Rohr's "This I Believe"
Using affluence to experience the margins

My visit to the Flute Doctor

I haven't yet integrated blogging into my weekly routine, but now that we have this beautiful blog set up, I often find myself thinking, "Could this be material for a blog?" I'm not sure this is good. I already go through life with one eye watching for good sermon illustrations--if I'm looking for good material for a blog entry too, it may destroy any potential I have for living "in the moment".

But, last week I had an experience that just begs to be blogged.

I am an amatuer flute player. I began playing in fourth grade, played all through High School, and then just noodled around occasionally until about three years ago when I began taking lessons again from an amazing flute arist named Carrie Rose. My stated goal, when I began to play with Carrie, was just to have fun. I wanted to brush up my skills enough to be able to play fun, easy duets with her a couple of times a month. I didn't aspire to become a great player. I didn't even really want to improve. I just wanted to play.

Carrie was game. She learned early on that the fewer comments she made about my technique or artistry, the happier I was. For at least a year, we played a Kulau duet. It slowly came together, and bit by bit I started sounding better too. I even practiced at home some, and by the end of the year I decided that my husband Dan really should hear both parts of the duet. I invited Carrie over for dinner, and we played our piece for Dan afterwards. My first "public" performance for about 30 years.

Carrie then suggested a slightly harder duet, and we got that in shape too, and then another. The music was so interesting, so beautiful, that I wanted to practice more so I could play it. And the more I listened to Carrie play, the more I wanted to sound like her. She has one of the biggest, richest flute sounds I have ever heard, and she can play quietly and powerfully at the same time (something that is really hard to do on a flute). I have become a little more open to suggestion over the last year, and I can tell that I am also starting to sound better. I haven't changed my goal--I'm still playing for fun only--but by playing with Carrie I find myself drawn along into improvement bit by bit by bit.

Recently, I've run into some technical limitations. After gently suggesting for about a year that I shouldn't have to hit the right hand keys as hard as I do, Carrie finally convinced me a few weeks ago that my flute needed repair. She gave me the name and number of a flute repair person she trusts, and off I went.

He chuckled to himself when he examined my keys, and completely fixed my problem in about ten minutes as I sat and watched. "Would you mind if I took a look at your head-joint?" he then asked me. "Be my guest," I replied. The next words out of the repairman's mouth as he peered into my flute were "OH MY GOD!!" A few expletives followed. He then announced, "This head joint is probably the best example of the shoddy craftsmanship of factory-produced flutes I've ever seen! Whoever made this had clearly just returned from a three martini lunch!" He then stuck a metal pick of some kind into the flute, applying great force and flinging bits of metal (solid silver, mind you) across the room. "Don't worry," he said, mid-fling, "there's nothing I could do to make this any worse."

About a half hour later he played my flute again and announced it "improved". I took his word for it and got out of there, but not before having to promise that I would look into buying a new flute (starting price for something acceptable, $2,000) as soon as possible. I was going to mention that my car isn't even worth $2,000, but I thought better of it.

My flute really does sound better, and now that I've had time to recover from the shock of the experience, it has given me a lot to reflect on. We're in the middle of Lent now, the season of the church year when we talk most about sin and confession, self-examination and self-improvement. I certainly prefer the nudges towards improvement I've received from Carrie Rose over the scraping and swearing of the flute repair guy. But in the end, I need both of them in order to grow as a flutist. I needed someone to point out that my equipment was just plain bad, and to scrape some of it out and fling it across the room.

I don't think I'm ready to preach on that, lest anyone at KC hears in this story an implication that I'm ready to start critiquing their souls the way the technician critiqued my instrument. I'd rather go with Carrrie's style--playing together, urging each other along. But maybe there are times when a clearer assesment--and a cleaner head-joint--could do us all some good.


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