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A History of Piobaireachd, Part 6

The next question to be dealt with is What is a Piobaireachd?


The Piobaireachd is sometimes spoken of as the Highland Bagpipe Symphony. It is a theme or ground with variations added. No doubt when a piobaireachd was composed the air was often an original one made by the composer but it is permissible to guess that the air was often an adaptation of an existing air to which words were previously sung. Many of the piobaireachds which we play nowadays have words attached to them. Angus MacKay gives some in his book but it is not always easy to fit the words exactly to the notes of the piobaireachd ground. This fact seems to indicate that what we now know as a piobaireachd was at one time known in somewhat different form as a song.


According to tradition the MacCrimmons at one time would play nothing else but piobaireachd and another of my conjectures is that, when a MacCrimmon was asked to play a certain air he turned it into piobaireachd form before he did so. Nowadays it may happen that an Officer gets hold of a song air and asks his Pipe Major to put it on the pipes. The Pipe Major of today tries to play the tune as nearly as possible as it is sung. This is precisely what happened in the case of the Slow Air The Hawk that Swoops on High adapted for the pipes by the late Pipe Major John MacKay, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.


The MacCrimmons on the other hand proceeded to make the air into a piobaireachd, there is one little piece of evidence which supports this theory of mine. Donald Ban MacCrimmon when ordered on service with the MacLeod forces in 1745, is said to have composed the piobaireachd Cha till mi tuille (MacCrimmon will never return) in consequence of a presentiment that he would not return alive to his sweetheart. The air of this is the same or similar to that to which a well-known Gaelic song is sung and the song experts have succeeded I believe in proving that the song and its air are older than 1745. It looks therefore that MacCrimmon wishing to play on the pipes something that would fitly express his sorrowful expectations of never coming back to his sweetheart took the old air and turned it into the form of a piobaireachd.


If this is so we have an explanation of why some piobaireachds have names of battle and other events which occured before the days of the MacCrimmons and before the piobaireachd form was developed. A piobaireachd like the ‘Battle of the Inch of Perth’ may have been composed as a piobaireachd many years later and constructed from some air to which the bards sung a song commemorative of that notorious battle


| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 |


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