Lost – several pibrochs. If found, please return to the present.

The Bob Dunsire Forums are a mine of interesting information, beyond being a simple meeting place for pipers and drummers.

I recently started a discussion thread at the forums asking for more information about “The Lost Pibroch”, the story I wrote about last month. That thread has been the scene of some interesting discussion and today one of the forum members has spliced it with another thread dealing with the current state of piobaireachd composition.

It appears that, whether or not the Neil Munro short story is based in fact, there are a number of lost piobaireachds out there. These are tunes referred to in various places (obituaries, journals, etc.) but for which no manuscripts are currently available. The composers of such tunes include such piping illuminati as John MacColl and Angus Lawrie. The enterprising forum member has put out a call to compile as many piobaireachds as possible that have been written in the past 100 years or so.

I think it may be time to contact Bob McFie again, since he has a tune which could reasonably be added to this list. In addition, one of the “lost” tunes by John MacColl is a “Lament for Donald MacPhee”, and you know I’m not going to let that one lie!

Piobaireachd stories – no joking matter!

When I wrote about Peg Kingman’s new novel “Not Yet Drown’d” earlier this month I created a new category, to include it and the Cynthia Thayer novel “A Certain Slant of Light”, since I could hardly believe that there would be more than one novel written about piobaireachd.

Turns out I should remove my tongue from my cheek. I have discovered another story about piobaireachd, this one from 1896. At this point I can only assume that what I thought would be a joke category is likely to be used some more in the future.

This story is called “The Lost Pibroch” by Neil Munro, and is the title story from a collection of short stories involving life in the Scottish Highlands. Munro grew up in the Highlands but, like so many others of his generation, left for the big city when he was barely 18. By the time he was 23 he was Chief Reporter at the Glasgow Evening News. His first successful attempt at writing fiction was the set of short stories that are the subject of this post, and after their success he scaled back his journalism and focussed on fiction for the rest of his life. He was under-appreciated in the years following his death in 1930, as his career coincided with a proliferation of over-romanticized Scottish fiction, but it has been suggested more recently that he was to some extent satirizing that same genre.

“The Lost Pibroch” seems to bear that out. More gothic than romantic, it turns about the playing of a tune that only a handful of pipers are ever able to (or should ever) play. I will not give away the plot, but the playing of the tune has unforseen consequences that appear to be in evidence in some of the later stories in the collection. If you live in North America you can download the whole volume and start reading, using Google Books. Apparently, this will not work for you outside North America (possibly because of copyright restrictions) so you will have to scour your local bookshops and libraries. Good luck!

Not another novel about piobaireachd!

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve just come across another novel that features piobaireachd.

Dedicated readers of this site (you know who you are) will recall that back in July I wrote about the novel “A Certain Slant of Light”, by Cynthia Thayer. That story used pipe tunes (many of them piobaireachd) as chapter headings, and made the playing of ceol mor an integral part of the plot.

During one of my oddly intuitive searches of the Salt Lake City Library’s catalog, I came across a novel just published this September called “Not Yet Drown’d”, by Peg Kingman. In this book, the protagonist sets out on a search for her missing (supposed dead) brother. The search is in part provoked by the sister’s posthumous receipt of a collection of his possessions, including the manuscript for a piobaireachd enigmatically retitled “Not Yet Drown’d”, that the bagpipe-playing brother had been working on before his “death”.

So, I should say at this point that I have not yet read the book – I just picked it up from the library yesterday. [I did notice (in a little pre-read flip) that the novel contains a moment of some family relevance: the protagonist is a witness to the historic landing of King George IV at Leith in 1822. A direct ancestor of mine, John Macfie, was the senior Magistrate of Leith at the time, and the first to greet the King when he alighted that day.] The piobaireachd presence in the book centers on the tune already mentioned, and bundles it together with the long-lost manuscript of Joseph MacDonald.

The author, Peg Kingman is a piper herself (not surprisingly) who also happens to be an ex-tea merchant. Not a lot of those around, I suppose. You can hear an interview with her by Rick Kleffel on his podcast Agony Column. So I now have music for two piobaireachds specifically written to be part of novels in just the past few years. I’ve discovered a whole new genre, and the Piobaireachd Society is blissfully unaware. I should add it to my categories – will there be more?

Piobaireachd in a novel

I have just finished reading “A Certain Slant of Light“, a novel by Cynthia A. Thayer.

The novel hits close to home for me for several reasons, not least of which is the central role played by piping. Without giving away too much, the protagonist is a retired piper, living a somewhat hermetic life near the coast of Maine. Circumstances throw him together with a young, pregnant women on the run from her church and husband.

You won’t get any more plot spoilers from me, but an interesting feature of the book is that to each chapter is attached the first line of a pipe tune, many of them piobaireachd. Included are: Too Long in this Condition, The Daughter’s Lament, The Unjust Incarceration, Lament for the Children, The Sound of the Waves Against the Castle at Duntroon, and (I was pleased to see) I Am Proud to Play a Pipe.

Although Ms. Thayer acknowledges Andy Rogers and Bob Worrall (both pipers of note from Eastern Canada), it struck me from reading the novel that she must also be a piper; she writes about piping, and the finer points of piobaireachd, with the air of a performer, and even includes a piobaireachd she has written. Maybe I will try to contact her and get the scoop.

The book was enjoyable, gripping even, and I will be recommending it to my literary piping friends.