Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Flute's Story

I play a 14 K Muramatsu flute, which was made in 1980.

It was left to me in my teacher's will.  My teacher was Murray Panitz, the legendary principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1961 to 1989.  His sudden and unexpected death shocked and saddened all of us who were privileged to know him and hear him play.  His sound still shimmers in my memory.

It was many weeks before I could take the flute out if its case.  I had it because Murray wasn't here anymore.  Playing it early on was too emotionally challenging.  Who was I to have this flute??

At first, I sounded horrible on it.  No center to the tone, actually not much tone, slow response, weak top register.  I was afraid I'd never be able to do it justice.  Each practice session with it felt bewildering. Things I had taken for granted just didn't work anymore. Was it because I was a silver player and the gold was a different technique?  Or was the headjoint cut wrong for me?  The flute was physically demanding as well; I had to build the strength to make it work.

One day, I decided to place the notes where the flute indicated it wanted them to be placed.  And at that moment, Murray's flute began to reveal its secrets to me.  It was almost like I had to earn its trust.  I became strong enough to really send some serious air through it.  My technique adapted to its demands.  I knew I had bonded with it when I could feel it vibrate in my hands.

Then it was time to play it in public. This took a great deal of courage, let me tell you.  I rarely told people of the flute's background: the responsibility of ownership felt heavy.  All the same emotions of simply taking it out of the case months earlier came rushing back.   "Can you ever live up to the legend of this flute?" was at the heart of my struggle.  It was time to perform with it when I realized
that I had risen to the challenge; that the flute was now mine.

I don't remember the first performance on Murray's flute.  I wish I had a journal entry to refer to, or some specific remembrance.  There was a time that I put a Williams 14 K headjoint on the flute, but a few years ago I reunited the original headjoint with it.  Even though it is more demanding, the result is well worth it.

This has flute changed and molded my playing for the better. I still find new colors.   It has been as fine a teacher as Murray was, and just as demanding.  And trust me, just like Murray, it won't let me get away with anything.

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