Piobaireachd Club – April 7, 2006

Greetings, another great night of piobaireachd. Regards, the other Ron

What a splendid evening for driving to Bob and Mary McIlwaine’s home to hear the ‘great music’. And great it was, to the delight of the many who turned out to enjoy the hospitality, socialization, and, most of all, piping in a relaxed setting.
Jack Lee led of with the monumental Lament for the Harp Tree, at 25 minutes, the longest tune in the piobaireachd repertoire. What an experience! The history of this tune is murky. Trying to unravel the story behind the tune is like trying to unravel a muddle in the middle of a dark room. However, it is not for want of trying by many experts in the field of cèol mor historical research.
There are at least three threads to the tale that I am aware of: One has it that the ‘tree’ is the frame of a harp and what is lamented is the demise of the traditional Gaelic harpist-poet-story teller, bard to Chiefs and recorder of heroic deeds and profound sorrows.
Another thread has it that there is a link to the Isle of Skye, to a place where pipers in a time long past were wont to meet to play in friendly competition. This site was called “Rudha Craobh nan Teud” – the headland of the harp tree. The lament in this story is for the forsaken meeting place as well as for the diminished art.
A more likely tale is posited by Bridget Mackenzie in her book Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland. Blind Ruairidh Morrison, harpist-poet-bard, friend of Iain Dall MacKay and his father, composer of the song/poem Corrienessan, is the source here. The story has it that two piobaireachds flowed from Ruairidh’s song – The Lament for the Harp Tree and Corrienessan’s Salute. The Salute was restored to what it may have been originally by the creative efforts of Dr. Charles Bannatyne in the 1920’s.
It is not beyond belief that these three threads are each in their own way woven into the fabric of the tune for it was in this period, circa the mid 1600’s – early 1700’s, that profound changes that left the Gaelic culture in tatters began an inexorable march through the Gaeldom of the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland.
Alex Galloway followed with In Praise of Morag. Andrew Lee with The Unjust Incarceration and Colin Lee with Salute to Lady Margaret MacDonald in the MacArthur style.
To close the evening, we had with us a wonderfully fine young piper who is over from Scotland for a two week visit – Callum Beaumont. He played Corrienessan’s Salute, the second piobaireachd to flow from Blind Morrison’s poem.
The date of the next meeting will be revealed in the fullness of time.