2002 Self-Indulgent Flute Maker's Tour


I decided to leave the relative safety of my workshop in July and August 2002, to venture out to see what the rest of the world was up to.  This is a short report about the tour.

What were the aims of the trip?

  • spend a lot of time in the major flute collections in the US, England and Scotland, measuring and gathering information
  • progress some work with my international research colleagues, 
  • meet some of my past and future customers
  • attend a few festivals where flutes and flute-players abound, 
  • meet any flute makers and flute-players convenient to my trajectory
  • eat, drink, session and be merry, as time, opportunity and energy permit!

Where did I go?

The trip took me to 25 places in 5 countries: Sydney, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Chicago, Rochester, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, East Durham (NY), Nova Scotia, London, Dublin, Achill Island (Co. Mayo), Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leominster, Bedford, Oxford and Brisbane.

What was achieved?

Over 64 days away, I:

  • measured and studied 113 flutes in 24 days in 14 collections, 
  • took 500 digital images of flutes and related things
  • collected about a ream of photocopies of period documents
  • acquired a number of books and catalogues pertaining to flutes
  • discussed flute and whistle issues with 12 makers
  • attended 6 public events and 8 specifically organised for me
  • met hundreds of players and teachers
  • took about 8 months worth of orders
  • and played in 32 sessions!

Collections visited:

The major collections were:

  • Rick Wilson collection, LA (2 days)
  • Helen Valenza collection, Rochester (1 day)
  • The Dayton C Miller Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington DC (9 days)
  • Horniman Museum, London (2 days)
  • Royal College of Music, London (1 day)
  • Edinburgh University Collection (3 days)
  • Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (1 day)
  • Bate Collection, Oxford (5 days)

in addition to 5 smaller private collections.

Measuring one of the flutes from Rick Wilson's wonderful collection. 
(Rick Wilson, left, Jay Peitzer right.  Picture by Kathy Wilson.)

The research aims included:

  • the perpetual lookout for new and interesting models to offer
  • tracing development of the conical flute in 19th century London
  • tracing development within specific models in the period
  • instruments shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851 

On new models:

I can now offer a Bb flute, based on Rudall & Rose instruments.  I measured and studied five examples of these, in 4, 6 and 8 key versions, and Bb instruments by three other makers.  

One of the Rudall instruments examined appears to be virtually unused and reveals excellent details about the original embouchure treatment.

I may also decide to offer a normal pitch Rudall & Rose copy, of a "size" somewhere between my current "Refined" and "Perfected" models.  This decision will depend on further analysis of the many instruments measured.

On tracing flute development in the 19th century:

I gathered a vast amount of data and photographic evidence which should reveal a lot we do not know about how the flute developed in its most turbulent century to date.  Analysis of the data will probably take several years, with data and findings being published on this web site as they become available.

Meeting other researchers

I enjoyed meeting other researchers and people associated with research, including Stu Forbes in LA, Adrian Duncan in Vancouver, Robert Bigio in London and again in Oxford, Clive Catteral in Oxford and Tony Bingham in London.  Adrian and I were able to spend a few days planning our future work together and preparing for the official launch of the Clinton 1851 flute at Boxwood.

New initiatives and partnerships

A number of new research initiatives surfaced during the trip.  The massive amount of data collected will support these and and the previously identified research topics for many years to come.

The trip has also thrown up some new research collaborators, whose efforts will in future contribute to papers on this site.

Meeting other makers

It was fascinating meeting other makers and finding out what we had in common or in difference.  There are the obvious topics to discuss - how do you do that, and why don't you do it this way.  We traversed those of course, but the more interesting topics are more subtle.

Each maker achieves their own balance of efficiency versus care - and this is reflected in their equipment, the quality and quantity of their output, their prices and their waiting times.  It's interesting to get into the head of another maker, to see how they have come to the position they occupy.

I was pleased to find I occupied a place in the spectrum where I remain comfortable - I would not want to sacrifice my current quality by speeding up processes, nor am I attracted towards increasing the decorative values at the cost of increasing prices and waiting times.

It was instructive too to experience the wide range of embouchure types makers employ to satisfy very widely differing playing styles in use around the world.  This question didn't really crystallise until quite late in the trip, and will need further discussion to resolve.  It illustrates that the wooden flute revival is as capable of throwing up issues worthy of study as were the original times.

Major events

I attended three summer schools:

  • Irish Week in East Durham in the Catskill Mountains, New York
  • Boxwood - the Festival of the Wooden Flute - in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia
  • Scoil Acla, on Achill Island, Co Mayo, Eire.
Playing for an informal ceili at Boxwood.

The fellow beside me seemed to have played flute before!

L: Richard Morton
R: Chris Norman & Andy Thurston.

While not attending with the aim of taking lessons, these summer schools provided a great opportunity for meeting players and teachers, promoting my work while at the same time researching players' desires and needs.  They also presented original flutes for study.  One of the benefits of flutes in player's hands is that they are well blown in and more useful to carry out intonation measurements and other performance studies.

Some fun photos of Boxwood appear at:


Events organised for me:

Events were organised specially for me to meet local players at Los Angeles, San Francisco, University of Victoria, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Bedford.  Thanks to all who went to so much trouble on my behalf!

The Bedford Bash

Flutes, second hand flutes...

Just some of the fine and fascinating collection of flutes that formed spontaneously at "The Bedford Bash", an event put on especially for me by Richard and Teresa Moon.  

The event attracted players from all over southern England and from as far away as France, making it legitimate to re-style it "Euroflute 2002"!

More photos of the wonderful weekend can be found at http://tunedb.woodenflute.com/Euroflute2002/index_html


I played in a staggering 32 sessions - one every second day on average.  A great way to meet players and sample the local styles of flute playing.  A tactical problem was that the sessions tended to be very late night (eg 10:30 pm onwards), while the museums were strictly business hours.  I learned to live on surprisingly little sleep.

Enjoying a tidy session in Matt Malloy's pub in Westport, Co. Mayo, in Ireland.  You can't see the fiddle player and the flute player to your left.

With drinks "on the house" for musicians, playing music is the only way to help keep trip costs under control!

Promoting my own work

I took a few of my flutes to show, in 6-key configuration:

  • A Rudall Perfected (large holes)
  • A Rudall Refined (medium holes), and
  • A Pratten's Perfected (large holes)

with three different and interchangeable heads:

  • Eccentric bore with Rounded Rectangle embouchure
  • Thinned head with Two Semicircles embouchure, and
  • Traditional cylindrical head with elliptical embouchure

Reaction to my instruments proved very satisfying and has resulted in about 8 months of new orders already, with considerable further interest indicated.  As expected, interest was mainly focused on the large hole instruments, but possibly suggesting the desirability of being able to offer an intermediate model.  Preferences for the head types was quite varied, confirming that it is good to offer the full range. 

Any sightseeing?

Not much time for such luxuries, but I did get a look around the Huntingdon Gardens in LA, a swim off Achill Island in Mayo, a cruise down the Thames from London to see the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark at Greenwich and a spot of punting and Pimms on the Charwell and Isis at Oxford.  About a total of two days off in sixty-four!  Luxury!

How was this trip funded?

  • A grant from the Australia Council, Australia's national arts support body
  • A matching grant from the ACT Government's arts support body
  • Massive support from the international flute playing community
  • Private funding.

As you might imagine, flute making does not head the list of highly paid occupations!  A trip like this, involving long visits to institutions that just happen to lie in some of the most expensive cities in the world, is pretty daunting financially, especially when you consider that there is no income while I'm away from the workshop.

Consequentially, the two arts grants were warmly received, as much for their indication of support as for the money.  Arts grants in Australia are allocated by a process of "peer group review" - the applications are read and voted on by expert committees made up from the artform (in this case music) concerned.  Grants are highly competitive, with about a 1 in 5 chance of success.  So it's especially warming to find one's work regarded as worthy of support.

The two grants covered most of the "hard" costs of the trip - travel, accommodation and other material costs.  But they only did that because of the massive support I received from flute players wherever I went.  To set that in context, consider that I only paid for accommodation for 8 out of 64 nights.  And a similar fraction of meals and land transport costs.  So, thanks to all those wonderful flute-players around the world that got behind this tour!

The real cost of the tour however wasn't the fare, food and accommodation, but the loss of income while away from the workshop.  So the poor old family finances took a bit of a bucketing.  So you'll excuse me while I slip out and make a few flutes to get the finances moving again!

Grateful Acknowledgements

This project was assisted by the ACT Government through its Cultural Council

This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Special thanks to all who assisted my trip, far too many to mention, but including:

  • those who assisted with transport and accommodation
  • those who organised events around my trip
  • staff of the institutions I visited
  • owners of the private collections I examined
  • the flutemakers, flute players and teachers I met 

Thanks!  I couldn't have done it without you!


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