Good repair and adjustment are about “creating an invisible bridge"
ED: Mr. Adorján, you mentioned that the pads can change the characteristics of a flute. How did you come to this opinion?
AA: During many years I have tried different kinds of pads. Mostly I did so on recommendation from colleagues or repairmen. As I am very curious, I always took a chance and tried. Only very seldom I have had bad luck and have had to ask to change back. Mostly I had very good surprises and have recommend improved pads to colleagues and flutemakers.
ED: Do you talk about the improvement of the skin on the surface of a pad?
AA: No, I am talking about the inner construction of it and about the materials used there. These aspects seem to be very important.
TN: Some pads that work well on certain instruments, do not necessarily suit others. Some modern flutes are specifically made with specific kind of pads in mind. Here the pads are an integrated part of the flute design. Changing them, although technically possible, would need a very deep consideration beforehand since it will change the characteristics and the balance of that flute significantly. Whereas many of my clients have experienced that their flute can sound totally different in a positive way, even though I may not have changed a single pad. Not only the type of pads is very important, also the way how they are set up is crucial.
AA: What is the most important thing when you make a repair? Do you want to improve a flute or (just) put it back to standard?
TN: It always helps to have a good idea of the standard condition in which the flute presumably left the factory. On the other hand, there are personal differences and also preferences of each player. And it has to be taken into consideration as to what the players are used to, whether they like it or not.
AA: Do your clients tell you specifically about their preferences?
TN: Sometimes. Otherwise I will find them out during the consultation with the client and carry out the repair along with the preferences. It wouldn't be fair if I tell them, "I have now put the condition of your flute back to the standard one, the rest is your practice."
AA: They won't be happy! (laugh)
TN: No. Even they accept it, deep in their mind they won't be satisfied. If I tell them "I think this is the best set-up, please play it like this", they won't be happy, either. There is no guarantee that the instrument becomes better because I think it is better. This interlinks with the pad issue, which we have just talked about. For me a good repair is more like creating a bridge, an invisible one. There are so many aspects linked together, such as the flute tube with the mechanism, the flute body as a whole with the headjoint, and of course the flute as an entire instrument linked with the player. A small invisible bridge has to be created between them, which enables you to go anywhere you want. This is the kind of image I have. I do respect the original design of each instrument and the individuality of each flute, however, within the confines of its natural character, I believe there is a room for individual set-up. In my opinion, creating the appropriate balance in this area is the most important aspect of flute repair and that is the reason why I, as a basic rule, don’t accept an instrument for repair sent by parcel to the workshop. I always require a personal meeting and in some cases even want to listen to, how this person plays.
AA: So you are a flute “doctor”. Doctors say, that it is neither possible nor advisable to make a diagnosis of an ill person on the phone. They always need to see the patient.
TN: I put a great emphasis on a consultation before and after the repair. According to my clients it takes a lot longer with me than they have experienced elsewhere.
AA: But the result is for sure better.
TN: Let's ask them. (laugh)
AA: I have met many of your clients and they are all very satisfied.
TN: Thank you.
Flute repair and intonation
AA: Can intonation be changed during a repair? I mean can it be made worse by accident? Or can a repair help to improve the intonation of an instrument?
TN: I think it can - to some extent. In some cases the absolute intonation, and hereby I mean the pitch, which can be measured with the aid of a tuner, can be changed in both ways, for better or for worse. Sometimes positive changes can be made that are not objectively definable but is quite striking and obvious for the player and the listener.
AA: This effect may be the caused by the tone colour! I have often experienced, that differences in tone colour are mistaken for changes of the pitch!
TN: Yes, and this is why we need the finest adjustment, which requires intensive consultation.
AA: That is a great help for flautists. We are indeed very much dependent on our instrument for intonation.
TN: When I have a client, I try to analyse what exactly is going on with the flute and also try to understand the player’s way of expression. Not only a person’s musical expression but also his/her spoken manifestation. How a player explains a given situation is also very personal. Then I try to find the relationship between these aspects and the mechanical ones.
AA: Doesn’t this get us back to the beginning, where I mentioned that the instrument was like the prolongation of the voice?
TN: It does indeed, and I believe, that an instrument even serves as the prolongation of the entire body. Understanding the problems from the player's perspective and the symptoms of the instrument at the same time, will lead to a solution. This is "the bridge" I mentioned before.
AA: How long does a complete overhaul take?
TN: Difficult to answer, as it depends on the condition of the instrument and my availability. But usually it takes around 5 working days.
AA: The next question is perhaps even more difficult to answer: How long can a flute play until the next overhaul is required? Do you have an average timeframe?
TN: This is very individual and depends on many different factors. Mostly I would suggest 3-5 years for professional flautists.
AA: That is very long in my experience. When I played in an orchestra, German orchestras used to finance an overhaul every second year. But this is quite a long time ago and may be different now.
TN: For hobby players who play less often, it tends to be longer before a complete overhaul becomes necessary. Many of them would be able to count 5-8 years between overhauls, on average. For those hobby flute players who do not play on his/her instrument as much as professionals, I can also make a complete re-padding without mechanical repair, as the mechanical parts may not yet have gotten worn. In this case the flute requires less repair to be carried out, but I still do clean the flute, change all the expendable parts such as pads, cork, felt, thus a more affordable repair package can be offered. Professionals, however, tend to play longer and travel with the instrument a lot more than the hobby flute players, need a complete overhaul for their instruments in most cases, not just re-padding.
Professional and hobby flute players, difference in repair methods?
AA: Do you make any difference in repairing the flute of an amateur or a professional?
TN: No, not in terms of quality. The way how the flute players experience the differences in sound, before and after the repair, is in its quintessence very similar. It doesn't really affect so much whether this person plays the flute professionally or rather for recreational purposes. But the professionals are more prone to have very specific requirements, also their playing environment is different. So I would definitely take these into consideration. Also small children require special attention.
AA: Is it easier to please an amateur than a professional?
TN: (responds immediately) No. (everyone laughs)
AA: Do you ask your clients to play their instrument for you?
TN: Not necessarily all of them, but often I ask professional people to do so. Some hobby flute players may just be too shy to play for me. As the first testing after repair will take place in my soundproof cabin, I do ask all my clients to play here at least for themselves, so that they will experience the difference before and after the repair.
AA: Do you mind when somebody is looking at you while you are repairing?
TN: For most repairs, no. Some flautists seem to be very happy staying in my workshop and take a look as the work gets done.
AA: Great to hear, that you don't mind, as I am one of them. I learn so much by looking.
TN: For some repairs I would even ask my client to stay, because it is indispensable to have the player for immediate feedback on personal fitting. As I said, I am not necessarily trying to change the characteristics of a flute in any extreme way, but within what is naturally included in the instrument, there is a lot of space to make a particular instrument work better for a particular owner. In that regard, the more individual set-up is done, the more of the characteristics of his/her flute will show. I am not trying to add anything to an existing flute, but to get the most out of a given flute. Because the answer will be found within the instrument, and during the consultation with the client.
AA: I have seen you using a checklist when making the diagnosis of a flute. What exactly are you looking for and what do you write down? Where do you search to find out, what needs to be restored? It seems to take a lot of time. You are really acting like a doctor.
TN: I try to pick up as much information as I can. Even symptoms, which might not necessarily need a repair, must be considered and documented before the decision is made for what has to be actually done. The examination covers nearly all the mechanical aspects, but the most important ones are pad seating, regulation, key felt, cork and other expendable parts, springs, mechanical wear and tear (play) as well as joint fittings. This checklist is very important for my work and and I keep them for a long time in my files.
AA: I am sure, it is a good idea to keep the checklist, because when you have a lot of work there can easily be a certain time gap between the process of diagnosis and estimation and the actual repair. It helps you not to forget anything and not to confound different flutes.
TN: Yes, and the checklists serve also as repair record.
AA: Does this mean, that with their help you can make sure that everything has been done?
TN: Exactly. I keep these lists for years, as they let me grasp the individuality of each instrument.
AA: You mean, how the instrument is used?
TN: Yes. They give me good ideas of possible future problems, also indicating the approximate interval until the next overhaul.
Patience, attention to details, and...
ED: Mr. Nomura, what do you think is the most important talent for being a good repairman?
TN: The most important one could be patience. I hope I have enough of it, as some of the things we do on the workbench are not always giving obvious result immediately and you need to be patient to reach the goal, which you and your client want to reach. Attention to details may be another important capability, as tiny details can make a huge difference.
AA: May I please mention another important talent of Mr. Nomura? He has the very important talent to be curious. Without curiosity there is no way to make progress. With your talents and skills, Mr. Nomura, you are really predestinated to start your own flute factory. I wonder if you did ever consider to build your own flutes or at least headjoints?
TN: Thank you so much for your compliment. I must say, that today there are so many well-made and well-playing flutes and headjoints on the market, that each of these is capable of everything a player could ask for – technically and aesthetically. For me it is very interesting and satisfactory to have the challenge of bringing the most out of each instrument.
AA: And this is the essence of your ability, which we all admire so much. Mr. Nomura, thank you for this most interesting interview, through which you have given such a flattering insight into your profession, that I feel the urge to become a flute repairman myself in my next life! How nice it will be to combine the dexterity of my fingers, achieved during my dental studies, with my musical abilities, acquired during a lifetime as a musician!
I wish your clients and you much success in Akasaka! Gambatte kudasai!
(Original Japanese version reproduced from THE FLUTE magazine Vol.142 / April 2015 issue, with kind permission of ALSO Publishing, Co. Ltd. You can visit the publisher's website in Japanese here)