When I was ten, my parents decided it was time for me to learn an instrument. My parents are very musical so I had to learn something. My mother suggested the guitar, like she used to play, “You’ll be able to play at campfires and outings!” But the guitar was too… unstructured. Everyone I knew who played the guitar didn’t understand notes, they just figured out how to play songs by plucking randomly at strings. Then my dad tried to get me to play the piano, like my brother, but it was too complicated. Two hands, two types of keys, two bars of notes, I’m not that coordinated! So after feeling like I couldn’t find an instrument, the instrument came to me, the flute.
We went to a small little store crammed with musical objects; it smelled of reeds and resin and new strings and wood. Saxophones played in time to metronomes ticking away in a back room. My mother and I walked up to the glass counter where a man stood working on a binder-full of papers, “Hello, we’d like to look at some flutes please.” The man looked up, nodded, and then led us to another section of the counter. He produced some black cases and opened them to reveal what I would like to say were metal stars! They were longer than my arm and colourless but they shined and sparkled in the light. The man told us that there was no differences to the flutes but the colour; there were bronze and gold coloured flutes, all beautiful, but we picked our favorite, a shiny silver, and left.
Alice Hammel was and still is, my flute teacher. Dr. Hammel was the name she preferred, she earned it after all. She had wavy brown-black hair that came down to her shoulders and glasses on her nose. When I walked in that first time, I was greeted by the yapping Lana, the Chihuahua. I said hello to Dr. Hammel and she said, “Don’t worry, I don’t bite.”
We started talking. Halfway into the lesson Dr. Hammel said, lets get started. I started to bring out my flute but Dr. Hammel said t wasn’t needed. I put it away, disappointed, but as Dr. Hammel started explaining why flutists are known as ‘airheads’ (because most of the air blown by the flutist doesn’t even make it into the flute so the flutist has to blow twice as hard), she brought out a fat orange tube that looked as thought it were made out of play-dough. It had five white fans at the end. Dr. Hammel said that if I was going to play the flute I needed to know how to blow into it.
She showed me how to blow the correct way; she put the tube to her lips and said ‘too’. Then she blew and said it at the same time, it was more breathy than saying it normally; like someone whispering and out of breath. Dr. Hammel gave me the tube; I took a deep breath and blew as hard as I could. The white fans refused to even budge. Frustrated, I tried again, this time remembering to say ‘too’ as I blow. I’m blowing as hard as I can but the white fans don’t move, as I’m about to stop and try again, one of the fans spin! The world is also spinning and I am lightheaded but I have succeeded level one! I try again, reminding myself to blow hard and say ‘too’, blow hard and say ‘too’. The first white fan joins almost immediately but the others don’t move, just as I start to think only one fan will spin this time, fan number two joins in! I am so happy with myself, Dr. Hammel tells me I’m almost there. I take another breath, three fans spin. I try again, four fans. Dr. Hammel grins, “You can do it, Shanti! One more left!”
I take a huge breath and blow; the first fan comes easy along with the second, then the third, then the fourth. I am almost spluttering as the fifth little white fan starts to spin! Dizzy and proud, I sit back on the couch and watch the fans slowly spins to a stop. I’m and so proud of myself and Dr. Hammel tells me I’m a ‘smart cookie’ and that it was impressive I got all the fans in order, one at a time. Very organized!
Then it is time to go home and I am taking the orange tube with me. Day after day, I get those fans to spin. Coaxing them until they all spin in unison.
My next lesson arrives, Lana still yips and squeak as I click open my case and look at the three shiny bits of flute begging to be played. Today is the day. I start to pick up the pieces and wonder which piece goes into which when Dr. Hammel stops me and she points to the head of the flute, “Just this part, Shanti.”
I put the other parts back and hold the head in my fingers; it is almost like the orange tube. Dr. Hammel shows me where to put my mouth and blow, “Just like last time.”
I put the head to my lips and blow. A single note is freed; it flutters out and slowly dissolves into the air. I play another note, the same sound but still new. Finally, I get to take my flute home and use it. The orange tube stays with Dr. Hammel though, for some other child wanting to learn the flute.