Having just spent the weekend showing flutes at the Mid-Atlantic Flute Convention in Herndon, VA, this topic is fresh on my mind. Deciding that it is time to invest a great deal of money into a new (or used) instrument is a daunting task, to say the least. I figured that this would be a great topic to cover with NFA 2020 being only a few months away and that offering a little insight from my perspective as both an exhibitor and a teacher might be helpful. Attending a regional or national convention is a great way to try a lot of instruments in a short amount of time with the added luxury of quick comparisons and dealers who are happy to show their wares. The exhibit hall can also be quite overwhelming with the number of choices available and the constant bombardment of sound. Nonetheless, the exhibitors are there to give you the opportunity to learn about and try their products.
It is ok to go into the exhibit hall without a clue about what you want or what is even available, although having some ideas about your needs will help. If you know you are looking to upgrade from a student line to a preprofessional or professional level instrument, then you are halfway there. I highly recommend having a budget in mind but also allowing a little wiggle room. Sometimes the flute you fall in love with may not be the most expensive instrument or it may be $500 beyond your ideal budget. The price of an instrument can escalate quickly and having an idea of a price range will keep the spending under control. Be mindful of what you want compared to what you need as well as what you can afford. Remember, the most expensive instruments aren’t necessarily the best instruments. Gold is a good example, often costing twice as much as a silver flute, but gold doesn’t work well for everyone. More isn’t always better.
Don’t be timid. The exhibitors want you to play their instruments. I have always suggested to my students that they should always ask if it is ok to try the instruments rather than just pick them up. Asking permission is always welcomed by the exhibitors and I promise that you will greeted warmly and energetically invited to try everything. This is your chance to start a conversation and ask any and every question that you have ever had. These are the experts. They know their flutes and can tell you anything you want to know about them. Building a report with the exhibitors is just as important to them as it is to you. They want to educate flutists about their instruments and they want to know more about you.
When you play test an instrument for the first time, you are just looking for an initial feel for the instrument. The exhibit hall is not the place to test out the finer nuances of a flute. It is far too noisy and distracting to attempt testing out just how well the flute responds in the softest dynamics. That is best saved for later when you’ve narrowed down your choices. The best approach to play testing is to keep it simple. Choose a favorite scale and a short, four-to-eight measure excerpt to play on your initial test. This is usually results in plenty of information to eliminate quite a few instruments right out of the gate. Once you have made your primary round of the hall, make note of those instruments that you want to revisit on the next round. As someone once told me, “If you keep coming back to something, there is a reason.” (Thanks Jim!)
Ultimately, most people narrow their choices down to around one to three instruments that really “speak” to them. Once you get to this point you should discuss taking instruments overnight or on a longer trial. It is important that you have time to get to know the flutes in a more quiet and focused setting. Keep in mind that there are often fees associated with trials so that companies can cover the cost of shipping and insurance on the instruments. Many companies waive these fees if you are taking an instrument on trial from a convention or flute event. Taking a flute on a trial gives you a chance to play it for your teacher, for friends, or in a rehearsal. This is like test driving a car before you buy. You want to see how it handles and if it truly has the features that you want. A flute that felt good in the noisy exhibit hall may not sound as great once it is away from all that background noise. Think about how good we all sound when we sing in the bathroom! Don’t let the shopping become overwhelming. Take some time, have some fun, and try the platinum flute even though you can’t afford it. It is always fun to try everything, and it honestly helps you figure out your likes and dislikes.
Finally, keep in mind that music is a business just as much as it is an art. We are selling flutes to people who use them to make art as well as make a living and the sales are how some of us make our living. Whether you choose to buy a flute or not buy a flute, the world will continue to turn. No one likes pushy sales people, ever, and if you feel uncomfortable with someone, then that may speak volumes. Keep in mind, we do see aggressive buyers as well as people who are afraid to touch the flutes. If we start talking to you when you approach the table it is often that we are simply trying to put you at ease and welcome you into our world. We do want you to try our flutes and we do want you to find the flute that you will fall in love with, and we want to help you do that. As both a salesperson and a player of my brand, I can honestly say that I work for my company because I believe in our instruments. I am sincerely happy when someone loves one of our flutes as much as I do, but I know our instruments aren’t a great fit for everyone. What brings most dealers the greatest joy is seeing someone fall in love with an instrument. The bottom line is that music is art and we just want to help the painter find the right brush.