The reeds are fundamental to the Uilleann Pipes. Many variables have to be considered such as reed quality,
location and composition let alone the individual skill of the reed maker.
Double or drone reeds are traditionally made from twigs of Elder that are harvested in winter. Single reeds are made from cane, the best results coming from choosing cane being grown near to a frost line, by a watercourse with salt sediment.
Single reeds are the easier of the two to make and Dicky demonstrates the craft of reed making in the film below. Dicky has also conducted workshops on the craft of reed-making and maintenance of the pipes at festivals and schools throughout metropolitan country and outback schools.
You can see how a single reed is fashioned by splitting a slice of cane using precision and care, and shaping it by whittling shaves off, then sanding down to an optimum thickness. You will note later in the demonstration a dab of sealing wax is used to subtly alter the sound of the reed a little like using a weight on the end of a stylus.
The art of reed-making is as old as the instrument itself which dates back to the 1840s.
There is known to be an instrument, a precursor to the Uilleann pipe, that being the Pastoral Pipes dating from the 1700s, but as you might expect there are no known recordings. There is also something known traditionally as a Dord Iseal, sometimes known as the Irish didgeridoo, which gives a continuous low drone when played.
This type of horn shares its origins with Pre-Celtic bronze age horns which have been found in bogs, lakes and
stone lined burial pits along with other artifacts such as weaponry and jewelry.
Some examples of which could date back to1000 BC.
You can read more about the history of these
early instruments and how their sound has been replicated in the handbook accompanying the new
collection compiled by Dicky himself.
Whilst residing in Hobart, Dicky would spend up to eighteen hours a day making reeds, searching for the perfect crow sound. He says that the room would often be covered in dust and shavings as he perfected his reed-making skill. The crow sound a particular reed makes is intrinsic when considering the Uilleann Pipes. Dicky demonstrates by taking a reed he has had since September 1999 and sucking air in to his lungs producing a squawking sound not unlike a crow cawing.
I suppose this action is akin to children making grasses squeak when pursing lips together on the grass blade and blowing. A good crow reed is absolutely priceless to the piper and as a professional musician the tone of your reed could be the difference to success or failure or more importantly respect or ridicule. We tried to ascertain the monetary value of a good crow reed but know matter what amount we suggest Dicky assures us he wouldn't part with his.
The relationship between single reeds and double reeds contained within the instrument Dicky describes
as being like that of a shared house of students that have had to come to a mutual understanding.
He also expresses the interaction between chanter and reeds as being symbiotic.
There is a lot more to pipe playing and reed making than first meets the eye.
For instance the reeds themselves can have different traits when sourced from a particular geographical area.
Furthermore a reed used in differing climes and weather conditions can also result in a slightly altered tone.
Dicky recalls a particular festival in Australia where the mercury rose to 52
degrees centigrade on top of the blistering heat the festival goers had to endure
86 percent humidity.
No weather for pipe players with all that moisture and
heat so he spent the day sat in a pond cooling off... reed making.
He declares Uilleann Pipes are a seasonal instrument preferring spring and
autumn for their moderate qualities.
When Dicky Deegan plays he stirs the soul with such a feeling, that it has to
be experienced to be understood.
The long drawn out drones sound almost naturalistic,
there's something earthy and emotive about them, transporting you to another place,
another time. The airs of unrequited love, pain and poignant, the reels of faeries and fortunes, luck and chance so beautifully woven and played out. Just to clarify the faster paced jaunty numbers are the reels and jigs, whilst the airs are the slower compositions that fill your heart and head.
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