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Major General Charles Thomason (1833-1911)

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Soldier and Piping scholar

Major General Charles Thomason (1833-1911)
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Major General Charles Thomason (1833-1911) joined the Royal Engineers in 1852 and served in India. He was a keen amateur piper, inheriting the interest from his maternal grandfather, James Grant of Elchies, and he began the serious study of piobaireachd while in the army. He corresponded from India with leading pipers at home such as Donald Mackay, the nephew of Angus Mackay, and built up a music collection which was then destroyed in Delhi during the Indian Mutiny. He retired from the army in 1888 and began, in his own words, his 'ceol mor campaign' to collect piobaireachd music. He collected piobaireachd from every source he could to produce a definitive collection.

He spent 30 years collecting Highland bagpipe music and published his collection on piobaireachd consisting of 288 tunes in 1900. He and others believed that the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe was about to die out. He inspired the founding of the Piobaireachd Society in 1902, dedicated to the preservation and transmission of the classical music of the Great Highland bagpipe, and became its first President.

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.

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