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A Flute Maker/Player Dyad, Part 2
The data for this study was generated by two semi-guided interviews, one with the maker and one with the player, each lasting approximately one hour. The interviews were then transcribed into typed form from the tapes. I thoroughly familiarised myself with the material in the interviews by reading and rereading the transcripts. Significant statements and 'meaning units' were then extracted and collected in a new draft by using only the words spoken by the participants. The participants were invited to give feedback on the new draft at this point as a verification process. As themes began to emerge, they were identified and presented for discussion, in an attempt to make an exhaustive description of the phenomenon. The essences of meaning were distilled and conclusions are drawn in a final summary.
Reflections on the method
- It occurred to me that the essential tools for this study were very human and, therefore, unique in nature. The two interviews and my own reflections on them formed the basis for the distillation of themes. As qualitative researchers, we use ourselves as the research instrument Aigen (1996b).
- The small sample, i.e. one maker, one player, enabled me to obtain the rich, detailed material which is needed for qualitative research Amir (1996a).
- I was quite struck by the sensation of translating the material of the interviews from the aural medium to the visual, typed medium.
Transformation into another medium can involve the loss of something, but has the advantage of looking at something in a different and new context. – Langenberg, Frommer & Langenbach (1996), p. 151
Emerging Order Of Themes
The Maker's Themes
The distillation of the interview transcript revealed the clear order of important themes from the maker's point of view. These themes emerged in the following order:
- Maker and workmanship
The maker spontaneously began to consider the importance of materials at the beginning of his interview. He evaluated their importance from the following aspects:
- Practicality, from maker's personal requirement point of view
- Suitability – to the purpose
- Ability to change and improve
- Organic – sense of place
- Personality – different qualities and colours of timbers
The importance of the source of the material and its harvesting became immediately apparent. The maker said:
I wouldn't like to buy it if it's just hacked out of the rain forest. If I found out that, say, the timber I was using was having a harmful effect on society, I would stop using it.
He also mentioned the experience of working with different timbers and pointed out that his personal reaction to the smell or the dust from a particular one influenced the practical considerations of working with that timber. '[Mopane] wasn't agreeable for me to work it.' The properties of the timber had to be considered from a suitability point of view.
You wouldn't use African Blackwood on the face of a guitar and you wouldn't use the pine that's used on the guitar for a flute, because it would, first of all, absorb moisture.
After practical considerations, there followed concern for the appearance of the timber and the importance of a finish which would stand the wear and tear of use and serve to keep the timber alive.
[Mopane] used to look bad in time. Most of the flutes I make don't have a finish on them. I put oil on them and I put shellac on them. Oil keeps the timber alive. [Other, harder finishes, may be] actually keeping the timber away from what can nourish it.
The theme of life came across very powerfully at this point and throughout the entire process. The fact that timber was organic and constantly able to change, in good and sometimes bad ways, was recognised. However old a flute may be does not prevent it from responding to a changed environment by shrinking or cracking. The ability to respond, in other words, to be alive, seemed to be the most exciting thing about the use of a material which is 'made from living cells, so everything is, sort of, linked together like a structure.' The unpredictability of response was considered to be 'part of the fun of using natural materials.' The ability of the timber flute to improve with playing was found to be quite alluring.
Being organic and from the countryside gives timber an added dimension. Not only does the idea bring with it a sense of place but it also carries a spiritual connection with the earth.
[With instruments that are made] from things that grew naturally, there's a sense of the countryside, a sense of something natural. [The music] has a spirit or has a life, which came from the earth.
Finally, the idea that each timber has its own personality emerged. Aspects of this personality are influenced by the physical properties of the timber, for instance, the density or hardness. This personality can manifest itself in the form of colours and palette of sounds the instrument can offer and the manner in which it behaves in different circumstances. Bearing in mind that these characteristics may be influenced by the player, the maker stated:
I can tell the difference [between the sound of different timbers]. The differences I'm talking about will only be noticeable when a person is taking as much as can be taken from it [the flute].
The depth of love and enthusiasm for the characteristics of cocus wood were obvious. Cocus wood seemed not only to be able to offer as comprehensive a list of possibilities as either a maker or a player could wish for, but by its very preciousness, prompted responses of respect and awe from both. The maker said:
It's something, isn't it? I love it. I think it's really beautiful. People shy away from it because it's expensive. What I like about cocus is, it seems to have the best of every world in it. Cocus is my favourite timber at the moment.
2. The Maker and the Workmanship
Internal motifs for consideration in this theme include:
- Importance of design
- Quality of workmanship
- Self-evaluation with reference points
- Mental state when working
- Importance of learning process
Top of the list of important factors in this second theme was the importance of design, especially the design of the head joint. Aside from the effects different materials might have on the eventual properties of an instrument, were the influence of different design features. The awareness of these factors enables the maker to manipulate the final characteristics of the flute, to a certain extent. In a gross understatement (as he works to 0.05 of a mm for particular tasks) he says:
The design of the body of the flute, the design of the bore of the flute, the design of the inside of the holes, the design of the blowhole, are all quite critical. If you have a well-made head joint, you will have a really good flute.
The quality of the workmanship was always considered to be essential. With this particular instrument, both the quality of the woodworking and the key making were considered.
If they [the keys] clack on the timber, that's the first deficiency of the instrument. Or if it [the key] leaks a very tiny bit, it'll give you a certain deficiency on the sound that comes from the instrument. They [the keys] must fit well and they must seat well and they must be quiet.
A lot of attention was given to the finishing of the instrument as already touched upon above in the materials section. The subtlety of the finishing of the inside bore of the flute and the effect it would have on the sound was discussed at length. The ability to be one's own evaluator was also identified. This ability was strengthened by the use of reference points. Of this special flute the maker said:
I'm really pleased with the way it's shaping up. It looks like it came out really well. I feel sometimes that the instruments that come out of my workshop are really good. It's vitally important for me that other flute players come into my workshop and play and test all the time.
The maker's own mood, while working, was identified as being an important contributory factor to the standard of the workmanship. He admitted:
I couldn't work on it unless I really felt right about it... because the piece of timber costs [so much].
The learning process was continuously stressed. The idea of being open to change and improvement was always present. "I'm moving all the time," he says, and:
I think if I had a set design from the day I started making flutes and was using it now, I would be in a mental home. I would not be able to live with it.
3. The Player
Ideas, which manifested themselves in this domain, were:
- Importance of future player and context for the flute
- Respect for the player's ability
- Listening to the requests of the player
- High expectations
The maker's connection to the instruments, even after they leave the workshop was articulated. Their final destination, their use and the respect they commanded, were deemed to affect the maker. He said:
There's no doubt about that, [feeling of connection to the instruments, which leave the workshop] especially if they're looked after. I saw one that was really abused. I felt that what I had invested in that instrument had been disrespected.
The respect for the participating player in this study was apparent. The final context for this particular instrument gave the maker extra satisfaction in the process. The player's ability was identified. 'He's a very good player, very versatile player and I think he could play anything.'
The maker was also mindful of the special requests made by the player.
One of the requests is that it's a light flute. The keys will be light because the material I use is 3mm silver wire.
The feeling of high expectation was difficult to resist. The maker had a sense that the player would be happy with the instrument, partly, perhaps because he also, was feeling happy about how the instrument was evolving. 'I have a feeling that he will like this one, it was a special job.'