An excellent video to illustrate what’s happening with your air and saliva when playing the flute.
I’m excited about San Francisco re-opening with precautions during the Covid-19 pandemic. During my downtime #ShelterInPlace I have been keeping busy and throughout these odd and trying times occasionally bemused. Please read about what to expect at an appointment.
- I’ve Kon-Mari-ed my office. Nothing beats a once in a century global pandemic to make one tidy. The primary motivation for tidying was to clear closet-space for my new UV-C germicidal sterilization light and housing cabinet. While I may not be able to see the SARS-CoV-2, Novel Coronovirus, I can however zap it.
Cleaning out closet space triggered a domino effect that resulted in two weeks of chaos, multiple trips to the dump, and a whole lot of shredding and recycling. I also unearthed some surprises.
- I’ve also updated my wardrobe. And to think I thought my magnifying visor was the ultimate in geek-chic. Visor 2010, I introduce to you Clear Face Shield 2020.
- And after six weeks of persistent hunting I finally tracked down and reeled in two bottles of 70% rubbing alcohol.
Take care all, continue to #ShelterInPlace, and I hope to see you soon from a masked and tasteful distance of six feet!
Launching Virtual Flute Repair Consultations
For the past two weeks I piloted video flute repairs and had a surprisingly good time. In many instances the consultation can certainly help the flutist, so I’m going to open this service to the general public. Please contact me at email@example.com if there is an issue you wish to discuss and we can determine if this might be useful for you.
Is It Me or Is It The Flute: Virtual Flute Repair Consult
For EXISTING CLIENTS ONLY I am offering videoconferencing appointments to discuss concerns about your instrument. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss your general issue and determine if conferencing would be helpful.
This could be done on Google Hangouts, Facetime, Signal, or Zoom.
If I can help you I’d appreciate a small payment. It’s your decision. Maximum time 15 minutes a consult.
SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, is affecting everyone in the SF Bay Area and beyond. Students are home. Concerts are cancelled. Teachers are scrambling to maintain a remote studio. And lots of people are out of work.
On the flute repair-side it has been lonely. Mine is not an essential business. And then there’s the issue of contact. For indepth repair there is no part of an instrument that I don’t touch with my hands or breathe on. When someone hands me a flute they are certainly within six feet of me. Flute playing is a lot of breathing and blowing and flying droplets.
So in addition to finishing up an overhaul — the one I call The Hostage — I’ve been researching the implications of SARS-CoV-2 on my work. These are my thoughts on what changes I need to make to continue working once restrictions on work and physical contact are modified or lifted:
- Purchasing a hospital-grade UV light fixture and building a flute-cabinet for sterilization. The reasoning behind this is:
- It takes 120,000 microwatts per second at a distance of one meter to kill SARS. SARS-CoV-2 is like SARS.
- If I buy a unit that emits 117 microwatts per second, then it will take about 1,025 seconds or 17 minutes to kill SARS.
- Time will be reduced if distance is reduced.
- This will be particularly useful on metal surfaces and potentially wood. I would not want to put key work under UV light, however, because of likely damage to pads.
- Wiping down with alcohol. 70% isopropyl alcohol is great for killing coronaviruses. Unfortunately isopropyl alcohol had disappeared from store shelves. And I cannot get it on ferrous parts (i.e., your rods) and directly on the skins of flute pads or on felts or cork pieces.
- Everyone wears a mask. #Masks4All.
- Letting the flute sit. Say someone infected with SARS-CoV-2 plays a flute. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine an aerosolized version of the virus was detectable in a degraded form for up to three days on stainless steel. Let’s extrapolate stainless steel to other metals. And let’s also call blowing into your flute an aerosol. The implications are that your flute can harbor detectable traces of SARS-CoV-2 for up to three days. So the new normal may be unless the flute is thoroughly cleaned to not to play the instrument for three days after another person has played it. And unless it’s a simple repair, I will play your flute. And most people play their flute before bringing it into me.
- Don’t be in the same room as someone playing the flute. Playing the flute is like talking or coughing: it sends an aerosol into the air and aerosols are some of the primary means of transmission. Believe me, I’ve sat next to people when they’ve played and felt their breath and droplets of moisture hit me. It’s an aerosol. My new normal is to always wear a face mask when leaving the house. And because of my contact with the instrument I should also wear a mask while repairing a flute. And there are risks when I’m in the room while someone’s playing the flute. Maybe there’s no longer play-testing after a repair. Unfortunately, a Mr. Vernon choir practicing outside of Seattle has proven that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted relatively easily in the air. Flutists are not singers but we inhale and project outward a lot of air.I’m wondering if one could make a flute-mask that can fit over the face and mouth of the flutist and also cover part of the headjoint. Face masks – even cloth ones made at home – are very likely to stop transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in casual settings. As I write this the United States is probably going to follow guidelines used in other countries and recommend wearing face masks in all public places. Simple face masks won’t help stop the spread during invasive medical procedures, but I’m going to say that flute repair does not fit beneath that category. A flute-mask is something else to ponder after I build the sterilizing cabinet.
And in the meantime there are new challenges and small victories to be embraced on a daily basis. Take care all. #Shelterinplace, #Masks4All, wash your hands frequently, and keep practicing.
I’ve found this to be a helpful article: “The Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”, Harvard Business Review.
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.)
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
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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”
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
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!