Shiny New Flutes

The holidays came early to the SDSU flute studio in November. Several of my students wanted to try out new flutes; most were ready to upgrade, and one wanted to get an idea of her options in anticipation of upgrading next year. We had seven brands of flute to try out over the course of about a week. Every flute was within my students’ budgets, so they knew that any flute they tried was a possible purchase. Included were well-known brands, and the majority of them (6 our of 7) were solid silver headjoints and bodies with plated mechanisms.

My students were quite excited, of course, and each approached the trial process in a different way. Some wanted to try all of them in a single session; others wanted to just try a few and come back later to try the others. One student knew immediately which brand she preferred and didn’t change her mind at all during the trial process. The others had a more difficult time and took longer to make a decision.

Each student played the flutes over several days. They played long tones as well as scales, etudes, and repertoire. They also tried the instruments in different spaces, including the flute studio as well as the recital hall. Other than the student who immediately knew which one she wanted, the other students’ opinions changed a bit over the course of the week. They slowly began eliminating choices based on “feel” (e.g., this mechanism just isn’t comfortable) and sound. Eventually, two more students decided on a new flute. I also enjoyed trying these flutes outside of the usual convention atmosphere. It was a luxury to have some time to really get to know some of these brands.

My goal was to guide them in this process. I carefully tried to not influence their decision, since I strongly believe that each person has to buy the brand that works best for him or her and not just buy the brand name alone based on its reputation. I also don’t have extensive playing experience with some of the brands they tried, so I didn’t feel it would be fair to push one brand over another. Since they were trying solid, high-quality instruments, I knew that there wasn’t really an issue with them choosing something that wasn’t going to hold up. I answered a lot of questions about mechanisms and structural aspects of the instruments but I really wanted them to have the experience of careful, critical listening to determine which flute was best for each of them. In the end, I think each student chose the instrument that was most comfortable and responsive and had the best sound. There is also a lot of room for each student to grow artistically with the new instruments.

They’re still in love with their new flutes and another student has a very good idea of which brand she prefers when she is ready to upgrade, so I think the entire process was a success.


Spring Break Visit to the National Music Museum

Springtime in South Dakota!
Springtime in South Dakota!

Over Spring Break, I made a visit to the National Music Museum, which is on the campus of the University of South Dakota in the small town of Vermillion, population approximately 10,000. Despite it being “Spring” Break, it was quite a cold day. I didn’t have much trouble finding the museum. It appears to be in what was formerly a library building but it works well for this extensive collection.

When I first walked in, there was a reception desk, where I was given a very good overview of the building, including a map and a handheld computer that gave additional information about various instruments found in the galleries. There was a small gift shop across from the desk, and a small recital hall was also relatively close to the entrance.

The museum holds a huge number of instruments; according to their website, there are more than 14,500 of them. I took a look at everything displayed in their galleries that day. Of course, I took more notice of certain instruments than others based on my background and the type of work I’m doing at the moment.

Probably the most impressive sight in the museum is the gamelan, which is a set of instruments percussion from Indonesia. These are not commonly found in this area, so I am looking forward to bringing my World Music class here in the fall for a demonstration. The gamelan is housed in a gallery that includes many other non-Western instruments. The African talking drum, the middle-eastern ud, and the Indian sitar and veena were particularly interesting. The east Asian qin and flutes were also a treat to see. It’s amazing, honestly, that all of these instruments, which aren’t often found in Western music, are right here in this one collection.



Another gallery includes “musical innovations of the industrial revolution.” There is a flute that demonstrates the practice of having multiple middle joints, so that the player can most closely match the pitch in that particular area. There are other flutes included here, as well, including a few Louis Lots. There are also serpents on display in this area, and who doesn’t like to see those?

Quite impressively, this museum’s collection includes stringed instruments by Stradivari and Amati.

One of the last galleries I visited focused on American music and instrument manufacturing. Some of my favorites were guitars owned by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, and Joe Carter. Other instruments in this gallery included Native American drums, flutes, and rattles as well as Civil War instruments.


Overall, I once again find myself saying, “Wait, they have this in South Dakota?” For a big state with not many people, there are many impressive resources to avail oneself of here. This museum is going to be a benefit to my World Music class and is worth a trip if you happen to find yourself in the Vermillion, SD area. Check out more of their holdings through a virtual tour of their website.