I have always loved the simplicity and pure voices of Irish whistles
and wooden flutes. However, equally attractive to me were the gorgeous, wide
bore wooden flutes of the indigenous peoples of North America, with
their rich haunting tones. Several years ago an idea began to take shape; an idea of marrying the best qualities of both traditions of woodwind construction to produce a unique, new sort of flute, equally suited to Irish seisun playing and to meditative solitary performance.
I am delighted to present the flute we’ve developed. We named it the Two Horizon flute because half its heritage is found in the British Isles, and the other here in North America.
Construction and Finish
Two horizon flutes are individually handcrafted from select premium hardwoods. Native American flutes are often made from soft woods like cedar, which yield a more whispery tone, but hardwood flutes are generally more durable, and the density of the wood permits further smoothing of the interior of the flute’s bore, which is critical for volume and clarity.
The flute is finished within and without with multiple coats of clear, hand-polished shellac. Shellac can be buffed to a brilliant shine, protects a flute’s surface from contact with skin oils, and seals the interior to prevent the absorption of moisture from the player’s breath. In addition, when dry, shellac is an entirely food safe finish.
Our birds are cut in sinuous, graceful lines from a contrasting wood, frequently laminated in bands of colour for aesthetic appeal, and tied securely in place with a strip of soft, strong deerhide.
Tuning and range
Native American flutes are normally tuned to a minor pentatonic scale, which, though lovely and haunting in tone severely limits a musician’s ability to play in other musical genres. Our Two Horizon Flutes are tuned like an Irish flute in a diatonic major scale. With a touch of cross fingering, it is easy to play in a pentatonic mode, but having access to the normal western tuning makes so many genres accessible. Each flute has a range of one and a half octaves, which is less than a penny-whistle, but more than most Native American flutes.
Every flute is carefully tuned both before and after finishing with a chromatic tuner to ensure that it plays to concert pitch. In addition, sliding the bird very slightly back from the true sound hole, or forward towards it, gives the musician the ability to adjust his pitch in some small measure as he or she plays. This is particularly useful when playing in longer seisuns, because as a flute warms with the player’s breath, its voice becomes slightly higher in pitch.
As most penny whistle players will know, a diatonically tuned flute can also, through cross fingering, be played with a measure of chromatic flexibility. In particular, each of our flutes can easily be played in the key one fourth above its nominal key.
For example, a flute in the key of D can also be played in the key of G with minimal difficulty. Em, which is the related minor for G, is even easier to explore. Similarly, C flutes offer the keys of F and Dm in addition to their primary key of C, G flutes offer C and Am, F flutes offer B flat and E flat minor, and A flutes offer D and B minor.
A key to the distinctively warm voice of a Native American flute is its unique system for tone generation: the reverse whistle. No embouchure is required to play a Native American flute, just a gentle, steady breath. The musician’s breath passes first into a low
air chamber, where the force of the breath is moderated and rendered less turbulent. The breath is then passed along shallow air channels cut either into the bird of the flute, which is tied securely to the body of the flute with a leather thong, or into the body of the flute itself. From the air channel, breath is directed back into the flute at the carefully shaped true sound hole. The system is elegant, simple, and yields a tone of unsurpassed richness.
Some Native American flutes also provide a drone chamber next to the primary chamber of the flute. When the musician blows into the double mouthpiece, a single tone is played as a persistent, haunting harmony against the melody of the primary chamber.
I was delighted to incorporate this feature into our flute design. After all, Celtic music makes extensive use of drones!
The off-set mouthpiece of the Two Horizon flute lets you play without using the drone at all. However, by moving your mouth a third of an inch to the left, you can also blow through both halves of the mouthpiece at once, and add a mesmerizing harmony to your melody.
We were so excited about the extra dimension that can be added to a musical performance by the use of a drone that we took the idea one step further. Adding a single hole to the drone chamber, which can be covered with a second deerhide band, like the one that ties the bird to the body of the flute, permits the basic note of the drone to be changed between songs, to accommodate different modes of playing.
With the hole in the drone chamber covered, it will play the fundamental note of the flute’s primary key. A D flute will play, therefore, with a drone pitched D. Uncovering the hole on the drone chamber shifts its pitch up by one full note to E. As a D flute plays easily in Em/G, having E for a drone option simply makes sense.
Similarly, a C flute can play with a drone of C or D, an F flute can play with a drone of F or G, and a G flute can play with a drone of G or A.
You may order all of our flutes in your choice of Maple, Cherry or Walnut. Exotic woods may be available by special request.
- D and C Flutes: $225
- B flat and A Flutes: $265
- G and F Flutes: $350
- Low E flat and D flutes: $400