Pastoral or New Bagpipe from 1780 ---- Can it find a place in 2016 ? Dave Singleton considers the question

Quite some years ago, I think it was 2001, I joined the LBPS and asked for all the available back issues. Jock Agnew sent me the collection in the August of that year and I began to read avidly from Vol 1, and some weeks later I came across the Seaforth Pastoral bagpipe article in Vol 8 No1 of June 93. The instrument was fascinating; it was also beyond my imagination that such a pipe could have disappeared into oblivion for so long. Where could one find them? were there any makers? It soon became obvious that there were very few makers interested, in fact there as many in Europe as there were in America.
I soon found that interest was at best lukewarm, nevertheless, new Pastoral sets could be found if one searched long enough. Of the European makers, a couple had inclined towards the Cornemuse du Centre France, giving a quite French sound – not really fitting a “Gentleman’s Parlour musical gathering” as one would likely find in the 18th century. The others had inclined their products towards the Uilleann market, with the accepted timbre of that genre. The modern timbres are also a tad “harsh”, so they would probably be difficult to meld with other instruments of the aforementioned era. On listening in 2015 to an Uilleann piper playing with a harpist as a duo, it turned out the assumption was correct and it was not such a good match.Eventually, I actually ordered a set around late 2007. The maker actually sent me a copy he had made of the Mackie chanter and some reeds that he had made, saying “it would take some time, so I could borrow this chanter to play around with”.Thus started my fascinating journey towards reproducing the claims of that bygone era, easy jumps over the octaves, high e (E6, given A=440Hz and the bottom note of the chanter being C4), open or closed fingering and an almost chromatic coverage.So --- Where to start.I had already made the decision to get my hands “dirty” and start making reeds for the Mackie chanter while I was waiting for my set.
Hey ho, hey ho and off to work … and so it began, in my naiveté, I took the top off the biggest tin of worms I could ever hope to find and threw away the lid.
The simplest course of action seemed to be to try all the various types of reeds I had, from bassoon to oboe, cornemuse du centre to kitchen pipes, even smallpipe, Uilleann and a practice chanter, in the Mackie chanter. Some success in the first octave was achieved but that was not really the goal, although these tests seemed to concur with the general consensus of the instrument being in Eb.
Using some reeds made by Chris Bayley (UK) I actually managed to get some sort of a scale sounding. The pressure, however, was far from “friendly”.
One of the major problems seemed to be that to have the three D’s in tune (well, somewhere around Eb at the time) was nearly possible but the rest of the notes were more cacophony than harmony, some more than others – the others were playing in the next dimension. That the octaves were not matching each other was frustrating to say the least, and the pressure in the second octave certainly exercised my arms. Obviously more research was required, the internet provided (thankfully) lots of detailed information on Oboe staples, how the staple can affect the timbre, pitch and fingering.
An unlikely source of material for my first staples came from the drinking straws of a renowned beefburger chain! Simply cut on a taper and sealed with Teflon tape, they made ideal tapered round staples, and using a reed from a Kitchen pipe in D made by Paul Beekhuisen (NL).  Using this technique an uneasy nearly in tune bottom octave could be coaxed out of the Mackie chanter. The early staples were a useful tool but were too flexible and tended to change shape when a reed head was placed on them. Some solid materials, copper and brass, seemed a more logical approach to the next series of staples.
The idea that the staple might be completely unsuitable was consolidated by reading the work of a French orchestral player in 2010. He had written a few detailed articles on reeds and staples. Not only that, he had also a program to calculate the staple required for a given bore. This chap had all the articles to help me, even the fact that it was all in French was not really a problem.  Mr. BB. Ninob (not his real name, as he did not want to jeopardize his job with his orchestra) continues to update his findings and developments to this day.Using the program data for an oboe with a few modifications I began to fabricate staples and test the results against the program results. Any likely candidates were made into a staple, and a yoghurt pot reed head added.
Most of the staples made before 2010 were based on measurements found on the internet and some actual measurements by makers who shared snippets, those being all on the European side.

Figure 1 Staple collection

On the left in the photo, made from drinking straws, then the copper and brass, and on the right, “spun” staples and a plastic reed head blank
All the reeds made up to then had a reasonable first octave, a messy second octave and at the top of the second octave the pressure required was so excessive, it was a health hazard that stopped serious development. One tends to forget that fluid dynamics still operate with air! Bag and bellows makes for a simple pneumatic amplifier, and my bellows arm suffered as a consequence.
Over the next couple of years I made a large number of staples, from copper and brass sheet, both soldered and unsoldered (Fig 1). These started at 33mm in length, and with a variety of tapers to try to get some more notes in tune. After the close of 2011, a chance remark led to my being able to open communications with two gentlemen in the USA, namely Mike Sharp and Sean Folsom. It came to light that Sean had been interested in the Pastoral pipes (PP’s) since the mid ‘70’s, when he had seen an original of Geoghegan's "Tutor for the New or Pastoral Bagpipes".  But that’s a story that I’ll will let Sean tell in his own words.“Way back in 1975, I was a caretaker for a lot of stuff from my friend the Uilleann Piper Dennis Brooks, who went off to Ireland that Spring. In amongst his papers, was an original copy of Geoghegan's "Tutor for the New or Pastoral Bagpipes" that Dennis had got from a rare book dealer in London.  Dennis had pointed out this treasure to me, so I stored that inside the house, instead of an outside storage shed, where most of the other stuff went. We had already had a number of discussions about the origins of Irish Pipes, etc. and at that time, I never thought I would ever see or play such a Pipe, in my lifetime. So in 1990, when I met Sam Grier with his Pastoral Pipes (Sam reeded the chanter with a cane GHB practice chanter reed, as his uncle & grandfather had done & it had a very low volume) that's when I really got interested in this subject.

Figure 2 Sean's pastoral set

Most of the pipers that I knew, in any of the different scenes, Irish, Scots, NSPs, didn't care, especially about anything "Historical". This disinterest seemed to be really odd to me, but I'm the one who's odd, perhaps.
So counting on the fingers of my one hand, of people that I knew who were Interested: Sam Grier, Brian McCandless, Jon Swayne, & Fred Ord (RIP) at that time.
So in 1993, I got a PP chanter from Fred Ord, through Colin Ross & put it into a practice set. In 1997, I met Jon Swayne at North Hero & asked him for help with getting plans together so I could have a finished set, and Jon agreed to send me something, as he had said that he had measured up 15 different sets out of what he said was 70 surviving sets. Thus, in 1998 Jon sent me His drawings of one of the 2 Pastorals that came through Sotheby's.
I had a friend, Edwin Ellis, who did turning but was not a pipe maker per se, but was willing to do the boring & turning if I got the wood, so I did. Then there was the reamer question, so I had another friend, John Gallagher, make the 2 chanter reamers, because, as I found out, Fred Ord hadn't really followed the plans that Colin Ross had done, but made an "In the Ball Park" copy of the Chanter in Morpeth. At last, in 2003 Brad Angus used the reamer to make the regulator, plus the 4 keys (& mount them), the end cap etc. I debuted the finished set (Fig 2) at the SF Pipers Club Tionol in 2003, & was mildly surprised that it drew very little interest. The Really Interested Party was Mike Sharp who saw me playing it at a gig, later that year.
It appeared that Mike Sharp had bought the reamers from Sean and was producing copies of the Seaforth Pastoral pipes (CS vol. 8 no. 1).
Quote from Mike
“I did indeed buy the reamers from Sean, but that didn't happen immediately.  We worked together for a while trying to make a faithful copy of a pastoral pipe based on the Seaforth set and information from other sources as well.  After a time I had a full set of tooling for making every part of the Seaforth set.  I have a whole shelf full of custom mandrels for making all the different tapered ferrules, numerous custom drills and various other bits and pieces.”Ensuing conversations brought to light that Sean and Mike had been trying for some years to reed these copies with little satisfaction. Mike kindly offered to send me a chanter to see what progress could be had because I offered to try to “reed the beast”. It should not be a  long job,  was part of the conversation between the involved parties.  This turned out to be a serious misjudgment in hindsight!
Mike sent me a copy of the Seaforth chanter early in 2012, and I have been messing about with materials, reading, researching and testing ever since.

It was shortly after this time that I sent the Mackie chanter back to the UK and later that year I began to believe  that my set would be a non-starter. This proved to be the case after I collected the chanter for the set I had ordered, and it was not possible at that time to reed it successfully. So sadly I gave up chasing that particular dream and sent it back to its’ maker and cancelled the order.As for making reeds for pastorals, no-one, at least of those of whom I had communicated with about reeds, had confirmed they had actually succeeded in reeding an un-adapted or un-modified pastoral chanter. I had sent emails to all the interested parties I could find, and with the exception of Mike and Sean, very little interest was shown in getting these pipes back to working order. I also included Mr. McCandless in my search in the US after I found his web site, which had photos of a number of sets, but as he failed to reply I cannot comment as to the timbre, volume or how his sets play.
Initial staple-reed pairs set the pitch at close to Eb (A=465hz-ish) with the first octave in reasonable tune with itself.  The second octave was “uncomfortable” to listen to and again the pressure was too high, but the three d’s did match “ish”.
Cross-fingered notes were good enough to curdle milk but not to play in melodies.  Many more variations of staples and reed heads would be needed if this was going to work.
One small problem came to light, the need to work out how to turn mandrels for the staples, in silver steel, to be able to planish to a finished and reproducible set of dimensions based on the calculation program I had come across on the internet. Turning was included in an apprenticeship served but that was half a century ago. After getting terrible results on my lathe trying to turn the steel to a 3mm tip over 40mm starting at 4.3mm. I turned to a band sander and an electric screwdriver and holding the mandrel blank in the screwdriver and gu-estimating the angle, I was pleased to see it worked a treat -- great stuff, I could now create a mandrel blank in 15 minutes, measure it up and fine tune it using my lathe, to an accuracy of 0.01mm.
This allowed me to start producing staples a lot faster and with  guarantee of reproducible accuracy, well, as much as could be accepted with planishing and soldering.

I was still surfing the internet globally including sites in French and then in German, as I still had the belief that I did not have enough knowledge of the subject. Eventually I found a web site in the German language run by a piping enthusiast named Markus Gäbel. On the site he had a photo introduction and description of how to “spin” staples on a lathe.
Ah ha!! So that’s how that worked – I no longer needed to use sheet metal,  I could make them from hobby tubing of various diameters. Early in the year (2013) I made some progress in getting an even scale in Eb and actually sent a couple of batches of staples to Mike Sharp and Sean Folsom remarking that I had a scale but the pressure at the top end was “unhealthy”. The results gave a good degree of success over a scale of Eb, after Mike had some mandrels ground up to the appropriate dimensions I had sent over. I made up a copper staple based on Mike’s mandrel and then went on to create some reed heads in plastic and in cane to test out things.The new staples worked well with a plastic reed head (PS#6) which gave 2 octaves and some cross-fingered notes but the E’s were wide of being pleasant, but that could be cured by internal reaming of the bore. Another solution was to create a staple with a bulge or a waist at the appropriate place. Further I seem to remember the staple having a fairly substantial diameter at that time. The feedback from Mike and Sean inspired me to go for a semi-tone reduction by re-designing the staple (as is common in Bassoon circles, they can change a Bocal, the long curved staple, to go up or down a semi-tone) to bring down the pitch to concert D.  That was in early 2013. I started to re-read all the articles I had found on reed making for Oboe, Bassoon and Pipes, and watch whatever videos were available and try to fully understand the implications of staple-reed pairing.
I tried to get to grips with the dynamics of fluids and impedance involved but some of the maths involving calculus just left me drinking more coffee. For me that meant more staples and reed heads. Eventually I began to understand what was going on and I set to work over the next year(s) to put any ideas that the three of us came up with, into practice.

End of Part 1 – In Part 2 - A trip to the US and a possible answerMy thanks go out to all those kind enough to share information on any of the subjects mentioned, in particular Mr. Ross Anderson, Colin Ross (reed making book) and Mr. B. Ninob, whether by printed article or on the internet and not to forget my good friends in the USA, Sean Folsom, piper extraordinaire and Mike Sharp pipemaker and smallpiper.

Dave Singleton, March 2016

Some of the internet links that have published valuable information Ross Anderson’s Music Page  A must for all reed instrument makers  David Daye’s reedmaking pages  A mine of useful information   Uilleann resources (star site)    Lowland and Border piping resources  (Rohrblattbau fur Historische instrumenten - star video)   (Uilleann pipe maker)   Early Oboe site  Alternative pipers of North America