John Grant in America: Resources and Revelations – Professor Alan Armstrong
Chairman Jack Taylor
Please welcome Professor Alan Armstrong who is Professor of Music at Mount Olive College North Carolina. He also has a PhD in Music from Ohio University, a B Mus Ed from there, and an MM in Piano performance Bradley University. He is principal cellist in the Wilson Symphony Orchestra. Academically he is an expert in French Grand Opera.
Alan has been a piper for 10 years – taught by Kirk Rose, Andy Simpson, William Logan, Sandy Jones, Ed Neigh, William Caudill and Ken McKeveny. He is a grade 2 solo competitor who finished 2nd overall in Piobaireachd in USA in 2009 and he is a member of Wake and district Public Safety Pipes and Drums, Raleigh, North Carolina. He wrote the Wake and District March so the band would have its own regimental march.
Professor Armstrong is currently writing a book on the life of John Grant and was awarded a sabbatical for the winter semester 2011 to do this.
Perhaps Alan’s presence here today is the Piobaireachd Society giving a long overdue acknowledgement of their first instructor who was dismissed as a crank.
John Grant in America: Resources and Revelations
Early in 2009, while scanning the world wide web for a topic dealing with the Great Highland Bagpipe that would be suitable for research, I happened upon an intriguing catalogue entry from Harvard University: “Grant, John, Pipe-major, Collection of bagpipe music: Guide.” (Example 1).
Not wishing to embark on a project already in the hands of another music scholar, I contacted the Houghton Library at Harvard University in order to find out when the collection had last been accessed. The answer was both astounding and exciting: since the Library had purchased the collection in 1965 it had never been examined. I would have loved to have gone to Boston immediately, but Boston is a very long way from my home in North Carolina, so I made plans to visit in the summer.
In the meantime, I tried to learn as much about John Grant as I could. I already knew he had published two works that were no longer in print but available on the web: “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” and “Piobaireachd:Its Origin and Construction” and his collaborative effort with Sir Bruce Seton, “The Pipes of War,” was still in print.
But actual information about the man was rather sketchy. He was the subject of a very short biography in the May 1969 “Piping Times” from which I learned that he studied the bagpipes under Pipe-Major Ronald Mackenzie, 78th Seaforth Highlanders, that Grant became a piper in the 3rd Volunteer Brigade Seaforths, and that from 1899 “for some years” Grant was piper to Captain William Sterling- Home-Drummond-Moray of Abercairney.
Bridget Mackenzie’s briefly mentions Grant in relation to his appointment as instructor for the Army School of Piping following the Great War in her 1998 book “Piping Traditions of Northern Scotland,” and Grant’s involvment in the “Redundant A” Controversy is covered by both William Donaldson and Roderick Cannon in their respective works: “The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750-1950″ and “The Highland Bagpipe and Its Music.” In 2002 or 2003 an unknown benefactor gave a xerox copy of Grant’s manuscript autobiography to the College of Piping, and Jeannie Campbell made good use of it in her history of the Piobaireachd Society in the July 2003 edition of the “Piping Times.” Still nothing was much known of the man after age 26, including when he died.
I was, at last, able to travel to Boston to examine the Grant Collection at Harvard, making three trips between August 2009 and July 2010. At the same time I attempted to gather more information about Grant’s personal life, following leads to locate his living descendants, who I hoped could provide more details about him. I hit a stone wall in this regard until a very fortuitous phone call came in August 2010. In January 2010 I had discovered a piobaireachd John Grant had written on V-E Day, 1945 to honour Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I wrote an article about it that was published in “The Voice,” the official journal of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association, of which I am a member. Donald Lindsey, a well-known piper and instructor in New England, saw the article, and called me to let me know that in 2009 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts had purchased John Grant’s own set of bagpipes, and that he (Lindsey) had been asked to demonstrate them before an audience at the museum. I immediately contacted the curator of the museum’s instrumental collection, who informed me that the bagpipes came with several sets of books, one of which was dedicated to Grant’s eldest son. Now, I not only had another reason to travel to Boston, but a name I could use to track down Grant’s living relatives.
At last, in November, I made contact with Grant’s relatives, and they agreed to meet with me the first of the new year. In December, I was able to fly to Boston once again, this time to examine the books that were housed at the Museum of Fine Arts. And yes, while there I was given permission to play Grant’s beautiful set of 1896 Hendersons.
In order to continue my research unrestrained, my college awarded me a semester’s sabbatical beginning in January 2011. So on 10 January I flew to Edinburgh and had a lovely meeting with three of Grant’s grand-children and his very alert 97 years-old daughter-in-law, then flew to Zurich to interview one of Grant’s great-granddaughters. These visits provided me with a wealth of information in the form of documents and letters, which I am currently using to flesh out Grant’s life and works.
Before examining the two collections of Grant manuscripts that are housed at Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, allow me to lay some groundwork in the form of biographical information that will help place these documents in an historical context. In September 1893, at age 17, Grant left his family’s farm, “The Bauds,” Kellas, in order to take up employ with Messrs. Stewart and McIsaac, Solicitors in nearby Elgin. During the six years Grant worked as an apprentice law clerk, he was required to learn the art of calligraphy in order to prepare legal forms for his employers. In 1896, as we know from his autobiography, he took up the bagpipes as a hobby, walking the twenty-two mile round trip to Gordon Castle twice weekly for private tutelage under Pipe Major Ronald Mackenzie, who was at that time piper to the Gordon and Richmond family. In October, 1899, Mackenzie dissuaded Grant from enlisting in the Scots Guards and recommended him for the position of family piper to Captain William Home-Drummond-Moray, Lord of Abercairney. Grant served the family until late 1902.
We don’t know the details surrounding Grant’s move to Edinburgh at that time, but, at age 26 years, it is not difficult to imagine he wanted to get on with life and a permanent career. A friendly letter from Abercairney dated 17 February 1906 thanking Grant for an illuminated manuscript of “Abercairney’s Salute” suggests that Abercairney had fond memories of Grant and that he had helped his former employee obtain a position as an accountant with an Edinburgh rubber company. On 12 June 1903 Grant married Mary Jane Harper, a native of Auchterloss, at the Union Hotel, Turriff, and the newlyweds took up residence at 5 Athole Place, Edinburgh, the home of Grant’s two spinster sisters, Elizabeth and Jane.
Under Ronald Mackenzie, Grant had not only been schooled in bagpipe technique and musicianship; but as he states in the “Preface” to one of his piobaireachd collections to be described below, he also was instructed, from his first week of lessons, to write out the music in staff notation. Grant already had some knowledge of staff notation; he had experimented with both the accordion and violin as a youngster. However, now armed with a talent for calligraphy, he began copying out every piece of bagpipe music he could lay his hands on.
In 1900 Grant began “A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd or Highland Bagpipe Music,” which contained twelve piobaireachd in twenty-nine pages–a document to which we shall return– but by late 1904 he completed a work begun in 1898: a staggering eight-hundred tune, five-volume set of piobaireachds, marches, strathspeys, and reels. Grant presented the collection to The Highland Society of London, who lavished praise upon Grant for his work. Unfortunately this collection is no longer extant, but the title pages, preface and the first several pages of the index still exist in the Harvard Collection. From the page numbering it is evident there were at least 74 tunes covering 214 pages. (Table 1, column 2).
Among those who were impressed with the young Grant’s work was Captain Colin William MacRae of Feoirlinn, who you are all certainly familiar with. MacRae mentored Grant in John’s early days in Edinburgh, and they remained good friends throughout their lives. When MacRae took Margaret Crichton-Stuart, sister of the Marquis of Bute, as his bride in October 1910, Grant presented MacRae with two gifts: a piobaireachd composed in MacRae’s honor, and an illuminated collection of piobaireachd. On 21 December 1910 MacRae wrote Grant the following letter:
I must write and thank you very much indeed for your extremely kind present to me. It was very good of you indeed to think of giving me anything at all and I can only tell you that I value it exceedingly and shall always keep it as one of my most valued wedding presents. It is a most magnificent book and the work in it is beyond all praise. It is exceedingly fine and must have given you an enormous amount of trouble and time to do it. Again thank you very much indeed for your magnificent present.
Yours faithfully Colin McRae
[PS] The Book is one I am awfully pleased to have, and just what I would have liked if you had named anything, but the work in it is beyond Everything: Simply Splendid.
I am fairly certain that this book is “An Illuminated Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd” currently housed in the Clan Donald Centre, Armadale, Skye. This magnificent collection, 23″ by 16,” was apparently begun in November 1908 and completed the following May. The book’s dedication page reads: “Presented to Captain Colin MacRae with deep gratitude, by John Grant.” (See Example 2)
Grant may have prepared the collection with Colin MacRae in mind all along, but it is also possible that Grant had compiled the book for some other reason, and added the presentation page when he decided to gift MacRae with it. At any rate, this collection must stand as one of the most, if not THE most, beautifully designed and drawn piobaireachd collections in existence. The tunes appear to be from more than one source (see Table 1, Column 3); the first two are definitely from Angus MacKay’s book, but more work needs to be done to identify the sources of the rest.
Following the completion of “An Illuminated Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd,” Grant set aside the copying of known tunes in order to dedicate his leisure hours to other things, primarily the composition of new tunes, writing, and teaching. During the 1940’s he returned to transcribing ancient piobaireachd but continued writing his own tunes as well. Over the course of forty-seven years, not taking into account his teaching and pipe-majoring activities, he composed eighty-nine tunes: sixty-four piobaireachd and the rest marches, strathspeys, and reels; he wrote a novel entitled “The Silver Chanter;” he wrote poetry on bagpipe topics; he kept sentinel as the self-appointed watchdog of piping matters published in “The Oban Times;” he compiled five books of ancient piobaireachd, published two editions of twenty-one of his own works, and penned four large books on bagpiping, including an exhaustive tutor.
Grant died on 25 April, 1961, the result of a stroke. He was 84 years old. On 13 December fifty-two volumes of his manuscripts were put up for sale at Christie’s, London. The Edinburgh Evening News ran a small article about it. Major Spowers of Christie’s is quoted as saying of the volumes: “It is a staggering collection of works for one man to have accomplished.” The entire collection sold for £250. On 16 August 1965 Harvard University took possession of the collection for £450. Several of Grant’s manuscripts were not included in the collection, but remained with Grant’s eldest son, John Roy Grant. When John Roy passed away in 1973, his widow sold his bagpipes and goose, along with “The Family Piper,” “Royal and Ancient Piobaireachd–The Classical Music of the Highland Bagpipe,” a Collection of photographs of famous pipers, and a deluxe copy of the second edition of “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd.” These were subsequently purchased in 2009 from an un-disclosed dealer by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Several interesting works still remain with the family. Among these are “John Macrae’s March,” dedicated to Colin and Margaret MacRae’s only son who was killed in battle in Egypt in July, 1942, the 600 plus page novel entitled “The Silver Chanter,” and the musical anthology for his “Highland Bagpipe Instructor.” I shall return to these later.
The Harvard Collection–an Overview
As listed in the Christie’s ad, the Harvard Collection contains 52 separate items. Thirteen of them are books bound in royal blue or black leather with titles embossed in gold leaf (Example 3).
Each book is roughly the same size as the others, 39 cm x 28.5 cm, or 15.5 inches x 11 inches. The paper, according to Grant’s own account, is Whatman’s “wove” paper. He could hardly have made a better choice. Although some volumes are close to a century old, there is not a sign of aging among the hundreds of pages in the collection. By his own account all of it is a product of Grant’s own hand. Those volumes with music in them also feature water-colour illustrations of Highland scenes and portraits of noble personages; each drawing preceded by a page of translucent paper, perhaps onion skin or tracing paper, which serves as protection. The most outstanding feature of the collection from a visual standpoint, however, is the beauty of the calligraphy and graphic design of title pages (Example 4 above).
The other 39 items are the same width and length, but are primarily presentation folios: that is, copies of individual tunes Grant presented to dedicatees. Grant explains this practice in the 1947 Inventory of his works, the 39th folio entitled “The Royal Collection of Bagpipe Music.”
The foregoing tunes have been composed in accordance with an “Ancient Scottish Custom.” They have all been prepared in Duplicate, in Folio form, artistically illuminated, and illustrated. One copy has been retained by the Author for preservation, and the other copy has been sent to the person to whom it has been dedicated.
Many of them have also been artistically prepared on Whatman’s sheets measuring 31″ x 22″, and presented along with the folio Brochure which entailed an enormous amount of work that has been carried out for a period of over forty years without counting the cost.
These large 31″ x 22″ “placards,” I call them, are not in this collection, but that stands to reason, as these were the large framable versions of his piobaireachds he gave to his dedicatees. The National Museum of Scotland has two of them which one can see on their website, and they truly are breathtaking to behold. The family also owns two others, which used to hang on Grant’s living room wall on either side of his fireplace. I have photographs of those. What we have in the Harvard Collection are the duplicates of the simpler folios, or as he later called them “brochures.” Incidentally, as I will explain in more detail below, Grant presented a folio and a placard to Colin MacRae as a wedding gift, and the folio is MS 10 in the Macra-Chisolm Collection, which was the topic of a paper presented before this body by Keith Sanger and Roderick Cannon in 2009. Lord Seaforth’s Salute is also available for viewing at the NLS.
The Boston MFA Collection–an Overview
Both of the tune collections at the MFA are bound, but not in the regal manner of those at Harvard. “The Family Piper” is a clever work providing nine MSR/piobaireachd combinations. Interspered among the tunes are chapters dealing with dress, deportment, scheduling, moral conduct and the like, in short, a how-to book for any newly employed family piper. “Royal and Ancient Piobaireachd” is a compilation over forty years in the making. This is the book Grant began in 1900. The first entry, “The Macfarlane’s Gathering,” is notated in a style so different from the rest of Grant’s output that it is clearly a very early effort. Grant explains in a “Concluding Note” that he had completed twenty-nine pages of it in 1902, then placed it on a shelf, where it remained untouched for forty years. In 1942, having some time on his hands during the proof-reading of the letterpress portion of “The Highland Bagpipe Instructor,” he completed the work, adding forty-six more tunes.
The two Grant Collections can be easily divided into three genres: (1) transcriptions of ancient piobaireachd, (2) Grant’s original piobaireachd compositions, and (3) books about bagpiping. The first and second divisions can be further divided into two sub-groups: (a) bound volumes of tunes and the individual folios.
Transcriptions of Ancient Piobaireachd
To say that John Grant was an ardent lover of the Great Highland Bagpipe would be a gross understatement. He did have other pastimes: he was a gifted woodworker, for example, but the hours he must have spent that involved the bagpipes in one way or another must have been staggering. He has been relegated to the sidelines of bagpiping history mostly because what we have know about him has created a negative impression of him. His collections of ancient piobaireachd, however, may prove to be valuable to piobaireachd historians, and perhaps they may throw a kinder light on a man who wanted nothing more than to be of service to the bagpiping community. At a time when the winds of change were breathing down the necks of bagpipers to evolve or perish, he was a crusader for the old way of playing, especially concerning piobaireachd, as his many letters to “The Oban Times” attest. Since he was taught by a teacher who was a descendant of the MacCrimmon School and since he was gifted in the graphic arts, he believed that there was no better way to insure that the old music would be passed on to later generations than by copying it out.
In his 1947 “Inventory” he explains:
There are very few of the two hundred and seventy-five Ancient Piobaireachd which have been handed down to us that I have not copied out, and those which I have not copied have been minutely scanned and played upon the chanter and the pipes over and over again, so that I might never forget them while I lived. A rough estimate of the number of twelve stave pages of Highland Bagpipe Music, comprising Piobaireachd, Marches, Strathspeys and Reels, which I have copied runs into thousands, now in my possession or given away to my friends and patrons.
And in the Preface of his 1946 “A Choice Collection of Piobaireachd or Highland Bagpipe Music,” he wrote:
My whole life has been pregnant with one charm—the art of manuscript bagpipe music writing. This charmful gift has haunted me like a passion for fifty years of my lifetime, and I have spent endless hours with an untiring patience copying volume after volume covering thousands of pages, and in order to adorn the leaves of the books every page has been provided with an artistic outline.
What were the sources of these copies? Grant wrote in the same Preface:
I have been very fortunate in my life-time by coming into contact with many of the old masters of piping, and those pipers who took a deep interest in collecting, firsthand, from master performers of Ceol Mor, the original settings of many unpublished compositions (italics mine), which would have been consigned to oblivion had it not been for their love of this ancient art: an art which would have been lost to us, their descendents, and the work of their original creators would have perished forever.
In the “Concluding Note” to his 1942 “Royal and Ancient Piobaireachd” collection he wrote:
In this volume alone there are many forms of ancient piobaireachd. I have collected them from a very old manuscript lent to me by a kind friend who has now passed on to the “great beyond,” who in turn noted them down from the great masters of the past who knew this music more fully in their performance than in their written signs.
Grant doesn’t name the “kind friend” who had already passed away, but he suggests that all of the tunes in “Royal and Ancient Piobaireachd” came from a single old manuscript. And in the previous quote he says he had come into contact with the “old masters of piping . . .and those pipers who took a deep interest in collecting, firsthand, from master performers of Ceol Mor, the original settings of many unpublished compositions.” What were the manuscripts that Grant copied from to make his collections? Who gave them to him? His own letters and writings provide at least a partial answer to the last question: from Ronald Mackenzie, John MacDougall Gillies, and Colin MacRae.
Grant idolized Mackenzie. That Mackenzie was a direct descendant of the MacCrimmon school through his uncle, John Ban Mackenzie, was something Grant wore proudly on his shirt sleeve throughout his life. On more than one occasion Grant evoked his “pedigree” in writing to prove that his knowledge of piobaireachd had been handed down to him through the pure line of the MacCrimmons. As explained earlier, MacKenzie put Grant to work from his first week of lessons learning to copy bagpipe music. It stands to reason, then, that MacKenzie was the exclusive source of manuscripts and books for the budding student from 1896 until Grant left his instructor for Edinburgh in late 1902, early 1903. Most, if not all of the Highland Society Collection tunes were probably supplied by MacKenzie, but that book is lost. All of the Armadale Collection may have come from Mackenzie sources. The opening tune in that collection, “The Grant’s Gathering,” is note-for-note from Angus Mackay’s book. Mackenzie passed on his appreciation for Mackay to Grant, who hailed him as the savior of piobaireachd in written form. Grant dedicated his 1946 “A Choice Collection of Piobaireachd” to Mackay.
Grant was also a friend of John MacDougall Gilles. The leading exponent of his generation of the Cameron school, Gilles must have seen some promise in Grant to take him under his wing the way he did, for not only did he make his manuscripts available to Grant, he also filled in for Grant on the pipes from time to time. When Grant would compose a piobaireachd for some noble, it was common for the dedicatee to request a private performance of the tune. Since Grant was tied down with a full time job it was impossible for him to get away during the day, so he would send Gilles in his place.
It is also possible Grant used a manuscript in the possession of Colin MacRae as a source. In a 21st October 1910 letter MacRae sent Grant thanking him for the piobaireachd Grant wrote for him as a wedding gift, MacRae wrote:
I shall certainly bet that you have my old manuscript. Ross had it and wrote most of his book from it and returned only a tattered remains of the original: he had it about 1870 or thereby.
For how long before this Grant came to obtain this manuscript is impossible to know. Either MacRae had just sent it to Grant, and was wondering if “by now” it had arrived–perhaps by post–or MacRae had given it to Grant a while back and was politely wondering when he could get it back from the young transcriber. It will certainly be worth comparing the MaCra-Chisolm manuscripts with Grant’s transcriptions to see if there is any connection between them.
All of Grant’s collections of ancient piobaireachd are listed in Table 1, “Piobaireachd Copied By John Grant.”
In column 1 is a composite list of all the tunes Grant listed in the indices of his collections. Remember that the index for the “Highland Society of London Collection” is incomplete, so this list of ninety-nine tunes must be only a partial list of all the tunes Grant had copied.
Column 2, as we have seen, lists the tunes we know existed in this “Highland Society of London Collection”.
Column 3 lists the works in “An Illuminated Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd” gifted to Colin MacRae.
Column 4 lists the nine tunes in “The Family Piper.” Most likely these were some of Grant’s favorite tunes when he was piper to Captain Home-Drummond-Moray.
Column 5 lists the piobaireachds in the anthology to “The Highland Bagpipe Instructor.” As we shall later see, the letterpress portion of this multi-volume set is at Harvard, but, as mentioned earlier, the musical anthology is in the possession of the family.
Column 6 lists the 49 ancient tunes in “Royal and Ancient Piobaireachd.”
Grant also included seven of his own tunes in the book, the six from the first edition of “The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” plus his next composition, “The Salute to Sir George Alexander Cooper.” Columns 7 and 8 are the two collections at Harvard. They are fMS Mus 120, “A Choice Collection of Piobaireachd or Highland Bagpipe Music” with twenty tunes, completed in 1946, and Mus 120. 3, “The Music of the MacCrimmons” with nineteen tunes, completed in 1947. Only “MacCrimmon Will Never Return” is common to both volumes. He also prepared “Macintosh’s Lament,” “MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart,” and “MacCrimmon Will Never Return” individually in folios 34-37. “Macintosh’s Lament,” which, by the way, was Grant’s favorite piobaireachd, does not appear in either of the two large volumes.
What leaps out at us in perusing the entire list is the infrequency of duplication. One tune appears in four collections, eleven tunes appear in three collections, thirty tunes appear in two, but fifty-one tunes appear in only one collection. In addition, every collection has at least one tune unique to it.
Although I have a lot of research yet to complete dealing with the sources of Grant’s transcriptions, I have managed to discover a few interesting things so far. As I previously mentioned, some tunes are identical to tunes in Mackay’s book, but I have also discovered some that are exact copies of those in Donald Macphee’s book and in MacDougall- Gilles’ manuscript. I have not found any tunes yet that are melodically different from other manuscripts or printed sources, but rhythmically there are some interesting discrepencies. Grant was a firm believer that piobaireachd should be readable by anyone who understands staff notation, and that a bagpipe student should be able to play it with little or no outside instruction. In fact, that is the premise of his tutor, “The Highland Bagpipe Instructor.” Some of his copies seem to be products of either his or someone else’s attempt to write the rhythms more exactly as they were to be played. If that is an accurate assumption, then such tunes could offer us valuable insight into what he or an authority he trusted considered the proper interpretation of them.
I have provided examples of Grant’s versions of three tunes along side other versions he might have been aware of for comparison. In measure 1 of “Too Long in This Condition” (see Example 5) we see Grant’s insistence on the theme notes being pushed out while the toarluaths separating them are played quickly. Glen has a similarly-written toarluath, but he writes the opening theme notes of each group as semi-quavers, not dotted semi-quavers like Grant does. Grant is also quite specific on the rhythms of his cadences. MacPhee’s are the most similar to Grant’s, except Grant places a fermata over the final note in each instance. The most striking difference between Grant’s version and all the others, however, is in measures 3 and 4. No other version is written this way, with the cut-dots on the final notes of each four-note grouping. The passage sounds quite different when played this way, and, in fact, it is the closest to the way I was taught to play it.
A comparison of Grant’s “The Old Sword’s Lament” (see Example 6) with three other versions suggests that Mackay’s book provided the general rhythmic outline, but Gilles’ provided the pointing. Notice also Grant’s fussy way of writing the “hiharin” with equal values for both the “E” and the final “A.” It must have been important to him to be that exacting, for he could have just as easily written this movement like Gilles did.
Lastly, let us see some of “The Duke of Athole’s Salute” (see Example 7). I chose this particularly because there do not seem to be many original sources for it. It exists in William Ross’s 1885 book and Thomason’s Ceol Mor, but the notes in Book 14 of the Piobaireachd Society Collection say that the Ceol Mor version is based on Ross’s Book. The similar “Inchburny or Isheberry Bridge” in Mackay’s book has no bearing on Grant’s tune.
Again, the differences are purely rhythmic. In the Urlar, Grant reverses the opening and closing rhythms of the first measure, replacing Ross’s demi-semi quaver / dotted semi-quaver figure with a semi-quaver / quaver, and vice versa. He does the same thing in measure 3. Again, what we see here is Grant’s attempt at exactness as far as the playing of the tune is concerned. The same demand for rhythmic accuracy pervades all of his manuscripts, no less so in the variations. For example, in this same tune Ross writes the tripling variation with an incorrect number of beats in measure 2. Grant rectifies the problem, as he often does, by altering the rhythms to fit the time signature.
Grant’s Own Compositions
Table 2 is a chronological listing of all of Grant’s own compositions, both Ceol Mor and Ceol Beag. He made an Inventory of his own works in 1947 in which he not only listed all of them by name, but also provided composition dates and the reason for writing each tune. The Harvard Collection accounts for all of them but one, which I will get to later on. As I mentioned earlier, he composed eighty-nine tunes in all: sixty-four piobaireachd and the rest marches, strathspeys, and reels. Grant’s published “Royal Collection of Piobaireachd” in two editions contained twenty-one tunes (See column 3). The four bound volumes with the same name that comprise Mus 120.4 in the Harvard Collection contain all of those plus twenty-nine more (See Column 4). Of these fifty piobaireachds, ten also exist in presentation folio format. The lower case “f” followed by a number in parentheses after the tune name is the Harvard number for these folios. These are all housed in three boxes under listing Mus. 120.6 (See column 5). Grant composed fourteen other piobaireachds after the completion of the fourth volume of “The Royal Collection,” and these are all accounted for in presentation folios. In 1946 Grant took nineteen of his favorite tunes from both his Ceol mor and Ceol beag output and bound them as “The Royal Collection of Highland Bagpipe music.” (See Table 2, column 6.) He made a copy for King George VI with the hope that it would find a home at Balmoral Castle. On 5 June of that year Alan Larcelles, the King’s private secretary, wrote Grant:
The King is pleased to accept the beautifully bound volume of Pipe Music, which you have sent with your letter of June 3rd, and desires me to thank you sincerely for your kindness in offering him the book.
Both His Majesty and the Queen were greatly pleased by the charming sketches with which you have illustrated the book.
Grant’s own copy of the book is Ms MUS 120.5 of the Harvard Collection.
From a purely historical viewpoint, a study of Grant’s compositions–who he wrote them for–why he singled out those individuals–what their responses were–makes for fascinating study. I am currently working on a book that will delve into these topics in more detail, but allow me to point out a few items that are especially interesting. Ten piobaireachds (9, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 36, 41 and 62) are composed for one of the MacRae’s or a MacRae relative. It is only recently that I discovered how large a role Colin and Margaret MacRae played in John Grant’s success as a bagpipe composer. Several of these tunes were actually commissioned by Colin or his brother, John MacRae-Gilstrap of Ballimore; and Margaret MacRae thought well enough of Grant to recommend him in 1918 as Instructor for the Army School of Piping under the auspices of the Piobaireachd Society.
It is also noteworthy that Grant was still composing during the second World War. Until now, he has been thought of only in terms of the first World War or shortly after, as with the “Redundant A Controversy.” However, at the end of the second European conflict Grant compiled two small sets of bagpipe tunes: “The Martial Music of the Fall of Germany” and “The Martial Music of the Battle of Britain 1939-1945,” in addition to several individually bound tunes. “The Martial Music of the Battle of Britain 1939-1945″ contains the 2/4 march “Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery’s March to Berlin” and two 6/8 tunes: “The D-Day March,” and “The British Army’s Victory March Through Berlin.” “The Martial Music of the Fall of Germany” has four piobaireachds: “The Battle of Britain 1939-1945,” “Gathering for War 1939-1945,” Lament for the Heroes Who Fell in the Battle of Britain,” and “Salute to Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth,” plus a “Victory March, Strathspey and Reel.” Incidentally, all of Grant’s marches are four-parted, but his three strathspey-reel sets are two parted. The marches are either in 2/4 or 6/8. Among the individually-bound tunes from the 1940’s, doubtlessly the most unique is his piobaireachd for Franklin D. Roosevelt, which I alluded to earlier. Grant mailed off the tune to the White House shortly after 8 May 1945, the day he completed both it and also a piobaireachd for Winston Churchill. Unfortunately, Grant was either oblivious to the fact or had forgotten that Roosevelt had died on 12 April of that year, and he composed a Salute for him rather than a Lament. Eleanor Roosevelt was grateful, nonetheless, and sent him a letter that June from Val Kill Cottage thanking him for the “brochure” with its “lovely tune.”
Not to forget his own war-time leader, Grant composed a salute for Winston Churchill. He had, actually, composed tunes for two earlier prime ministers: James Ramsey MacDonald and Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery.
I would also like to call your attention to the multitude of tunes, both ceol mor and ceol beag, Grant wrote for the British sovereigns and their families. Beginning with his first tune, “His Most Excellent Majesty King Edward VII Salute,” Grant composed 12 Piobaireachds (1, 3, 15, 17, 24, 25, 51, 52, 54, 59, 63, and 64) and 12 pieces of light music (1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19) for the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, re-named Windsor in 1917. I published an article entitled “The Windsor Marches” in the summer 2011 issue of “The Voice,” which documents the close ties Grant had with the royal family. His 1923 wedding march for Albert, the Duke of York (the future George VI), was performed at Glamis by the Glamis pipers as the bride and groom arrived for their honeymoon. In 1931 Grant was invited by Henry Forsyth, the king’s piper, to Balmoral for several days. During this visit he had the pleasure of hearing Forsyth’s after-dinner piping concert with Princess Elizabeth in attendance. Engaging the five-year-old in conversation following the concert, he inquired of her how she liked the various tunes. He was so taken by “her keen interest in the various tunes” that he decided to write her some himself. The result was no. 4, Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth’s MSR. (The march is provided in Example 8). Grant’s private correspondence is replete with letters of thanks from members of the royal family from Edward VII to Queen Elizabeth II. His “Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth’s Wedding March,” composed on November 20th 1947 (no. 18), not only gained him a note of thanks from the bride-to-be, but also garnered him congratulatory press and an invitation to a wedding shower at St. James’ Palace. No less than five newspapers reported that Princess Elizabeth “has been pleased to accept the tune which was presented in the form of a deluxe manuscript bound in royal blue leather.” An exact duplicate is folio #26 in the Harvard Collection.
The story surrounding the last of Grant’s output begs for a re-telling. In June 1953 he had composed his last piobaireachd, a coronation salute for the new Queen. One year later, in order to likewise honor her consort, he composed “His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh’s March.” As usual, he sent a copy to the dedicatee along with a letter of presentation. On 21 June, Prince Philip’s secretary, Lieut.-General Sir Frederick A.M. Browning, K.C.V.O., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O sent the following reply:
Dear [Mr.] Grant,
I have been passed your letter of 10th June addressed to the Private Secretary to The Queen, with which you enclosed a manuscript of a march you have dedicated to The Duke of Edinburgh.
His Royal Highness greatly appreciated your kind thought in sending him this, and was very interested to see it. However, it is not the custom for Members of the Royal Family to accept such music in manuscript form, and I return it herewith. His Royal Highness is very sorry to send you such a disappointing reply, but did ask me to tell you that he thought the dedication was most beautifully compiled.
Grant was furious. He tore the letter, wadded it up, and presumably threw it away. Then, having second thoughts, he retrieved the letter, smoothed it out, and taped the four fragments back together. Uncertain if protocol would allow him to keep the returned brochure, he wrote back to Browning, asking him if Grant would be allowed to keep the march. Browning responded for the Duke of Edinburgh in the affirmative, and Grant placed the presentation folio among his other bound manuscripts–the last of his more than eighty compositions for the Great Highland Bagpipe.
Before leaving Grant’s own compositions, allow me a quick word about the only tune of his not to make it into the Harvard Collection: John MacRae’s March. In late August 1942 word came to Colin and Margaret MacRae that their only child, Major John MacRae, D.S.O., Scots Guards, had been killed in Egypt. On 15 August Colin wrote to John Grant the following:
Dear Pipe Major
Lady Margaret and I are deeply grateful to you for your most kind letter to us in our sore distress-you are a very old friend and we greatly value the kind of sympathy of our dear old friends in our hour of trial. Our son’s death in action has been a bitter blow to us.–We were so proud of him and what he had done for his King and country and were in great hopes he might get through, but you cannot go “over the top,” leading charges indefinitely. In his last battle, of his 5 officers only one was not hit and he was not in the attack on the position. He went out in advance during the night–2 were killed and 2 wounded:–It was wrong I think keeping the Scots Guards in the line so long, and using them as Shock Troops: the Whole Battalion amounted to just above one company–I hear they are to be sent to Palestine now:–that is, what is left of them– My son was recommended for the Military Cross last year, for a very gallant act–but the authorities would not give it to him–he won it right enough although those at HQ in Cairo I fancy would not give it to him. The Brigadier thought him well worthy of it: and told him he was recommending him. It was I think Brig. “Jack” Campbell VC. The Colonel of the Regiment sent me a copy of the recommendation. He was exceedingly well-liked by the men. They called him “Fighting Mac,” and the New Zealanders called him “the Fighting MacRae.” I understand he was to have got command of the battalion very shortly, had he lived. Pipe Major Ross is coming to play at the Requiem for him on Monday, 17th August, and the Commanders are furnishing the Guard of Honour and bugler in the church at Rothesay. It would give Lady Margaret and me the very greatest happiness if you would compose a tune in his honour. Would you compose a March as it would be more likely to be regularly played than a Piobaireachd.
Other letters transpired between them confirming the nature of the tune Grant was to compose, and he completed it on 24 November. For some unknown reason, Grant did not retain a copy of it in his collections, and therefore it is the only one of Grant’s works for which no music survives in the Harvard Collection. In September 2011 I made contact with one of Grant’s great-grand-daughters who lives in Zurich, Switzerland. In my first e-mail to her I mentioned the missing march. She wrote me back almost immediately: After reading your email I went through everything I have in more detail, and . . . I have a hand written copy of John MacRae’s March!! I have provided the march for you in Example 9.
Besides Piobaireachd: Its Origin and Construction, and The Pipes of War, John Grant wrote two other bagpipe-related prose works: “The Great Highland Bagpipe and Its Music,” completed in 1930, and “The Highland Bagpipe Instructor.” There are Mus 120.3 and Mus. 120.2 respectively, in the Harvard Collection. A list of their contents is provided in Tables 3 and 4.
Both books are instructive in nature: “The Great Highland Bagpipe and its Music” woven from the same cloth, perhaps, as Cannon’s book of almost the same title, is devoted to topics both historical and practical. If Grant had published “The Highland Bagpipe Instructor,” it would have been the most complete tutor then in print, if not necessarily the most accurate. It would surely have caused some fur to fly in the bagpiping community over Grant’s insistence on teaching the “Redundant A,” that the bagpipe scale is based on A Major, and that C is made with the little finger raised. Other than those debatable issues, however, the book is quite sound and instructive, and would have been a valuable “How-To” book useful for the instruction of beginning players. The Anthology to the book, still in the Grant family’s possession, contains seven piobaireachds, including the only transcription of “The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute” among Grant’s papers, plus 59 other pieces of light music. (See Table 1, column 5). In the near future I intend to transcribe both of these books, and, if nothing else, place them on the John Grant website for study by those so interested.
In conclusion, I would like to quote from Grant himself. At the end of his 1947 Inventory he summed up his work with these words:
As a lover of The Great Highland Bagpipe, and more especially its Classical Music Piobaireachd, I rejoice, in that, I have been spared to see a life’s task finished. ‘Something accomplished, something done,’ so that those who follow me may have that which I was denied, i.e., ‘Light upon a subject which has hitherto been, more or less, shrouded in mystery.’ I have most certainly ploughed the lonely furrow, but, nevertheless, my labours have been rewarded ten-fold, when I behold the manuscript volumes which ‘The Divine Creator’ has given me the skillful hands to prepare, and the inspiration to use another gift of musical creative talent, however imperfect this work may be. In conclusion, may I ask the gentle reader to pause, but for one single moment, and ask himself ‘one question.’ What have I done in this direction?
With Grant’s works now available to us at the Houghton Library and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, perhaps we can turn the question around. What did HE do in that direction? Do his piobaireachd transcriptions offer further enlightenment about piobaireachd transmission in the early 1900’s? Do his own compositions, which have already been shown to have historical worth, also have some musical value as well? Regardless of the final verdict, John Grant is finally getting to speak in his own defense through the medium of his manuscripts. If nothing more, I am sure he will get a fair hearing.
John Grant by Professor Alan Armstrong. Questions and discussion.
I actually have a recording of the ground of one of his tunes if you would like to hear it. This is Louise Elizabeth Farquharson who was one a a very renowned Gaelophile often doing things for the troops and he wrote her a Salute.
Plays recording of urlar of Salute to Louise Elizabeth Farquharson.
Dugald MacNeill I feel a bit ashamed because I half promised to record one of John Grant’s tunes for Alan, but I haven’t done that. So I’ve looked through a few of them and picked out three that it might be worth just playing the beginning of.
The first one is Captain John Campbell of Kilberry, Archie Campbell’s father. This is the ground.
The next one is Piobaireachd Society Salute. Plays ground on practice chanter.
The next one is Captain William Home Drummond Murray of Abercairney’s Salute. John Grant was piper to Abercairney so inevitably he composed him a tune. Most of the Salutes are 6/8s, some of them are 3/4s. There is a whole pile of them. Alan went to Abercairney Castle yesterday. Plays ground.
Rory Sinclair. Your presentation was superb. I was on the edge of my chair. Sometimes we think we know something, and John Grant was a footnote, a trash bin, we thought he had done something stupid or terrible and he got fired.
I’ve just never been so happy to be so wrong. We have underestimated this man.
Malcolm White I was rather taken by The Piobaireachd Society Salute. May I suggest that is played by a piper each year at our formal dinner?
Jack Taylor That will be considered and you never know what is to come in the Set Tunes.
??? Who was Frank Allan of Sutton Coldfield?
AA Don’t know. Probably a collector who purchased it and sold it. How Harvard found it I have no idea. I have asked them and they don’t know themselves.
John Shone Too Long in this Condition. Where would he have got that tune from?
AA I don’t know yet.
John Shone Because that setting is exactly the way I play it, exactly the way I was taught it.
AA Me too. But I have yet to find a resource that he got it from. It makes me think that perhaps Ronald MacKenzie said do it this way and he pencilled it in.
John Shone When you transposed the music into this form I notice that you use the modern shorthand. Did he write it like that?
AA No he wrote it just like Angus MacKay would have written it.
JT It does raise the question of whether he was reflecting current playing styles when he was writing out for example Too Long in this Condition.
JT I was going to ask you Alan, and you said another paper maybe for another day, but can you comment a little bit more about the circumstances that led to him being sacked.
AA Certainly. When I located the family I was astounded. One of the granddaughters has these two boxes. He made them himself, he was also a woodworker. They were basically file cabinets. They had all those little tabs. He was also an accountant so he was very picky about every little thing. So he has all these little tabs of all the letters you see from people over the years. I would say that a good half of what he has is to do with his time as an instructor to the School of Piping. Most of them are military forms that he had to fill out for every little thing. If he wanted a sporran for one of his boys, if he wanted a new reed, everything, he had to fill out one of these forms. He had already been teaching. He taught for the War Memorial School of Piping which I imagine was put together during the war to teach High School students, so he taught well over 80 young boys and young girls to play the pipes who were of High School age. He even formed a little Pipe Band and that is why he is called Pipe Major, from this time when he formed the High School Pipe Band. He just loved working with children.
So, because she already knew who he was, and because she already knew he was teaching. Margaret Macrae was the one who recommended him to the School of Piping. We have the contract that she wrote out in her own hand for him to sign to be instructor – how he is going to be paid, the size of the class, that sort of thing.
So he was teaching for a good part of a year, a year and a half, and finally all the men that had gone to war came back, and so Colin Macrae came back, and all those in the Piobairachd Society came back. So how did John Grant get to be instructor, he is not even one of our listed instructors? Well she wouldn’t admit it. I guess she was afraid that Colin was going to give her a bashing or something, I don’t know. But she wouldn’t admit to anybody that she was the one who recommended him, and I guess John Grant wasn’t wanting to get her in trouble by spilling the beans so he didn’t say anything either.
So anyway he was by that time teaching a couple of students in the army who were already fairly good pipers. Because he was more gifted for teaching beginners, these two studesnt he had just didn’t like him. He just was not advanced enough for them, so they complained to the powers that be at their depot and their recommendation to their superior that he may not teach.
So the Piobaireachd Society met and decided to let him go. So it was only really because of two people, the two students who had complained. there were other soldiers who had been at the same classes and none of them complained at all.
So they let him go. He was given £25. They felt bad to let him go but they had to and they paid him for it. He was so, not despondent, but he was very sorrowful over this. He actually begged, wrote a letter saying please, if nothing else, just let me teach beginners. They still wouldn’t let him do it.
Although the very curious thing about it is that among his papers there is a list of 5 or 6 students from the following year. They are saying to him “Dear Mr Grant, Here is your class for September” and they list all the students. By that time he was long gone, so either the Army School itself didn’t get the word that he was no longer the instructor, or else he had to come back and do a little more.
JT Thank you very much. Are there any other questions or comments?
Bruce Hitchins The reason he probably was been appointed in the first place was that the Piobaireachd Society had decided that Inverness was too far away, and the army class as it was called originally was only three months. And for the graduation members of the Piobaireachd Society had to travel to Inverness. Travelling up every three months became a burden. So it was decided to shift the class from the Cameron barracks down to Edinburgh. And also there was the war and also John MacDonald would not accept the transfer from Inverness down to Edinburgh. So I think, because of that they had to find an instructor and that is how he was appointed in the first place.
AA Yes that’s right. And in his letters he talks about how near his students were to Edinburgh and whether they could get back and forth during the day. Several of the students who were called up were being sent to Ireland. He wrote letters pleading “let them stay in Edinburgh” and they did.
JT If there are no other comments I would conclude this session by saying that John Grant was clearly not somebody who spent his life sitting around doing nothing. And Alan Armstrong I think you could say is the same. You might have an image of a professor of music who would sit around and think about tunes and music, but Alan is far from that. He has presented today a meticulously researched paper. He has presented it beautifully. He has a website, there is a book coming out, there must be a T shirt I’m sure, but please thank Alan for coming and giving such a fine presentation.