A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORKSHOP IN CANBERRA
AT TRITONE BRASS & WOODWIND
AND THE OWNER DIRK ZEYLMANS VAN EMMICHIOVEN.
It all started in 1983 when I was in high school and my music teacher sent an aspiring young student to do work experience with a woodwind repair man called Don Archer for two weeks It was to become a journey that has continued to the current day, 31 years later. The place seemed to appeal to someone who wanted to spend time with instruments in hand between the study and practice of a novice player, however it was quickly expressed that to pursue this craft it would be important to study music in depth as mastery of an instrument is key to understanding the functional and mechanical aspects of it through playing and feeling the results of a well set up instrument. This resulted in my studying undergraduate music studies at the Victorian college or the arts in Melbourne (1989-1991) and postgraduate study at the Sweelinck Conservatorium Amsterdam (1992-94) and then the ANU school of music (1995-96)
By this time I had found (between study and teaching/playing gigs) an English gentleman named Geoff Speed. It was under him that I really began to develop skills in repair of wind instruments. This gave the basis that would lead to more than just repair and flowed on to making of flutes, head joints, high end padding techniques that are a must in todays flute world and my business.
Working with Geoff, I covered all aspects of repair, dent work, key fitting and alignment, and re-padding as well as understanding the acoustic needs of the instrument, pad heights, pad thickness. It was an intense time of learning how the instrument functions as well as understanding the needs of the player and how different players respond to the setup of the flute. Geoff also encouraged me to travel to the USA and attend conferences, visit factories and makers, to seek knowledge.
This process never stopped and I am glad for his initial encouragement to keep thinking about the instrument I was working on and seek people who knew more about the subject. Every year or so I would take time from my workbench to seek to better the skills that had now given me a full time business and supported me.
I first registered my own business here in Canberra in 1996 and called it “tritone” brass and woodwind repair and flutes in Canberra were one of the biggest parts of the business and initially the instruments were student flutes and intermediate flutes.
Eventually high end flutes were coming into the shop, flues that required very special pads, materials that required different techniques to install and prepare for than the student Yamaha’s that were so central to the business. My focus then shifted to concentrate on getting certified in these more specialised techniques, using pads that had the closest tolerances to 4 thousands of an inch, pads that were no longer soft felt type pads to the firm pads that would produce great results with the lightest technique. This means that the mechanics of the flute needed to run at the same tolerances. For this I started to visit makers, people like David Straubinger (who learned his craft from Bickford Brannen and developed the Straubinger pad), Johnathan Landell (who learned is craft from Verne Powell) and Harry van Eckert who still makes flutes for Powell today. They all had their roots with one of the finest and oldest high end flute makers, Powell of Boston. This company took the louis lot design on in the late 1800’s to make really modern flutes, and then bought the Cooper system of tone hole placement to make a flute that had very good intonation.
This resulted in a great investment in education and tools and pads for the workshop, it transformed my understanding of the geometry of the flute, the dynamics of how the pads under the players fingers needed to feel and most importantly the understanding of the head joint, creating the sound wave (this is the place where the sound begins and its so important to the whole flute), how it behaves under different conditions and in the hands of different players. These parameters now didn’t just include the setup of the pads but also things such as the fit of the head joint, the head cork and the spring action because the flute needs to operate as a whole and if one thing isn’t correct the entire instrument is affected.
Flutists are perhaps the most sensitive of all woodwind players at the high levels of playing. Being able to work with them to achieve something that makes them feel like the instrument is really responding well and enables them to play easily across the entire range of the instrument is central to my craft.
By 2010 I had become a Straubinger technician and I had made my first sterling silver head joint and by 2013 I had made my first flute, a silver flute with open holes, low B, french pointed arms.
It took six weeks of hard work. Filing, making tubes for the body, head and foot joint. It was a challenge that required a type of patience that was new to me in order to really understand how the flute works, theory became reality and the end result was great.
Now it is 2014 and it’s my 31st year of instrument repair and my business ‘tritone” has existed for 18 years!
I am not surprised hat so much time has past as it really feels like it takes this long to understand totally what you are trying to achieve in this business. Last year I became an agent for David Leviston’s shop ‘Flutes and Flutists‘ something I wish to continue into the future. Although selling flutes is part of the business I consider myself a flute specialist in repair and someone who has a great understanding of making flutes, not yet a great flute maker…..
My eight year old son is my apprentice, disassembling flutes and cleaning them, the place where I started. I hope he will travel this road along with me and continue after I finish.
Dirk would be happy to answer questions from anyone interested in flute repair or anyone looking for a flute service in or near the ACT. You can contact Dirk via his website at tritone.net.au
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