Elder Drone Reeds

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Francis Wood » Sun Jun 17, 2012 8:49 pm

My choice of elder reeds was successful in this particular case since Dunn's drone bores in the examples I copied were unusually large and the relatively narrow chanter bore meant that the drone sound was far too dominant. So the use of elder reeds was a response to a particular problem. I don't think there is any particular advantage in their use if cane examples are functioning satisfactorily.

However, I do think that elder was in common use in earlier times. Apart from being suitable for the design of the times, it was very easily procurable. Even now with the advantage of rapid transportation and information gathering, small reed cane is remarkably difficult to find. I find it hard to believe that it was imported for musical purposes in earlier days, whereas chanter reed cane of suitable dimensions would certainly have been available since it was reaching us from Spain and southern France for use with the larger common wind instruments.

It is of course possible that tiny Arundo Donax was being imported for an entirely different purpose. I've heard that something similar was used in the production of fine cloth in 18C France, but have no details to support the suggestion or the possibility that that was happening here too. Andy's suggestion that Reid's design evolved to take advantage of small cane reeds is a very interesting one. I wish we knew more about contemporary sources and alternative industrial uses of this stuff.

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Julia Say » Sun Jun 17, 2012 9:44 pm

I found the current Wikipedia article on A. donax quite informative earlier today. They seem to be suggesting it was in use in ancient Egypt, and was introduced to the western Med very early.

OK - so some of it is about biomass and reedbed filtering experiments, but nevertheless....and it is referenced.

And I also found this:

http://www.junglegardens.co.uk/contents ... otics.html

if anyone has a sunny damp space in their garden. I tried growing the variegated form, which was all I could source a few years ago, but it expired in the extended cold winter of 2 years ago as it wasn't established well enough.

I'm going to try again with the macrophylla form which is hardier according to the supplier - and taller.

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Francis Wood » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:07 am

Grow-your-own sounds like a worthwhile experiment, even if it eventually has a negative result. It would certainly be interesting to know whether it is possible to grow viable small cane in a British climate and if so, what variety will oblige.

The plant seems to grow successfully here but the problem in such a temperate climate seems to be the very thin wall thickness. Nor is that a problem that depends only on sunshine and warmth. I have picked successful samples in Portugal and made good reeds from them. I have also been sent bundles of the stuff picked wild in Malta. However the quality of that material was nowhere near as good as commercial samples from Medir. What is it about their cultivation that produces that hard golden rind and the good wall thickness even in very narrow dimensions? My stock was bought a long time ago and I don't know if their product is still good. It certainly ought to be, at €1.15 per single tube, which was their price when I last looked.

My advice to anyone wanting to have a go with native vegetation is simply to go ahead and try it. Almost any small straight twig which is capable of being hollowed out is a potentially interesting reed. Ignore all the lore about harvesting it only under a full moon and on Fridays. If the material looks right (appropriate dimensions and sufficiently woody and straight), it will probably work. Other hedgerow products seem to be as good as elder. If you want to explore the principle, green-working without any seasoning at all will be instructive and may result in a reed that works well, though only briefly.

Some caution is necessary. Arundo Donax splits very cleanly and predictably. Elder does not and needs careful knife control to produce the tongue, a more hazardous procedure. And don't bother with Deadly Nightshade.

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Julia Say » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:36 am

And DON'T try Giant Hogweed.....sort of giant demented cow parsley for those who've never seen it, but has really nasty skin effects from the hairs on the stems when touched.

A. donax's nearest botanical relative is the common or thatch reed, Phragmites australis (used to be P. communis), which grows all over UK, but is much smaller, fragile, softer, and so far hasn't been got to work though old Tom Clough is said to have used it.

I would think the thick skin on Spanish A. donax is down to the hot dry summers where it grows: I'm told W. coast USA cane is softer and has a thicker pith area, indicating (botanically speaking) more consistently damp conditions.
I suspect the commercial reed growers have beds with carefully controlled irrigation regimes.

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Francis Wood » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:53 am

Julia Say wrote:beds with carefully controlled irrigation regimes.


The rain in Spain falls mainly on the cane.

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Julia Say » Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:46 am

Thank you Francis. I really wish I was quick enough to think of these things - and I do miss having a "like" button now I'm used to using one.

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Francis Wood » Thu Jun 28, 2012 3:36 pm

An unusual elder D reed can be seen here:

http://youtu.be/ckreKhaqE98

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Re: Elder Drone Reeds

Postby Richard York » Thu Jun 28, 2012 4:11 pm

I prefer my drone reeds to be more stable than this one, with more drone, less variation in tone and pitch, Elder or otherwise.
Amen,
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