Don Hosek - Flute - August 1999
Our hero buys a book, annoys his relatives

I had originally intended to work on developing my embrouchure until I had a chance to have my dad's flute repadded and not do anything with the keys in the interim. But in the course of calling around to get quotes on the job (high cost quoted: $200, low cost $99) I was persuaded to not have the flute repaired at all. "I'm familiar with Arnold flutes," the tech on the phone told me, "and frankly, you could have it completely rehabilitated but you'd end up with a flute that wouldn't be very good. I'd suggest renting a flute or buying one used rather than fixing this one."

OK, I can do that. Just not right away. A couple hundred bucks for a flute is some money that I don't have at the moment. But I figure that I can try and see what noise the flute can make. My flute playing friend who discovered the wood in the head joint had commented that the pads looked like they were in good shape. Worth a try.

So I head over to Borders and start taking books off the shelves. My needs are a bit idiosyncratic. I've been playing music since I was four or five when my parents sent me to music lessons out of self-defense (I had taught myself to play the first song in the music book and proceeded to play it ad nauseam). I can read music, I need to know how to translate notes on the page into notes out of the flute. After a bit of examination, I settle on the Complete flute player by John Sands as what looks like the most practical book for my needs. Straightforward technique, showing what keys to press to make each note and plenty of exercises and short songs to work on technique.

I get it home and start working on making some notes. The B takes a bit of effort, but comes out OK. A is a lot harder to sound, but comes out a bit.

That weekend I'm on vacation with extended family (from parents and a brother to such oddities as a step-second-cousin-in-law). I bring the flute and book with me as I'm working on learning to play. G is still a real struggle. The family is rather irritated at the strange and unpleasant noises coming out of the flute.

I learn that my step-second-cousin had once played flute, but she declines the opportunity to try the flute to see if she can make a noise with it (I'm uncertain how much of my difficulty is in my lips and how much is in the flute).

Dad demonstrates his end-blown flute technique (which more than a few flute players have independently discovered). "I feel like I should be coming out of a basket like a snake," my mom declares after the performance.

After much effort, I finally manage to get a G out of the flute. I find that it really helps to get to G by way of G#. Throw in C, which is comparatively easy other than some balance problems (I'd relied on my left thumb to hold up the flute too much) and now I can play my first real song: "Barcarolle" by Offenbach. The song, mercifully, uses the G very little.

The next note in the book is F. Since my G# strategy worked so well, I figure I'll try to get to F by way of F#. With practice I manage to get an F# and my G is much better, as long as I'm warmed up. Then I try F and make a horrible discovery.

The design of the Boehm-system flute is such that five holes are controlled by three keys worked by the right hand. The right index finger will close the holes for F, F# and Bb. The right middle finger will close the holes for F# and E. The right ring finger will close the holes for F# and D#. But there's a broken spring on Dad's flute. If I press the F key, it also closes the hole under the E key. I can pry that key back up, but then the F# will stay closed until I pry that up. I'll have to get the replacement flute sooner rather than later.