The Flute Maker

This article, written by Stephen Wessel, was originally published in Pan Magazine issue March 2000 under the title "An English Flute Maker Discusses his Work".

To be able to build a musical instrument is a rare privilege. To do it at home, to earn a living and occasionally to hear it being played exquisitely in public makes me feel fortunate indeed. Is this the life to which the office worker, contemplating a 'down-shift', aspires? Well there can be a down side but more of that later.

The composer, the player and instrument maker form the vertices of a triangle. The blending of their extraordinarily diverse skills makes music happen, while a certain amount of feedback from each to the others helps the gradual advance of musical ideas. Of course these three people (assuming they are people and not robots or computers) are not as a rule equal in status, the maker being very much the servant of the other two in helping them accurately to express their musical feelings. Perhaps someone should build a 'smart' flute. able to express its feelings about the music it is being asked to play!

So what is it like being a flute maker? A two-part review of British makers by Leanne Harper (Pan, September & December 98) to which I contributed, underlined an oddity, which may be a consequence of this country's social and industrial history, namely, that we are all loners. This comes as no real surprise although things are very different in other parts of the world. So no factories here, no whining robotic arms, conveyor belts, hard hats and the rest; we leave all that to the Asians, for no doubt good economic reasons; but more seriously we don't appear to have a single company, nor one full time employee amongst us. I find this rather sad because it suggests that none of us is building up a business which will outlast its founder; neither can we benefit from the advantages of scale. If this is not the case, someone please let me know.

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Photo of Pan Magazine article, first page

To be able to build a musical instrument is a rare privilege.