John MacDonald, Master Piper, at Lochboisdale

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South Uist, 1930s

Postcard of John MacDonald, Master Piper, at Lochboisdale.
© Margaret Fay Shaw

John MacDonald, Master Piper, at Lochboisdale

Pipe Major John MacDonald (1865-1953) came of a noted piping family and came to be regarded as one of the greatest players of piobaireachd of his age, being taught by, among others, Malcolm Macpherson of Badenoch. He won the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1890 and then won all the major piping prizes for a period of about twenty years. He was appointed as a Pipe Major in the Cameron Highlanders in 1890 and MBE in 1935. After he settled in Inverness, he came to be known in the piping world as 'John MacDonald, Inverness'. He was regarded as a great teacher and is here photographed on one of an annual series of teaching tours in the Uists between the Wars.

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 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. Teaching tours undertaken by Pipe Major John Macdonald, Inverness, were organised by the Piobaireachd Society.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-000-579-612-C
Image Rights Holder: Margaret Fay Shaw
Project: 0869: The Bagpipe Collection
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  Bagpipe Archive 4.18
Date: 1930s (date of manufacture)
Who: Master Piper John MacDonald (depicted)
Where: Scotland, South Uist, Lochboisdale (depicted)
Description: John MacDonald, Master Piper, at Lochboisdale.
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