Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Scoop on Wooden Flutes

This week we are playing two Beethoven Romances and Mozart Symphony 41 "Jupiter" at a concert in Jämsä. Since we're doing it all on wooden flutes I thought that it would be the perfect time to share a little bit about why we play them and what makes them so great.

Whenever I pull out my wooden flute for work, I get a lot of questions from my flute friends back home, like "What? Did you buy a wooden flute?!" "What does it sound like?!" "What are you playing on it?" "Do you like it?" I'm a wooden flute newbie, but I will share what I've learned this year!

Did you buy a wooden flute? 
I'm happy to say that I did not have to buy a wooden flute. It is common in Finland, and perhaps many orchestras in Europe, for the orchestra to own a wooden flute for each member of the section. It's not like the orchestra piccolo or alto flute, that is passed around and shared, but I have a wooden flute that is "mine." It's made by Sankyo from Grenadilla wood.  

What does it sound like?
I've recorded some sound clips, so that you can hear for yourself! When I started playing it this winter, I couldn't believe how sweet it sounded. I was expecting something similar to a traverso (baroque wooden keyless flute), but the actual sound is so near to the silver/gold flute that we are familiar with. I still sound like myself, after all, it is a Boehm flute!  I've recorded the opening theme of the Beethoven Romance Op. 50 on both the wooden Sankyo flute, and my usual flute (14k Brannen with Lafin headjoint).

What do you think? Which do you prefer?

What are you playing on it? 
We usually play everything written before and during the classical era on the wooden flutes. We did the JS Bach St Matthew Passion for Easter, and that week we played wooden flutes. It was unbelievably easy to blend with the strings, oboes, and keyboard instruments. It sounded so holy! I loved it. This week it is Mozart and early Beethoven. I think that the silver/gold flute is perfect for classical and baroque music when the flutist is a soloist, or even featured as in the Mozart Flute Quartets. However, when playing the wooden flute in orchestra, I felt like I finally understood what was really intended by the composers of earlier eras.

Do you like it?
Hell yes, I do! I've become so enamoured with the wooden flute that I can't get over the idea of buying a wooden headjoint for my gold Brannen. Which brings me to my next topic...

Wooden Headjoints 
After loving the sound of my wooden flute, I decided to try putting the headjoint on to my regular flute to see what it sounded like. It didn't fit, I had to use some plumber tape to get it to seal, and this headjoint is not intended to be played on a silver/gold flute, but it sounded like heaven! It is the perfect mix of flutey sweetness and the shimmery powerful sound we all love. This began my research into wooden headjoints: where do I get one, who makes the best ones, does anyone else play them, is it "acceptable" to play for everyday (non-period music) use.

First of all, Joshua Smith, principal flutist of the Cleveland Orchestra plays a Folkers & Powell wooden headjoint with a gold Powell flute. This is his usual set up, so immediately it answered my questions that it was more than acceptable and definitely powerful enough. He sounds amazing, seriously, take a listen if you haven't yet. He was kind enough to even email back and forth with me a bit about where I could find a wooden headjoint because I quickly discovered that Folkers & Powell is no longer making headjoints.
Photo credit: © Frank J. Lanza, 2013

Thankfully wooden headjoints are becoming more popular so Nagahara, Powell, Mancke and DiZhao are making them just to name a few. There are also a few makers that make wooden headjoints exclusively including Kotel, Abell, and David Chen.

People Who Stick to Wood
I can't decide if it's incredibly old school or forward-thinking, but there are a few flutists who play entirely wooden flutes all the time. Berlin Philharmonic members, Andreas Blau (recently retired Principal Flutist) as well as Michael Hasel both play wooden flutes made by Braun. There are some sound samples on the Braun website where you can hear for yourself that the wooden flute can have amazing projection and adapts to music of all eras. Also Saeran St. Christopher, second flute of the Cleveland Orchestra, plays on a wooden flute. You can hear her playing with principal Joshua Smith, in this video on Joshua Smith's blog.

I think that wood is so underrated, and I'm really enjoying exploring this old medium that is so new to me! Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with wooden flutes in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ainola & Kaivopuisto (Helsinki)

Yesterday, I finally got to visit Sibelius' home Ainola, which is named after his wife Aino. I had heard about it since I moved to Finland last July, but was waiting for the perfect spring day to visit. We are all so fortunate to have such a well preserved home and museum to visit and become even more inspired and intrigued by the great Jean Sibelius. I really wish that every composer had a place like this for us musicians to visit. I visited Bartók's house in Budapest in the summer of 2012, and much like my visit to Ainola it left me feeling so much closer to its former inhabitant.

Sibelius had synesthesia, and perhaps this is why all of the fireplaces in his home are such beautiful rich colors. I fell in love with this green fireplace in the dining room. I love the way green makes me feel (especially blue/green), but I definitely do not have synesthesia. I wonder what this green color meant for Sibelius. 

He also had a lovely yellow fireplace in his library, which used to be a bedroom for one of his girls. The library was such an enchanting room. I so badly wanted to step over the rope and get lost in all of his books. They looked so well loved, with the spines all broken and yellow. It was such a "man's room," with a circle of comfortable chairs in the corner perfect for cigar smoking and whiskey drinking. 

The kitchen was off limits for most of the time we were at Ainola because there was a photographer taking pictures of the famous portrait of Sibelius. I did not realize how small it is in real life! Such a beautiful portrait. The kitchen is very different from the rest of the house. With some interesting gadgets, but a much different feel because they kept a housemaid or two, and I'm guessing they did not spend much time in the kitchen themselves. I loved this metal container with "J. SIBELIUS" stamped on it. It is so rustic! 

Just a short stroll from the main house is the grave of Jean and Aino Sibelius. It was a simple and perfect resting place. There was a potted rose plant at the base of the stone, and lovely blooming trees all around. 

No Finnish home is complete without the sauna, and Sibelius had the best one I've ever seen. Since his house had no running water, the sauna had to serve many purposes. There were three rooms total in the sauna: one for laundry, another for sweating and enjoying life, and a third for bathing complete with a bathtub and shower. The sauna was designed by Aino and she did a wonderful job. We really enjoyed figuring out how the cold water came in from the well and how the hot water came from the stove. There was an interesting system of wooden chutes; possibly very common back then, but now unheard of. It was a great trip back in time into Finnish history. 

Ainola has a garden behind the house and it was exploding with life since summer weather has just arrived in Finland. There were all kinds of daffodils and wild daisies growing through the grass. 

This cellar behind the house reminded me of a hobbit home. So mystical. 

All of the windows on the second floor had tiny balconies. The top floor was off limits to the public, which made it even more alluring. I so badly wanted to peak through those rooms and breathe in the fresh air from the balconies. I imagine that there is a view of Lake Tuusula from the top floor of the house...but my imagination will have to suffice for now. 


After Ainola, we took a trip to Helsinki. Since it was such a perfect summer day (and you can never take that for granted in Finland!) we decided to spend the day outside and we went to Kaivopuisto since I had never been. I can't believe that I have been living in Finland for almost a year and I did not know that this park exists! This is my new favorite place in Helsinki. There are beautiful cliffs and hills looking out over the sea. On a clear day you can see all the way to Estonia. Being an appalachian mountain girl at heart, I felt very at home for a moment standing on top of the highest point and gazing off into the distance. What a sight to see: all of the boats in the ocean and the little islands off shore. 

Finnish word of the day: jäätelötötterö. It means "ice cream cone." Jäätelö = ice cream, tötterö = cone. Why have three words when you can make it one? ;) 
We stopped at a kioski for Helsingin Jäätelötehdas, which I was told was the best ice cream in Helsinki. I ordered two huge scoops of blueberry and mint chocolate chip and was not disappointed! I paid in euro coins from my little change purse, and then spilled my ice cream all over my dress and legs. I felt about six years old and it was amazing!