John MacDonald (42nd Highlanders)

-Pipe Major, 42nd Highlanders, The Black Watch- (latter 19th century)

In Malcolm’s ‘A Piper in Peace and War’, John MacDonald is described as follows:

…he transferred [to the Black Watch] from the Inverness Militia in 1865. Piped his battalion – the 42nd – through the jungle warfare, which ended in Coomassie and Amoaful. At Tel-el-Kebir, El Teb, and Tamai he played the regimental charge. In 1885, while stationed at Cairo, he completed twenty-four years’ service and retired. For fifteen years thereafter was pipe-major of a Volunteer battalion, and a constant competitor at the Northern Meetings. The “March to Coomassie” is M’Donald’s outstanding composition.

The forementioned tune was written to commemorate the 1873 Ashanti war in Ghana, Africa. The main town of the Ashanti region is Coomassie, and after composing this tune, MacDonald was forever after known as “Coomassie John” – a common Scottish nicknaming practice that helps distinguish those with the same names.

Today, this tune is little known, and in fact, MacDonald’s best known composition is the timeless 6/8 march “The Invercharron Highland Gathering.” Founded in 1881, this games still exists today, though in MacDonald’s day it was second in importance only to the Northern Meeting. The tune honoured the then Chief of the gathering, Alexander Littlejohn of Invercharron, well known as a liberal landlord and public benefactor.

JM, May 2009
-with notes from ‘Piping Traditions of The North of Scotland’, 1998, by Bridget MacKenzie, ‘Music of the Scottish Regiments’, 1994, by David Murray, and< 'A Piper in Peace and War', 1927, by C. A. Malcolm.