Revisiting Boehm Flute For Irish Trad
In a recent thread, I voiced an opinion that Boehm flutes are problematic for Irish trad. I had been playing Boehm for ten years prior to taking up Irish. Since I was very familiar with simple-system flutes for Early Music, I accepted making the change to SS because, for irish, SS was the instrument one used, right?
There were a few problems with Boehm that immediately reared their ugly heads. The tonal color seemed off (metallic and lacking any of the desired reediness), the R1 key on a Boehm is F natural, not F#, and (for me) the Bb thumb key was constantly in the way.
After over 20 years of playing SS, I developed a hand and foot condition that limits tactile sensitivity, so it became a challenge to cover the tone holes reliability. I have been on a 15-year odyssey dealing with this, mostly by buying flutes that offered more keys (Siccama with 10 keys and the fully keyed Radcliff). I have met with a fair degree of success, but the above-mentioned thread got me wondering if maybe I needed to disenthrall myself from the romance of playing a 19th Century "Irish" flute and revisit my trusty Boehm, which I play all the time for non-trad. Here’s what happened:
First, I had already gotten a custom wooden head for my Boehm, which essentially makes the flute sound like a wooden flute (however, let me stipulate the Boehm flute is a far superior instrument). Getting the flute to sound Irish is a matter of embouchure. Remember, 19th Century classical players did not sound like Matt Molloy. Second, although I had found the R1 Fnat-not-F# thing to be awkward in the past, I don’t find it so now (don’t know why, but I’ll take it). Last, I eliminated the Bb thumb key problem (that might not be a problem for anyone else) by removing it. It is not mechanically necessary and there are two alternate fingerings for Bb - some flute player’s never use the Bb thumb key.
My conclusion is that, for me, the Boehm is the way to go. You can’t beat the sound, the power and the ease of playing it. It is not necessary to use a wooden head, but highly desirable, imho, but they aren’t cheap. Mine is by Chris Abell. I liked his best after being given the opportunity of living with about six wooden heads in my home for a week. I was shamefully slow to coming to this embarrassing but happy place wherein I believe my odyssey has reached a most successful conclusion. I hope you enjoyed the tale and can benefit from what I was so slow to learn, especially if you started with a Boehm.
PS - I don’t consider the slight key clatter an issue. My flute is closed-hole, but almost all Boehms are open-holed, so you can do any ornament or finger vibrato that meets your fancy.