Big Flutes!


All right, I’m sure you all knew a dorky post about flutes was coming at some point (since I am here to be doing work after all) so, here it is!

Four times a semester, the flute professor at UNAM (with whom I am studying and who will hereafter be referred to as Alejandro) does a themed session open to all students, faculty, people in the community, etc. that are interested in attending. The first session was last Tuesday and was about the larger and lesser-known instruments of the flute family: the alto flute, bass flute, flauta de pico, the glissando mouthpiece, and the CONTRABASS flute.

Alejandro asked me to play some excerpts from pieces for alto flute so I did and that went pretty well. Then, the guest artist for the flauta de pico (recorder) talked about her instrument, which is a Paetzold bass recorder (either in C or F, I’m not sure). This instrument is amazing! It is played with a mouthpiece and has a wide variety of sound possibilities. In recent years, it has become attractive to contemporary composers because of its flexibility and the fact that it works very well with electronics. The sound is quite low and is usually amplified. Here is a picture:

Paetzold bass recorder--it was really fun to play!

And here is a link to a piece for Paetzold flutes and electronics:

Afterwards, Alejandro talked about and introduced the bass flute to the audience. I really like the bass flute and have played it before, but it definitely hurts my wrists after a short period of time–it’s pretty heavy!

Bass flute--no, this is not solid gold, don't get excited!

Then he introduced the contrabass flute–ridiculously cool. As you can imagine, it is quite low and also needs to be played with amplification in order to be heard. Solo literature does not really exist for this instrument, though pieces for contrabass flute and electronics can be found.

This instrument is monstrous!

As you can probably tell, there is a piece that fits over your leg so that it can bear part of the weight of the instrument. I'm sure you can also play it standing up like Alejandro is in the photo but sitting down is more common.

Finally, Alejandro demonstrated the glissando headjoint, invented by flutist and pedagogue Robert Dick. There is a portion of the headjoint that the flutist can slide while playing to alter the pitches higher or lower. Interestingly enough, it does not alter each pitch the same amount: some pitches can be altered about two whole steps in either direction while others can just be altered by about a step. I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty sure this has to do with the construction of the instrument and how much of the instrument is closed/opened depending on what keys are being pressed.

This headjoint is bought alone and can then just be put on a regular C flute like any other headjoint. By the way, I really want one of these. Christmas, birthday anyone??!

And finally, here is a link to Robert Dick demonstrating this mouthpiece:


9 responses »

  1. I gasped when I saw this–I played alto or bass flute in studio performances whenever I could, but I am currently consumed by contrabass envy. That must have been an amazing session! Thank you so much for sharing.

    • No problem, I’m glad you liked it! If you are ever interested in coming to any concerts/recitals, let me know because I’m always up for listening. Probably no contrabass flute recitals to be heard though, sadly!

  2. The beginning of the Taleas piece sounds like insect noises with the breath effects and key sounds. Very cool! I had not seen a black contra though-PVC?

    • Something like that, although I’m not positive that it is PVC. The maker is in Poland I think. If you’re interested I can ask what his name is because I can’t remember off the top of my head.

  3. Very interesting post! Over the summer I went to teach a class at the flute camp at Southeast Missouri State University. My old theory teacher, who happens to be a flute player, just published a bunch of pieces for alto and bass flute. He demonstrated one of them and I was amazed to find that he built a cradle for his bass flute to take the pressure off of his wrists and hands! He called it a mono-pod…LOL.

    Also, I find that the way his contrabass flute is built is very interesting! I have always seen the contrabass being played standing up with the person usually standing on some sort of stool (well at least I have to stand on a stool…I’m too short!) and it being played in the posture of a clarinet player (instead of a bassoon player, which is the posture that it seems to be here). What’s it made of…it obviously doesn’t look silver…unless it’s tarnished, of course! LOL.

    Did you get a chance to try the glissando headjoint? I’ve not been able to. The three times I’ve been to convention, his table is always crowded, so I never bother trying to fight my way through to try it. And you’re absolutely right about the “physics” behind it…although it’s more of a mathematical concept first discovered by Pythagoras that has to do with the ratios of how big or how little a chamber is for its sound to resonate. At least I think. I’ll ask Walter when he gets home. 😉

    Thanks for sharing all your experiences. This is way cool!

    • I’m not exactly sure what the contrabass is made of, but definitely some sort of piping that is not all metal. I need to ask–I’ll get back to you on that!

      I DID get to try the glissando headjoint and LOVED IT! I played around with it for awhile before the class started and I was the dorky one who was trying to figure out whether it would adjust the same number of steps up/down for each note or if it varied (it varies of course). You know, if Walter understands the physics of it and he likes to build things anyway, you should get him to make a glissando headjoint for you…!!

  4. Pingback: Coffee Nerves from Three Dances for Two Flutes and Piano by Gary Schocker | You Love Coffee

  5. Pingback: Another post about food…just kidding, let’s talk about Music for a change! « Playing and Eating Flautas in México!

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