Nature has always been a refuge for me. I appreciate that we are a connected part of nature’s family, and trees in particular have always stood out to me. Trees became even more important when I began crafting my first flutes and using wood to create them. In the beginning I was most interested in using wood from the cedar family. The scent of cedar, the beauty of the wood, its different varieties, and of course, its tonal-quality, were the main motivations for choosing to work with it.
Talking with folks about different woods became a favorite conversation, and it was during a festival in 1992 where I had a display of flutes that I met a contractor who had collected a good amount of beautiful yellow cedar. We were talking about different varieties of wood used for making flutes and he mentioned that while working at Stanford Stadium in California, replacing the painted wooden bleachers, he realized that the bleachers he was working with were made from a very straight-grained yellow cedar. This is a domestic cedar found along the coasts of Oregon, Washington and throughout Alaska.
These bleachers had originally been installed in the 1930s, and the wood used to make them must have come from some old growth forest trees that were at least 200-years old. It was a very nice surprise when the contractor offered me a sizable portion of the yellow cedar he had in exchange for making him a flute from the wood. Being enthusiastic about his proposal, I began crafting flutes from this special yellow cedar he had so generously given me. It was one of the first customers to buy one of the yellow cedar flutes that came up with the name ‘White Ghost Flute’. The title fit the pale yellow color and history of the wood so from then on they were known by that name.
Crafting flutes from this yellow cedar inspired me to veer from the fetish theme of raptor birds and began creating different style fetishes for these flutes. Of these new fetishes, one of my favorites was ‘Unity’ design. It was simple with clean lines, and it represented a concept I have always been fond of – the bond of unity among all things.
Working with the yellow cedar brought an abundance of new creative ideas including the redesign of the flute’s mouthpiece. The mouthpiece of any wind instrument is crucial. Not only is it essential to how comfortable a flute is to play, it is also pivotal in creating an effective embouchure, which allows for various mouth and lip positions and sustains a strong seal between the instrument and the lips.
To create a new mouthpiece, existing wood wind instruments became a good resource of design ideas. The mouthpiece of the recorder stood out because of its practical design, which fit all the requirements mentioned above. The biggest challenge was the materials with which the new mouthpiece could be made from. Using wood inserts was not practical because of the moisture produced by the mouth, which would likely cause a swelling issue and split the body of the flute. After some experimenting, I finally settled on using cork inserts. They were easy to shape, comfortable to the mouth, and they did not swell.
It took a few years for the final High Spirits mouthpiece to finally settle in, and during that time I went through a few different iterations of mouthpiece designs. I liked most all of them but some of them did not get a great reception from the Flute Community. Of these different mouthpiece versions, one of my favorites is still the ‘Open End’ design.
It allows for a large variety of playing styles but, unfortunately for the mid-tone and larger flutes, the large mouthpiece opening lacked in aesthetics and was not very popular. On the upside, it turned out to be a successful design when we developed the Pocket Flutes. It is an ideal mouthpiece for these miniature instruments.
Play Lots and Have Fun -Odell Borg