant’s lecture was Piobaireachd: The Classical Music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.” The article then went on to describe the lecture which started with the antiquity of the bagpipe and went on to describe the different types of bagpipe music and piobaireachd in particular. Tea was afterwards served to which the gathering adjourned in two relays. During the interval bagpipe music was played by Pipers W Thomson and R McCallum, who had also played the lecturer and office bearers into the hall at the opening of the meeting. When the programme resumed a number of excellent musical items were presented.

John Grant should not be confused with J P Grant of Rothiemurchus. The lecturer was John Grant, born in Moray in 1876. He was taught piping by PM Ronald MacKenzie formerly of the 78th Highlanders. Grant became an apprentice law clerk in Elgin in 1897. From 1899 to 1903 he was piper to Captain W S H D Moray of Abercairney and afterwards he was resident Edinburgh from 1903 onwards where he worked as a civil servant. He died in 1961.

Piobaireachd Society of Scotland’s Annual Competition

Both The Scotsman and the Oban Times reported on the annual competition of the Piobaireachd Society of Scotland took place in the evening of 6th December in the Drill Hall at 7 Wemyss Place, Edinburgh. Lord Lovat is President of the Society which exists for the encouragement of the playing of piobaireachds, and aims at keeping alive the old tunes. There were seven competitors, and the judges were Pipe Major Ross, late Scots Guards, Pipe Major George McLennan, late Gordon Highlanders, and Pipe Major John MacDonald, Inverness. The following were the awards: 1. Major Leckie Ewing, Mary MacLeod; 2. Mr Seton Gordon, Hector MacLean’s Warning; 3. (a tie) Brigadier General R Cheape CMG DSO MC, McNab’s Salute and Mr Somerled Macdonald, Kiss of the King’s Hand. Each player had to give in three tunes, one of which was selected for him to play.

A letter from Piob Mhor in Calcutta

The Oban Times on 15th December included a letter from ‘Piob Mhor in Calcutta’ on the subject of canntaireachd. He had been studying the 1880 Gesto publication and apart from undoubted clerical and printer’s errors it showed unmistakeable signs of being a genuine system. But it must be remembered that Iain Dubh was an old man at the time the tunes were recorded and the method of recording was not calculated to assist in a correct production due to the difficulty in recording a tune correctly from a piper’s dictation.

Under-18s tuition for piobaireachd with PM Robert Reid

The same paper included a letter from H S Strafford the Secretary of the Cowal Highland Gathering. The Gathering was starting a class in Glasgow for youths under 18 to be taught to play piobaireachd. The instructor would be PM Robert Reid and a nominal charge would be imposed purely as an incentive to regular attendance. The class would be held in the premises of Messrs Paterson, Sons and Co Buchanan Street. Three simple tunes MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute, Too Long in this Condition and Struan Robertson’s Salute would be taught, all from MacPhee’s Collection. At the end of the course, probably in May, an examination by qualified judges would take place and Gold, Silver and Bronze medals would be presented as prizes and certificates of merit awarded to those deserving same. The Glasgow class was the first step in a scheme to establish schools for teaching pipes in the principal centres in the country. Mr Archd. Clark Kerr of Inverchapel was presenting the committee with a handsome silver challenge shield for piobaireachd playing by boys. The trophy would be competed for annually at the Cowal Gathering. Pupils securing a certificate would be eligible to compete. In August at the first competition 16 or 17 youths under-18 had played, but according to the judges the playing on the whole was poor and not a third of the number should have attempted to compete. The three tunes mentioned above would be the test pieces at the next Gathering. His letter was followed by another from signed his letter M. He pointed out that presumably the boys for whom the classes were intended could already play at a good standard are were sufficiently advanced to ready to play piobaireachd and therefore already had instructors. If the competition for the Inverchapel Trophy was an open one and the school was not represented in the prize list of what value would there certificates be then?

Scottish Pipers’ Association amateur competitions

The annual competitions of the Scottish Pipers’ Association would have been held around the end of the year but no report has been found. The names on the Farquhar MacRae Trophy, Cameron Cup and Chisholm Cup for the amateur events show that Hugh Kennedy won the Piobaireachd and the March and Robert Davidson won the Strathspey and Reel.

Obituary for John McLennan 1843-1923

The AGM of the Scottish Pipers’ Association was held in December and the Oban Times on 29th December published the full list of officials and life members. The same paper had an obituary for John McLennan 1843-1923, father of G S and D R McLennan: “Lieutenant John McLennan, who was widely known as one of the foremost authorities on pipe music, died at his residence, 26 Arden Street, Edinburgh on Thursday of last week. He was interred on Sunday afternoon in Newington Cemetery, and (though long retired from office) with all the honours customary to an officer who had died while still serving, and with the music befitting one whose entire life had been devoted to the lore of the Ceol Mor.

•John MacDonald of Inverness, Lt John McLennan and GS McLennan.

“Headed by their pipers and drummers, about 500 officers and constables preceded the hearse, which was flanked by four Inspectors on either side. Following was a very large body of mourners, among them being several well known pipers and city residents. After the prayer at the graveside by the Rev L G Dawson Scott, the farewell note was appropriately sounded by ex-Pipe Major William Ross, Scots Guards, in his sympathetic rendering of MacCrimmon’s Lament for the Children.

“The deceased gentleman (a reader and, formerly, a fairly frequent contributor to the correspondence columns of the Oban Times) had a long, active, and interesting life. Born about eighty years ago in the hamlet of Kilcoy in the Black Isle, young McLennan early decided on a career in the Police service. Joining the Dundee force in 1865, he became clerk to the Chief Constable. His leisure time he spent in study to such good effect that when he was transferred to Edinburgh he was marked for promotion. Appointed Lieutenant in the Charge Room he gradually won for himself a reputation for his knowledge of criminal law a fact due to his constant study of the standard text book on the subject and to the high place which he had gained in the class in the University. Zealous and systematic in his duties, these qualities characterised the spirit of his recreation, which, needless to say, was pipe music. Just as he had studied in his work to learn all he could that bore on the law relating to the work of the police, so when off duty he applied himself to mastering the theory of music and to collecting all the old pipe melodies that he could possibly find.

“He was highly popular with his colleagues, assisted to improve the annual concerts of the police, and frequently acted as judge in many of the leading piping competitions. It is however by reason of his wide knowledge of pipe music and of his original, well reasoned and independent opinions on the proper playing of piobaireachd the Lieutenant McLennan made his name known to and esteemed by students of the Ceol Mor. In the correspondence columns of the Oban Times he and other experts in the subject have frequently exchanged opinions and crossed swords in keen controversy. Lieutenant McLennan was an excellent teacher of the bagpipe, a fact made abundantly clear by the success attained by his three most distinguished pupils, viz, his son, ex-Pipe Major George S McLennan of the Gordon Highlanders (whose earliest distinction, the winning of a Gold Medal, at the age of nine was followed a year later by a still greater distinction, namely, the exhibition of pipe playing to HM Queen Victoria at Her Majesty’s express command); his nephew, the late William McLennan, the foremost dancer and piper of his time and the Lieutenant’s youngest son, Donald R McLennan, Corporal Piper HM Scots Guards.

“When, in 1906, Mr McLennan retired from Police service he was able to devote all his time to his hobby. In 1907 he published The Piobaireachd as MacCrimmon played it, an introduction to the study of the bagpipe, a work which has arrested the attention of all earnest students of pipe music. The call to arms in 1914 found Lieutenant McLennan among the first to offer his services, and despite his seventy-one years he was accepted and was appointed a staff officer of recruiting at Falkirk, a post which he held until 1916. When he retired, His Majesty, in recognition of Mr McLennan’s services, conferred upon him the rank and title of Hon. Lieutenant in the army. Back once more to his musical studies, Lieutenant McLennan had in view the publication of a work dealing with the historic events that had been mainly responsible for many of the famous old pipe melodies. For that he had to search the archives of several libraries in Edinburgh, and notably the Signet, the Solicitors, and the Public Library. That task, involving much labour, remains, we believe, unfinished, but another less exacting, and possibly more to the taste of those pipers not disposed to history, he has lived to complete. This a Collection of Piobaireachds, Marches and two Reels, with a glossary of technical terms relating to pipe music. This book will shortly be in the hands of the music sellers and the public.

“By those who knew him, Lieutenant McLennan will be long remembered for his uniformly courteous bearing, his kindly humour and lively conversation, while his name will go down to a new generation of pipers as one who was facile princeps in his knowledge of the music, and of the theories pertaining to the music, of the Great War Pipe of the North.” The book was published soon afterwards with the title The Piobaireachd as Performed in the Highlands for Ages Till about the year 1808.