Wood Flute Conference June 16-18 and Felix Skowronek

It is with a great sense of loss that we learn that our dear colleague, mentor and friend Felix Skowronek passed away on Monday night. The Wood Flute Conference 2006 has been a special dream of his, and he discussed its implementation with us through Monday. It will serve now in part as a tribute to Felix and his devotion to so many important aspects of the flute’s expressive palette and resonance. There may never have been a more ardent spokesman for wood and everything it means for the flute, as he demonstrated in the concert hall, through his scientific studies and work in the School of Forestry, his many wood-gathering excursions among the wood flute players of Europe. Felix was a pioneer, and it is gratifying that the wood flute scene has developed so in the last years, with his inspiration having played a central role.

Do join us for all or part of the conference in Seattle from June 16 to 18 at the University of Washington … even if you don’t happen to have a wooden flute or headjoint … and we’ll celebrate all aspects of the wooden Boehm-system flute while cycling through a broad range of music and topics.

You can register for the Wood Flute Conference 2006 at www.woodflutefest.com (or go to the School of Music home page at www.music.washington.edu/home/ and click on “2006 Wooden Flute Conference Information” on the right side under “Quick Links” ). Please do to contact me directly by email or at (206) 525-2216 with any questions or suggestions.

Looking forward to seeing you in June!

With best wishes,

Jeffrey Cohan

Felix Skowronek

Yesterday I woke up to an email in my flutenet folder posted by Bradley Leighton informing everyone of Felix Skowronek’s death on 4/17/06. To say the least, I was shocked and very saddened to read this as I’ve known Felix for the past few years – he was THE modern wood flute guy on the planet!

I first heard about Felix from Russell Phillips at Flutemakers Guild when I was just getting started as their rep here in the USA about five years ago. I remember Russell saying something along the lines of “he is mad about wood!,” gave me Felix’s address and phone number and told me to call him up. In talking with Felix, I learned that Felix actually had been the Flutemakers Guild rep back in the 70s before Suzanne Walker (one of his students) took the job. I had long talks with Felix about Flutemakers Guild and remember him saying how unfortunate it was that the company that had been at it for so long had had to stop making their legendary wood flutes due to the death of Ewen McDougall and Harry Seeley’s stroke just as the wood flute was catching on.

Felix also sent me numerous articles that he had written over the years on the wood flute of which I learned a great deal from. I scanned a few of them for him so he could see what they looked like on the Web and just last April, Felix sent me an email asking about the scans:

Hello Bob:

Remember you made up a temporary website or somesuch and copied my article on wood headjoints for remedial purposes? I can’t seem to find a hardcopy here in my files, so I’d like to get one off the internet you set up — but I forget that address too.

I’m finally getting back to the workshop now and then, making up a bunch of headjoints to carve in June. I underwent heart bypass surgery in early February, taking the quarter off here to recuperate. I’m back in business now, none the worse for wear, playing a concert last Sunday night in fact.

I came across a couple “kiawe” blanks tucked away in some old boxes, and I think I’ll make at least another head or two considering the success of the one you have; i.e. the “cyclops” headjoint. How is it holding up??

Something to think about: we have a wooden flute “cell” in Victoria, BC, and I go up a couple times a year on the Clipper and take heads along to try, etc. Might you be interested sometime, bringing the rest of your FG heads to show? You’ve mentioned visiting, and it’s not all that far away. Also, do you have any publicity shots or even videos of you on the job with that “cyclops” headjoint? I’m collecting a “rogues’ gallery” of wood players.


Fortunately, I was able to find the scans he was asking about (his “Pumping Wood” article) and sent them to him. They have been re-posted here:

My heartfelt condolences to Felix’s family and friends.
RIP Felix.


Playing all three – alto, soprano and piccolo

Back in the early 1980’s, Elias Leuvwarden (a good friend and phenomenal classical flutist from West Germany) made the case to me for playing alto flute and piccolo as a way to strengthen my soprano flute chops (i.e., typical C flute). Elias reasoned that if you could get around on an alto flute well, then your embouchure for the low register on the flute would have room to burn. Likewise for the piccolo and the high register. In other words, expand the range of your flute embouchure naturally by playing those instruments that require it – the alto flute for the lows and the piccolo for the highs (and get good enough on them and you’ll get to play the alto and piccolo gigs too! 🙂

Yamaha – "The Scale Was Dreadful"?

Recently on Galway-Flute-Chat, a member said of her Yamaha flute:

The Scale Was Dreadful! I bought mine in the mid
1980s. Absolutely one of the worst scales ever

She went on to say that this was somehow because Yamaha had tried to use various Hammig flute scales in making their scale. This is news to me! To date, I’ve never run across a Yamaha flute with a scale as out of tune as she describes. On the contrary, the Yamaha’s I’ve played seem pretty good scale-wise.

The one exception to this was a Yamaha YFL-61 (made between 1974-79) that I bought used about six years ago. It’s my understanding that the YFL-61 was a copy of a Powell (not Hammig), solid silver throughout and Yamaha’s top flute at the time (current model is the YFL-784H) . However for some reason, my YFL-61 had a very flat middle register C# that required a considerable amount of adjustment (i.e., turning the flute outwards when playing) to make it in tune. Why? In my hunt for an explanation, the first thing I noticed was a different patina on the headjoint than the rest of the flute… hmmm.

I became suspicious that the headjoint was not the original, even though it had a professional Yamaha crown. Unfortunately for me, my suspicions were confirmed when under closer scrutiny, I noticed that the headjoint chimney was not soldered on (as the handmade YFL-61 heads are) but instead was drawn, a machine-made job! Somewhere along the way, the original handmade head for the flute had been swapped for whatever this head was (not even sure it was a Yamaha because there was no Yamaha logo on it anywhere) and cleverly (and very cheaply I might add!) disguised by the Yamaha crown.

An Altus headjoint I had on hand fit the YFL-61 perfectly and much to my delight, when I played the flute with the Altus head, voila! – the C# was no longer flat! In fact, the flute played exceptionally well with that Altus head and so that’s the combination I went with. Makes me wonder if the woman with the “dreadful scale” Yamaha has tried different headjoints on that flute. Maybe I’ll drop her a note and find out…

Wood Flute Conference, Seattle, June 16-18

Hello All:

This memo is to alert you to the information and registration website that we hope will be posted by the end of the week or into next week. This will contain current information about the Wood Flute Conference to date, along with the registration form for campus housing and food services.


Although many have expressed interest in performing during the Conference, there is still room for additional slots for the Evening Concerts for those of you who are interested, first come first served. If demand warrants, we will move into afternoon performances as well, taking up slots originally set for lectures and panel discussions. I would hope that we don’t have conflicting events so that everyone can attend everything scheduled.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please get them to me before Sunday morning, as I will be away from March 12-28.

With all best wishes,

Felix Skowronek

Taffanel & Gaubert #4

Taffanel & Gaubert #4 is one of the most enduring scale exercises, used by countless flutists of all levels of ability. It is quite a workout. For some reason, in talking with Jen Cluff a few days ago, our conversation turned to talking about intonation and Taffanel & Gaubert #4.

I recalled how double-bassist Edgar Meyer had told a friend of mine (this was about twenty years ago – yikes!) that to improve his intonation, Edgar used a synthesizer and programmed in the parts he was working on. I remember at the time thinking what a brilliant use of technology that was and so, shortly thereafter, programmed in Taffanel & Gaubert #4 into my keyboard to give it a try.

Right away in playing along with the keyboard, I could see the weak spots in my scales – both in terms of evenness, as well as intonation – everything was so transparent! Unfortunately, that synthesizer program got lost a long time ago. The good news is that Jen said she’s got a Sibelius version of it done and just needs to upload it to the Web. I’ll post that link here as soon as she does.