R.I.P Ralph Sweet the flute maker

R.I.P Ralph Sweet the flute maker

R.I.P Ralph Sweet [1929 - 2019]

An great wind instrument maker from America has passed away on June 20th 2019 at age of 90.

I heard this truly sad news from Ralph’s successor and former foreman of Sweetheart Co.,Joseph Morneaux.

He says “Ralph died yesterday morning at the elderly home he was residing at for the past two years. I will include a link to his obituary.”

I have been doing business with Ralph and Joseph for more than 10 years
and I think I have sold a considerable number of their instruments in Japan. Actually I have met Ralph in person long time before starting our business relationship, that was around millennium in Ireland .
He was there to join in set dance in Miltown Malbay (he was 70 at that time and still went to Ireland for dancing!).

After a few years later he remembered me when I ordered the first “fife” for myself. And since then, we have exchanged many emails from time to time.

I tried to visit US to see him again several times but finally it didn’t
happened. I should have visited him. I will never make this mistake again. If you really want to see somebody, especially an old person, you really should do it now.

I was reading some emails between me and Ralph in my mailbox.
Ralph was always nice and gentle, and he liked to write about many things in his emails. Thank you very much Ralph, it was such an honor
to introduce such superb instruments to players in Japan.

Strangely enough, postman delivered his last whistles to me today - they
are 3 keyed wooden whistles that Joseph found in a box that Ralph left in the workshop (or warehouse) but the heads were missing. So Joseph
kindly made heads for them. Ralph had stopped making this keyed model in 2015 and they are exactly the last ones. I will keep one of them as a legacy from Ralph.

Here are some messages in my mail box.

2013/07/14 5:34
I myself am 84 now, but trying to keep doing it anyway! ! And I’m still going dancing usually once each week: I’m always the oldest person there!

2013/09/13 4:33
PS: I imagine that you have probably found many strange things about the English language besides the “wholesale vs whole sale” ! That happens when a language is composed of a mixture of several other languages: In this case, “Old English” which was more like a mixture of German and Dutch on top of the original Celtic ,. then French mixed in! That makes it pretty easy for us to learn French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, etc.

2015/01/26 1:54
I haven’t been able to get any work done out in the workshop for awhile now because I’m being overwhelmed by paperwork and it’s mostly because of the income taxes being done now. I think I have “bitten off more than I can chew” as we say, trying to run about 3 businesses here: The dance teaching of American Folk Dance: “Square Dancing” and “Contra dancing”) which I am deeply into; the Hall Rental Business (Look up www.powdermillbarn.com ) (even today, with all the ice and snow, a family has rented our barn (where we live upstairs) for a birhday party for a 3-year old girl, and of course the flute-making business. www.sweetheartflute.com) all of the together add up to almost more than I can handle! Sometime late this year, I will probably turn the whole flute business over to my shop foreman, Joseph Morneault and of course, my son Walter (“Walt”) already has his own website www.wdsweetflutes.com

2015/01/30 1:11
Right now, we have over 2 feet (61 cm) of snow all over our property, and have had to spend a lot of time shoveling paths through it with the help of Joseph and Jason, my shop workers, which slows down the fife work!

2016/07/21 7:16
Dear Hatao: Yes, I’m 87 years old now, and most of the work in our workshop is being done by Joseph Mornault (promounced “Mor no” (It’s French) but he has never done the keyed flutes: he already has all the work one person can handle making all of the whistles and keyless flutes. I have been stuck with all of the paperwork, which is no fun at all. My son Walter Sweet is making his own flute design, in plastic.
So I will have more time to go dancing and become a better flute and whistle player. I dance what we call “Contra Dancing” which is a simpler form of American Square Dancing.
Sincerely Yours, Ralph Sweet

2017/09/08 8:57
Ralph has more not so good days than good days. He has Cognitive Dementia which while it is not Alzheimer’s, it does have some days that worry us so. He still lives at home in that old converted barn and I encourage him every day to walk over to the shop (on the same property) and visit for as long as he likes. He still tries to be independent, of course, but he is more and more aware that he may need to move into a home more friendly to people of his age and condition. In conversation he still remembers you… But sometimes he cannot recognize former employees who stop in to pay a visit and this can be rather sad.

Funeral will take place on this Sunday, June 23rd.
Here is a link to his obituary.


Re: R.I.P Ralph Sweet the flute maker

Ralph Sweet made my first real flute, a 4-keyed Rosewood. I regret letting it go. I still have 2 whistles he made. So very sorry he’s passed.

Re: R.I.P Ralph Sweet the flute maker

That’s sad news, Hatao, and I agree - ‘If you really want to see somebody, especially an old person, you really should do it now.’
I never had the opportunity to meet and know Ralph Sweet, but my knowledge of him is from his life as a Contra dance caller/teacher. I started Contra dancing in 1984 and calling in 1986. In those days, Ralph was hugely influential on my calling and in the dance world in general.
I’ve been aware of Ralph Sweet flutes, but only peripherally. He was a part of my consciousness as the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Contra dance.
In these modern times (since the late ’80s, at least), it has been common for dance bands to put together medleys of 2, 3, sometimes even 4 tunes, since a single dance could last anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. After all, who wants to play one tune that many times? But Ralph’s philosophy ran to the idea that if a tune was good enough to play for a dance at all, it was good enough for the whole dance. He didn’t like medleys behind his calling. There are stories out there, the details of which I can’t currently recall, about the first band that tried to switch tunes while he was calling.
The world will be a smaller place without him, but I guess he’ll be enjoying the company of Paddy Fahy and all the other R.I.P.s that have been going up here lately…

Re: R.I.P Ralph Sweet the flute maker

What a lovely tribute, hatao.