Well, a few interesting things have happened since I last wrote, and I’ve had a couple of new—or perhaps resurrected—ambitions as of late which I think are noteworthy enough to at least mention. This is going to be a rather long post, so I hope you’ve plenty of time to read. I’m starting to wonder if these long posts are getting overlooked because of their length…
Anyway, the first thing is that I sent my flute off two days ago to get serviced, so that when it comes back, it will be like new—perhaps even better given what I decided to have done with it. It wasn’t quite so difficult this time as it was when I sent it off to get my gold headjoint fit, but I still go through moments of missing it on occasion.
The biggest, most involved, most sound-altering and probably most expensive part of the overhaul process is going to be replacing all the pads with new ones. Some of you, flutists in particular, may ask yourselves what’s so difficult about getting a flute re-padded. Well, in most cases, the process isn’t too bad. All it requires is a little bit of patients to replace the pads, and the know-how. However, this is if either you or your repair technician is not particularly keen to the more minor details of the work.
Pads act as the fingers would on a simple system flute. They act as the seal between the key and the tone hole on the modern concert flutes and piccolos we most commonly see in orchestras and other ensembles. Traditionally, they are made of felt, but many times this puts the player at a disadvantage during changes in weather and humidity. This means that as the flute warms to your breath, or while the flute is being subjected to different temperatures, the felt pads will swell and contract, which means that the required seal is always changing. More often than not, these changes in the pads will compromise the seal, causing air to leak and diminishing the possibility of a solid tone.
Over the past decade, several other types of pad have been produced. Most of these include a pad composed of either animal or synthetic skin. These last longer and are more stable than the traditional felt pads, but they too have their advantages and disadvantages. One such “modern” pad was awarded a patent in the mid 1970’s. The patent was given to David Straubinger, who began his research on pad design in 1969. These pads are different from the traditional felt pads in several ways. They are built in such a way that requires a licensed technician when it comes to installation and or replacement. Secondly, they use synthetic skin which is resistant to environmental changes and is more durable over time than felt.
The problem with these pads is that the skin tends to tear or split after a lot of use. Depending on the player, this tendency can be increased due to how much pressure is put on the keys of the instrument. I am unfortunately one of those who have gotten into the habit of putting a lot of pressure on the keys. It is important to note that a light touch is all that’s required, but because I played a student model flute for seven years—one which used felt pads which never got replaced and therefore leaked without my realizing it—I had to compensate. To seal the tone holes better with leaky pads, more pressure is required, and as a result, my hands are in the habit of compensating for leaky pads. This pressure doesn’t help in keeping the Straubinger pad skins in tact. However, there have been pads developed recently which seal even better than the Straubingers with the lightest of touches, which is the second reason I chose to switch makers.
The pads I’ve chosen to go with are made by Jim Schmidt. The most notable difference between them and most synthetic pads, at least for me, is that they contain specs of gold in them. They are more rigid than the Straubingers, and if installed correctly onto perfectly level tone holes, the seal will be absolute even with the slightest touch to the keys. The rigidity of these pads will prevent if not completely get rid of the difficulties with split skins, which will be saving me a lot of money when I take the instrument in for its “yearly checkup.”
Now, a lot of manufacturers don’t take the time to perfectly level each tone hole. This is a rather detailed process which is often overlooked or avoided because it takes quite some time to level each and every tone hole on each and every flute the company makes. As a result, there are minute imperfections in the tone holes which further inhibit an absolute seal when a key is pressed. I am going to have my local technician level them out completely for me. If I had chosen to remain with the Straubinger pads, the seal would have been more complete and the tendency to split would be decreased. However, with the Schmidt pads, I will ensure not only an absolute seal, I will be getting a better sound because of the fact that they seal better than Straubingers due to the materials used to make them.
The price of the entire overhaul, gold-flecked Schmidt pads included, will be about $500.00. That isn’t a bad price at all, in my opinion. I will be saving more money due to the fact that I won’t have to replace pads so often. Plus, I’ll be getting a better sound for it. Recently, even with my habitual compensation for seven years playing on a flute with leaky pads, I’ve started to notice I’ve been having unusual difficulty achieving a clear tone for notes I normally had little to no difficulty playing. It will be interesting to see just how much of a difference this service will make, I can tell you that much. I am also going to see about finding some ways to help me remember to lighten up the hand pressure to ensure further durability of the pads, and dare I say the flute in general? Less pressure results in less wear on the mechanism, meaning fewer adjustments, meaning more money saved. We’ll see how things go once I get it back in a few more days.
Regarding performance opportunities, I received a phone call a couple of days ago from the people at Temple Square. I don’t remember if I mentioned this when I last wrote or not, but I’d sent in a CD through my friend and former flute instructor, Susan, to see if I could get a chance to perform there.
I had it in mind that I was going to have to wait a whole year to perform there, because that’s often times how far in advanced people have been booked. As luck would have it, there were some openings in September, as well as November! To ensure I could prepare everything in time, I chose an opening in early November. As for what I’m going to play, I’ve got no idea… but that’s why I chose November instead of September. The Assembly Hall in Salt Lake is a magnificent place to perform, and it’s rather exciting to be able to perform there in a group, let alone a solo recital. Needless to say, I’m very excited about this. It’s nice to have a performance goal in mind.
I also recently put in an inquiry to the American West Symphony. They are a local volunteer orchestra, but my thinking is that if I don’t end up joining them for the simple experience of being in an ensemble again, I might be able to obtain a solo opportunity. I’ve never had the opportunity to play a concerto as it was meant to be played—with the orchestra—and it would really be nice if I could find something.
Yesterday, during one of my odd wakeful moments in the middle of the night, I inquired about being in the orchestra who plays Phantom of the Opera as their main occupation. I’m not sure if it’s with the actual touring company, or if it’s just for Broadway, but the point is that I was kind of intrigued at perhaps being able to play in an ensemble… oh no wait, I mean… playing my favorite musical all the time every night for a different crowd for six nights a week.
Perhaps that little bit was rather high in the “let’s be ambitious” list. I really don’t expect to hear back from anybody about that little episode. The Email has already been sent to broadwayworld.com though so I guess I can’t take it back now, hee!
The last thing I have to write about today is the Alexander Buono International Flute Competition. Those of you who currently read my tweets already know a little about what’s recently happened, but for those that don’t know, or who haven’t paid attention, here is the story about that.
I must admit that I kind of got discouraged once I wasn’t able to find up-to-date email information with which to contact the competition coordinators. Plus, with this whole flute overhaul thing, and with the Phoenix Concerto taking over my brain, and with my seemingly-diminishing memory, I didn’t check up on the website at all until a week ago.
In short, the website was down, which didn’t help me in the encouragement factory department. I almost decided to just forget the whole thing, but there was a part of me that felt let down at the prospect, so I checked back again on Tuesday last to see if the competition website had come back. I was in luck, but the information I found was still slightly confusing due to conflicting dates in the application form, and the contact information listed hadn’t changed. I didn’t want to just let it go, though. I couldn’t, there’s a part of me that won’t allow me to just drop something once it’s caught my attention.
With the Email information out of date, I didn’t have any alternative but to try the phone number that had been listed there on the site. I was not about to send in an application to a competition whose possibilities I was not clear about. So, I spent five minutes plucking up the courage to just call the silly number and see what happened.
I had set in my mind that all I’d need to do was ask the couple of questions I had carefully rehearsed and remembered. Once that was done, I’d be all right and wouldn’t have to worry about the unexpected possibilities which came with applying. So, I called the number.
It rang several times and then, somewhat to my relief, I was hearing a recorded message. That relief was short-lived when I heard the voice on the other end, and who it was that was asking me to leave said message… “Hi, this is Barry Alexander…”
My head reeled and my entire carefully-planned, carefully practiced train of thought and list of questions decided to fall right out of my ear. I was not about to stumble through a message to the very founder of the competition and sound like a complete idiot. No way! I hung up before the beep.
After I hung up, I started laughing. I was so amused with the fact that I let something as simple as a sophisticated voice laced with a German accent get in the way of what I had in mind. What was I doing chickening out? The funniest thought, funnily enough sent to my twitter, was that here I am a performer, and I get scared leaving a voicemail message… I just had to laugh, and laugh and laugh and laugh some more… and pluck up the courage to call back again…
Well, right as I was about to call back, my phone rang. The caller ID display read: “Alexander, Barry…” There went my composure again. I was dealing with the amusement at how silly this whole situation was, combined with the thought “Oh dear here he is calling me back and I didn’t leave him a message so I’ll have to stumble and sound like an idiot anyway!” The world was ending… so I picked up the phone and said, “Hello?”
As is the way of everything I worry about, it turned out to be perfectly all right, as is to be expected. I was pleasantly surprised that he had called me back; clear from New York, no less. I got all my questions answered and am more certain than ever that I am going to apply. While last year they offered a grand prize, the board apparently voted against it this year. My thinking is still positive though. I still get to perform in Carnegie Hall, and hell, I’d get to go to New York City again if I win. Nothing gets better than that, I think. If I don’t win, it will be yet another experience to put under my belt, and I can try again next year. Overall, I do believe I am very amused and contented with everything that has been going on as of late.
Guess what? I’ve covered everything that needs be said. My thought for today is more of a reminder to myself than anything else, I think: It’s okay, everybody has to look stupid once in a while… you’ll end up laughing about it later. I’m still laughing…
Forever Easily Amused,