During my courtship with the Boehm flute, I dallied (some might say, fooled around) with a few other flutes, some purchased on Ebay, others at Renaissance fairs from medieval-ish looking swindlers – experts in the old bait n’ switch. The flutes would sound lovely when they “played” them, but would not work at all when I got them home. David Copperfield could have learned a few things from these guys. I suspect a cunningly disguised sound system temporarily inserted into the flute, and then removed later while someone sniggered behind the register.
These flutes came in Bamboo and various hardwoods, and in styles from Native American to Japanese Shakuhachi to Champagne. Once I finally got the hang of them, they all satisfied my dream of meditating beside a quiet, bubbling stream, just me and the flute, awash in inner peace (though technically not “awash” as I would be beside the stream, not in it, at least until Robyn found out I was playing hooky from work). Picture an oldish, less dead, David Carradine in loose fitting kung fu garb, wandering from town to town designing cool houses and playing the flute (with an occasional gig driving lemmings out of town) – but always kicking some ass.
All of these flutes produced the particular sound I craved, but unfortunately had minor and major flaws: specifically, they were missing half of the minor and major notes.
It turns out, I couldn’t play along with my favorite new age, Yanni collection unless the songs were, coincidentally, in the same key as the flute. Apparently there’s this “thing” in music called “keys,” and if your flute is made in the key of “D”, for example, you can’t play along with a song in the key of “W” (I was never big on music theory, preferring to play by ear). These “simple system” flutes, as they are called, have six finger holes, which is not enough to play all twelve of the notes upon which the “keys” are based.
My silver Boehm flute, however, had all of the notes. Every single one of them, which explains all of the complicated mechanical stuff littering the shaft. You push on various parts of it, blow across the hole, and out pops the note you were looking for (or the droid, if you mistakenly push the Storm Trooper key). Anyway, I asked my Boehm flute to forgive my recent transgressions, and we were back together again.
After that, it only took a few more weeks of blowing into the darn thing, in a dismal attempt to make a decent sound, before I finally achieved aural liftoff. It was only then that I realized my mistake: the tone of the Boehm flute was pure – too pure. Too perfect. Almost cold; every note was was a triumph of precision engineering. I know that doesn’t make any sense; who wouldn’t want an instrument that plays perfect notes?
Me, apparently. I longed for the Siren song of my mistresses in wood, the simple system flutes that provided a warm, rich and airy sound; a sound with character and depth (when played by someone else, obviously). By this time, the metal Boehm flute was cold in my hands, figuratively and literally. To add to my estrangement, the keys made me feel removed from the music. Instead of covering up the holes with my fingers, reveling in the touch of its warm body and the rising columns of air from its holes, I had to press cold metal keys, which made annoying clicking and clunking sounds (as annoying as someone chewing with their mouth open or incessantly snapping gum). The bending or sliding of notes (a slow rolling of your finger on or off a hole to play seamlessly from one note to the next.) was impossible. And the maintenance of the thing – don’t even get me started. This time, no amount of counseling could keep us together.
Yet, I couldn’t go back to the arms (armless tubes, actually) of the simple flutes from my rather recent past. I had grown, and was beyond them, now. They would never be what I needed them to be, no matter how I tried to change them (pay attention, ladies). I suppose I could have tried to change myself. But no, that is not my way. To get the last one out of my drawers (literally this time) I resorted, ashamedly, to the old, “It’s not you, it’s me,” line. But, at least I didn’t text it. So what’s next? Matchmaker.com? Tinder?