Three flutes, three sections to the book: that’s the organizing principle behind my young adult fantasy, THE BEECHWOOD FLUTE.  Kiran, the flute boy who wants to become a warrior to avenge his father’s death, first plays a flute made of birchwood. He plays mystical or patriotic tunes in the temple and lighthearted songs for village festivals. He takes his flute along on his trip downriver to the capital, but in the disaster that follows, the flute, half-destroyed, has to serve a new function. When he returns home, the priest who has mentored him throws the ruined flute into the fire.

The pattern repeats itself in each section of the book. Each time, a new flute, built from a new kind of wood, represents Kiran grasping onto hope again. Music is his way of shaping the swirl of emotion inside him as he realizes that the world is more complex and fraught with cruel folly than he knew. Each flute has a darker tone than the last, and each one finishes by serving a vital role that is not its intended one.  The birchwood flute gives way to the cedar flute, and the cedar flute to the beechwood flute.

It is a conceit of the tale that each kind of wood carries its own tone into Kiran’s music. Whether this really happens is unclear. An instrument’s pitch depends on its length. The stiffness of its walls might influence the reverberations that constitute tone.

Most of what I have read about how the medium of manufacture affects tone has addressed the difference between wooden flutes and metal ones. Wooden flutes are often characterized as having a “breathy” or “reedy” tone, while metal flutes have a tone that is more “bright” and “loud.” However, I particularly like this comment from the Abell Flute website:

… the pungent, reedy tone produced with a wooden flute is unequaled in any other material. While the brilliance of tone produced in the metal flutes is exquisite, there is a quality of sound, a dark rich fullness in the wooden instruments, which the metal flutes can only approach.

Other musicians sometimes characterize the tone of wooden flutes as “sweet” or “warm.” For Kiran, each flute has its own voice, which echoes his own mood and understanding. Each flute invites him to explore music in a new way, even as he is exploring new ideas, making new judgments and girding himself for new ways of acting in the world.

 

One thought on “Do wooden flutes sound different?

  1. I couldn’t resist consulting my musician friends and they say that certain woods vibrate more easily than other kinds of wood and so they would transmit sound more or less fully; you might get more overtones, or a richer timbre. Maple, for example, is very good at transmitting sound and so is often used in violins and guitars. However, although I had a lovely conversation with an old friend, she plays the trumpet and her partner is a pianist and so she finally admitted that her knowledge of flutes is limited. I have to cautiously venture, though, that if different woods do in fact transmit sound differently it is safe to stick with this vey fine conceit. Carry on!!

    Liked by 1 person

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