MASTER AND PUPIL Piper Allan Macdonald of Glenuig, and former pupil, Carol Anne Mackay, Strathy, pictured at the Michaelmas Ceilidh held in Strathnaver on September 29.


Am Bratach No. 253
November 2012

Patrick and Joseph appreciated

After Rob Donn, it could be argued that two Durness brothers, the sons of the bard’s minister, may lay fair claim to be the preeminent men of Dùthaich MhicAoidh (or Strathnaver, as Patrick describes it), at least in terms of their contributions to the arts, in history. Rob Donn’s influence on nineteenth century Gaeldom, for example, was rather less than that of some of his more fashionable contemporaries, but his poetry is now very highly valued by scholars such as Donald John MacLeod (see page 5).

Joseph MacDonald, perhaps the more gifted of Rev Murdo MacDonald’s two musical sons, was ill served by defective editions of his 1760 landmark work, The Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe, until a new (1994) edition, edited by Roderick D Cannon, changed that. It is now recognised as one of the most important works of its kind in existence. This fact was amply illustrated by the man described by the musicologist, John Purser, as the “single most important living source of Gaelic musical culture”.

Piper Allan MacDonald of Glenuig, whose first language was Gaelic, demonstrated his mastery of the repertoire in Strathnaver Hall at the “Michaelmas in Strathnaver” event held on the second last day of September when he thrilled an appreciative audience by his sparkling playing of music from the 1784 Patrick MacDonald Collection on the small pipes. The Patrick MacDonald Collection, it should be said, is distinct from Joseph’s Compleat Theory, but contains a large number of tunes collected by Joseph, who died in India in the employ of the East India Company at the age of twenty-four. His brother, who lived to be ninety-five, added airs he himself collected in Argyllshire, Perthshire and from the Western Isles. More than 1,100 copies of the collection were sold, more even than was sold of Niel Gow’s Collection of Strathspey Reels.

The dance tunes were very unusual in their structure, said Allan MacDonald, who went on to give credit to Joseph’s Compleat Theory for transforming his approach to the interpretation of piobaireachd.

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