2020-09-13: MacGregor Contributions to Piping rak ================================================================ During the EUSPBA Graduate exam in December, I had to write a 1,000 word essay on a notable piping family. I chose to write about the MacGregor family, whose contributions spanned over a century and outlasted the two other concurrent piping schools. I just found the notes I wrote in my hotel room the night before the exam to prepare. These notes were originally intended for my eyes only, but the MacGregors were sufficiently interesting that I thought I would share. Credit and disclaimer: These notes are entirely sourced from the fascinating book "Old and New World Highland Bagpiping" by John G. Gibson (2002). Given that they were originally written for my eyes only as a study device, it is possible that I lifted some sentences verbatim form Gibson's book, so I apologize for any possible plagiarism. The academic contribution is entirely Gibson's, but I take full responsibility for any mistakes. These notes are unedited. Without further ado: The MacGregor Piping Family --------------------------- The contribution made by the MacGregors to piping has long been underestimated. Their influence spanned over a century from the traditional era to the early pre-literate era, and outlasted the two other concurrent piping schools. Their story begins with John MacGregor (1708-1789), piper to Prince Charles Edward Stuart during the 1745 campaign. John MacGregor was from Glen Lyon, Perthshire, and leading members of his clan were barred from using the MacGregor name. John was piper to the chief of his people. He was of a storytelling and music-making lineage, in particular, from a family known as the "Children of the Storyteller". Members of this family taught many pipers of the central highlands, including the Clunys and the MacPhersons. Though their name celebrates their storytelling abilities, the family is today famous for their unbroken generations of bagpipers. In 1745, John MacGregor joined the Stuart army and became personal assistant, piper, and likely piping tutor to Stuart himself. He was wounded at Culloden but never made prisoner. After the war, he became piper to Lt-Col John Campbell of Glenlyon. He competed in his 70s in a Highland Society competition. He had four or five sons and eight grandsons, all of which became top-class pipers. They carried piping from early eighteenth into the early nineteenth century. John Cambpell died in 1746 and John MacGregor became piper to John Campbell's son John. Though John Campbell the son saw battle and his brother was wounded at Quebec, John MacGregor never suffered. MacGregors dominated competitions until about the war of 1812. The judges were not trained in piping, and it is impossible to know whether the MacGregor pipers were actually better than their competitors. Some have cynically noted that they may have dominated simply because they lived closer to the Lowlands, so it was easier for them to attend and make much-needed money. However, there is no reason to believe that they abandoned the older Gaelic traditions and abruptly changed playing styles come the nineteenth century. The MacGregors and Children of the Storyteller ran a piping college at Ranoch. This one existed before and after the Rankin college in Mull closed, and lasted after the change of hands of the MacCrimmon college in Skye in the early 1770s. John MacGregor senior taught over ninety pipers, and his son John taught over fifty British military pipers. We do not know to what level of proficiency they taught nor how many at a time. We also do not know what they taught, just as we do not know what the MacCrimmons taught and what the Rankins taught. There were no bands at the time, and the military did not need standardized technique. We do, however, know that there was a common repertoire among Highland pipers. It is possible that the MacGregors simply built on it. At any rate, their college adapted to post-Culloden circumstances, while the other two did not. It is unclear why the MacGregors suddenly disappeared from the prize lists in 1813. It may be that musical literacy and the standardization left them feeling undervalued. Despite this, two MacGregors made a significant contribution to piping in the post-1812 era. A John MacGregor, of John MacGregor's family, took down thirty pibrochs from Angus MacArthur. This transcription from MacArthur's whistling is the second ever systematized transcription of bagpipe music to musical staff notation and was a remarkable achievement. The only other person to have done so to that point was John MacDonald, with his treatise. The other MacGregor was John Murray. John Murray was a general in the East India Company and was auditor-general of Bengal. (Recall that the MacGregor name had been banned for some time.) John MacDonald died in India, leaving his manuscript treatise there. John Murray found it while posted in India and brought it back. This manuscript is immensely valuable because it is the first staff-notation record of bagpipe music, and it gives us a record of the preliterate tradition of bagpipe playing. It is believed that the MacDonald manuscript may have influenced John MacGregor when he made the MacArthur manuscript. Indeed, copies of MacDonald's treatise were awarded as prizes at competitions around the time the MacArthur manuscript was made. John Murray became the first MacGregor chief in nearly three centuries. He spoke Gaelic and was bilingual, though the trend towards monolingualism was well underway in the second half of the eighteenth century. Unrelatedly to John MacGregor, there is evidence of MacGregor pipers in France. There were many competing 18th century claims to be accepted as chief. One of these was by James Roy, son of Rob Roy, who escaped from Edinburgh Castle and found refuge in France. In a letter he wrote a week before starving to death, he pleaded with one of his countrymen to borrow his set of pipes to play some melancholy tunes.