Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

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Julia Delaney
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Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by Julia Delaney »

Regarding the interview with Matt Molloy: The interview took place on 26 September 1997.
To the best of my knowledge Matt is still playing an Olwell 6-key made of cocus wood. This was true when we visited him a few years ago. So far as I know he used it on his recordings over the past twenty years or so.

To quote from the article:

I’d say arguably the best of the contemporary makers would be a guy called Patrick Olwell from Virginia. He’s an excellent flute maker. He plays the flute himself. He just understands the instruments. When you try to impress on him what you want in an instrument, when you start talking about ranges and colors and tones, he can interpret what you’re talking about, and reproduce that, which is rather a serious talent in itself.

I reckon when my wind goes, Patrick’s flutes are so easy to fill, to blow. Twice as easy as the one I play now. He has it down to a fine art.


Matt does mention other makers. But he still plays his Olwell Pratten. This doesn't make it The Best flute, but it does say something.....
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Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by jim stone »

Just to add that, as I recall, the Board expects us to comment on the worth of flutes only if we have hands on experience with them, enough to know how the flute plays. Naturally this tends to select for people who own the flute they praise. Generally the endorsements are reasonably moderate and usually better than no suggestions at all.
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Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by an seanduine »

Part of every person´s ´Flute Search is finding the flute whose ´sweet spot´ is most simpatico with their embouchure and their artistic goals. The most highly regarded makers seem to hit that ´sweet spot´for the vast majority of today´s players.

Albert Cooper, an extremely well regarded maker of Boehm flutes, who started his career as a young man, with Rudall, Carte of London, was once asked during an interview why he thought he was so successful. He said he thought it was down to being an extremely good listener. . .by which he meant that he listened very closely to the wants and needs expressed by his customers and bent every effort to fill them. I think this is in concordance with what Matt Molloy had to say about Pat Olwell.

I know I have read similar sentiments expressed by Hammy Hamilton.

I think Terry McGee expresses a very attentive approach as well.

This is by no measure the final list of fine and responsive makers.

Bob
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kildarekonga
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Currently I've managed to collect following flutes (going to reduce this to concentrate on the Olwell)
Olwell keyless D - my original proper flute - has a Bb body so keeping this
Olwell 6 key D - what I'm going to now concentrate on
Martin Doyle cocus D - keeping this because it's a beautiful sweet sound from the cocus/unlined head
Hamilton keyless D - it's a beautiful instrument but gets overlooked because of the olwell
Sam Murray 6 Key D - too tempting to pick up as so easy to fill and play - need to put it on the top shelf to make me play the Olwell

Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by kildarekonga »

Terry McGee wrote: Sun Jan 31, 2021 7:05 am I'm not convinced it's "what you are accustomed to". I rather think it's much more important. I reckon it's "what suits you".

I've made flutes for previous customers of very highly-regarded makers such as Patrick Olwell, Michael Grinter and Chris Wilkes, and these players have written back and thanked me copiously. You can sense their sense of relief. They had thought that a flute by one of the most famous makers would have guaranteed they would be happy. Not so, as it transpired. They were blaming themselves. Not fairly, as it transpired.

Do I interpret that as I make better flutes than Pat, Michael and Chris? No, I interpret that as I make different flutes than Pat, Michael and Chris, and that for some reason, yet to be determined, this suits some players much better. Not all players, clearly, or they would be out of business and I would be raking it in! And I'm equally sure that Pat, Michael and Chris have made flutes for some of my previous customers that have suited them better than my flutes did. We're not talking better and worse here. We're talking different. At least significantly different. Perhaps dramatically different.

Some "different" we can probably put a finger on. Michael and Chris were keen on the post-Nicholson-era style flutes that exhibited very flat feet. In my experience, only a certain proportion of players can successfully deal with that. If you can do the offset-jet trick, great, you'll love the flute. If you can't, sorry, you will struggle desperately. I have made replacement sections for players who couldn't manage it. Or sold them flutes they could manage. They liked the flute. Just not the tuning.

And I've played flutes by Michael and Chris, and found the embouchure didn't suit me. But never have had the time to delve further in as to why. I imagine that flute makers are the fussiest in regard to embouchure. "I can do better than that!"

Less sure why some customers for Patrick's flutes would come to me. (And, to be fair, there are probably fewer of them.) I haven't had much experience of his flutes (I live a sheltered life down here on the south-east coast of Australia). But I'm not aware of any serious difficulties his flutes present. I'm imagining that, again, perhaps we just enjoy a different embouchure. But maybe that's enough?

It seems to me that we, as a community, haven't bitten the bullet on understanding this rather fundamental issue. It's no doubt very tempting to think that "since I love my flute from maker X so much, everyone else should have one". But it doesn't work like that, or maker X would be the only maker in existence. The reality is that we now have more makers, not fewer. Great, I say! More variety means more happy flute players.

But it still leaves the awkward question - I want to buy a flute, who should I buy it from? "No problem", half of the Flute Forum are quick to respond. "Maker X made my flute and it's the best flute I've ever found." Best for you perhaps, but is it necessarily best for everyone?

I'd love to finish this rant with a concrete plan for where we go from here. But to be quite honest, I haven't a clue! It would be fascinating, post Covid, to assemble, at an international flute gathering somewhere, examples of flutes by all our makers, and get lots of players to experience them, and rate them. And ideally to say why. It should probably be a "blind tasting" - makers' marks should be concealed and replaced by numbers to get around the "awe factor".

I suspect that, in the first instance, it would raise more questions than answers. I don't think that it would come down to just embouchure, or tuning, or any other single factor. It may come down to issues none of us could have imagined. But at least we would be on the way....
All super interesting and very well said.

The more flutes I own and try the more differences and subtleties I find. I might even find differences day to day or based on how long the flute is played for.

Some days I think my Olwell is a work of genius and I’ll never be worthy of playing it. Another day I’ll love the bark off the Hamilton.
Sometimes I pick up my caucus Doyle and it feels sweet and joyful. The Sam Murray is punchy and easy to fill. And so on ..
.. I will say that the Olwell has never failed to disappoint no matter the day ..

I’m sure there’s science at work here but I suspect it might be too chaotic and with too many variables to explore.
But to the variability between makers and the no size fits all philosophy - agreed.
Listening- recently Brendan Mulholland. Larry and Michael Joe McDonagh.

Playing - Olwell Blackwood D and Eb keyless/D six keyed, Hamilton D, Doyle D, Sam Murray 6 key D.
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Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by Steampacket »

The more flutes I own and try the more differences and subtleties I find. I might even find differences day to day or based on how long the flute is played for. Kildarekonga
Yes, I believe it's the flute player that is the most important factor not the flute. "A bad workman has a tendency to blame his tools". I have a few fine flutes acquired over the years, and any shortcomings regarding my flute playing are down to me, not the instruments. However, I've started to practice more, play more, and recently started to alternate between instruments. One week I'll play a flute by one maker, the next week a flute by another maker. All the flutes are of good quality, Rudall, Olwell, Wilkes, Williams, Doyle.

As Kildarekonga wrote flutes by different makers can have a different feel, sound, and response, but I sound like me on all of them. I'm the weak link so to say. I believe Cathal McConnell, Orlaith McAuliffe, Aoife Granville, Paul McGlinchey etc. would sound fine on any flute they pick up, as they have put in the time over the years, practicing and playing, and becoming competent musicians.

Of course we all have preferences, I think a 170 year old Rudall & Rose with a patent head has a mojo and presence that is lacking in modern timber flutes, once you've got used to playing on one. I think you should practice and play on whatever flute you have on hand. Improve your playing and you'll sound fine on whatever well made flute you decide to purchase.
jim stone
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Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by jim stone »

I think the fact that flutes are loved by professional flutists is good evidence that they are good, but the fact that a flute isn't played professionally is consistent with its being very good, too. Also worth keeping in mind that there are new makers are the market who haven't yet been much discovered but who may well be making first-rate flutes.
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Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by Nanohedron »

kildarekonga wrote: Tue Nov 23, 2021 7:34 pm .. I will say that the Olwell has never failed to disappoint no matter the day ..
Then why do you keep it? :wink:
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Re: Is best flutes when it is loved by nice flutists?

Post by rykirk »

I think far more flutes (instruments in general really) are more than 'good enough' for most players than most would think . The fact that the world's best players play such a varied and sometimes eccentric assortment and that designs have ranged so widely over the years bears that out. It's important to find an instrument you like, of course. But I think too many people don't spend enough time learning to like the instrument they have.
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