By Beth Monroe, Public Relations and Marketing Director, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
When University of Richmond ethnomusicology professor Andy McGraw contacted Horticulture Director Grace Chapman to see if his students could harvest bamboo at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, it was music to Chapman’s ears.
Bamboo is considered a “nuisance plant” by many due to its highly invasive nature. A thick stand of bamboo on Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s property, planted before the Garden came into existence, is a constant struggle to contain.
Fortunately, the size and variety of the Garden’s bamboo is precisely what McGraw was looking for to make musical instruments as part of his studies of non-Western music.
Dressed in long pants and armed with bug spray, the class traveled to the Garden on September 3 to harvest the bamboo. McGraw started with a brief lesson, explaining the characteristics of bamboo and how some cultures use it to create musical instruments. Kneeling, he struck the ends of bamboo sticks on the hard ground so students could hear differences in pitch. McGraw also explained how Indonesian rice farmers use an elaborate system of bamboo “tubing” in their fields to help distinguish variations in water flow by sound alone. The farmers can listen and tell if there are obstructions or if another farmer is diverting the water supply.
After a quick lesson in poison ivy identification provided by Gardener Leah Purdy, the intrepid students waded into the bamboo jungle. Tentative at first, they quickly identified the sizes they needed and began sawing and dragging the slender branches out of the dense growth.
In less than an hour, a pile of bamboo was assembled. The long, knobby tubes will be cured and fashioned into xylophones, a process that will be completed sometime in November.
McGraw promised to share the results with the Garden and we are looking forward to the sweet sounds of this harvest.