Friday, May 09, 2008

Flute Dilemma Resolved

If you're a regular reader, you know that I've been perplexed by the Silver Flute vs. Irish Flute question (first expressed in my 2/2/07 post). Every time I think I've decided which flute I want to use for playing Irish music, something makes me reconsider the question from a different angle. Finally, this spring I decided the answer was a Sandalwood Headjoint for My Silver Flute (see my 3/29/08 post). But that solution became complicated when I realized the sandalwood headjoint wouldn't actually fit my own flute. In my 4/20/08 post I detailed various options. Here's what has transpired regarding each option since that post:

1. The Sedona flute and sandalwood headjoint combo had a really nice sound, no question about that. In the end, though, I couldn't accept the idea of switching to what is essentially a good quality student flute. My own flute, albeit 30 years old, is a professional, handmade, solid silver flute from the Wm. S. Haynes Company in Boston. If you've ever played a professional flute, you'll know it's hard to step down from there.

2. Vintage flutes come with a whole different set of difficulties and complications. I decided it's probably not practical to adopt a vintage flute as my everyday flute.

3. After a number of inquiries, I realized that I would never find a used headjoint that would actually fit my thin-walled Haynes. Flute construction has changed too much over the last 30 years.

4. Peter Noy said he would indeed make a headjoint to fit my Haynes, and he sent me a boxwood as well as a grenadilla headjoint for evaluation. To expand my comparisons, I borrowed a Gemeinhardt flute so I could mix and match. Here's all the headjoints, lined up side by side.

The only headjoint that fit my flute was the one made for it. However, I was able to do a number of comparisons by alternating all the headjoints on the two borrowed silver flutes. Surprisingly, the body of the flute has much more effect on the sound than I expected. Here's the pile of flutes I tested in various combinations.

In case you're wondering about the white stuff on the tenons of some of the headjoints, that's teflon tape (also known as plumber's tape) which helps achieve a tighter fit when the headjoint is smaller than the body of the flute.

5. Reconsidering the silver flute vs. Irish flute question, a friend asked me what I was really trying to achieve. "A more woody sound," I answered. To which my friend replied, "then why not get an Irish flute?" In other words, rather than try to imitate the sound of an Irish flute, why not just get the instrument that makes that sound? My objection has always been my fear that changing to the Irish flute will set me back a year or more in terms of my playing. I'll have to learn a new hand position, relearn most of my tunes, and change my embouchure. In response to my moaning about all that, someone else pointed out to me that I seem to love the challenge of new musical ventures. After all, look at what I've accomplished in the past five years: I've taken up a new instrument, the whistle, and immersed myself in a whole new musical genre. I'm now proficient at learning tunes by ear in the traditional way, have even come to prefer it! I've gained a decent grasp of phrasing and ornamentation, and have translated whistle ornamentation to the silver flute (which entailed learning new fingerings and inventing some fingering shortcuts). I also learned a bit about piano accompaniment of Irish instrumental music. And in the last year I've started singing Irish songs, first in English and now working myself up to learning some Irish. Have I not realized that I love the challenge of something new?

So, having fallen in love with the Peter Noy boxwood headjoint, I called him and ordered an entire flute -- conical, simple system Irish flute! Yup, I really did. Put down a deposit to seal the deal. I chose a boxwood flute with bone rings just like the headjoint below.

The unthinned boxwood headjoint has such a sweet sound. The Cooper embouchure cut is easier to play, for me anyway, than the round embouchure of most Irish flutes, and I really like the effect produced by the bone inset along the top of the blow edge.

The flute he will make for me won't be ready til late 2009, but it will be beautiful and it's what I want. Could it be that my ongoing dilemma is finally resolved? Perhaps. I feel very comfortable with my decision. No second thoughts have surfaced. And now, to wait...

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Hooray!!! Many many congrats on what looks to be an awesome new flute. I'm sure the waiting will be hard (I -know- it is for me) but wow, a flute like that should provide many years of joy once you have it. I'm sure you're up to the challenge...