I’ve spent 40 years of my life playing the flute. I remember sitting in the music room when I was in fourth grade and listening to the teacher go through all of the band instruments. Mrs. Coyle asked us to write down our top three instrument choices that we might want to play in band. I remember I wrote piccolo, drums, and flute, in that order. I was told that we don’t start on piccolo and that there were too many drummers, so I would be learning the flute. Piccolo has always been a love of mine and even my final DMA recital and dissertation were piccolo-centric.
During my undergraduate years, I was introduced to the alto and bass flutes in flute choir. I must have been decent on those instruments because I kept being asked to play them. I have to admit that there was something appealing about the low, harmonically rich sounds I could get out of the big flutes. I bought an alto flute during my graduate studies and included it on several recitals. A few years later I had the opportunity to purchase a used bass flute to complete my set. The funny thing about owning low flutes is, if you own them, you get asked to play them! I often found myself being asked to play alto or bass far more than piccolo. I didn’t mind playing low flute because it was so different from the music for C flute or piccolo. By the time I was in my doctoral studies I was on my second alto flute and my second bass flute. I upgraded my flutes to better quality instruments. I also found myself playing a lot of alto and bass during my doctorate because I owned them.
After all these years playing low flutes, I find myself at a point in my career where I am a low flutes artist for Trevor James flutes and playing bass flute in a local flute choir. One day a woman loaned the flute choir her contrabass flute and I was one of two people tasked with playing it. It was a fun adventure learning to play this new conglomeration of plumbing. I had to figure out how to maneuver through the octaves. The size of the instrument wasn’t foreign because I had played tenor sax and bassoon. I did find that the vertical nature of the instrument made my brain do bassoon things (like flicking the whisper key…bassoonists will get this). After a few weeks, the instrument felt more natural to play and I really loved playing in the first octave. I could make the room vibrate and those lower frequencies made the flute choir sound twice as big and it helped the intonation of the group too.
While in possession of this contra, I happen to be asked to play it for what would become the LGBTQ+ flute choir at NFA. We recorded our parts and someone put the video together. The following year we performed a concert at NFA and I borrowed a contrabass to play with the group again. Clearly, having possession of the contrabass was getting me asked to play contrabass—who knew?
So here I am, getting contrabass gigs, but without regular access to a contrabass (the one I was using was a timeshare situation) I was missing opportunities. I finally broke down and bought one of my own. There weren’t many options for contrabass flutes. The entry level instruments had mixed reviews and weren’t readily available. Contrabass flutes are like upgrading a piccolo or alto to something nicer. There were really only two levels of contrabass, entry level and handmade. The price range was $12,000 to $33,000. I ended up deciding that I was going to go big or go home. I’m a professional player and wanted something on par with all of my other instruments. And that’s my deep thought…
This little ride down memory lane was my way of introducing our new column at the Flute Examiner. I will still be writing piccolo articles (no worry piccolo peeps!) but I will also be writing about my low flutes adventures and sourcing articles to connect with our low flute brethren. So stay tuned for more Deep Thoughts!