Reconstructing the Reed

Alex Stewart is a junior majoring in music performance with a concentration in woodwinds; his instrument is the oboe. Along with his collaborator EJ Jones and faculty mentor Dr. Ashley Barret, Alex has been working to manufacture a functional reed for the bombarde, a Celtic wind instrument.


Describe your project.

The bombarde is a Celtic instrument from Brittany, France and is commonly used to accompany the bagpipe. The reeds for this instrument are made by only a handful of people in Brittany and are nearly impossible to get in the U.S. They cannot be mass produced; they must be made by hand to function well with the instrument.

Through EJ Jones, a professional bagpiper in NC, I have access to many reeds that I have been able to deconstruct and measure.

Getting started.

I became interested in the project because I love Breton music and have several musical friends that play the bombarde and struggle to have reeds. As an oboist, I am familiar with reed making. Dr. Barret, my oboe professor, encouraged me to make my own.

Findings.

It is possible to make a functional Bombarde reed. The finishing process needs to be developed for consistency purposes, but we are close. We have collected the measurements from a variety of existing reeds and have a template for a good starting point.

I presented my findings at the SoCon Undergraduate Research Forum held in Spartanburg, SC in November.

Impact.

Due to the exclusive nature of the reeds, not many people have access to them in the US. Many of the bombarde players here use the same few reeds for their entire performing career. If we were to perfect the reed making process, we could supply good reeds to musicians here in the US. This would circumvent one major barrier for traditional Breton music.

Challenges and obstacles.

Reed making supplies are essential to this project. They include cane, reed knives, a micrometer, FF nylon thread, staples, and a bombarde. URSCO funding allowed me to acquire the materials I needed.

One major difficulty we faced was with the stability of the cane. The reeds that we made kept cracking as we tied them to the staple regardless of how long they soaked. We tried scoring the cane and soaking it in hot water. Nothing really helped. This is something we are still working on. Another issue we had was most of our reeds were too hard to play and were too low in pitch. After some adjustments we were able to resolve some of these issues.

Our project has stayed consistent throughout; the only adjustments have been to address specific issues in the process.

Dive into research.

Participating in undergraduate research has benefited me as a professional. It has led me to some opportunities to go abroad and study this topic further. I could also start a business after I graduate, making and selling these reeds.

The most surprising part of this experience is that we were able to make some reeds! People are showing interest in this project other than the musicians.

My advice to incoming students is always ask lots of questions.

Interview by Hope Voorhees


The URSCO blog helps UNCG’s undergraduate scholars share their work and impact with the world. Interested in sharing your work? Contact URSCO Director Lee Phillips at plphilli@uncg.edu or Office of Research and Engagement Media and Communication Manager Sangeetha Shivaji at s.shivaji@uncg.edu.


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