The Piobaireachd Society: Music and Teaching

For the second Piobaireachd Society blog-post we thought we would begin to tell you a bit about the activities of the society, as revealed through the correspondence files. (For an introduction to the society and the collection, see the previous blog-post )

A couple of the methods the society used to promote the playing of piobaireachd was by publishing books of the traditional tunes, therefore making them available to buy, and funding lessons for budding pipers to become proficient in the art of piobaireachd playing.

Handwritten tune pinned to a letter from P. Henderson (DC80/359)

In the collection, there is a large volume of correspondence between the Piobaireachd Society and ‘P. Henderson, bagpipe maker and Highland dress’; who published the piobaireachd tunes for the society. We found some lovely letters with music written on them, by Society members, to illustrate the variations in the traditional piobaireachd tunes they suggest.

Detail from an annotated letter (DC80/362)

The society also paid well reputed pipers to teach young men how to play piobaireachd. They set up classes in areas like Uist and Barra for local boys to take advantage of, and later they also set up lessons in Edinburgh and Glasgow. One letter, dated 1908, from the society member Colin MacRae to the secretary D. J. Tolmie reads:

“I think it would be best to take those who wd [would] be least likely to afford to get instruction on their own account..”(DC80/375)

A letter from John McCulloch thanking the society for the lessons they gave him (DC/362)

To me, this shows a great desire in the society to promote the playing of piobaireachd as widely as possible as well as a concern for enthusiastic pipers who are not as fortunate as those with money. The classes were advertised in local papers and following this, the society was inundated with letters asking to be considered for lessons. The classes had a very good reputation and teachers such as John MacDonald and William Ross produced some very good piobaireachd players, and also very happy customers. In a letter from Ronald Cheape we learn just how popular the classes were. Some lads rode 20 miles on bicycle to attend William Ross’ lessons, did 5 hours of practise at home and Cheape also says that:

“The boys are so keen that we had to occasionally give them a day off on account of swelled tonsils and sore throats.” (DC80/377)

It was not only local, civilian, boys that the society had an interest in tutoring. There is a lot of correspondence between the society and the Army in the collection. The society funded piping classes for pipers in the army as well as referring good pipers to the battalions. One letter from 1909 says:

“I naturally look upon the pipes as second to none in importance to the battalion.”(DC80/364)

Another letter, from Lt Colonel John Grahame in 1915 reads that:

“without pipers a Highland Regiment is like Hamlet without a Prince!”(DC80/373)

If you would like to see the collection for yourself, or have any questions please do get in touch.

Watch this space for the next instalment of the Piobaireachd Society blog!



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  1. The Piobaireachd Society: Highland Games « University of Glasgow Library
  2. The Piobaireachd Society: Royal Patronage « University of Glasgow Library
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