Sunday, August 31, 2014


Sue Amstutz
We always enjoy seeing Powell instruments come through the shop that have had a long life and history.  This week, we were very pleased to have heard from Powell player Sue Amstutz, who has owned two Powell flutes over the course of her career.  In the account below, she shares her Powell story:  
My name is Sue Amstutz.  I have been playing on a Powell flute since the spring of 1956, my senior year in high school. My Powell is French style, with open keys, gold embrochure and extended B foot joint.....its model number is 1390. When "Frenchy" was most recently sent to the Powell factory for one of its periodic overhauls, I was told that its age classifies it as an "antique". It still plays beautifully and rarely needs any adjustment.
I was already playing on an American model Powell when the opportunity back in 1956 arose for my parents to purchase "Frenchy."  Its former owner was upgrading to a more professional Powell with overlaid keys and was willing to sell his older instrument which my parents bought for me for the grand sum of $435.00!   It was only a year old at that time, and after being renovated at the Powell factory, was presented to me in mint condition.
All I had to do was learn how to cover those open hole keys, which was rather essential since I was occupying first chair in our high school band and orchestra. I remember our high school conductor joking that someone had failed to finish Sue's new flute since it had big holes in the keys!  (I never did resort to hole plugs but determined to quickly figure out how to get my fingers in the correct position to cover the key holes, which I did.)
I will be 76 years old in December, and "Frenchy" and I are still going strong making music.  I am currently principal flute in the Celebration Orchestra of First Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a position I have held for the past 25 years. Thanks to the excellent workmanship of the folks at Powell who produced my flute a half a century ago and even though "Frenchy" and I are now both "antiques," my flute is still one of my most prized possessions.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Care and Feeding of Your Piccolo….How to Maintain Your Instrument in Good Working Order

By Cynthia Ellis

Every instrument needs to have some TLC in order for it to remain in the best working condition for optimum performance.

First of all, make sure that your piccolo fits snugly inside the case. The purpose of the case is to protect the instrument from the elements and to keep the instrument from sliding around when the case is shut.  As time goes on, the blocking inside the case (as well as the velvet lining) can become worn and compressed, allowing the instrument to move.  If you can hear your piccolo bouncing around in its case once you have closed it, it is time to look inside to see where the problems might be. Check to make sure that the body of the piccolo cannot slide back and forth horizontally, and also, that it cannot rotate forward or back. If your case is worn, you can get some fabric remnants and test out the proper thickness to bolster the worn spots.  As a quick fix, even a cigarette paper folded over several times might be the right thickness to prevent a bit of movement. Severely worn case blocks can be replaced entirely or just re-covered with new more plush velvet or fabric. Make sure that the case locks are secure and remain locked when the case lid is shut.  Another option is to replace an old case if it is too worn for refurbishment: you can contact the manufacturer of your piccolo and have them ship you a replacement case, or contact a case maker directly.  You should always keep your case inside of a case cover in order to provide a back up if the case locks accidentally open, and also to insulate the instrument further against harsh temperature extremes. Speaking of temperature extremes, never leave your wooden instrument inside your car: in warm climates the inside of a closed car on a warm day soars to over 100 degrees in a few minutes. In cold areas, the reverse is true. Protect your instruments from temperature extremes by keeping them indoors as much as possible. 

I keep my piccolo fully assembled at all times, storing it in a ‘one piece’ case. This ensures that my alignment remains as consistent as possible. It is wise to occasionally put on a bit of cork grease or plain, unscented Chapstick onto the cork tenon for all instruments, especially one that is not reassembled all the time. If you are playing a metal piccolo, there is no need for cork grease (because there is no cork) but in this case, make sure the tenon is free from all dust and debris by wiping it off occasionally with a clean, dry cloth. Treat metal piccolo tenons exactly the same as you would those on the flute: if they get a bit stiff or sticky feeling, use plain alcohol to clean off both sides of the affected joint. 

It is important to swab out the piccolo often when we play: for wooden instruments, it becomes even more critical.  Swabbing prevents bubbles from forming (excess moisture that acts as a seal which will prevent a key from opening or closing…which causes wrong notes to sound…are called bubbles).  Moisture can be drawn to the same pathways in wood grain over and over as excess moisture builds up. The grain can become ‘eroded’ over time much like a river bed, if extreme amounts of water are allowed to build up.  This ‘erosion’ causes the water to be attracted to the same places each time, which often results in bubbles in the same spot over and over again.

The piccolo’s small conical bore also presents a challenge:  The player needs a swab that works quickly, does not get stuck and of course, one that dries out the instrument.

There are two kinds of swabs to discuss: those to be used during a performance (the instrument will remain in one piece) and those to be used when the headjoint is separated from the body, such as when returning the piccolo to rest in a traditional two-piece case.

Swabs that can be used when the instrument is in one piece include the piccolo flag style, and the traditional cleaning rod (with extender) with a cloth swab attached.  The piccolo flag is a small rectangle of chamois material attached to a long slender stick.  The length of the swab, if kept in one long piece, is often too long for storage in most piccolo cases, so a threaded section in the middle affords a break apart option.  This is an excellent swab to use:  it really can’t get caught in the bore and the chamois end is flexible enough  to get into the closed end of the headjoint.  The traditional cleaning rod is effective, but the bulk of the cloth can sometimes impede the process of cleaning the instrument: I find using a slender silk triangle is the best fabric and shape to use.  Silk compresses beautifully, is lint free, and absorbs very well.  Both of these swabs work well when the piccolo is taken apart in two pieces but there are other choices to use when the instrument is disassembled: there are plush swabs that will work beautifully to clean out the end of the headjoint near the cork, but many of these will not work on a conical bore instrument when assembled. It is important to dry this area out carefully after use. It is also a good idea to remove moisture from the backwall or ‘blow hole ‘ of the headjoint: I use my little finger to keep this area dry, or a cotton swab. If you have a whitish buildup in this area, it is most likely dry residue that was not caught in the preventable ‘wet’ stage. Your repair technician can help remove this for you.

I always wipe off the keys before I put my instrument away for the day using a micro fiber cloth: it removes skin oils that could possibly leach into delicate paper shims used for adjustments. If you play a metal headjoint or entire metal instrument, wipe that down every day as well. 

A yearly COA is a ‘must do’ for your instrument: your technician will clean, oil and adjust your instrument from top to bottom. He/she will remove all the keywork, check for any pad adjustments that need to be made or replaced, adjust spring tensions, make key to key adjustments, check the headjoint cork, and check the wood body for any cracks. They will put new oil in the rods and your instrument will feel good as new. If you are playing a school instrument for the marching season, make sure the headjoint cork is fitting correctly in the headjoint. Corks can often shrink if the instrument is not played consistently, and this can cause intonation problems as well as response issues. A tight fitting cork is a must!  If you play piccolo infrequently, perhaps this schedule can be every 18 months: if you play a lot, you may find yourself needing adjustments more often. A complete overhaul can be considered necessary after heavy use or many years depending on the player and the amount of piccolo playing.

Keep up with Cindy Ellis -- Follow her online!  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Music Class at Royalton Music Center

Last fall, we spoke with Royalton Music Center's President and Chief Operating Officer, Lauren Haas Amanfoh, whose grandfather opened the store 50 years ago in North Royalton, Ohio. Having always been a family and community-centered business, Royalton Music Center continues its tradition of serving the needs of musicians at any age and skill level through its educational programs. We highlighted Royalton Music Center’s music therapy program in a previous post that you can read by following this link. Earlier this week, we had the chance to catch up with Lauren and find about more about "The Music Class," which caters to some of the youngest music makers!

Just as Lauren witnessed the power of music therapy first-hand, she has now had the opportunity to experience "The Music Class" through sessions with her own 5-month-old son, Aiden.  Lauren told us Royalton Music Center's Store Manager, Megan Malko, first introduced "The Music Class" program to the store after attending classes with her child. The Music Class is a national music curriculum for children up to 5 years old. The class appealed to Megan because of its strong theory-based curriculum, providing a solid foundation of rhythm and pitch. The program has a fresh collection of songs for each 10-week session, so the sessions grow with the child rather than being stagnant, and Lauren felt that the program was especially successful in preparing students if they wanted to continue in music programs in the schools.

With a solid program structure and engaging materials, one of the aspects of The Music Class that Lauren felt she could help improve upon for the North Royalton community was the location. The sessions had been taking place in various locations such as churches, the library, and the recreation center. Lauren recognized that making music in a musical environment, especially with children so young, would help demonstrate to children that there is a real place for music in their community -- and music can be part of your life at any age. Lauren had recently expanded the space of Royalton Music Center and could accommodate the need to create a solid musical environment to match The Music Class's quality programming.

At Royalton Music Center, The Music Class program includes free monthly classes for infants (under 1 year of age) and weekly classes that accommodate children through 5 years of age. There are seven weekly classes with the same programming for each daily class, so if a family misses one session, they can easily attend one on a different day. Lauren also mentioned that a family considering enrolling their child/children can come in and attend a session to try it out and see if it is right for them. Lauren first experienced one of the sessions this way, when she sat in with her then 3-month-old son. She was surprised at how much he enjoyed the class and mentioned that for the full 45-minute duration of the class, he was fully engaged and "did not fuss at all," which she felt was remarkable for a three--month-old!

The Music Class had been growing and looking to hire a new teacher, and Royalton Music Center already had a licensed music therapist on staff for the music therapy program. With a licensed music therapist teaching classes, the program was then able to accommodate special needs children as well, who are integrated with the other students in the classes. The classes are also "mixed age," yet each activity is tailored to the students who are there. Lauren feels this is quite effective because "the younger kids aspire to do what the older kids do, and the older kids like to be leaders!" The presence of parents and other caregivers during the class allows instructors to teach them not only how to make the activities relevant to their child during class, but how to use the award winning take-home materials to continue the learning process all week long.

Once students in the Music Class "age out" of the program, they can transition into private lessons and additional educational programs at Royalton Music Center -- and if the child has special needs, s/he can attend the music therapy classes. Lauren feels that The Music Class has been mutually beneficial in that she has been able to provide a musical environment for students, and the program has allowed Lauren to meet new families who can then rely on Royalton Music Center to meet their musical needs at any level. Lauren says the store's spirit is to be a member of the community and demonstrate that "music is for everybody -- anyone can play." And the store's commitment to family and the community is certainly apparent as Lauren shared, "People who got their rentals here are now bringing their kids in for The Music Class. It's not something just for musical families, though -- it's for everyone."

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Catching Up with Emma - NSO Summer Music Institute

Emma Resmini

By Rebecca Weissman
Communications Director, Verne Q. Powell Flutes, Inc.

I had the chance to catch up once again with Powell artist Emma Resmini, who leaves for Philadelphia this month to begin her studies at the Curtis Institute of Music.  Emma turned 14 this past April, which was right after she learned of her acceptance into Curtis.  That being said, we here at Powell were extremely excited for her, realizing (by following the timeline) that she auditioned and was accepted into Curtis at the age of 13!

Emma is an extraordinary young flutist and wonderful young woman in general.  This summer, she attended The Kennedy Center/National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute (SMI), where she performed the Nielsen Concerto for Flute and Orchestra as winner of the Institute’s concerto competition.  I enjoyed watching several of her performances via the Institute’s website and was eager to hear more about her experience.  As you will see below, Emma graciously shared her thoughts on the SMI experience – and even a bit about one of her newest pastimes… 
RW: What was your most memorable experience at the Summer Music Institute?
ER: It’s so hard to pick the most memorable experience. There were so many amazing (or insanely goofy) moments. All Summer Music Institute students got to go to various performances. I went to see The Lion King and Side Show, which were so great.  We also got to meet Kay Ragsdale, the flutist who travels with The Lion King. She plays multiple types of flutes during the show, and she talked to us about how to play them, their origins, and also about what it’s like to be in The Lion King. I performed twice in chamber groups, a two flutes/harp trio and a wind quintet, on the Millennium Stage. Everyone I performed with was so great and nice and fun. Picking the best moment is impossible!
RW: Was there anything different that you did -- maybe something you had never done before in terms of repertoire or ensembles?
ER: The NSO Summer Music Institute gave me orchestral experience. Because of the NSO Youth Fellowship (which I’ve graduated from because of my attending Curtis in the fall), I had participated in side-by-sides with the National Symphony Orchestra, where I played in the flute section, so I had a little orchestra experience. However, at SMI we had multiple rehearsals. We played different kinds of music, and I experienced the excitement of playing a concert in an orchestra.
RW: And of course -- the Nielsen! What was it like to win the concerto competition and perform?
ER: My dream of playing the Nielsen with orchestra finally came true! Playing the Nielsen was so fun. I love that concerto because there is a lot of interaction between the flute and various wind instruments (clarinet, bass trombone, bassoon, and oboe), and there’s also interaction with the strings. It’s like the entire piece is a conversation/argument. The conductor was amazing, and we worked together really well, and the fact that I knew the people that I was performing with made the experience incredibly fun.
RW: It looks like you had many friends there, so that must have made the experience enjoyable!
ER: It’s really amazing how great everyone was. You could pretty much talk to anyone. It was fun being around them, whether it was for music or at other events.
RW: And I am dying to ask one more question -- how did you get into baking, and what do you enjoy most about it?
ER: I actually only really started getting into baking this year. I found a Doctor Who cookbook and couldn’t resist. So I started making Doctor Who desserts, and really enjoyed it. So then I started finding all these really tasty recipes online, and now it’s a fun activity to do.
I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Emma and continue to be amazed by her talents.  Check out Emma's YouTube Channel, Facebook page, Powell profile page-- and (in the photos below) a few examples of her baking!

"Ood" cookies (the Ood are aliens on Dr. Who)

Chocolate chip cookies with Nutella in the middle