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The Tawdry, Musical Odyssey of a Flute Tramp


This is the story of one man’s search for the perfect flute and the secret he discovered:

Having been a guitar player all my life (but without the sex and drugs part. Damn it), I was pushing 40 years on this planet and still felt I was missing something (in addition to the sex and drugs). I needed something to fill the musical gap during my more contemplative, meditative moments. The serene, quiet sound of the flute beckoned to me like one of those weird Siren babes from Greek mythology, and I wasn’t wise enough to change course, so I bought one. No sense trying one on for size first, or borrowing one from a friend to see if I liked it. No. That is not my way. I jumped right in and bought a beautiful, and expensive, Sterling Silver Boehm flute, the kind played in fine orchestras, and one time, at band camp.

...........


Say hello to the Irish flute, classical predecessor of the Boehm flute (this is the type of flute that was ubiquitous before Boehm came along and ruined everything). It’s a wood flute with six finger holes, like a simple system flute, but with 4 to 8 keys. Yes, it has keys. But, unlike a Boehm flute, the keys aren’t pressed to play notes, but rather lifted off the holes (a subtle, but important, distinction). It’s a great compromise between simple system and Boehm flutes. So I bought one, or two, or… Let’s just say I collected a few and leave it at that. I thought I had found my true love. I was wrong. Again.


But I wasn’t far off, and that’s why I’m writing this. I stumbled upon a secret that few others have. No, it’s not eternal life, nor a cure for hair loss (not sure which I would prefer). I discovered Skip Healy and his flutes.


Healy’s flutes are a flute player’s dream. I have owned or played many of the finest wood flutes made in this and prior centuries (I haven’t actually time-traveled, just played some really old flutes), but have never met its equal, not even the one made for the six-fingered man. “Hello, my name is…”  


The sound of a Healy flute has a commanding presence, loud, but not harsh, with a beautiful warm resonance. The weight and balance are suburb (I find most Irish flutes to be long and a bit awkward). Skip’s are shorter and lighter and more comfortable. Often the keys on Irish flutes are placed slightly too close to the holes, unintentionally getting in the way, especially if you use a piper’s grip (cover the holes with the middle of your fingers rather than the pads). Not Skip’s. Unless you are using the keys, you hardly know they are there. Finally, the aesthetic styling is fresh and modern yet  elegantly nods to the flute’s classic past.


But that was not the secret. This is: One day I was in Skip’s studio in Rhode Island picking up a 6-key flute he had just completed for me (the one pictured above), when my eye happened to glimpse a lone flute lying on a workbench. It didn’t have any keys, but did have a couple more holes than a typical, 6-hole flute. I asked him if his hand had slipped and accidentally drilled some errant holes (a credit to his self control that his hand did not slip across my cheek). What he told me rocked my world, like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull jamming on Aqualung.


The flute was a keyless, 10-hole fully chromatic flute. That means that the flute could play in any musical key without the need for physical keys! Yes, you heard that right – a fully chromatic wood flute without keys. To my knowledge, no one else in the world makes one, or ever has.


When I regained my composure, I asked him, “So, what’s the catch?” He said there was no catch, except you need to use all of your fingers and thumbs. Oh, and covering the holes is a bit of a stretch.


Bit of a stretch, indeed. I picked up the flute and tried to cover the holes, but couldn’t do it. For a brief moment I thought about bringing in a few toes to help. Back in my school days, they once showed us a motivational film about a woman without arms who did everything with her feet, from driving to washing dishes. She was amazing. Too bad she wasn’t in the shop with me. I bet she could have played it. Skip said I would get used to the flute, and he was right. It took a few months, alternating between Skip’s keyed and non-keyed flutes, but one day it all came together and I haven’t looked back.

Healy 10 hole flute

 

 

By way of scale, I’m 5'-8?, weigh 160 lbs, and have normal sized hands for my height (although I am told I have dainty, effeminate feet, for those of you interested in those things). My hand measures 7? from the tip of the middle finger to the point where the wrist and hand join together.

 

Honestly, it may be the hardest flute in the world to play; at least, I haven’t found one that’s more difficult. That said, it just takes a little more time and patience and finger stretching (I considered building a smaller version of a rack like you might find in a dungeon, but ended up not needing it). I wouldn’t recommend it as a first flute, or if you need to play exceptionally fast, because of the somewhat trickier fingerings, but if you are like me and appreciate a challenge, Skip Healy’s 10-hole chromatic flute is a minimalist’s dream.


So, there you go. I finally found my true love (and I rarely cheat on her, and then only with her sister).

Tim Bjella
President, Bjella / Arteriors Architecture


Full Text on Tim Biella’s Blog  > HERE