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Re: More Questions than Answers
My math and my calculator give the distance in time between 1314 and 1446 as
132 years and not "over 200 years" although I guess your question still
Sometimes we have no idea about what it must have been like to have lived in
an aural/oral society.
I have an illustration from my own passion of piping and specifically my
great love is piobaireachd which is the older form of pipe music which we
pipers like to think goes back to the MacCrimmons of Skye (a family of 8
uninterrupted generations of pipers to MacLeod of Dunvegan) We, like Tim
and his case for the survival of Templar lore in Rosslyn Chapel, like to
think the music we play music is as it was composed in the 1500's. But as
these brilliant musicians composed without benefit of staff notation or tape
recorder -- are we living in cloud cuckoo land to think that it might be so?
The music was passsed on orally using "pipers jargon" or allowing the 9
notes of the chanter to be vowels and the embellishments that accompanied
each note was a consonant or dipthong. eg. if the note B was sounded as
'a' in bar, then a high G gracenote on B would be pronounced HA the 'H'
indicated the embellishment and so forth. We still use it today albeit not
as much as there is the great swathes of pipe music books to go through.
The tunes we have are about 600 in number and only began to be written down
in the middle of the 19th Century. We have a spread of more than 300 years
to deal with.
Recently a manuscript was discovered that had been written by Lady Elizabeth
Doyle and contained music she wrote on the staff while visiting for a
summer on the island of Raasay off Skye in 1810 . She was guest of MacLeod
of Raasay whose piper was John MacKay whose son Angus wrote out 200
piobaireachds 40 years later. Angus said he got all those tunes from his
father John by the oral method described above.
Lady Elizabeth was an accomplished pianist and she relished the task of
transferring what she heard on the pipe to the page. And there the tunes
lay, like a fly in amber until their discovery about 20 years ago. The
manuscript contains 5 tunes that we play today and, here is the big news,
they are what we play today with very little variation. We have been
passing on this music from teacher to student ever since and to know that at
least what I play is very close to what was played in 1810 is both a comfort
and a wonder to me.
Is it a big stretch to go back to 1600 or further? ... I think not.
Just because we have the wonderful inventions of paper and books and
libraries does not mean that societies without such things, or if conditions
were such that such things were dangerous, could not pass on important, (and
inded not so important) information orally. The Ancient Greeks had folks
who memorized the whole of Homer, The Epic of Gilgamesh as written on
cuneiform tablets has huge echoes in our Bible and our own pantheon and
Indeed, I coudl make a case that our dependence on writing has diminished or
rententive powers to practically nil. Just as our hunting abilities
decreased our olfactory powers to a pitiful shadow of what we must have had
a million years ago in the trees or whereever we were. Just because we
cannot conceive of such a thing today does not mean that our ancestors were
132 years ago it was 1869 --- The Civil War just over in the United States,
The Franco-Prussian War about to get under way in Europe, Canada is 2 years
old -- it is not a long time ago. My grandmother told me things of her
life as a little girl in 1880 - it is not that long for such things to be
This proves nothing only the possibility of something.
Rory in Toronto.
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