Friday, February 20, 2015

Making the Final Cut

Lindsey holding one of five headjoints she finished cutting. 

Cutting headjoints takes a tremendous amount of skill, expertise, and patience as we have learned from meeting with headjoint cutter and flute finisher, Lindsey McChord.  We had the chance to catch up with her this week while she was cutting piccolo headjoints.  In fact, she had just finished several, and it made us wonder -- how does she know when they are finished?  So, we asked!  Lindsey told us that there are essentially three areas she focuses on for determining whether a headjoint is ready to go: scales, dynamics, and flexibility.

When she has a headjoint that she feels is finished, Lindsey begins the final testing process with scales, focusing on the mid and low range.  Although some may consider the low register to be "weak" on a piccolo, Lindsey tells us that this is definitely not true.  She says that she strives for balance when it comes to registers -- never sacrificing one end of the spectrum for another.  For instance, some players may test a headjoint that has a great upper register but not a great lower register and vice versa.  Lindsey says it's important to have strong registers throughout -- never sacrificing one for the other.  She plays the full range through scales, going up to C4 and making sure that B4 speaks.  When playing scales, Lindsey can also check for evenness.  For example, if there is a difference between notes that are next to each other, it's a good indication that an adjustment needs to be made.  Lindsey uses scales to focus on articulation as well, making sure that articulations are crisp and that the response is niece and clean both up and down the scale.  In terms of sound quality, playing scales allows Lindsey make sure that the sound is focused and pure -- never undefined or "woody." 

The Anderson Etudes are a terrific method for testing a headjoint's dynamic range and flexibility.  Of course, a headjoint that only plays comfortably at one dynamic range would not pass the test, so Lindsey makes sure that she can play the full dynamic range with comfort and ease, including the extremes.  She also makes sure to incorporate large leaps (octaves, 6ths, etc.) in the testing process to get a sense of the headjoint's flexibility.  Whether she selects etudes with large leaps or simply ads them to her scale regimen, these exercises can really put the headjoint's flexibility to the test.

Anderson Etudes on the stand in the headjoint testing room.

In general, the goal is to cut a headjoint that one can play easily, without having to make changes to the headjoint, their embouchure, or both.  Lindsey tells us that one should simply be able to put the headjoint up to their lips and play -- comfortably.  She says that it's crucial for her to test the piccolo headjoints on the very same piccolo all the time, and she has to make sure that this piccolo is in perfect shape.  She says that a piccolo is capable of producing a full range of beautiful tone colors, and you can be very expressive.  All the nuances that one can achieve on flute can also be produced on piccolo as well.  She tells us, "There are some amazing solos for piccolo, but everything has to be there, otherwise, the piccolo is not capable of doing what it needs to do."  So, with that in mind, Lindsey knows that the piccolo is certainly not a "second class citizen."  When the headjoint she cuts provides the artistic and technical freedom she needs without any restrictions, and with ease and stability, it is ready!

One headjoint on far left in egg crate has been oiled and is used as a model for cutting other headjoints.  The other five in the crate are finished and will be oiled next.

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