A First Flute

I receive a daily digest in my email from a local forum for moms. One of the queries really got me thinking. It was from the mother of a young girl who had decided she wanted to play flute. The school’s band director offered a list of recommended flutes from a couple of manufacturers. The mother was appalled by the prices of the flutes and wanted to know if the other moms on the forum agreed with her that spending very much on a first instrument was foolish. She felt she should get the cheapest thing she could find until certain her daughter would “stick with it.”

This is a subject that has always troubled me a bit. A poorly manufactured instrument will cause the music student to be unable to make a beautiful sound, and to abandon music lessons with the notion that the problem is the child, not the instrument. And a poorly made instrument usually lacks a soul… but more on that in a moment.

When I was 8 years old, I too decided I wanted to play flute. The school recommended that students rent instruments from a particular store so my mom dutifully did just that. It was a terrible instrument – but how could mom have known? She did not play flute. I worked with this instrument for a long time and never really made the music that I wanted to make. I learned my parts and played in the school band and later the school symphony. But was not all that inspired and basically accepted the fact that I was not very good.

I had always had a savings account and had been putting in any birthday money and money from chores. It had amassed $200! A graduating senior that I knew had decided to sell her flute. I offered her my $200 and she accepted. This was an amazing instrument. All the lights came on and a connection was made. The notes soared to the heavens. I couldn’t wait to play it every day. Songs, melodies bubbled up from some magical place. My breath went in and the flute sang back to me. It was a synergy of 2 souls, no longer 1.

Once a year, the school band had closed door competitions to choose “first chair” for each instrument. I was in ninth grade. It was the day of reckoning. The flute players went behind a closed door. Each flutist played in turn and the rest of the band voted on who was best – and who would be first chair for the year. They voted with applause.

As you may know, students form “cliques.” You’re either out or you’re in. I was always out. There was no hope of me winning anything but a closed door competition. I won hands down. Or I guess I should say “we” won – this wonderful flute and I as a team.

I still have that flute, although it’s past its prime and no longer my only flute. I parted with it recently for a day when a friend’s 11 month old son passed away from cancer and my friend’s brother, a band director who came in from out of state, was asked unexpectedly to perform at the funeral. February had been cold and gray. But that day, the sky was bright blue and the sun was warm. Through his tears he played beautifully, and I know that special flute offered up the magic and love I have always found in it. Although it has played in hundreds of performances, I know this was the most important one of all.

And even though it was not my first flute, it was my first special flute and led me to the path I am on to this day.

15 thoughts on “A First Flute”

  1. Most parents, unless they are musicians themselves, would not know how important a good instrument is. What parents can do is expose their children to music wheather it is radio, TV, or CD’s. A love of music even before birth is the best gift a parent can give a child.

  2. You’re so right Joyce! When I taught Spanish, I found that among my adult students, the ones that had studied music at some point in their lives picked up the foreign language much faster. And I have also read about the correlation between math and music.

  3. What a beautiful memory, and thank you for sharing that. I wonder if I might share my story about an instrument, that I am sitting here looking at right now.

    There was a guy that I played guitar with in my younger days. He and I spent hours on watch together, and we never were anything special, but how we enjoyed sitting around playing. He was single and saved all he could until he had enough to buy a Guild…and it seemed to have the most beautiful sound ever. We must have spent more time playing than sleeping. It slowed a little when I got married, but we still found time to play. When he got out of the service and I got transferred it would be months or a year or two between seeing each other, but our families would get together, and he and I would play until we could not stay up any longer or the coffee ran out. Those days it was folk music.

    I got sick, and quite playing. RIch and I lost touch for a few years when I learned that he was in hospice. I called and they held the phone for him, and though he could not speak, they said he smiled. I called to talk the next day and learned he died in the night. His Mom, his wife, his brothers decided that Rich would have wanted me to have the Guild, and sent it to me. It still has the sweetest sound of any guitar I have ever touched, but I can’t make it sound like he did. But I know it has taken on a lot of his good, caring soul. Everyone needs to have a best friend.


  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. A beloved instrument definitely picks up some part of the human who plays it. And somehow, that person lives on. I hope someday my little girl will want my flutes…

  5. This was a very moving and touching story. Can’t I relate to what you were saying about school having cliques and being “out”. I am so pleased that you pushed through and that you were able to make that connection to the music within you. Can I ask where you draw the inspiration from with your music and how that comes about? I always find it incredibly fascinating. Do you wake up with the tune or does it come about another way?

    I also really love that your albums centre around a theme, clearly the story of Savitri really intrigued you as that story has twice made it to your CDs. What inspires you to create an album around a theme?

    I suppose I’ve wandered off the subject a bit so I’ll move back to it again…I know that you play a wind instrument called a WX5, what is that? And how did you come about the flute of “unknown origins”?

    I seem to have opened a Pandora’s box of questions… πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚


  6. Hi Susan
    I could write another novella here! Yes, at times there’s a melody when we wake up. It might even gnaw at us until something is done about it! Other times an instrument inspires a melody. Acoustic instruments in particular seem to emanate a life force of their own. You touch it and feel a communication flowing into your hand (or heart). I love my flutes as if they were little people. And I do have quite a few! lol

    Sadly at times I have picked up a “dead” instrument. I think maybe it was mass-produced rather than created with loving hands.

    A good story can inspire a song or even a whole album. My favorite movies always had epic music in them. I’ve watched some surprisingly odd movies simply because I liked the music.

    A WX5 is a wind controller by Yamaha. It has a reed and is sensitive to embouchure and finger pressure. Although played like a saxophone you can assign an infinite variety of sounds to it via MIDI.

    Here’s a pic: http://www.2002music.com/images/WX5.jpg

    About the flute of unknown origins. I don’t know!! Honest. It just showed up in my collection one day. We dubbed it “cruel flute” because it really hurts my hands to play it. But the sound it makes is haunting. It is the flute I used on “The Calling” on the CD “Land of Forever” I also used it as the background for a movie on Vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/717739

  7. Dead instruments…I never heard it put that way, but that is exactly right. The correct frequencis are there but there is no life to it.

    “Land of Forever”…the CD that magically appeared on my shelf, and became a part of the change. Everytime I think I have a new favorite, I always go back to it and especially “Dance with a Princess”. How interesting to know about the flute in it.

  8. Thank you so much for answering those questions, I feel so pleased to have the answers to those as they kept bugging at me too! Yes, I had read somewhere on your website about that flute being hard on your hands. Ouch. And thanks so much for the little pic link up to the WX5, that helps me understand it a bit better. Very intriguing about the flute of unknown origins just turning up in your collection one day! I wonder how that happened…?

    I know what you mean about “dead instruments.” Sometimes I think if the right person doesn’t pick it up with the right energy, intent, or understanding of an instrument, it won’t produce the sounds you want.

    I agree with you regarding movie soundtracks. I have seen movies I didn’t think that much of but whose soundtracks were absolutely wonderful. The music in a soundtrack is something I’m always acutely aware of and sensitive to, of course, having such a love of listening to music.

  9. 2002 didn’t really have any guitars on our albums until Land of Forever. When we first began that album, a friend of ours at the record label suggested we add a guitar to our music. We discussed using a nylon string, classical style guitar, and I thought I might pluck it with a pick rather than the traditional fingers. I had been a guitar player from age 10, so it was not too much of a stretch to incorporate one of these into our sonic palette. But we didn’t have a nylon string guitar, so I went in search of a suitable one. As a professional musician, I knew that I might have to spend some significant money to get a quality instrument, it’s just expected. Flutes, harps, pianos, synthesizers… these instruments cost many thousands of dollars, so I expected the guitar to be no less hurtful to my wallet.

    I went to the local music shops around town and played several instruments, ranging from $800 to $3500. In those days, the shops had very liberal return policies, so I even purchased a few of them over several weeks to take home and try out in the studio. They all played, sounded and recorded just as they should- too much so actually, and that was my problem. I needed something different, an instrument that could challenge the limits created by my expectations. One by one they were tried out, and returned.

    I had been to all the local music stores except one, which was in a town further away, about a 45 minute drive. It was pretty much my last hope, and at that point I’m not even sure if I knew exactly what I was looking for anymore. When I got there, I found that the store was in the process of being moved to a bigger building a few miles down the freeway. The floors were bare, and nearly all the instruments were gone to the new location, but still packed away. The owner suggested I come back the next week when he was up and running, but I had driven all that way, so I asked if he had anything left that I could look at. He said, “Well, I’ve got those three up on the wall still, but those are lower-end guitars, Korean knock-offs, etc. – doesn’t sound like what you’re looking for, but you’re welcome to try them.”

    I realized right away that two of them were too hard to play, and of those, one may have been a dead instrument. But the last one was very easy to play so I took it into one of the now empty practice rooms, closed the door, sat on the floor and played. The guitar was a Sigma brand, which is a Korean built Martin (Martin traditionally makes very high quality guitars in America). The front of the body where the sound hole is, or “top” as it’s called, was composed of two sides of wood glued together instead of one solid piece, so that when you look at the guitar front-on standing up, the left side is a slightly different wood grain and color than the right side. Hmmm.,

    Something strange happened the moment I started playing. The guitar immediately spoke to me in no subtle way, as if to say “I was created for you, you and I belong together.” And then, even more astonishing, it gently said “No, don’t play me that way, play me this way.” Usually when you create vibrato on a fretted instrument like the guitar, you do it by stretching the string with an up and down motion on the fingerboard, as opposed to the side to side “rocking” motion you would use on a non-fretted instrument, such as a cello. But this guitar wanted the latter method, and would sing whenever I did it that way. Whenever I tried plucking a note and then sliding down the neck for a drop-off effect, the guitar seemed to help me down, pulling my hand just the right way to get that strange, throaty, sweet sound that only it can produce- like the sound of a dove cooing. Up to that point, I had never played an acoustic instrument that was that expressive and unique. It literally played itself, and had its own soul.

    Intellectually, I knew that most likely something was mechanically wrong with the instrument to make it play and sound this way- but is wrong the correct word? If I was able to make such a profound connection with it, and if it was able to inspire me to automatically play in a style I had never practiced or even contemplated before, could it be that there is something very right about this instrument?

    When I came out of the practice room I asked the store owner how much. It was $200.

    That guitar, recorded with a special tube microphone is the one heard on nearly all 2002 records. When we did some live performances a few years ago, I had to purchase an electrified nylon string costing much more than the Sigma, because I was not willing to have holes drilled to electrify it and have strap pins put in. The luthier repeatedly assured me that it wouldn’t change anything sonically- but I felt I couldn’t take the risk, since I don’t really know why it sounds the way it does in the first place.


  10. Hi Randy.

    Wow….what a gift. You are exactly right…it was not something ‘wrong’ with it. I don’t know a tiny but as much as you about instruments, but how could it be wrong? I believe there is such a thing as magic in this life, and this is a beautiful example of it. This is a magical instrument, and yes, it was just waiting for you. Everything happens for a reason. I think you were so right not to let them put holes and stuff in it.

    The sound IS different, and I had no idea of the story behind it. I hope you know there is another part of the story…the fact that you were open enough to let it show you; to let it be what it wanted to be. Your story might be more familiar if more people listened to what the instrument was trying to tell them. But, like so many other things they feel they have to control it or force it to sing their way. Is that the difference between and artist and a musician?

    Thank you for sharing the story.


  11. Hi Michael
    You mentioned “Dance With A Princess” in an earlier post. I have a story about that one. We were working on our second release for Real Music called “Land of Forever”. Back then, our studio was in a commercial center about 20 minutes drive from our house. We had been working on that particular song that day (Dance With A Princess) and Randy felt compelled to go back up to the studio late that night after dinner and continue working on it. The next morning we found out that Princess Diana had died.

  12. There is no such thing as coincidence; there are things in this life we cannot imagine, much less understand. I think people that are open can experience so much more than others( someone far wiser than me shared that with me some time ago)

    How wonderful though, that now I have a special thought of my favorite song. I always go back to it; another may move in for awhile, but I get to missing it.

    It is really wonderful to know these special things, but not surprising to me that they are almost magical. There is SOMETHING about it all. Most would never believe the story of how I got “Land of Forever”; it was not here one day, and then was… Everything happens for a reason.

    thanks for sharing

  13. What a truly amazing story about the guitar. I had noticed that the guitar wasn’t on any of the albums prior to “Land of Forever”. It adds an amazingly rich texture to the albums, and it truly seems to just “fit”. I have heard with some artists (ABBA comes to mind here) that often when a song is being written, that it is usually written with an artist in mind to sing it. I could almost wonder whether the same occurs when your pieces are being composed, that as they are coming together, you could just picture which instrument is going to feature heavily in which area, piano here, guitar there, etc.

    What I’m thoroughly enjoying here is your sharing of your stories, I am truly enjoying that as I always love to know the “behind the scenes” to each track and album, how it all came about. I’m not so savvy when it comes to instruments and playing them, but certainly I’m intrigued by it all and the stories behind it. I look forward to hearing more!

  14. Sychronicity is an amazing thing that brings us together with divine purpose. I am on vacation this week and I have on my internet station at Pandora. Without even looking, I knew I was listening to your music. Truly beautiful, truly unique as I know it is 2002 just by the quality of the music without ever looking at the station screen.
    I decided to come check out the posts and I happened to read your post about the flute….as the flute played in your song “Lady Of The Moon.” I thought to myself, what an amazing gift GOD has given me in finding your music, your website, your sharing of your story. Do we really appreciate the unique contribution others give to our lives and do we ever say thank you? I am today. Thank you Randy and Pamela. I thank everyone who supports you and your music. I am blessed.

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