In preparing this record of the
pipe bands of our Armies during the war the opportunity has been taken
of consulting pipe presidents and pipe majors as to the present
condition of military piping and the manner in which obvious defects
might be remedied. Like other experts they exhibit divergences of
opinion, sometimes as regards the nature of the defects, sometimes as to
the best method of remedying them. In certain matters, however, there is
absolute unanimity, and these are deserving of attention by the military
piper."—Throughout the Army there is, and has always been, a strong
objection to the title of "sergeant piper," which in official parlance
is employed instead of " pipe major." No one ever calls a pipe major a
sergeant piper, except in returns; and withdrawal of this modern and
indefensible title could result in nothing but good. As there is no
financial aspect involved in the change, it would be a graceful and
inexpensive concession to a body of men to whom the Army and the nation
Rank of the Pipe
Major.—On another point there is absolute unanimity of opinion, viz.,
the rank of the pipe major. As responsible for a band possibly numbering
twenty or more pipers, the pipe major ought to have the same rank as a
bandmaster. To limit the career of a piper to the possibility of
becoming a pipe major with the rank of sergeant is to prevent good men
accepting the position; and many a man, seeing he can hope for no
advancement, leaves the pipes and returns to the ranks, thus getting a
chance of rising to warrant rank.
This question of rank has a most important bearing
on the interests of piping generally, and is therefore a national one.
As instructor to his men the pipe major should be a first-class
performer himself, and this—although the public appear to be unaware of
the fact—involves long and assiduous training. It is useless asking a
man to attain the necessary standard of excellence for this purpose and
to offer him the pay of a sergeant in return. The consequence is pipe
majors are not always the best pipers—from the professional point of
view—in their units; and this ought to be remedied, even though it does
cost the nation the difference between the emoluments of a warrant
officer and of a sergeant in each unit.
"The Appointinent of Piper."—Another necessary
reform, which also has the merit of costing nothing, is the official
recognition of piper as an appointment. In the Army " drummer " is an
appointment, but a piper is a private.
One result of this is that, on mobilisation, all
pipers revert to the ranks, excepting six (including the sergeant piper)
per battalion. Apart altogether from the special liability to casualties
among the " full pipers " when playing in action, it is evident that so
small a band may, under the ordinary conditions of modern warfare, be
put out of action ; and then great difficulty is experienced in raising
another band. In many battalions during the war this happened, sometimes
more than once; and it is these battalions which are most insistent on
the strength being twelve instead of six pipers.
Lowland regiments—A grievance which cries for
remedy at the hands of the War Office is the treatment of pipers in
Lowland regiments. The official view appears to be that the existence of
the pipes in regiments such as the Royal Scots, the K.O.S.B. 's and
others is an unreasonable concession to a sentiment which is vulgarly
called " Scotch," but which, though believed to be nebulous, happens to
be too strong for the military reformers to ignore altogether. This view
indicates ignorance of the history of the pipes and of the Lowland
regiments; the one may be pardoned, the other is inexcusable.
It is absolutely certain that Lowland regiments
had pipers before the existing Highland regiments were raised at all ;
and the pipes were a national instrument all over the Lowlands for
centuries before there was any Regular Army at all.
This being so it is quite illogical that the
maintenance of their pipe bands should be a greater financial burden on
officers of a Lowland than of a Highland regiment. The value of the
institution, from a military point of view, is the same in both; and
pipe bands should be treated as part of the recognised establishment in
one as in the other.
Standardisation of military pipe
music—There is one grave defect in military piping which is capable of
being remedied quite easily. Anyone who knows anything of piping knows
that each individual piper learns his tunes after the setting of some
well-known authority, and is for ever after prepared to maintain that
that version alone is the correct one. Unfortunately every battalion has
its own setting for every tune played in the band and declines to admit
the possibility of any other setting being used in any circumstances.
Even in the case of distinctively regimental tunes, e.g. "Cabar Feidh,"
the two Regular battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders play—or used to
play, just before the war—different settings of that tune, and a man
transferred from one battalion to another had to learn the slight
differences which his new unit preferred. The same remarkable
individuality exists in every battalion and makes it very difficult
indeed to get a number of pipe bands to play even the best-known tunes
together without considerable practice.
This is quite wrong. By all means let time
individual piper learn and adhere to the setting of piobaireachd by his
favourite authority; but to have as many settings of an ordinary march
as there are battalions in the Army is not to the advantage of piping.
The remedy is simple enough,—the standardisation
of pipe tunes for military purposes, in precisely the same manner as
obtains with the National Anthems and trumpet and bugle calls ; and,
just as no departure to meet regimental custom or prejudice is permitted
in the case of these latter, so the setting laid down for the Army in
the case of pipe tunes should be strictly defined and adhered to.
The superiority of one setting over another does
not enter into the question; what is essential is uniformity.
Many pipe majors have pointed to this
standardisation as one of the most important measures to be adopted
after the war, in the interests of piping in the Army.
Neglect of Piobaireachd.—It is open to argument
whether the military piper does or does not exert a determining
influence on the cause of piping generally. Allowing fully for the great
value of the recognised societies and the periodical piping meetings
throughout Scotland, in keeping up the standard of the national
instrument and offering inducements for its study, it will be readily
admitted that, by their mere existence as permanent institutions,
military pipe bands keep up the cult of the pipes, at home and abroad,
to so marked a degree that any decline in their standard must have a
deleterious effect on piping generally.
To what extent, then, if at all, is military
piping conducted to the best advantage of the cause of piping, and is
there room for reform?
may be taken as generally the case that, in so far as a military pipe
band is regarded as designed for duty on the march, and for various
routine military musical duties, it fulfils its functions to the
satisfaction of all concerned. It is too much to expect the War
Office—or even individual commanding officers—to accept the view that
neglect of "ceol mor" is not compensated for by a high standard of
excellence in the middle music" and in dances and marches. Individual
pipers in every battalion are players of "piobaireachd"; but any one
with experience of regimental or garrison piping competitions knows how
small is the number of men who enter for that class of event, as
compared with performers of the march, strathspey and reel.
The explanation is simple enough—the men play what
their audience demands, and "Leaving Glen Urquhart " or "Duntroon"
appeals to more people, military or civil, than the finest piobaireachd.
Pipe majors, even when themselves anxious to teach their pipers the
higher class of music, recognise that to attempt to do so would often be
wasted labour—men come to them too old to make piobaireachd players,
and, in any case, the opportunities for playing it in the Army are too
few to make it worth while trying to get men to go through the initial
drudgery. Being human they naturally turn to march and dance music and
the result is that, except in the case of professional pipers who have
enlisted, the soldier piper generally ignores altogether the classical
side of his music.
a defect in military piping, and it should be remedied by insisting
that, before promotion to pipe major, a piper should pass an examination
in every branch of pipe music.
A school of piping—The time has come to establish
a school of piping for the army at which likely pipers could undergo
refresher courses of instruction in all classes of pipe music, in the
correct writing of music—a subject which is lamentably ignored, in the
theory of music, and in methods of instruction of recruit pipers. In
other words it should fulfil the same functions as regards the training
of future pipe majors, and the improvement of the standard of playing in
the army, that Kneller Hall does in the case of bandmasters and military
musical education generally.
No piper should be promoted pipe major until he
has undergone a complete course lasting at least six months, and has
passed an examination at the end of it.
Such a school should be open to civilian pipers
and should become the Macrimmon school of to-day.
The Piobaireachd Society have already decided to
institute a memorial to fallen pipers which shall take this form, and to
the necessary endowment the proceeds of this book will be devoted. But
the army must contribute towards its maintenance.