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Piper MacCrimmon

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playing a Salute to his chieftain MacLeod of Dunvegan

Piper MacCrimmon
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The Piper is represented as one of the Luchd-taighe or clan chief's retinue. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the MacCrimmons in Skye were the acknowledged masters of ceol mor, maintained a 'college' of instruction, (oil-thigh) and provided the service of piping to the MacLeods of Dunvegan through six successive generations. Traditionally, the MacCrimmons did more than any other family of piper to compose and transmit piobaireachd.

Piobaireachd, a Gaelic term meaning literally 'piping', is used for a form of classical music for the Great Highland Bagpipe. The tunes in extended form developed the air, known in Gaelic as ├╣rlar ('ground'), in a series of variations with increasingly elaborate but formulaic gracenoting. This style of composition probably preserves musical conventions of earlier centuries and required the player to be strictly trained. It is essentially the instrumental 'praise' music of Scottish Gaelic society, composed to commemorate great events, and the lives, achievements and deaths of clan chieftains and leaders of society.

The pipers themselves were often of high status and occupied an official position in the clan hierarchy. Many of the tunes belong to the late medieval period in the Highlands and were passed on by word of mouth and taught verbally before written notation was introduced. Tradition suggested that the leading exponents of piobaireachd such as the MacCrimmons and MacArthurs in Skye sang and recited the tunes in a syllabic language or canntaireachd. The collecting and study of piobaireachd began in the closing years of the 18th century on the instigation of the Highland Society of London to preserve music and an ancient tradition which was perceived as then dying out. The earliest surviving piobaireachd in manuscript was written down about 1760 and the printed collections began with Donald MacDonald's in about 1820 and Angus Mackay's in 1838. The Piobaireachd Society was founded in 1902 and it flourishes today. The Society is dedicated to the preservation and transmission of the classical music of the Great Highland bagpipe and has published most of the corpus of known piobaireachd music.

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