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From Anita Evans


It just occurred to me that I would like to put in a short letter about the reed making notes [CS 14.2 Dec 1999], Firstly, I don't think I made it clear.that I never soak the Teed cane. The second point is to stress that they are just notes and not intended to supersede any existing publications.

From Trevor Cole

Auckland NZ I am indebted to people like Colin Ross, Mike Nelson, and Richard and Anita Evans, to name a few who, by publishing papers, share so freely their knowledge. I love to read everything written about pipe am) reed making, as this can reinforce what others have said makes a good reed, or stimulate the trial of an idea. So now it is my turn to share. I basically use the "standard" method and sizes as suggested by Colin Ross with just a couple of small variations. My first task was to obtain a supply of suitable cane (Donax). Near where I live is a nursery specialising in bamboos and canes where I was able
to obtain several lengths of Donax and also to see the plant growing - this enabled me to recognise several patches of wild Donax in my immediate neighbourhood, and gave a great supply of the raw material to learn and practice on. My very first chanter reed was a beauty and I thought reed making was a doddle, but I quickly realised that consistency was not so easily achieved. It soon became evident to me that making chanter reeds in batches and hoping for a couple of good reeds was for the birds.

So I started making (in batches, for economy of time) to much finer tolerances. I believe being pedantic is important. If a reed maker says thin the cane to 25 thou then they don't mean 28 or 23, or trim to 7/16" wide, they don't mean 3/8 or 1/2" wide. As a beginner, following the instructions exactly was one way of achieving consistent results, which in turn meant that the whole batch was usable.

I use hot-melt glue rather than shellac or super-glue to fix the blades to the staple. I use hot-melt as I was impatient to continue the making process. It is important that no glue enter the upper body of the reed and excess glue is easily pared back with a sharp craft knife. Once this is done and as a belt-and-braces precaution, I wrap the staple and cane points with a couple of turns of plumber’s tape. This should ensure air-tightness in this area.

I tried cane from many sources and there seemed to be problems with all. I came to the conclusion that local cane was worth a try, but probably
because of our humid climate, it lacked the brightness of overseas canes.

On the other hand I had no end of trouble with the brittleness of some cane from Sardinia. About this time I began to question the need to start with one piece of cane. Why couldn't I use two shorter pieces? Obviously it is a little more trouble to make sure the sizes are the same, but as I was sure consistent size was important, care with one piece or two didn't seem daunting. Also about this time a friend told me of her son's music teacher who was bemoaning the fact that she had masses of old clarinet reeds to dispose of. These reeds were all of a good quality French brand. My source of cane supply was solved.

From B.W.Wakefield

Kentucky USA Have been happily engrossed with back issues of CS since receiving them from you in August, and find the progress of LBPS over the years and the commitment of all involved inspiring. Having gone online only a couple of years ago, my first searches were with the keyword “bagpipes” which is how I found LBPS and several pipe-makers. Almost a year ago I received my Montgomery smallpipes from Mr Goodacre and they have proven an ecstatic delight to play. Removing all towels and rugs from the bathroom where there is plenty of glass and ceramic tile, I sit on the edge of the tub and beguile hours with them as the harmonics


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swell densely producing the most wonderful euphoria imaginable. (True to my kind I am, as once expressed in different words and context, single mindedly devoted to the fine art of getting high and hopelessly addicted to music.)

I ordered the Montgomery pipes [see CS 6.1 - Ed] mainly because their historical significance appealed to me. They are versatile and, with a peg, the chanter can be stopped yielding essentially a simple set of Northumbrian pipes with the major 7lh for leading note. The challenge, though, has been learning to play them without stopping the chanter. To finger the open-ended chanter as if it were a Northumbrian smallpipe chanter sounds wrong, sloppy, intolerable. Yet, since the fingering is a closed system, most Highland pipe grace notes and embellishments are not possible and, what I discovered quickly (corroborated in the pages of CS many times) not at all appropriate on smallpipes. Even the friendly ‘G’ grace-note is excessive most of the time, to say nothing of the grips, taorluaths, etc, as executed by Highland pipers. One pipe-maker remarks that it is likely our musical siblings of yore did whatever they could to articulate and to embellish depending on their individual ability, taste, and perhaps local styles. This makes good sense, but what might some of those techniques have included on a smallpipe on an open chanter and a closed fingering system? As I leam a new repertoire I wish for hints and suggestions. Perhaps some writing similar to Mr

Hensold’s excellent and practical article on the Dixon MS (CS Vol .13 No 2 Dec 1998) by some learned musicologist, treating 17lh and 18lh century woodwind appoggiatura would be helpful and not inappropriate given that these pipes seem to have been popular among genteel as well as rustic desecrators of the Sabbath, and the former would likely have been familiar with such things from their association with other instrumentalists of the day?

Fom Iain MacDonald

Glasgow. Jock asked members in the editorial of Common Stock June 2000 for suggestions of tunes played at their local session, the idea being that a tune book could be compiled that would enable bellows pipers from different parts of the country to have a wider basic common repertoire wherever they go. It would be especially welcome to those like myself who cannot play by ear or sight read fast enough to join in. Having pre-leamed the tunes would allow us an opportunity to participate at our own level.

Choosing which tunes is more of a problem. On what basis should they be selected? Those with connections to the part of the country where they are popular could be one. A tune that is catchy, definitely. Difficulty is hard to judge - it seems to be a personal thing. Speed however could be considered. My own preference would be for slow airs and marches rather than jigs and reels. How about:- Lass of Fyvie; Waters of Kylsku; Killiecrankie; Crookit Bawbee; Wings; Rowan Tree; Mairi’s Wedding; Carles wi’ the Breeks; A Man’s a Man; Oft in the Stilly Night; Sweet Maid of Glendaruel; Inverness Rant; Road to the Isles; Orange and Blue; Earl of Mansfield; Barnyards of Dalgety; Sky Boat Song; Willie’s Gane to Mellville Castle; Sound of Sleat; Piper of Drummond; Probably known to a lot of Highland pipers already, and easily learned by the better players even if not already known to them, and also within the scope of the not so talented.

I’m sure if as many as possible sent in suggestions a balanced collection could be selected to satisfy everyone. [Time may be against too lengthy an exchange. Any further suggestions may have to be incorporated in a second book or when the first comes up for revision - Ed.]

From Rory Sinclair

Toronto Canada ... a VERY good idea to have a session list. I would have suggested as well : - Skye Boat Song; Mairi's Wedding; Road to the Isles; Mist covered Mountains; My Home; Cock o' the North; Rowan Tree; Lord Lovat's Lament; Highland Cradle Song; Green Hills of Tyrol; The Old Rustic Bridge

I suggest these mainly because they are 'chestnuts' and people request this stuff all the time and it is good to play off the 'same page'.

From John Dally

Seattle U.S.A. The Chairman's remarks in the last issue of Common Stock are very much appreciated here on the Northwest coast of North America, especially those relating to members outside the UK. Here are a few respectful suggestions offered with the best interests of the music in mind.

The idea of a teaching video is good one. There are the obvious aspects of strapping on a bellows and blowing that every beginner needs to know. But beyond that I hope you focus on maintenance and reed­making. Most of the pipers here want to leam how to maintain their instruments, make reeds for them, and how to tune the chanters once they have made those reeds. In my experience Northumbrian smallpipc makers are extremely generous with this sort of information in contrast with their Scottish contemporaries. There are many owners of Scottish smallpipes here who are accomplished pipers, but they are frustrated by instruments that do not work properly for reasons they don't understand. I urge you to keep the video as technically oriented as possible. That is the best use of the video format and will meet the greatest need. A good example to follow is Jim McGillivray's recent Highland pipe maintenance video, Pipes Ready. Jim is an avid bellows piper as well as an expert Highland piper, so you may be able to get his help directly. Most of the folks I know who play Scottish smallpipes or Border pipes have taken instruction from Hamish Moore, Gordon Mooney, Anna Murray or some other bellows pipe expert. We are aware of the controversies over Highland versus Lowland tunes and ornamentation. These issues relate only slightly to our experience and, frankly, they are of little interest to the majority of small-pipers here. Whether this is right or wrong is another topic. If the video is intended for overseas members as stated in your address, please keep this in mind. If you want to promote Lowland style pipe music, then simply give a thrilling example of it and direct the viewer to recordings and publications. Iain Maclnnes' recent recording, Tryst, has done quite a bit for Scottish small-pipers over here. Having Iain involved with a video or recording project will certainly give it authority and marketing value. If the Society wishes to produce a recording, a good example to follow is Nimbus Records' recently issued and excellent Spirit of the Border (which does not include any Border pipes, oddly enough). Focussing your recording efforts on the annual competition will have the undesirable result of encouraging competitions among overseas bellows pipers and will probably not offer the very best bellows piping available in the UK.

I would still be interested in hearing the competitions, but I feel there are greater recording priorities. I would rather be able to get recordings of interviews with pipe and reed makers and virtuosi, lectures given at Society gatherings, and instruction similar to what Donald MacLeod, R.U. Brown and Robert Nicol did for ceol mor. An hour tape of Colin Ross talking about how he discovered bellows pipes, learned to make them, and how he makes chanter reeds would be worth its weight in British Sterling. A tape of Matt Seattle talking about the Dixon manuscript and Border piping styles in general would be more useful than a video of the same. A tape of Andy Hunter discussing the relationship between Lowland song and piping with musical examples would be much more enlightening than the printed text. These recording projects do not have to be elaborately produced. And these are the kind of projects whose value only increases with time.

Of course, if the Society could afford to do it, the best thing would be to send an expert over here for a week. I have a guest room with a comfortable bed and a couple of bottles of Laphroig. In closing, it must be said that the Society’s efforts are very important to me and, I am sure, all other overseas members. Thanks and keep it up.


From Glenn Dreyer

Connecticut U.S.A. Since we last corresponded I received the recording of last year's competition sent to overseas members. I am really enjoying it, please pass on my thanks to those responsible.