On March 13th, 1940, Glengarry’s Johnny Ranald MacDonald died from viral pneumonia at the age of 63. They say artists are born and not made; from all accounts, “Johnny Ranald” was one such man. A stationary engineer by trade, he is best remembered as an extraordinary violinist.
Johnny Ranald was born at 35/6th of Lancaster in 1876. He was the son of Donald John and Ellen McDonald. He and his sister, Flora Sarah lived on the family property which had been Crown granted to their family in 1836. Flora Sarah retained the family property until her death in 1969. The memories of Johnny Ranald run deeply among Glengarrians. He is still remembered for his musical repertoire and his ability to apply classical techniques to his Scottish fiddling. His long bow and beautiful tone were admired and emulated by many of his contemporaries. An accomplished pianist, Miss Gannon, who taught at the local school, SS#9 Lancaster, is credited with assisting him to read music and in seeking a broad repertoire. He knew and loved the traditional music of Iain Lom, the Keppoch bard, Neil Gow and Scot Skinner whose “Compliments to Doctor Macdonald” was his favourite, along with several Skinner variations of “East Neuke of Fife.” “Bonnie Lass O’ Bon-Accord” and “Davie Taylor.” He also included among his interests classical composers.
One highlight of Johnny Ranald’s career was a program performed on Montreal radio station CFCF in the early 1930s which he shared with Mary Frances McDonald (later MacPhee) from Munro’s Mills and Donald R. MacDonald of McCrimmon and later Detroit. Finally to illustrate the breadth of his interest in music is the story that Mary Ann MacDonell liked to recall: One spring afternoon Johnny Ranald arrived with his horse and buggy at 30/6th of Lancaster; he pulled out his violin from beneath the seat and played a tune that he had heard the previous night at the Fitz Kreisler concert in Montreal, a beautiful rendition of “Humoresque.” Such was the musical talent of Johnny Ranald Clavert.
“There were occasions (at some of the contests) when he seemed not to have entered the mood for playing. On the other hand, for more than a generation in private homes along the concessions and at Highland gatherings, he pleased the guests and aroused the enthusiasm of those who enjoyed that sort of music.”
Glengarry News, March 22, 1940
The author of this piece went on to conclude, “…he was the artist who excelled in the power of expressing the feeling of the music of the Gael.”