A few days ago another package slip arrived in my mailbox. I had a second package from Hong Kong, with a different tracking number. The "lost" xiao that Carrotmusic put on the slow boat from Hong Kong in February finally arrived.
So now I have two xiaos, and still zero ability to play. Using the top five holes, I can make attractive random notes with rather good vibrato. It gets harder and harder to get a note the lower down the xiao I go, and even a friend who used to play flute and has fingers long enough to reach the last hole couldn't play the bottom note. I can't tell how much of it is a lack of skill, and how much is because the xiaos are, to put it delicately, not instruments hand-crafted by masters. (The embouchure holes of the two xiaos are so different that I suspect they cut them at random. There's already a chip on the sounding edge of the first xiao because a sliver of bamboo flaked off.) The xiaos do sound pretty, but until I'm good enough at fingering to cover the bottom holes with not-my-fingertips, I can't actually play any songs.
But--a friend lent me her concert flute and Irish flute. I couldn't do the concert flute. My brain kept going SOMEONE CROSSED THE PLUMBING WITH A TYPEWRITER, WHAT ARE YOU DOOOOOING, and the disconnect between my fingers and the holes made it impossible to figure out which combinations made music and which ones made shrieks. It was easier to get sound out of the concert flute than out of any other fippleless flute I've tried, but the results weren't anything you'd want to hear.
The Irish flute, though, the Irish flute is lovely. Low and resonant with a lovely vibrato, beautiful even when I get the embouchure and the fingering wrong. From embouchure hole to last hole, it's only an inch shorter than the xiao, but because it's transverse I can (barely) cover the last hole. The lower notes are elusive, but last night I got a fine clear bottom note, so it's possible. I just have to practice fingering... and embouchure... and how to shift my entire hand without moving the mouth of the flute so much as a millimeter.
The Irish flute combines the sound I like with the challenge I want and the playability I didn't know I needed, so I've chosen it as the instrument to master. I'll return to the xiao (and the fife) when my basic skills are better.
Meanwhile, my progress on the Irish flute is slow. Embouchure. Fucking embouchure. *wheet* *wheet* *huff* TOOOOOOOOO TOOOOOOOoOoOoO TOoOoOoOoOOOOOOwheet! *wheet* TOOOOOOhuffOOOOOoOoO *huff* *huff* Everything's good as long as I don't try to change notes. If anyone knows of a beautiful, very slow piece played with only the top three fingers with minimal note changes, let me know.
To learn songs in the meantime, I picked up a penny whistle. It has the exact same fingering as the Irish flute, but it's a fipple flute, so no embouchure, and it's a fraction of the size, so no hand strain. It's an excellent instrument for learning fingering, rhythm, basic ornaments, and the simple how-to of making music with a woodwind. A forum of folks who know their stuff said the penny whistle is harder than the Irish flute--HAH, said I, impossible! It has a fipple! And there are many, many Youtube videos of people making music with it, some of which is even palatable! Well. It's easier to get sound out of a penny whistle. It's easier to get attractive
sound out of the Irish flute. Or a beer bottle. Or an angry cat. At this point, though, the thrill of being able to produce a recognizable rendition of "The Riddle
" is more compelling than the pain of rendering "The Riddle" on what sounds like an enraged hamster.