Friday, January 10, 2014

History of the 19.5K

19.5k with 14k mechanism
We had a chance to look at the 19.5k flute "launch event" in a previous post, but this week, we came across some of the original programs from the event.  Since the event included a recital by Powell artist Paul-Edmund-Davies, the program listed the repertoire he performed and a couple of notes about the specifications of the 19.5k flute.  However, the program also came with a special note by Powell's President, Steven Wasser, about Powell and the development of the 19.5k as you will see below.  The event took place at the Harvard Club in Boston on June 7, 2003.
Changing the Status Quo

How do we make changes to Powell instruments while protecting the traditional qualities for which our instruments are known?  In other words, why change what's not broken?

All our instruments share certain Powell family characteristics, most importantly, the "Powell Sound."  But in a world that is constantly changing, maintaining the status quo is tantamount to going backwards.  Yes, we have an artistic tradition that must be protected, but we also have a responsibility to test the limits of materials and technology.

What makes a Powell flute special is that we, as an organization of people, have a shared artistic concept about what we want a Powell flute to be.  While this shared concept has been modified over time to reflect changes made possible by technology and the demands of customers, it remains remarkably intact from the day Verne Powell founded his flute making shop in 1927.  

Everything we do at Powell -- whether it involves a new design, a new tool, or a new technology -- is always evaluated against the question, "What does it do to the Powell Sound?"  If it leaves our sound unchanged or enhances it, we proceed.  If we feel it detracts from what we want our flute to be, we go back to the drawing board.  Over many years, these numerous small decisions have become a complex system of values, tooling, designs, and attitudes that collectively account for the uniqueness of our instruments.

Why 19.5k gold flutes?  It was an "accident."  Our supplier found that the 18k rose alloy we had been ordering was so difficult to work with that they simply refused to make it any more.  Instead, they suggested a 19.5k rose alloy they had developed.  We thought the 19.5k alloy might be interesting, since higher karat gold alloys are denser, and because density is generally regarded as desirable with regard to flute acoustics.  In order to test a 19.5k gold flute, we had to buy a large amount of gold -- body tubing, sheet for lip plates, casting grain, post wire, various sizes of tone hole tubing, rings, crown rod, and more.  It was a risk, but there was no way around this if we wanted to hear what a 19.5k gold flute sounded like.

We're here today because we like the results of our 19.5k endeavor.  You are the beneficiary of the chance we took.  Listen to the music -- try the flute.  See whether you like this change in the status quo.
Steven A. Wasser
President, Verne Q. Powell Flutes, Inc.
Event Program
Inside the cover
First page: Status Quo Note
Bottom of the page
Last page

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