Day 324: Lessons from Another Lesson

Yesterday brought two shocking events:

1) I cleaned my fridge. It's not that it needed it; I only did it because the CDC had left a note on my door about it.

2) I discovered that I don't suck. (Sorry for the truck driver language, but on the scale from BRAT to Mack, that term is really only a 2WD Ford Ranger.)

What precipitated this remarkable discovery? I took another lesson, this time from a wonderful classical flutist named Matthew Cross, who is the principal flutist for the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra and also owner of Cohasset Music Shop, a sales, rental and lessons music shop on route 3A. If you must know.

I scheduled this particular session because I've been working too hard to still feel like the flute isn't sounding the way I want it to. Thought it should feel more free, more easy, more in control. Shannon Heaton did suggest that it may be time to upgrade the flute, and I don't disagree, but I also thought that perhaps a little old-fashioned classical tone exercises would be of help.

It took us about a half hour of playing and exchanging flutes for Matt to realize that it wasn't a technique problem so much as a technical problem. The shocker: The flute needs repair!!!

Two keys are leaking, which interferes with a nice clean sound and also affects intonation. A repairman about five years ago had replaced all my cork pads with leather...but apparently most classical wooden woodwinds use cork, and cork most likely will make those notes really "pop." Matt suggests that wooden woodwind instruments have had cork pads for hundreds of years; maybe they're onto something. Call your flute maker and find out, he instructs.

And then, there's maintenance. This is the gross part, but... I haven't been cleaning out the headjoint due to a very strange old world superstition or perhaps voodoo tradition. (See paragraph 1, above. There may be a connection.) As a result the tone hole has about five years of stuff on it... and the tone hole is the edge that makes the sound... It needs help. And that may be the key to much of the problem. And, there's corrosion inside the headjoint, which would also interrupt smooth airflow.

We got a start on cleaning the tone hole, then he put some brackets on the leaky keys so it looked a little voilá... a good sounding flute. Still much work to do, particularly on richening up the lower end, but that means hours of long tones with a classic Marcel Moyse flute technique book over the coming months. Matt lent me his well-loved copy. Here's Matt, with his repairman hat on, and the flute all clamped up:

Sure glad I brought the flute for repair the day AFTER I finished my parts on our CD. Well, not so much.

This proves and amends one of my favorite teaching adages: Just when you think you suck the most, it can mean one of two things: 1) you're on the verge of a breakthrough, or 2) you need a new instrument. Now, I add a third item.

3) Your instrument needs repair. Go see Matt.