About a month ago, I purchased a beautiful 14K gold Powell handmade flute. What a huge moment, a huge change. I have a lot of feelings about the process and the result, and each day is like a process of reckoning. In many ways, practicing this new flute feels like starting over from scratch. I’m playing in front of a mirror a lot, checking in with posture and embouchure. The Powell flute has an offset G key, and I’ve been playing an in-line G with a plug for more than ten years, so that has resulted in a major hand position adjustment. But I’m also finding this whole thing to be a pretty emotional process, and maybe some of you reading this can relate.
I last bought a flute in October of 2006. It’s a silver Brannen-Cooper that used to belong to Tim Day, my old teacher at San Francisco Conservatory (he is also principal flute of the San Francisco Symphony). This Brannen is #529 -- a low serial number sometimes has cachet, and in this scenario, it was handmade for Tim when he was principal of Baltimore Symphony. This flute is really special, and doesn’t sound like any other Brannen flute that I’ve ever played. Tim has actually admitted that he regrets selling it.
I’ve made so many memories with this flute. Leander helped me decide to buy it when we were just starting to date. This flute went on so many auditions - some triumphant, some terrible. It travelled with me all over South America and China. We had amazing days and terrible days together. It was there when my quintet won Fischoff. It has moved across the country three times with me!
But the Brannen has some issues. Since it was made in 1980, it has an old mechanism and the keys are becoming unstable. I’ve been told that it will need a mechanical overhaul at some point - actually replacing posts and springs! I looked into having the silver mechanism on this Brannen melted down and re-made into a Brogger system, but that would have cost more than a whole new flute, even though it would have been really cool! Phoenix rising, sort of. I knew that eventually I would need a change. The Brannen is not a super loud flute - I can always feel how difficult it can be to keep up sonically with a professional orchestral flute section. It also has intonation issues - what flute doesn’t - but these issues were pretty difficult to untangle. I started researching and trying flutes about a year ago, feeling that it might be time.
This new Powell is gorgeous, and I look forward to playing it every day - except when I don’t look forward to it, except when I’m absolutely intimidated by the instrument and its demands. What if I spent all this money and don’t sound that much better? Would this flute sound better with someone else - like, am I bringing it down? I should probably not wear pajamas and practice this flute, right? I know the first scratch is going to be devastating.
When we begin playing newer/better instruments, there is so much expectation of a new plateau of skill and sound, and for me this expectation is exciting, overwhelming, and perhaps foolish - I want to give my new flute all of my attention and best practice, not just let the instrument lift me up. What a great challenge, what a privilege.