Wooden Simple-System Flute in D
Chris Wilkes, Herefordshire, England

This instrument should probably be referred to as a "19th century English simple system flute.” But most musicians who play this type of flute play Irish music on it, so we'll just call it, as most of the world does, an “Irish Flute.” The short story of this instrument in Irish Music is as follows: English flutes and flute players of the early 19th century were the most notable in Europe at that time for their power and clarity of tone. However, the “simple-system” of fingering these instruments left much to be desired, especially when playing the Romantic era's difficult flute passages. Theobald Boehm, a German flute maker and player of the era, was a big fan of the English players who recognized the strengths and the weaknesses of the English flutes. Boehm set about inventing the modern classical flute that we know today: loud, clear tone and MUCH more facile system of keying. By the end of the 19th Century, Boehm's flute had won over the classical world, which left a large number of simple-system flutes lying unused around the British Isles. The now inexpensive simple-system flutes found a home in Ireland where its open-hole system fit well with traditional Irish music which is based on (open-hole) bagpipe music. Until the 1970s, Irish players used only antique English simple-system flutes, but today, most Irish flute music is played on much improved instruments crafted in recent decades by makers who've revived and improved upon the ancient art of making wooden flutes. A few Irish players use modern Boehm flutes today, but the warm, “woody” tone of the Irish flute gives Irish music much of its unique character.

One of the best of the new makers of Irish flutes, Chris Wilkes, made this particular flute in the early '90s for one of the finest Celtic flute players in the world, Jean-Michel Veillon, who happens to be a good friend of mine. It is a “Pratten” model (large holes, broad sound). At the same time, Chris also made Jean-Michel a “Ruddal-Rose” model (smaller holes, more focused tone). Most Irish flute players play one style of flute or the other, and Jean-Michel is a “Ruddal” man, so he didn't play it nearly as often as his Ruddal. I'm a “Pratten” guy, and knowing it didn't get much use (not to mention the fact that Wilkes has a 6-8 year waiting list), I'd had been pestering Jean-Michel for years to sell it to me. In December of 2001, Jean-Michel decided it needed to be played instead of sleeping in it's case, and I became the proud owner of one of the finest flutes of is kind in the world.

Larry Rone

Links: A Guide to the Irish Flute, Woodenflute.com



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