Wind Among the Reeds




Played throughout the world, both the accordion and bagpipe are found at the center of multiple and diverse genres of traditional music. They also share the simple fact that their sound comes from pressurized air passing through reeds: cane reeds for the bagpipe, and steel reeds for the accordion.

Today’s bagpipe, with its organic materials and old-world craft of reed manipulation, is hardly different from its medieval ancestors —in many ways it is a relic from antiquity. A microtonal instrument freed from the restrictions of equal temperament, it can sound startlingly raw and primeval to the uninitiated. To those who know and love the instrument, the pipes can also be haunting, ethereal, and melancholic. And though it is severely limited in terms of its melodic range and lack of dynamics, the bagpipe nonetheless finds expressiveness in its variations of tone, articulation, and ornamentation.

The piano accordion (a modern cousin of older button accordions) is orchestral at its heart, with two completely separate and unrelated systems of note production —one for each hand. It is fully chromatic, with multiple switches for different combinations of reeds. This might appear to give the accordion greater flexibility over the bagpipe; yet the accordion is limited by a system of chordal accompaniment based on restrictive preset triads (not unlike the autoharp), and lacks the pitch bending capacity of the bagpipe. Thus the accordion’s limitations complement those of the bagpipe.

Jeremiah McLane and Timothy Cummings not only expand beyond the typical boundaries of their instruments and the musical traditions they embrace, they also seamlessly blend the timbres of their instruments. In their hands the accordion and bagpipe also unite harmony, rhythm, melody and texture into an exhilarating whole that is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.