A Christmas Story: Two Instruments, Two Nutcrackers, Two Sticky High B-Flats

Posted by: on Dec 12, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments
A Christmas Story: Two Instruments, Two Nutcrackers, Two Sticky High B-Flats

It’s a week before show time and in the workshop,
Email is burning with news of hang ups.

It’s Nutcracker season where flutes can grandstand,
With high B-flat notes ringing true through the band.

But high notes are failing on two diff’rent axes,
On the same run of notes – the lovely B-major passage.

“Huh? What gives?”, I voice with erudition,
That note is no trouble, it’s not the lower rendition.

Is it catching? Is it coincidence? Or am I losing my mind?
Bring it in, let me look, and I’ll see what I find.

(And here is the part where I stray from true verse,
I’m not a machine and this is getting perverse.)

The Situation

A nasty, uneven, cracking transition between high A and B-flat or high G and B-flat on a piccolo and a flute. Two different instruments, two different players, two different Nutcrackers. In both cases, it seems like the trill rod is the culprit. Unfortunately, that makes no sense.


The first two B-flats on your instrument are notoriously fickle. They constitute.

  • three different fingerings
  • they cross the left and right hand stacks
  • they can involve up to five different adjustments
  • four pins
  • three screws and steels
  • five posts and
  • four pads
  • ouch

High, B-flat, however, while a complex fingering to the flutist is simpler for repair.

  • it’s one fingering
  • it’s not played that often
  • it’s a harmonic and not a true fingering: so press it, blow, and barring something terribly wrong happening a noise squeaks out. (Note: In general, the terribly wrong thing that happens is a pin, rusty rod, or spring on the trill keys. And if they are causing problems, then you’ll hear it throughout the flute before you notice it on the B-flat.)
  • the trill rod is involved, but because it’s not an interconnected key I have never seen it cause an issue in transitions between high B-flat and other notes.That is until now.


The Piccolo

The piccolo may seem like a small flute, but it’s really not. One of the ways in which it is not a flute is its trill mechanism. Unlike the flute, the downward action of the trill keys is not stopped by corks under the keys that rest on the body. The corks under piccolo trill keys rest on the right hand key stack which stops the downward action of the trill keys.

Piccolo Trills

Flute Trills

The flutist in question has a strong grip.
And he practiced and toiled ’til sweat doth did drip.

(Sorry – I’m stopping now)

Gratuitous verse aside, his strong grip and his particularly nimble left-hand fingers were indeed related to the sticking trill key. Because the piccolo trill key rests on the right hand key stack, if depressed hard enough it affects the action of the F# key.

In short: during quick passages his left hand worked a nanosecond faster than his right hand, and thus during the transition from high B-flat to G his G spoke before the F# key lifted. Thus the squeak.

Recommendation: Release right, first finger faster. Or, reduce grip with right hand.

The Flute

The flute had been in previously for this complaint. The sticking trill key problem was sporadic and I had not successfully reproduced the condition in the shop. I had disassembled and cleaned the rod and tested it and believed the problem was resolved.

When the flute returned, I looked at all possible points of contact between the trill key and other parts of the flute and found no places where the other keys were touching the trill rod. Fortunately the flutist was there to reproduce the problem, because regardless of how much I squeezed I could not get the trill key to hang. And hang ONLY when coming off the high B-flat.

Looking For Points of Contact

After I had spent considerable time losing hair and testing every part of the flute, the flutist asked me, “Maybe it’s the cork?” Well, that doesn’t make sense, but because I had tried everywhere else I looked anyway. And it was indeed the cork.

The flute in question had a slightly longer than average cork under its trill key. By longer, I mean at most 2mm. This protrusion of cork in combination with a sturdy grip resulted in the cork touching and compressing against and around the body rib. Maybe there was also a sticky substance (glue, oil, dead skin, dirt, etc.) on that portion of cork. So with all variables in place, the trill cork contoured itself around the rib causing there to be a momentary adhesion between the rib and the trill cork then the flutist’s finger was lifted.

The Sticking Point

Action: Sand paper the back of the trill cork so that regardless of how hard the trill key was depressed its cork no longer touched the rib.

Nights at the Opera

Posted by: on Oct 18, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

It’s fall and that means Opera Season is upon us. Thanks to my new friend “Derek” I will once again be attending San Francisco Opera. Earlier this year Derek repeatedly phoned to make certain that I was not remiss in renewing my subscription. He did not say so much during our numerous conversations, but I sensed in his voice that Derek bore many burdens. His pathos increased with each call. Finally I could no longer bear his crescendoing sorrow and I renewed. I have not heard from Derek since and I am some what concerned. But I suspect he is taking a long needed break and I will hear from him as summer comes upon us.

My seats this year are still in the highest altitudes but more centered and further back than in the past. Any further back in the War Memorial Opera House and I would be entombed in a pillar. Which brings me to the question of what are good seats in the War Memorial Opera House?

I am very impressed with the sound from my seat. While being in the center of a row means I should take care to arrive early to minimize the number of laps I crawl over while taking my seat, the benefit of being so centered is volume and clarity of sound. Unless sung upstage (i.e., I am staring at the singer’s knees), voices are clear and ringing. When performed stage left, it sounds like I am sitting directly before the singers.

And the orchestra has never sounded better. When leaning forward and looking through binoculars, I find myself gazing into the eyes and embouchures of the flutists. The three of them (Julie McKenzie, Patty Farrell, and Stephanie McNab) have played to perfection during Rigoletto (Verdi) and The Capulets and the Montagues (Bellini). It never ceases to impress me how much discipline and thoughtfulness goes into each performance. In addition to the change of music and style, the musicians also adapt to the different cast (or casts in the case of Rigoletto) for each opera. Rigoletto is a standard piece with well-known arias and flute moments, but the Capulets and the Montagues is rarely performed and the first I had heard of it. Both give the flutes and workout. Bellini has the flute play unions with sopranos and duets with clarinet and horn throughout the opera. So while the flute doesn’t have the stand and deliver passages of Verdi, Bellini wrote for it nerve wracking, spine-tingling, full-exposure moments. All this while murder, intrigue, frolicking, and basin-climbing happens onstage.

I am looking forward to Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick tonight. In preparation I borrowed and renewed (three times) the Melville novel. I am about three-quarters of the way though the book and though I know how to kill, slaughter, and butcher a whale, not to mention how to cook up a whale steak (the answer is “raw”), I still haven’t met The Notorious M-D. himself. I have, however, read enough to know that this is not a novel of twenty-first century marine mammal sensitivities. I will have to grit my teeth against squeamishness and learn how the story ends tonight. And perhaps I will also discover the answer to the age old question of how many flutists can fit into the mouth of a whale.

In Case You Missed the San Francisco International Flute Festival

Posted by: on Jun 26, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

You can watch 14 and a half minutes of it on a video by flutist Joanna Tse. Channel your inner flute diva and enjoy.

Richard Dare and “The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained”

Posted by: on May 29, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

This is a provocative article in the Huffington Post by Richard Dare, Managing Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. I could not say that he’d come down on the side of Elmer Fudd in the Elmer vs. Francesca Zambello match-up, but he does not shy away from calling classical music an elite institution that lives in a rigid code of conduct that is in danger of suffocating itself. Or, more to the point, some of the correct manners of the concert hall really suck; particularly the part where you’re not supposed to move or speak except at designated times. Really: That’s supposed to be enjoyable? Read the article and you be the judge.

In defense of manners, however, I do come down on the side of prudishness when the music-goer next to you not only scans his iPhone for email during the concert but also pulls out a sandwich to snack on during intermission. True story.

Mr. Dare is trumpeting what is already a growing movement to take symphonic music and instruments out of the concert hall and into non-classical environments and genres. A gaggle of San Francisco Conservatory students formed the Magic*Magik Orchestra a few years ago. And innovative flutists are eagerly establishing flexible ensembles to perform music for classical instruments. These musicians are willing and eager to play outside the concert hall. Personally, I hope they’re not using their good flutes for outdoor gigs. On BART I once sat across from a flutist who had stuffed his instrument, fully assembled, head-first into a backpack with its footjoint protruding from the top. While I generally do not anthropomorphize flutes, at the time I found myself thinking, “It’s suffocating!” It took a lot of will-power not to do an intervention.

The Power of Music

Posted by: on May 23, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

Right now I’m listening to KDFC. They are playing Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”. And while this stirring and transformative piece of music plays all I can think is, “Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!”

Clearly exposing children to music is important and leaves a lasting effect. And music in combination with visual imagery leaves a more powerful imprint. So although I have seen San Francisco Opera and Francesca Zambello’s recent production of Die Walküre and their stunning staging of this musical moment with a platoon of heroic, female paratroopers, the voice of Elmer Fudd somehow won out. Today.

This is my plug for people of all ages to watch and listen to music. Whenever possible, make it to a live performance. We live in an area with a plethora of musicians and artists, so support them. And get that Dirty Wabbit out of your head!

SF Opera

Melissa Citro (Ortlinde), Renée Tatum (Grimgerde), Lauren McNeese (Rossweisse), Maya Lahyani (Siegrune), Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde), Sara Gartland (Gerhilde), Tamara Wapinsky (Helmwige), Daveda Karanas (Waltraute) and Cybele Gouverneur (Schwertleite). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Elmer Fudd


Events Calendar

Posted by: on May 16, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

I have added an Events Calendar for San Francisco Bay Area flute happenings to my site. This is a test drive: Come this Fall I will decide whether or not to maintain it. Regardless of all the somewhat scary rules posted (wow, I wrote that), I hope that individuals will register and enter their own events. There are a lot of flute happenings in our area. Tuttiflutti, the San Francisco Bay Area Yahoo Group moderated by Isabelle Chapuis, is a key resource and I encourage flute-interested people to go there for most of their information. However, I am a person who likes her information in a grid-format and thus this calendar. Plus it was educational to test calendar plug-ins. In the end I opted for the Ajax Event Calendar by Eran Miller.

I hope you read and find the calendar useful.

Meow! Gossip Cats Are Dancing

Posted by: on Apr 27, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

Ever since local flutists got bit by the Kickstarter bug, I seem to be doing a lot of my gift shopping there. This week in the mail I received my Areon Flutes CD titled “Gossip Cats are Dancing” that was my reward for helping to cover production costs of the album.

The verdict? I love it: It’s a trip!

First, the cover art is cool. It’s so cool that even I, a confirmed not-cool-person, know that it’s cool.

Second, I like the music. It’s playful, fun, and shows off the range of sounds and textures of different flutes. They whip out an F Bass flute for Robert Dick’s title track and then tear through graceful piccolo riffs in “Four Elements for Four Flutes” by Chia-Ying Chiang. And while for most of the heavy lifting they stick to the C flutes, I suspect there’s a G Alto and C Bass flute making appearances throughout.

Admittedly my musical taste trends toward the pretty, fu-fu stuff. But this is new, edgy music with enough sonority for me to hang onto.

Daniel Felsenfeld Piece Premiere

Posted by: on Apr 3, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

A few months back local flutist Meerenai Shim Kickstarted her effort to commission a piece by composer Daniel Felsenfeld. One hundred and thirty people later (myself included) she raised sufficient funds for the composition. And later this month on Saturday, April 28th Meerenai will be premiering it as part of the Trinity Chamber Concert Series. I hope you can make it. I personally am eager to hear it.

Web Site Relaunch

Posted by: on Mar 27, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

I have done the dirty deed and revamped my flute web site. It’s been a long time coming. I hope you find the information here more accessible. It is now easier for me to update my site, so from this moment forth it shall be brighter, fresher, and more spell-binding. And should the content fail to meet these expectations, I’ll post more cute baby animal pictures. Enjoy!

Hours for March 2012

Posted by: on Mar 4, 2012 in Latest News | No Comments

I will be taking off the first part of March 2012. The next available appointments for overhauls is April. I will be back March 20, 2012.