Friday, January 4, 2013

Everell's Flute

We always thought it was a children's toy.

It was just a little wooden flute. It has small finger holes, close together, appropriate for little fingers. But there were only six holes. Also, the flute didn't make much of a sound, typical for toys foisted on kids as musical instruments.

But it is a fife. A very simple, primitive fife. It could have been hand-turned on a simple wood lathe.

A glance online at the history of toy flutes turned up a whole pile of fifes, including fifes with little holes all the same size. They all had six finger holes.

An instrument of wood needs to have its bore oiled. This keeps the wood from splitting. This fife was dry as a bone, and its dryness probably explained its inability to make a tone. The porousness of the wood inside was like acoustic padding and soaked up the sound.

I bought some walnut oil a while ago to use on a bamboo flute. So, throwing away any antique value to Everell's fife but gaining a playable instrument, I drenched the fife in oil about 4 times, swabbing it everywhere I could reach and letting the wood absorb it. Each time, more notes appeared. At first I could play three or four notes, then five or six, then a scale, then a scale and a fifth. That seems to be the range of this little instrument, though. There are alternate fingerings for many of the notes. Some are a little sharper, some are flatter and fuller and they need to be blown up into pitch. Violins notes arrive at pitch from below in a little way. The human voice scoops up into pitch from below in a big way rather often. This fife is almost like the human voice here and there in its scooping ability.

Here is the photo. 

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