Classical flute in sessions

Classical flute in sessions

I’m wondering how vitriolic the crowd might be when I come to sessions with a silver flute. It’s what I play, and ITM is what I love to play. I’m a modest player, and in Chicago, we have sessions that are friendly to an eclectic ensemble, but what say you?

Re: Classical flute in sessions

Joanie Madden.

Re: Classical flute in sessions

Welcome to thesession.org, Karen, the best resource in the world for information about ITM and with many good flute players who are very helpful. If you play ITM on a silver flute, you probably know the following players (there is also a handful of others):
(1) Joannie Madden (the flute starts about 3:00 in):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOrU5sVUyqs

(2)Áine Heslin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4Lb9q9e4iA

These players certainly play well stylistically for ITM, but my personal feeling is that it is to be regretted that they don’t play a wooden flute. I’ve played the silver flute in the past but once you experience the joy of the wooden flute, it is hard to go back to silver for this kind of music. But I would never be critical if you played a silver flute in a session (as long as the style wasn’t classical). BTW Eimear McGeown is a fantastic classical flutist (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-1LsNEib_s) who plays a wooden flute when playing Irish music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VREX8RHmQy8 (.) There is also a link to a lovely slow air she plays which is on Martin Doyle’s blog. Here is a youtube version played on a bamboo “Pratten” flute by her:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40vCzru15Ys (.) So, have fun with your silver flute playing this music, but give a wooden flute (or a delrin copy) a try.

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Re: Classical flute in sessions

The important thing is to play in the traditional style. The instrument is not important. I’m always surprised at how little non-flute players know about wooden flutes, anyway. It matters far more to fellow flute players than it does to anyone else, and they will be impressed if you achieve the desired sound out of a Boehm flute. Most wooden flute players can’t do it.

And welcome to The Session!

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Re: Classical flute in sessions

In my area, flute players are thin on the ground. Anyone who showed up at a session with a good understanding of the music and a few tunes under their belt would be very welcome, regardless of whether they played silver Bohm or wooden conical bore flutes. It’s more about fitting into the style than what flute you play, as the above example with Joanie Madden shows.

That said, the technique and the general approach is different enough from Classical -- generally avoiding chest vibrato and tonguing, going for a “hard” tone tone, etc. -- that it might help to buy an inexpensive keyless conical bore flute in Delrin, or a Casey Burns “Folk Flute,” so you get into a different head space about the instrument you’re playing. But don’t let that stop you from joining sessions and having fun. It’s more about how you play, than what instrument you play.

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I would be most interested in what our member Wesley has to say on this, due to him making his living playing the Boehm flute, and also being an excellent player of the wooden “Irish flute”.

As for myself I played Irish flute (well, my flutes were made in London in the mid-19th century and had nothing Irish about them) for around 30 years and dabbled in Boehm flute and it seems to me that Irish traditional music can be played just fine on the Boehm flute.

The important things such as breathing, phrasing, ‘breath pushes’ etc can be done equally well on either sort of flute. Cuts and pats can be done just fine on the Boehm flute, in fact you have more possibilities for cutting due to the ‘trill keys’.

Interesting that Karen is in Chicago, because I have read that there’s a number of people doing ITM on Boehm flutes there (don’t know if it’s true, it’s just what I read). In general it seems to be more of an American thing than an Irish thing, from what I’ve heard.

Let’s not forget that a widely respected Irish fluteplayer, Paddy Carty, played a flute with full Boehm covered keywork (though it used the Radcliffe fingering system, which was a compromise between Boehm’s and the traditional pre-Boehm system).

Re: Classical flute in sessions

This session is going on fine with a fully mechanised flute in it, Paddy Carty.

Having the plateau keys and full mechanism allows him to fluently play in keys which would be tricky on the old flute such as Dm, Gm, Gmix, and so forth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0Ro1INYLXQ

Re: Classical flute in sessions

And there would be no vitriol aimed at Paddy O’Donaghue either, with his silver Boehm flute

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U__WjRen-eo


Having once owned a Radcliffe system flute, I can say that there’s no difference between it and the Boehm flute other than how you finger F# and F natural; the linkages have been altered (from the Boehm) so that these notes finger like they do on the traditional wood flute.

This process was merely a continuation of the process that had begun the moment Boehm introduced his flute: immediately makers changed the G# key and Bb keys to work more like they do on the traditional wooden flute, flying in the face of Boehm’s mechanism and theories. No-one today, I don’t think, plays a “Boehm flute” per se, that is, with Boehm’s fingering system (which had an open G# key and different Bb mechanism).

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Does the tuning slide on a standard Boehm flute close enough to get an “Irish tone” as powerful as Joannie Madden’s ?

Somewhere I think I read that her flute was modified to suite her blowing style.

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I don’t know what you mean. Having played both antique wooden London 8-key flutes and Boehm flutes (and a Radcliffe flute) I don’t see how the tuning slide affects tone as you suggest.

You can get an entire range of tone colours from a silver flute, bamboo flute, or wooden flute.

Around 30 years ago I’d been playing Irish flute for a few years but had never played a Boehm flute. I went into a shop and picked up a Boehm flute and played a few notes on it and the old proprietor comes up and says “you play wooden flute.” I was surprised, but he said he could hear the wood in my tone.

“An instrument is merely a mechanical device” he told me. “The music is in the person”.

In any case, Boehm flute headjoints are available with a variety of embouchure cuts and shapes, each giving unique tone.

Also you can buy wooden headjoints for Boehm flutes, available with a variety of embouchure shapes and cuts. Most of the tone comes from the head, and a silver Boehm flute with a wood headjoint with a traditional oval embouchure sounds very much like an “Irish flute”.

Re: Classical flute in sessions

Here.

http://gtmusicalinstruments.com/instruments_show.php?Id=11&name=Wooden Headjoints GT&lang=en

I had the opportunity, at one of the conventions of the National Flute Association, to play a number of wood headjoints of various woods on the same silver Boehm body, and it was interesting how each wood gave a distinctly different sort of performance. I can’t say different “tone” because that’s something an outside listener would hear. But to the player, each wood played in a unique way.

Re: Classical flute in sessions

@ cac

“the best resource in the world for information about ITM”

Nope. A reliable source of received wisdom. An easily accessible online source. All well intentioned, but often well off the mark.

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@Himself, Llig, is that you in disguise? 😉

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I remember Llig. He was a grumpy bollix, but he used to talk sense…

Re: Classical flute in sessions

You’re not wrong there (on either point!)

Re: Classical flute in sessions

@Richard. My understanding is that many people who aim for a ‘ hard dark tone’ on a wooden flute find themeselves playing flat on a Boehm so with the tuning slide close to ‘shut’ to be in tune with others.

And that the scope of the tuning slide assumes more of an ‘across’ rather than ‘down’ blowing style. James Galway says he blows down - but he doesn’t sound like Joannie Madden.

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Maybe off topic a bit, but I play both silver and wood and find that I have to have the silver’s headjoint all the way in when I play.

Re: Classical flute in sessions

Doesn’t seem to matter much what you do does it? There will always be somebody who doesn’t like it. Sometimes they’ll just come out and say so and sometimes they’ll say things like “good enough, but not my cup of tea”. Scrape ’em off. ITM is more about attitude and inclusiveness. You’re always welcome at my table. Matter of fact, if you’re ever in Salt Lake look me up. I can likely put together a small group for a few tunes.

Re: Classical flute in sessions

Stefan Remy -- thanks for posting the video I meant but posted the wrong link for!

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Re: Classical flute in sessions

The other point about the Radcliff flute is that it has the Boehm bore, which is a really big factor in how the instrument sounds. The most awkward thing about playing ITM on a Boehm flute is the F#. Using your middle finger to ‘cheat’ the F# (instead of the standard fingering with your ring finger) helps make a lot of passages more fluid.
As an aside, years ago, when I first started attending Irish sessions (coming from a background in classical Boehm flute playing), I sat next to a lovely Irish man playing box. At the end of the session, he leaned over and said “It’s like sitting next to James Galway.” In the moment, I took it as a compliment, but looking back I’m not so sure…
Eliminate any trace of vibrato, curtail your tonguing in favor of glottal stops, and you’ll be well on your way.

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As others have said, it’s not the flute but how it’s played. Sure silver flutes are unusual in Irish music but far from unknown or out of place.

‘The Archivist ’ on the session .org is one fine player who favours a Radcliffe flute.

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I once had a covered holed old system cylindrical Boosey with a huge bore (larger than a Boehm bore). It was a sound cannon. It was however high pitched and could not tune down due to the very short slides (French slides). The maker was sure this flute wanted to be in high pitch not just play there like the late conicals preceding it.
It was a blast to play though almost didn’t miss the open holes.
There is a 440 Radcliffe (unusual) for sale at the Irish flute store. It’s pricey but if money were no object Id like it. But I like em old….

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Re: Classical flute in sessions

I play both, I tend to stick to the wooden for the traditional and the Boehm for everything else, but that is more to keep the two different things separate in my head. You can certainly do either on either instrument, given enough skill. The wooden flute is, after all, the immediate ancestor of the Boehm flute and is what was in use when much of what is now regarded as classical music was first written.

Regarding how flat or sharp you blow, really, you should be able to get a dark tone on almost any flute without blowing the thing flat. But many people seem to think turning the headjoint in and closing off a lot of the embouchure hole is the way to the “Irish ” sound - and that will make it flat. Blowing strongly rather downwards into the hole is actually the way that works for me and if you keep the hole open then you will not go flat. A lot of the buzzy sound is often due to playing on the edge of the octave jump. But you need your octaves in tune for this i.e. head cork in the right place on a well made flute.

Anyway, play the flute you have. Play the music as it is meant to be played.

Re: Classical flute in sessions

Even though I have ten years more on Boehm than I do on wooden, I’ve always found it awkward fingering F# as it is played so predominantly in Irish music on a Boehm. That’s why a Radcliffe is so handy (F fingered like a Boehm is F#). It would be handy to stick with the Boehm (and I have a custom wooden head joint, albeit not for Irish music), but it is neither the sound nor ease of playing that I like. And then there is always the key clatter. I still say play what you want, but for all that has been said about Joanie Madden (and I take nothing away from her), to my ears, she doesn’t sound like she’s playing a wooden flute, and I’m not partial to her sound, however adept she is.

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Re: Classical flute in sessions

All that matters is how well you play Irish traditional music. The instrument isn’t important so long as it can be played at a reasonable volume and the tone isn’t too crazy.

As Richard mentioned earlier, I play Boehm flute at work and a simple shstem flute on the side. I don’t see anything wrong with playing traditional music on the Boehm flute or western art muaic on the simple sytem flute. Each instrument can do both. The problem that often arises is that a Boehm system player who knows nothing about Irish music will grab the sheet music to a few well known tunes and show up to a session expecting to be welcomed with open arms. The same reception would be given to a simple system player who showed up to an orchestra audition playing romamtic flute music with a woody Irish flute tone and using cuts in lieu of tounguing.

Personally I find the keys clacking around turns me off of the Boehm flute for traditional music, but then again the style I prefer uses percussive cuts and taps that make it difficult to play with the light touch a silver flute requires. I can’t see a problem with someone playing one as long as it’s in the accepted style. Joannie Madden and Paddy Carty did it, so clearly it is possible.

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“the scope of the tuning slide assumes more of an ‘across’ rather than ‘down’ blowing style.”

If you want a shorter tuning slide you can take in your headjoint to any competent repair person and have it chopped.

I never played wood flute with that extreme in-pointing embouchure but I’ve seen others do it. You can do the same thing, leaving the embouchure in its normal position, by adjusting your embouchure (position of your jaw). Part of what little flute training I had was learning to blow into the flute at a variety of angles for various purposes.

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“Personally I find the keys clacking around turns me off of the Boehm flute for traditional music, but then again the style I prefer uses percussive cuts and taps that make it difficult to play with the light touch a silver flute requires.”

When I would teach Irish flute workshops I would run into the problem of Boehm flutists not being able to perform cuts fast enough due to their keeping their fingers in contact, or nearly in contact, with the keys. The flicking motion required for traditional-sounding cuts does make the keys clack. When I was playing some Irish music on the Boehm flute it didn’t bother me, I accepted is as a necessary evil.

Wesley have you done cran-things with those two little high-up trill keys? That was the coolest thing about playing Irish on the Boehm, well that and being able to play in Dm and Gm fluently.

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“The other point about the Radcliff flute is that it has the Boehm bore”

Radcliffe flutes were made both with the traditional conical bore similar to a Boosey-Pratten flute, and with a cylindrical Boehm bore.

The one I had had a conical bore.

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“The flutist (Jem Hammond) is able to play crans on the silver flute.”

Taking nothing away from Jem, I would think that anyone who could play crans on a wood flute could do it on a Boehm flute, since you’re moving the same fingers in the same way.

When I picked up Boehm flute cuts, pats, crans, etc didn’t change. Neither did breathing or embouchure, really. What did change was the fingering system.

BTW I’ve seen ITM players playing in a traditional Irish style on the Boehm flute even use the uilleann pipes/whistle/wood flute crossfingered C natural, instead of the thumb C natural key.

Which points out one of the few reasons I can think of for a Boehm flutist to learn wood flute: the wood six-hole flute, and traditional six-hole whistle, and the uilleann chanter, have to a large degree a shared fingering approach and shared ornamentation. A Boehm flutist learning the six-hole wooden flute is also learning much about the whistle and the pipes.

(PS I can’t edit my posts above but I used “cuts” a couple times when I meant “pats”.)

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Sorry for the misspelling, I didn’t have anything in front of me.

I read much about those flutes in an amazing book The Development Of The Modern Flute by Nancy Toff.

It’s fascinating, and valuable for anyone interested in how the Boehm flute came about. It also sheds much light on the interesting period when the Boehm flute was enthusiastically taken up by French flutists (with changes to the Bb and G# keywork) but in England the Boehm flute met a mixed reaction.

There followed a period when a large number of London flutists and makers were devising compromise systems which attempted to incorporate various aspects of the Boehm flute a-la-carte with the traditional London 8-key old system flute. The Radcliff was one of the more popular, but I think the 1867 Guards Model was the only one to gain widespread use (Toff says some fluteplayers use it even today).

Anyhow I went through a thing where I was enamoured with Paddy Carty and I got a Radcliff flute and played it some, but in the end I went back to the London-made old-system 8-key flutes.

About Radcliff bores, I’ve seen photos of Paddy Carty playing and you can see the huge bore at the end of his flute indicating a Boehm style cylindrical bore. Mine had a Boosey-Pratten style bore and was a real honker.

BTW Boehm himself also made conical wooden flutes. “Boehm” can refer to an embouchure cut, a bore style, a fingering system, and keywork style, and one comes across old flutes freely mixing these various things with old-system things, like flutes with full Boehm keywork but of wood with conical bores, and metal flutes with wide cylindrical bores and covered keywork but using the old-system fingering.

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I play a Rudall Carte wooden Boehm system flute. In the past I’ve also played simple system, but prefer the RC nowadays, because, due to an RSI from loads of computer work some years ago then a cracked wrist from a relatively recent motorbike accident, my right wrist can’t quite make the stretch required to get down to the bottom hole on the simple system.
This thing I play is a “normal” Boehm system, not a Radcliff.
I don’t get the clacking sound, maybe because of its wooden construction. I did used to get it on a silver Boehm though.
Just to say I’ve never really had any complaints from other players/non-players, having survived many sessions, fleadhanna, festivals and even gigs.
That’s my tuppenceworth.

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Thank you all. This is really helpful and informative. I’m glad I asked!