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Some Reminiscences and the Bagpipe
Chapter X — An Interesting Byway


Every science has its byways as well as its highways.
It is along an interesting byway that this book invites the student to walk. ”

THE Rev. James B. Johnston, B.D., minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Falkirk, opens up a charming introduction to his “Place Names of Scotland” with the above words.

The science of music, like the science of language of which Mr Johnston speaks, has also its little-frequented paths.

The History of the Bagpipe is one of those interesting byways, if only a short one and a narrow. So little trod now-a-days, there is small wonder that the track has become moss-grown, or that it is for the greater part of the way scarcely discernible.

And if a rare traveller like myself, along this narrow and little explored pathway, often stumbles and at times wanders off the track altogether it is not to be wondered at.

With no library at hand for reference when in a difficulty ; without time to refer to books, even it the library were within reach, I write under some disadvantage. However, as but little notice of the Bagpipe has been taken by writers of any note in the past, and as modern writers have stuck to the well-trodden highway, where facts are few and fallacies numerous, and missed, or at any rate neglected the little used byways, where hidden lies an occasional golden grain of truth, this disadvantage is not so great as it would otherwise have been.

Is the Bagpipe a Scottish instrument?
Is it a Highland instrument?
Is it a Celtic instrument?

In answering these and such like questions most recent writers are but echoes, the one of the other. They have been content to take their opinions at second hand; to copy one another slavishly, asking not for proof; shutting their eyes indeed to facts which lay patent under their very noses, but which, perhaps, contradicted some pet theory, borrowed at some time by some one, from some other one whose reputation as a scholar in Celtic, or in other paths of learning, gave the worthless dictum an undue weight.

If, then, some well-known facts, and many better known fallacies, are conspicuous by their absence, and, like familiar faces that are gone, are missed by the reader in this book, I hope the deficiencies, if such, will be more than compensated for, by a display of greater originality, in my treatment of this very interesting subject : originality being hitherto the one element most awanting in lectures or writings on the Bagpipe.

I cannot remember the time when I did not love the Bagpipe and take great “delight in its noises,” and I offer no apologies to-day for saying a word or two in its defence.

It has been my good fortune to have heard only good piping in my youth.

When I think over the old days—days that now, ah kindly, tricky memory ! seem all play and sunshine, and piping—two names leap to my pen, the names of Colin M‘Lauchlin and Dugald M‘Farlane.

Colin M‘Lauchlin among the amateurs stood head and shoulders above his fellows. He was “clever at the Pipe ” from his earliest years, and while still only a schoolboy could hold his own with most professionals. He and one or two others, scarcely inferior, kept the spirit of piping alive in my native village. His brother—this by the way—could make the most marvellous imitations of Bagpipe tunes with his voice, so absolutely real did they sound, and often have I marched home from school to his piping. Now what Colin was among amateurs in the village, Dugald M‘Farlane was among his brother professionals in the county.

He was a giant among big men. Not only was he a player unmatched in reels and strathspeys, but he was learned in all things concerning the piobaireachd ; and in short Dugald was one of the best exponents of Pipe music, not forgetting the Leachs of Glendaruel, that Argyleshire has ever produced.

Dugald attended all the social functions in the district. His services were in large request where-ever there was merry-making, whether at feast or funeral, so that the Lochgilphead people had many opportunities of hearing him pipe.

It was from the playing of these two masters that I learned what a wonderful old instrument the Bagpipe in capable hands becomes.

Of course, we occasionally heard piping of a different order.

I remember well, when a boy of only some six summers, playing the truant from school for the first and almost the last time, having allowed myself to be charmed away from the delights of sing-song spelling by the witchery of an old wheezy Bagpiper, whose career came to a somewhat inglorious termination at a public-house near the end of the village—the eighth or ninth “pub.” visited on that memorable morning—but not, alas ! in time to let me get back to school, for morning lessons.

If the piper had kept sober, and had gone on playing, I do not know where we—for I had companions in evil-doing—would have stopped.

Like the children in the “Pied Piper of Hamel,” we might still be marching along to the fairy music of that most unfairy-like, red-nosed, blear-eyed anatomy of a musician.


An Old Print :
Published by the Art Union of Scotland in 1857, shewing a blind piper performing- upon the Irish Bagpipe.


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