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 Post subject: Cuban Charanga Flutes
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 8:26 pm 
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This week I had one of the most amazing experiences in my 35 years as an instrument maker. There I am at one of my long term clients Anthony Rivera's house measuring several flutes in his collection, such as an old French flute modified for playing Cuban Charanga Flute music by none other than the great Johnny Pacheco himself, while my friend Anthony Rivera is telling me the history of each instrument, as the sometimes Grammy-nominated or Gold Metal music recorded on the very same flute is being played loudly on his computer. Such as in the album pictured below. <note - this is copied from my Facebook pages where I have pictures at FB/casey.burns.906> I collected data on 10 such flutes, played by Pacheco, Fajardo and others. Pacheco and Fajardo were Anthony's mentors since age 11. For an instrument maker, it just doesn't get any better than this!

This flute tradition is in danger of going extinct, simply because the appropriate instruments for it aren't available to the young players in Cuba and the United States who want to revive this tradition, especially now that interaction with Cuba has been relaxed. Anthony and I are about to change all of that - first by finding and modifying the appropriate old instruments for this music, while we tool up for making new ones based on these treasures in his collection. Eventually I would like to find and train a young Cuban or Galician flute maker who is extremely passionate about this music and its survival to carry on the tradition of making these after I retire. Its a great honor, opportunity and responsibility to guarantee the survival of this great Cuban-American folk tradition!

Plus I love the music and have heard Cuban music for most of my life (think Ricky Ricardo) and plan to learn how to play it myself and find others to play with - its much more fun than droll diddly diddly Irish music. In some ways its similar and related to the Galician Requinta Flute Tradition which I am already involved in. But I am going to have to get some fancy clothes! And get my hair done (or maybe completely shaved off or something so I look sharp).

Pacheco and Fajardo on the same stage:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SolCGO6kry0

A very young Anthony Rivera playing Charanga Flute:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CmOmxkHlHU

Casey

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 11:55 pm 
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Sounds like a cool project. Not that I want you to post your measurements, but can you summarize how french classical flutes were optimized for Charanga?

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 10:04 am 
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These play in the 3rd and 4th octaves primarily. Their sounding lengths are long (usually 535mm) and are played always with the barrel joint out all the way making it 550mm. But then the plug is moved way in so its 2-4mm up from the edge of the embouchures. The embouchures are either left intact for thin lipped players or dramatically opened up for thicker lipped players or simply opened up for other reasons (such as Fajardo did this). The holes are original in some flutes but opened up in others. Weird and idiosyncratic fingerings are used to keep these in tune. Also, the embouchure is not too relaxed and pushes the notes way up there and so everything plays in pitch. The bores are left original and the French Flutes are all very similar to each other in that regard. The notes are tongued. Sue Miller writes about all of the playing style variations per players in her superb and recently published book "Cuban Flute Styles" - but she doesn't elucidate the flute specifics for each player- i.e., what flute they are playing and what modifications they made to these. This wasn't a constant among players by any means or even with one player. Fajardo and Pacheco each had flutes they preferred for live gigs versus ones that worked better in the recording studio. Anthony and I are just beginning to record and tie down such data, and test its reproduceability which is why I have calls out for more copies of these old flutes, preferably unaltered. So far I have two, plus a third that I just grabbed off eBay yesterday morning. I am setting up to make head joints soon - all with a bore in the 18.3 to 18.4mm range (Rudalls and Prattens are around 18.85mm for comparison). I also have some new ideas I want to test - such as using the tone hole/plug arrangement on my Requinta flutes as well as testing some of these principles in my Irish flutes. It may be that the narrow bore is note an absolute requirement, but just an historical artifact.

Casey

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 1:06 pm 
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Thank you.

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And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving - moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. ('And I suppose,' thought Lucy, 'when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.')

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 2:48 pm 
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Don't vandalise too many good French flutes! :x
Not that they're in short supply.....

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 8:01 pm 
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I don't see it as vandalization. More like preserving one of the Great American Flute Traditions - I feel like my 35 year flute making career has been preparing me for this important task. Apparently there are only 3-4 players of this in Cuba, and maybe a dozen or less in the US - most of them not long for the world and many barely active. But there are about 40-50 who want to start playing immediately. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of the French flutes still in existence and when we run out I will be making more. I will also be making new head joints voiced in the styles of various players - as this is where the idiosyncracies seem to be abundant. So the originals may simply get fixed of their problems, repadded and corked, and fit with new proper head joints. I want to try the antiques first to avoid the costly burden of making and fitting keys - something my arthritic hands want to avoid!

Casey

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 10:10 pm 
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The avoidance of 1st octave and pervasive use of 3rd octave or higher in this music is pretty interesting. For me, one of the main attractions of Irish flute is the warm "voice range" of the 1st register.

Generally speaking, are most wooden flutes are not at all optimized above the 3rd D.

Are you modifying the French 5-key in order to play better in 3rd octave or are there other reasons?

Is the French 5-key already useful into 3rd octave? I think baroque one-key flautists do play into 3rd octave.

Why don't they just use a piccolo? (Yeah, I know you can't really ask why about a cultural choice).


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 11:23 pm 
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The flute is intentionally optimized to play all the way up to the top of the 4th register and its voice is much stronger than a piccolo. Its used really as a percussion instrument in this context. The narrower bore of the French flutes and the similarities from flute to flute allowed adjustment at the embouchure only for some players who would mostly do the adjustments DIY.

Another instrument that could have been used is the Galician Requinta. Its another flute derived from the French - in this case it was used in the Napoleonic military bands. The Galicians adopted it in the early 1900s to add another voice to the pipe bands, right at the same time as the Charanga Flute evolution. I actually tried my Requintas on this music and these would work - but I still need some cork and embouchure adjustment for the very top.

Modern flutes are also used in this style in the same way they are occasionally used for Irish music. So as far as why the Piccolo wasn't used my answer would be a question: so why doesn't everyone use the Silver flute for Irish Music? It doesn't crack and we could dispense with the whole wood vs. delrin discussion!

Casey

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 16, 2017 4:59 am 
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Thanks for sharing Casey!

I personally got into flute through studying and making world flutes. I then ended up doing study in anthropology and ethnomusicology. My ethnomusicology studies primarily focused on encouraging communities use their arts (musical, verbal, visual, etc.) to accomplish goals they had for their community (any goal; literacy, community, joy, etc).

So that is why I say thanks; it sounds like you are in a nice position to contribute not just to flute-players, but communities who value and enjoy their own culture and music--and it sounds like you enjoy it a fair bit too! Best of luck to you.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 16, 2017 7:37 am 
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Thank you Aaron!!!

One thing I was a little concerned about was sticking my nose into a tradition that I am not part of. I am sensitive to the concept of Cultural Appropriation which is why this flute maker with all of his White Privilege will never ever make a Native American Flute or teach other Whites how to make these (I used to be frequently asked this). I shared these concerns with Anthony who pointed out that the flutes were from France, the musicians and music started in Cuba and then migrated to the United States after the Revolution where it thrived. And one of the greatest players and promoters who introduced it to the world (Pacheco) was from the Dominican Republic. So why not throw an American Flute Maker into the mix, especially if he helps this tradition to survive - and becomes part of the epicenter of its coming explosion of popularity? Its nice to share the title of Nova (as in the astronomical term) with Anthony.

Casey

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 4:34 am 
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Casey Burns wrote:
...so why doesn't everyone use the Silver flute for Irish Music?


Note bending. You can't slide into or out of a note on a Boehm flute, and if you can't do that, you don't have nyah.

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And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving - moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. ('And I suppose,' thought Lucy, 'when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.')

C.S. Lewis


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:35 am 
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Just an update on all of this. Am getting into the details of this instrument and what else is out there in terms of info. There are some articles online about the Charanga flute by Sue Miller and others and of course there is her lovely new book "Cuban Flute Styles". I see that another maker lists a Charanga flute on his website for $3200. From what I have heard it is based on one particular instrument played by someone - but I have no other details. Terry McGee has a page about this type of flute, based on his interaction with another player and has a fingering chart link. A few of these articles mention the frequent opening of the embouchure and the moving of the cork in closer. Generally true but the devil is in the details.

After measuring some of Anthony's collection and talking with him, I've observed that these flutes share one aspect with the modern flutes in terms of embouchures and head joints. A wide diversity. The bodies are sometimes altered at the fingerholes. The bores are always left unaltered. But each player seems to have a preferred embouchure and sometimes slightly or even widely differing embouchures. In one case I measured one of Fajardo's flutes that he preferred for gigs. The other one I measured of his was his preferred flute for recording. As a result of this each flute has its own particular fingering proclivities especially up in the 4th register. Thus I would consider none of these fingering charts as an absolute word! Or embouchure designs. Like the modern flute it may be that several different embouchure styles have to be tried before one settles on what works! Anthony has his own embouchure preferences and one particular head joint worked well for him on about everything. I am not so sure it would be my first choice until I have had a bit of experience. It was on the larger side of things and I might need something a little smaller.

These flutes weren't necessarily limited to the French school or to 5 or 6 keyed flutes. Sometimes 8 keyed flutes would be worked down, the bottom tow keys removed, the foot cut to the same length as the corresponding 5 key version, the C and C# holes filled in. I don't know if these were re-reamed. I did notice one flute that appears to be re-reamed with standard Morse taper reamer but have yet to verify that. Also, occasionally German and Austrian flutes were used. It would be interesting to measure some of these and see how these compare to the French school flutes.

Its tough for me to punch up into that 4th register on the flutes that I have. As an experiment I tried my Galician Requinta in G which plays a 4th above the D flute and had some success on some tunes in G. I plan to make one with a Charanga style voicing and embouchure placement to see if its easier to punch higher. The tone quality and articulation is similar to the Charanga flute and I might have discovered an easy to produce bridge instrument that will help my embouchure learn to play in the stratosphere. Might be something new but then one would think the Piccolo would have been used. It wasn't. But its something I can easily explore and it will help me in terms of learning the music. Further to that I am listening to as much as I can - there are many recordings on YouTube to listen to until the old vinyl arrives and is digitized.

Casey

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35 Years as a Flute Maker!
Ergonomic Flutes for Small Hands since 1986
http://www.caseyburnsflutes.com
http://www.folkflutes.com


Last edited by Casey Burns on Tue Sep 19, 2017 4:30 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:23 pm 
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Casey Burns wrote:
I know that. My question was rhetorical....


Oh, no doubt, but I was feeling literal.

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And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving - moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. ('And I suppose,' thought Lucy, 'when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.')

C.S. Lewis


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