I ordered 3oz beeswax from The Bee Folks for my whistle project. It came the other day, and I promptly began to try to jam it into the flute to make a fipple.
I heated it in the microwave in 15-second bursts until the 1oz cake was soft around the edges, then twisted off a piece to work with. It was easily pressed into the tube until just visible through the blow hole.
Then, a comedy of errors involving trying to flatten one edge to create the narrow airway the fipple is supposed to do. Finally, realized:
1. Force wax into whistle.
2. Let cool and harden.
3. Remove, shave off wax to form airway.
was probably the way to go.
That seemed to be a better way to do it, but it still doesn't work. I figure the culprit could be:
The beveled edge of the blow hole might not be sharp enough.
The D-shape of the blow hole isn't as D-like as it could be across the flat side. I could file that down.
When the pipe was cut into lengths, the plastic sort of got dragged by the saw blade down across the diameter, so there's a lip there now. The wax is shaped by the lip into a cylinder a little narrower than the actual inner diameter of the pipe. Maybe I need to clean that all up.
There could still be some problem with the fipple
For a 'simple instrument,' this is surprisingly hard!
Many thanks to Dave C., who emailed me a whole passel of articles on pre-Conquest and medieval bone flutes!
Indeed, I jumped the gun a while back. Just because the 40,000-year old flutes were notched and end blown doesn't mean the Anglo-Saxon ones were and, indeed, the archaeological finds seemed to all be fipple flutes. I have to go over the articles in-depth, but some measurements jumped out: a fairly intact, large specimen 19cm long and about 11mm in diameter. That's about a pennywhistle with the last three holes cut off.
Remember the PVC pipes I bought back in March? Finally hauled one of the smaller diameter ones out and drilled two holes in it, near either end. I used a mitre box and saw to try and turn one of the holes into a D-shaped blow hole, then used a small square file to file down the edge. It looks about right.
No fipples survive; beeswax has been suggested as a possibly substance that would conform to the irregular inside of a cleaned bone. I don't have any beeswax, but thanks to having two small boys, I have an abundance of Play-Doh.
Play-Doh does not make a very good fipple, at least not right off the bat. It's too soft. I can plug up the entire end of the flute with it, but when I try to make that tiny channel for air along the top, everything just goes squishy.
Maybe I should make a plug and let it air-dry, then file off a flat spot? It'll shrink as it dries, but a thin layer of fresh 'Doh ought to make up the difference.
The call for class proposals for Fall University has gone out, and I think I want to teach a lyre-playing class. I know of at least three gentles in Atlantia who have found the lyre on their own; perhaps there are others who would be interested in giving it a try.
Now, to teach lyre playing, you need some lyres.
I asked the folks on the Anglo-Saxon Lyre Group for some advice. I was getting ready to try and make some resonator-less lyres (boards with hand-holes and strings, essentially), when Master Arden of the East mused that it might be even easier to nail together some wood in the appropriate shape. Bless him, he even provided notional sizes of the wood needed. I sure wouldn't have had any idea.
So I have a collection of bits now:
Poplar 1" x 1" x 3' - to be cut into lengths the width of the lyre. One at the top, one at the bottom, one at around the middle.
Poplar 1/4" x 1.5" x 2' - The sides of the lyre. Couldn't find any small craft boards that were exactly 1" to match the cross-supports.
Beech (? I have to check) 3mm thick plywood - from a craft store. Soundboard and back of the instrument.
1/4" x 5/8" rectangular basswood dowel - for bridge. Grabbed at the last minute in the craft store; I worry the basswood will be too soft.
5/8" round dowel and brass flat-headed screws - possible tailpiece assembly. The other advice I got was just to put in small escutcheon nails and tie the strings directly to them.
Got sandpaper, polyurethane spray, etc.
Still need: zither tuning pegs, fluorocarbon strings. (60-80lb, 40lb and 30lb test are decent starting points, apparently).
My tied-on wrist straps have seemed low. They hold the instrument to my hand well enough, but I can't relax my arm into them and still reach the strings. I recall that at least one of the extant lyres has mounts for a strap, and they're higher on the arms. My knots won't hold up high, though.
Solution: Add friction! Photo essay below the cut.
I have an ILL out on some of Graeme Lawson's reports on Anglo-Saxon bone flute finds. No offense to Arthur MacGregor, but if there's only two such bone flutes cited in his book, I may as well check them out in the original archaeological reports and see what the musicologist has to say about them. Then I go back to the bone book to figure out how to make the thing.
For Mother's Day, I took myself to the House of Musical Traditions and scored a bamboo quena. It's a notched, end-blown flute (NEBF hereafter, because I am lazy). Since I have no experience in making instruments of any kind, I thought I should get a real NEBF to see if/how I could play it, and how it was made.
I can get sound out of it, but not really reliably. Progress! But need practice. With this as a template, I can measure off proportions for trying to make a NEBF out of some PVC pipe I picked up at the hardware store.
I think I also need to lay hands on an actual archaeological report (or two or six) documenting some of the actual Anglo-Saxon flute finds. I think I've sort of assumed that because I saw one bone flute in the news that was a NEBF, obviously all early bone flutes were the same. That might not actually be the case.
Graeme Lawson's website lists his publications, which include analysis of several Anglo-Saxon flutes. None of them are easily available (read: free and on the Internet) but I can check my local university card catalogue and see what turns up.
So, yeah, the blog's named what it is for a reason.
I spent a good 90 minutes at the University of Maryland's Performing Arts Library last night, with two different copies of Klara Semb's "Norse Folkdance." One was the 1951 translation, which ended up being more of a 40-page pamphlet containing only some background material on the kinds of dances, and then about four tunes and dances. The other was the 1925 edition of her book, in Norwegian.
I combed through it, looking at all the music for a tune that matched "Rolandskvaet." Nope, nada, zilch. There were two tunes labeled "faeryosk" (Faroese) and I dutifully copied them down to compare at home, but no love.
Yes, well. I was looking at the 1925 edition of volume one of her book. There are four volumes, apparently, all with the same primary title and then subtitles to distinguish them. This was not clear to me until after I got home. The tune for Roland is supposed to be in the second volume.
The second volume is in the Library of Congress. I've gone to the LoC before for concerts; it would be an entire evening to get into the city, register as a reader, view the book and get out, but I could do it. Alternately, it's an afternoon to get my UMD Alumni card its library bar code, then submit an ILL request to have the book sent there. Either option is really pushing at the limits of my curiosity vs time spent curve, re: the tune source, but my inability to overlook such things may mean I'll track it down eventually. In the meantime, I'll go with the Trio Medieval tune that I like and compare it to my current lyrics.
Also, I picked up a bunch of PVC pipe, drill bits and files. The nice man at the Home Depot even cut the ten-foot lengths into one-foot pieces for me! We'll see where that goes with the bone flute project. (Speaking of... I got a few more toots out of my pen version, and got a change in tone from the fingerhole I'd made. But I can't reliably pick it up and make sound on it. Finding the right combination of pen/mouth angle and embouchere is hard.)
So I found a plastic pen that really easilly disassembled into a plastic tube and some parts. And I had a pocket knife with which to cut a small notch and sort of sharpen it/ramp the edge of it. And I poked a 'finger hold' toward the other end.
After several attempts at blowing which got me breathy, raspy Coke-bottle sounds, I got a real, clear, loud note! So loud, in fact, that future experiments in embouchere will have to take place outside...