Hichiriki reeds

by Jean Jeltsch, Robin Howell and Barnaby Brown


This Japanese hichiriki reed was photographed by the bassoon reed researcher Jean-Marie Heinrich in the 1980s. It bears a striking resemblance to an aulos reed acquired by the Berlin Egyptian Museum in 1894:


This image is from Stefan Hagel’s study, ‘Understanding the aulos Berlin Egyptian Museum 12461/12462’ (2010). The reed was in the low pipe of an aulos bought on the antiquities market, presumably in Egypt. A drawing in the museum inventory is all that remains. The drawing is not to scale, but because the reed was fitted in the low pipe when it came into the museum (they share an inventory number) we can estimate that its total length was between 3cm and 5cm. This is roughly a third of the length of the hichiriki reed in Jean-Marie Heinrich’s collection, photographed above.

The following three videos each show a different method of hichiriki reed making:

In the video above, skip to 6:56 for the reed-making sequence.

We are fortunate that Gagaku musicians are sharing this information online – traditionally, such matters were closed and secretive, as they have been in Scottish piobaireachd and Sardinian launeddas traditions. To have expert hichiriki players contributing to the revival of ancient doublepipes could be very illuminating. Their different approach and musical conceptions have a venerable lineage and may steer us in valuable directions, helping aulos players to escape modern-Western musical training. If you are a hichiriki player, please get in touch!

Hichiriki came to Japan via Korea, which has a similar tradition and instruments. In China, it is called the guan. Below is a 12th-century painting depicting three guan players and two dizi (transverse flute) players, accompanied by a paiban (wooden clapper), performing in the home of Han Xizai, a minister to the Song Dynasty emperor Li Houzhu.


Further west, we find closely-related instruments in the Azerbaijani balaban and Armenian duduk (for which there are some reed-making videos here). All these instruments are essentially monauloi with an entangled transcultural history – the result of centuries of trading along the Silk Road and Indian Ocean routes:

Silk Road_06 copy

This map was produced by The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

In Japanese culture, reeds have powerful metaphysical associations. Toyoda Mitsuyo writes:

The Japanese narratives of the emergence of the world… depict chaotic, complex, and organic processes of genesis. They do not assume creation controlled by a supernatural being but illustrate an unpredictable spontaneous power of nature that continuously generates life. Things in nature have been metaphorically used to describe the divinity and dignity of the process of becoming. In Kojiki, the Records of Ancient Matters, for example, the words ashi (葦, reeds) and ashikabi (葦牙, reed-shoot) appear repeatedly as an expression of the vital organismic force of deities and the world.

… When wetland covered most of the lowlands of Japan, the landscape of thick reeds was symbolic of the prosperity of the country… In spring, strong reed-shoots grow straight up from the web of roots hidden in the soil or in the water. The power of growth represented by reed-shoots is also a wish of further development of life and culture.

This is from ‘Recollecting Local Narratives for the Land Ethic’ in Japanese Environmental Philosophy, ed. J. Baird Callicott and James McRae (OUP 2017), section 10.2.

We have yet to find videos of the old style of hichiriki reed photographed by Jean-Marie Heinrich above, either being played or being made. If anyone could let us know more about traditional methods of making reeds with a waist, looking like the one lost in Berlin, we would be extremely grateful.

Warm thanks to Jean-Marie Heinrich for permission to publish his hichiriki reed photos. Essential viewing for all reed makers are these photos showing the difference between high- and low-density cane (2017). In this one, he has sorted 1000 tubes of oboe cane by density:


Lowest density on the left, highest on the right. For aulos reed-making, we want low-density tubes (10-12mm diameter). Softer cane significantly increases success rate during manufacture and reduces the problem of blades cracking during a reed’s working life. These issues have plagued the aulos revival so far. Jean-Marie has published many articles of interest to reed makers. His doctoral thesis – ‘Contribution & l’etude de l’ anche du basson’ (University of Paris, 1987) – is on the botany, mechanics, history and manufacture of the bassoon reed.

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The 1st Euterpe doublepipe school

Our parent organisation, the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP), is organising a doublepipe school in Tarquinia, Italy, 3–6 May 2018. For the programme and further information on the Euterpe school, see www.emaproject.eu/events/euterpe.


Euterpe is the Greek muse of music, commonly represented playing a doublepipe. The Roman mosaic above (c. 240 CE in Vichten, Luxembourg) shows her playing a mechanised tibia. We dream of playing an instrument like this in a future Euterpe school!

A detailed timetable will be published by the end of February, when registration opens. Meantime, please help us spread the word by sharing the Euterpe 2018 prospectus. We are particularly keen to reach woodwind players in conservatoires, universities, jazz schools and traditional music schools.

Anyone is welcome. You don’t need to bring an instrument: on the first day, we’ll be making simple Ur pipes that you can take home. These narrow-bore pipes are ideal for practising quietly and for learning circular breathing. They are based on Bo Lawergren’s study of a find from 2450 BCE. Below is a reconstruction by Marco Sciascia, hammered from solid silver in 2016. I made the reeds using Arundo donax that I cut in September 2014, while on holiday near Girona.


The other doublepipes that Callum and I will be focusing on at Euterpe 2018 (providing staff notation of exercises and group arrangements) are the Louvre, Berlin, Pydna and Poseidonia. Callum has been making exciting progress on the Berlin and I have been exploring ways of playing the ancient scales transmitted by Aristides Quintilianus on the Pydna and Poseidonia. This has been possible thanks to the development of superb reeds by Robin Howell, who made a Pydna for me last year from Scottish deer bonePydna-in-bone-by-Robin-Howell

The Euterpe school is associated with two websites. Let me explain the difference. For  discussion and work-in-progress, you can follow developments here in the Workshop of Dionysus (www.doublepipes.info). This is a workshop. We get our hands dirty, experimenting, sharing drafts. It’s OK to make mistakes: we learn by getting things wrong in a supportive environment, one that understands the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration. Everyone can get involved, contributing to the evolution of ideas. What matters here is: 1) creativity breaking new ground; and 2) a spirit of generosity, curiosity and respect for other people’s ways of thinking – both in the distant past and in other cultural and professional spheres today.

The focus of the Workshop of Dionysus is the revival of doublepipes. The EMAP website (www.emaproject.eu) differs in that it covers a whole cornucopia of musical instruments and has no discussion. Milestones in the doublepipe revival are frozen on the EMAP site from time to time, together with milestones from other strands in our parent project.

If you want to get involved in testing and developing doublepipe learning materials, the action takes place here. I look forward to vigorous discussion of the Euterpe school materials between now and May! Pages with information for participants and ‘milestone’ scores, the provisional results of ongoing experiments, will be at www.emaproject.eu/events/euterpe.

Do join us if you can! If not at Velcamare, then in conversations at the foot of any page in this workshop.


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A Louvre deluxe model by Robin Howell


In June 2017, Callum Armstrong upgraded to a deluxe Louvre model, developed for him by Robin Howell in Toronto, Canada. Callum’s first performance playing this ‘Rolls-Royce’ instrument was at the 10th MOISA Meeting in Oxford last July:

The photographs above and below are of a similar instrument, the twin of Callum’s but with imitation-ivory and brass mounts. It is currently for sale. Robin has a serious illness and it has been my pleasure to help him out by preparing this deluxe Louvre for some lucky customer, making the reed-caps, reed-case, hard case, hole-closing mechanisms, and gently breaking it in so that the joints and reeds settle down and reduce their misbehaviours. As with all children, compassionate parenting is required in the early months of an instrument’s life, particularly one made from organic materials like cane and boxwood.


The long feather and white pipe cleaner are for cleaning and drying bores and reeds after playing. I use them together with disposable absorbent paper and have started washing out my reeds under running water, so the blades don’t stick together from residue build-up. The shorter feathers are for periodic oiling: almond oil for the bores and rapeseed oil for the reeds. This oiling significantly lengthens the life and improves the tone of both the wooden and cane components. Every week, I sanitise my reeds with 3% Hydrogen peroxide – a minute of fizzling using the pipe cleaner, inside and out, before rinsing them with water, carefully drying with absorbent paper, replacing the reed caps, and leaving to dry somewhere safe where air circulates. Mould shortens reed life and is a health hazard.

ALWAYS replace your reed caps: they are your insurance policy. Treat a good pair of reeds as your most valuable possession. The labour alone puts their price into several hundreds of dollars/euros/pounds. If they are going to give satisfaction, then the work involved in making a pair of aulos reeds will be 24 hours minimum spread over several weeks, sometimes months. Multiply that by a skilled hourly wage and you get the right price. There is a lot more to it than making two reeds!


Although I am barely beyond beginner status playing the aulos, it is nonetheless clear to me that Robin has a magic touch in the arts of reed making and voicing woodwind instruments – transforming an instrument that appears finished to the eye into something that really sings when you tickle it. The acoustic response, the harmonics, the tone quality, the vibration under the fingers: don’t be influenced by what a Howell instrument looks like; this is a maker whose mastery lies in what the aulos sounds and feels like to play.

Callum and I agree: if you are going to invest hundreds or thousands of hours in practising, then it is worth paying more for an instrument and particularly reeds that make your soul sing. The 3-piece design of this Louvre model (with separate cup, bulb and bombyx) is prompted by the evidence of archaeological finds that appear to be professional instruments, such as the Pydna aulos and the Pompeian tibiae.

Callum has been playing his intensively over the last 9 months. He writes:

Mine is very subtly-voiced instrument. Its three-piece design may be one of the factors contributing to its fine tone, particularly when you pull out the cups a little, creating chambers in the bore. But more practically, the cups are invaluable for tuning the pipes to each other quickly, or tuning to other instruments that may be a bit flatter or sharper. They also allow you to change the angle of the reed easily and safely, by rotating the cups rather than having to gingerly twist the reed in the reed seat in a way that could crack the reed.

For the hole-closing mechanisms, I am using Mylar A4 sheets (125 micron polyester film), cut into strips and carefully heated with a candle to make it curve and wrap snugly around the pipe. I pull the Mylar strip tight, cut, and bind with a quality tape. The result is an airtight seal that slides easily up and down, so I can change the instrument’s setup quickly. No lubrication is required.

You can hear my humble attempts to test-drive the twin of Callum’s instrument in the recording below. Put it into more capable hands – or rather, more capable lips – and it could do an awful lot more! It’s majestic response, however, helped me to realise two things:

  1. When circular breathing, you can’t keep diaphragm vibrato going; with lip vibrato, however, it can continue while you breathe in. Not only do I prefer the sound of lip vibrato – the pitch fluctuation is exciting – but in all its parameters, you have a higher degree of artistic control.
  2. The Louvre could potentially be a polymodal instrument, at least in the sense that it is possible to bend the pitch of every note to overlap with the pitch range of the neighbouring fingering, without any half-holing, i.e. purely using the embouchure.

Halfway through the recording, I play some bars from this Athenaios score.

I am very reluctant to let this aulos go, but wish its future owner well. Above all, I wish Robin a smooth road back to health so that more people can experience the joy and enlightenment of playing his instruments.

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Introducing the aulos of Poseidonia

Last week, I had the honour of playing the aulos of Poseidonia beside the original in the ancient city of Poseidonia, 100km south of Naples. Here I am with Marco Sciascia, who made a reproduction for the EMAP exhibition in 2015:


Marco finished making a reproduction for me in October 2016. Since then, I have been slowly learning to play it with the help of excellent reeds and mentoring from Robin Howell.

The original was buried in around 480 BCE, two centuries before the Romans took control and gave this prosperous city its modern name of Paestum. This is also the date of the site’s most famous mural, the Tomb of the Diver, which depicts a symposium featuring two aulos players and two lyre players:

Tomb of the Diver (480–70 BCE)

The colours of the two auloi and the relative size of their players suggests two different instrument types: a smaller wooden aulos (above), and a larger bone aulos (below).


As well as accompanying songs at exclusive parties, the aulos of Poseidonia could have been played in two of the city’s great temples: the so-called Basilica (to Hera or Apollo?) and the Temple of Athena. Building work on the largest sanctuary, the Temple of Neptune, was just beginning at around the time the aulos was buried.

The Poseidonia aulos was found in 1969. Detailed studies were published by Paul and Barbara Reichlin-Moser in 2012 and by Stelios Psaroudakis in 2014, each with meticulous measurements and close-up photographs. It is sometimes called the Paestum aulos, but this name dates from a later period.

It is an exceptionally well-preserved instrument from a time and place that represents a summit of ancient Greek culture. Poseidonia was founded in the 6th century BCE by Greek colonists. Walking around the museum today, it is clear that their pre-eminent musical instrument, both in sacred and secular contexts, was the aulos. Fancier types with more holes and metal keys probably began to be developed in the 5th century, but the archaeological record points to them being a 4th-century phenomenon. The Poseidonia aulos appears to be not only Classical in period but classical in form. A practically identical instrument was buried in Pydna, ancient Macedonia, a century later (400–350 BCE).

Perhaps this doublepipe occupied a place in 4th-century Greek culture comparable to that of the violin in Western culture today; and the doublepipes with moving parts occupied a place more like that of clarinets and saxophones. The point of making this comparison is that it helps us to imagine a more complex and nuanced ancient reality. Musical styles, repertoires and conceptions would overlap and intermingle. A mechanised instrument with more notes does not imply greater artistry in the players, a more refined type of music, or the loss of elite status for an earlier type of instrument – certainly not among those of educated or conservative taste.

Despite lacking chromatic mechanisms, the Poeseidonia-type aulos is compatible with the modulating style that became popular in the 5th-century BCE, the so-called ‘New Music’ scorned by Plato and others. In the following videos, I demonstrate how it is possible to play any scale with accurate intonation. Although I would not exclude half-holing, I find it relatively clumsy. For precision and speed, I prefer to use tiny movements from the elbow in combination with micro-adjustments in lip compression.

My playing in these videos represents humble beginnings, miles short of what the instrument is capable of. I am just far enough down the path to know that this type of aulos is a noble musical instrument, promising rich rewards in proportion to the hours spent practising. The professional auletes of ancient Greece probably put in as many hours as music students do today. I wish I was starting in my teens, not in my 40s! I certainly want to continue and hope others will join me.

Thanks to Angelo Meriani (Università di Salerno), Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the staff of the Parco Archeologico di Paestum and residenza “Il Granaio dei Casabella”.

Text lightly revised 2 February 2018

Posted in Early auloi, Learning to play | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Delphic Paean by Athenaios Athenaiou

Here is a draft of some performing materials I am developing with Armand D’Angour and Stefan Hagel. This is an experiment – we would welcome feedback from singers and academics. Our idea is to move away from a single solution, a single recording, a single edition. Instead of fixing and controlling, we want to make it easy for others to adapt these performing materials to suit themselves – a vision prompted by Peter Robinson in ‘The Digital Revolution in Scholarly Editing’ (2016).

Updates and alternative versions will appear from time to time under each heading below.

The words spoken

by Armand D’Angour:

by Stefan Hagel:

The words sung

by Miriam Andersén in Ljubljana, 26 August 2017 (v. AD3).  Here we introduced more breathing spaces to help articulate the text and to heighten the drama of Apollo slaying the serpent:

by a mixed chorus in Oxford, 28 July 2017, directed by Tosca Lynch (v. AD1):


Chorus part v. AD 3 (26 September 2017). This has larger lyrics, full word-for-word translation, a revised translation of part 1, and additional rests suggested by Tosca Lynch (bars 71, 113) and Miriam Andersén (bars 92, 98, 108, 112). All other rests were introduced in rehearsals with Geoffrey Webber and the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, in February 2017.

Aulos part v. BB2 (20 October 2017). This matches Chorus part v. AD3 above and introduces paphlagmata from pibroch. Its development process is documented at https://soundcloud.com/siubhal/sets/athenaios-paean.

DRAFT (7 May 2017) 7.4 MB. This gives much more information and discussion. We are grateful to Stefan Hagel for substantial input which will make the next release much stronger, presenting two solutions rather than one, each supported by transparent arguments. Anticipated release date: Spring 2018.

Editable file formats

Please download the PDFs above first. The editable formats below are unlikely to open correctly on your system. To avoid gobbledegook in your browser, right-click (or ctrl-click) to download the XML files.

Introduction. Texts 1,  4, and 5. Bibliography

DRAFT (7 May 2017): DOCX

Text 6. Chorus only

v. AD2 (8 September 2017): XML | SIB v7
DRAFT (7 May 2017): XML | SIB v7

Text 7. Chorus + blank staff

DRAFT (7 May 2017): XML | SIB v7

Text 8. Chorus + aulos

DRAFT (7 May 2017): XML | SIB v7.

Posted in Ancient scores, Louvre aulos | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Scottish deer bones – episode 2

This is the second part of my adventure, experimenting with how to produce high quality bones which will be suitable for aulos making.

It was only a month ago that I found out that Barnaby was looking for someone to take on that task.  In my innocence I said “Yes, I’ll do it”, thinking it was maybe just a case of throwing some bones into a bucket of water, waiting a few months, then sawing off the ends.  How wrong I was!

It has been a steep learning curve, but I am really enjoying the challenge.

My first batch of bones arrived on 28th October. They had been well scraped and there was very little flesh on them. I didn’t have a bone saw at that time, so I decided to put the (previously frozen) bones into water until I was able to cut off the ends.  I was able to correspond with craftsmen who were possibly going to use them and they advised me about which part they wanted.  I thought it would be best to saw off the ends and extract the marrow to speed up the maceration process as the cold Scottish winter would slow down the process.

Bones after macerating in water for two days.  Even with the cold weather, something is happening.

Bones after macerating in water for two days. Even with the cold weather, something is happening.

My saw arrived two or three days after the bones had been put in water, so I set to cutting off some of the bone ends.  Even after that short period of time they were pretty smelly.  The bone was quite difficult to cut but the marrow could be extracted quite easily.

Sawn off knuckle showing the marrow.

Sawn off knuckle showing the marrow.

I was in the process of doing this when Barnaby phoned to say that some bones which he had been macerating since July were looking beautiful and not to bother sawing any more.  Was I glad to hear those words!  I stopped immediately.  We arranged that I should collect these bones and bring them back to my house to finish them off.

On my way to collect the bones I stopped off in Kirkintilloch to collect some hydrogen peroxide which I would use to give them a final clean and to improve their appearance.  The box of bones was ceremonially photographed and transferred into my car (see episode 1) and I felt things were really progressing rather well.  They may have looked good, but they still smelled rather awful.

The next day I decided to cut the ends off some bones to check if the marrow had rotted away and to see what they looked like close up.

With the first cut, stinking water came dripping from the inside of the bone.  After both ends had been sawn off I tried to extract the putrid paste which was in the marrow cavity.  The stench was overpowering and the marrow really difficult to remove, making the whole process quite the most horrible thing I have ever done in my life!  A heavy duty face mask and an electric saw are on the shopping list for tomorrow!

So far I have learnt to saw the ends off the bones as quickly as possible after receiving them – while still frozen in fact.  I’m sure the process would be much quicker and the bones take up much less space that way.  A lot more pleasant for me as well.

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Scottish deer bones – episode 1

by Barnaby Brown & Sylvia Stevens

200 deer shinbones

Reproducing ancient auloi/tibiae is fraught with difficulties. One obstacle is getting hold of the raw material: tibia bones. Barnaby was corresponding with two aulos makers in May, Robin Howell in Canada and Marco Sciascia in Italy. Both had problems getting hold of tibia bones of the right dimensions, in sufficient quantity, optimally processed for strength and durability.

Every summer in Scotland, thousands of deer shin bones are removed from venison carcasses. This happens on the estates, before the meat goes to wholesalers. Overseeing this operation are the estate Keepers,  professionals who lead the shooting and work the dogs. The Keepers are responsible for deer management, keeping the population under control and in good health.

We are grateful to two individuals who put us in touch with their local Keepers: Stuart Letford, editor of the Piping Times, and David Greig, who was at the time writing an English version of a play by Aeschylus, The Suppliant Women.

On 18 July 2016, Barnaby’s father collected 200 red deer shinbones from Robert Wilkinson, an antler merchant in Bridge of Cally. Dimensions were ‘as they came’ (i.e. no selection), front and rear legs (tibiae and metapodial), skin removed, bagged and frozen. The bones were transferred to a plastic storage box then filled with water and left outdoors in the sun to macerate. 15 weeks later, on 3 November, Barnaby took off the lid and tipped out the water:

200 macerated bones

Fat had floated to the top and the smell was – well, you can imagine! Barnaby sloshed several buckets of water over them to wash off loose matter. A high-pressure hose would have been more effective but was not available. It was raining – a week of Scottish weather would have done the job, but dogs might have had a feast. After scrubbing a few bones, it became clear that they weren’t quite ready – some sinews still clung on tightly. Perhaps a higher temperature would have accelerated the maceration process. This all took place at a cottage overlooking Loch Awe in Argyll, without the benefit of Greek summer temperatures.

The processing is critical. Maceration in water in a sealed container, followed by a bath of diluted hydrogen peroxide, seems to be a suitable method (see http://bone-lust.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/whitening-bone-teeth-hydrogen-peroxide.html). Allowing insects and sunshine to do their work would be another option. Bones for making auloi can’t be boiled and bleached because that breaks down the structure and they become brittle.

The next day, 4 November, Sylvia collected the bones in Glasgow:


At the raw stage, the knee cartilage is very strongly bonded to the bone. After 15 weeks of maceration, however, it had dropped off most of the bones and, where still attached, could easily be prized off by hand:


Many bones are unusable – too small or too deeply indented. Aulos makers need tubes of circular cross-section with particular internal and external diameters. Perhaps the waste product could be used in medicine: a study published in 2014 found that the administration of deer bone extract protected against bone destruction in osteoarthiritic rats.

Sylvia has taken on the processing and shipping as a small business sideline – she lives in Perth, near the antler merchant who deals with Keepers all over Scotland. She is excited about developing a reliable supply of ‘instrument-grade’ tibia bones. If you are interested, please get in touch with her directly:

Sylvia Stevens <southeskcats@gmail.com>

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Some Trial Reeds for the Berlin Aulos

Here is a link to a short video of some work I have done this week on the Berlin Aulos.


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Making reed caps 1

A very exciting package arrived 10 days ago from Robin Howell in Toronto – just before we left for a family holiday in Cornwall. Here are two videos kindly made by my 10-year-old son Sebastian, documenting my holiday project: a better solution to that all-important item, the reed cap.

These reed caps are for new reeds, i.e. they go further down the blades and serve to teach the reed its unfamiliar new shape over the breaking-in period, preventing lateral slippage of the blades and, fundamentally, making them playable. Reeds of this type are unusable without caps and I have learned since my aulos debut in January that well-fitting caps make a huge difference to being able to pick up an instrument and be its master in front of an audience, reliably. Hence the effort invested here, tailoring each cap to its reed.

Having to make 24 caps all at once for 12 beautifully-made Pydna reeds gave me an opportunity to develop my system and production method. I would welcome feedback – I am a new student at this and in these videos present only one of many possible solutions. Next time I make a batch, I think I will try using two strips of large-diameter cane, carved flat on the inside, then hot-soaked and bent around a hardwood carved reed shape, tied and dried before the final step of customising to fit an individual reed.

My “Towan” solution (the farm cottage where we are staying in Cornwall) is more labour-intensive. Rather than bending a flexible material, here I carve a hard one. Garden prunings are much better than dowel rod bought from a DIY store because they split perfectly. In these videos, I use rose I cut back last October and tied in a bundle to straighten the canes, but long straight shoots of some shrub or tree with softer wood and solid section (rather than pith) might be better. Rose is very hard, but I am pleased with the results and hope you can pick up something useful from these videos.

Part 1

Part 2


tip end


back end




roughly sanded




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Libation tune

After a lot of Louvre and Pompeii on this site, here’s a move towards the Archaic and Classical period: the Dorian aulos I have recontructed from textual evidence in my Ancient Greek Music: A New Technical History, playing the intervals recorded by Aristoxenus for the traditional Libation tune ascribed to Olympus, which seems to have remained in ritual use for many centuries.

I’ve made new reeds for it, returning to the hard cane I had started work on aulos reeds almost twenty years ago. And yes, I’ve toasted them a bit.

Posted in Early auloi, Reeds | 2 Comments