Donald MacLean's Farewell to Oban

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DONALD MACLEAN'S FAREWELL TO OBAN. Scottish, Pipe March (2/4 time). A Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABBCCD. Composed by Archibald MacNeill, a blind piper from the island of Gigha in honor of "Wee Donald" MacLean (1912-1986), a nickname bestowed in order to distinguish him from piper Big Donald MacLean from The Isle of Lewis. Indeed, MacLean was small--about 5 foot 4 inches.

It has been said, unkindly and perhaps apocryphally, that Donald Maclean of Skye came to Oban to compete for a piping trophy, but when his performance failed to inspire the judges to award him a prize commensurate with his own perceptions of his skill, he left in a huff. However, accounts of the event differ, and Donald's nephew, George Hendry, writes to offer this except from the Piping Times (vol. 15, No. 8, May, 1963), written on the occasion of Donald's emigration with his wife and daughter to Hobart, Tasmania:

Most pipers all over the world have heard of Donald by reputation, and even the few who have not, will know his name as well as they know their own, for at Oban in 1938 when most of the ringside judges considered that Donald had easily won the masters' March, Strathspey and Reel, but he in fact was unplaced. Archie MacNeill said, "Well, this will by your farewell to Oban, Donald." Donald, like a good sportsman, was not particularly put out by the result, but he was delighted when Archie, as a requiem for lost hopes, composed for him "Donald MacLean's Farewell to Oban".

Despite the setback, Donald played again at Oban (one of the three top piping competitions in the world). He is said not to have liked the tune very much, perhaps tired of hearing it (for it became a very popular pipe tune) or tiring perhaps of being reminded of the disappointment of his earlier appearance.

Oban is a port town on the west coast of Scotland and the embarktion point for the sea trip to the western isles. It is also known as the name of a famous single malt scotch whisky and of the distillery located near the harbor. Musicologist and indexer Charles Gore has remarked that Scottish accordion player Phil Cunningham brings Shetland fiddler Aly Bain to Oban on occasion and they play - as an encore - "Donald McLean's Farewell to Oban" with a couple of "bum notes" thrown in at carefully chosen intervals, perhaps "to illustrate his distemper...or maybe it's an indication that he (MacLean) wasn't that good and the judges were right."

Source for notated version: the most famous modern exponent of the Highland West-coast fiddling style, Angus Grant (Fort William, Scotland) [Hardie].

Printed sources: Hardie (Caledonian Companion), 1992; p. 117.

Recorded sources: Green Linnet SIF-104, The Tannahill Weavers - "The Celts Rise Again" (1990). Green Linnet SIF-1067, The Tannahill Weavers - "Land of Light" (1986). Topic 12T5354, Mary MacDonald - "Cape Breton Scottish Fiddle," vol. 2 (1978).

See also listing at Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1].

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