Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories-The Joy of My Life & (93) ARTSY–Flutes

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories-The Joy of My Life & (93) ARTSY–Flutes



· – – –      · · ·

Once Morse code gets hold of your soul, buddy, it gets ahold of your soul

and gnaws at it and never lets go.

I will tell you this.  That I am now on CW.  I’m a kid.  I’m about fourteen years old.  I’m a ham and my whole life is connected with this stuff, and of course I’m also involved in other things.  I’m playing football and I’m playing second base and I’m going out with Dawn Strickland, the whole scene, the whole fruitcake of existence.  And connected with all of it, of course, and somehow weaving through it in this tapestry, is back home in the front bedroom we did not use—my “shack.”  My special place.  I’d bought an old table from the Salvation Army for a dollar.  I cleaned it and polished it and put formica on the top.  Had a little vise on the side.  I had desk drawers and compartments with resisters and condensers, everything.  A clipboard for my log sheets.  I had a four-and-a-half-foot metal rack I’d bought, and in it I had a ten-Watt transmitter that was the joy, the light of my life.

And every night, when all the other kids were walking around picking their teeth and looking out of the window and yelling down the hot air register, I would be in the front bedroom in my shack with my CW key.

· – – –      · · ·

Once Morse code gets hold of your soul, buddy, it gets ahold of your soul

and gnaws at it and never lets go.

· – – –      · · ·

I walk around the streets with Esther Jane or Helen Weathers or Dorothy Anderson, a car would go past and I’d hear the horn.  Someone would send an obvious obscenity—he doesn’t even know he’s doing it!  I laugh and say to Dorothy, “Did you hear what he said!”

She’d say, “What?”

Of course the word got out that I was kind of a nut.

· – – –      · · ·

Once Morse code gets hold of your soul, buddy, it gets ahold of your soul

and gnaws at it and never lets go.

· – – –      · · ·




I’m fascinated by flutes but know little about them. Only the varied looks and styles that create the sounds. I once visited a flute convention in a midtown Manhattan hotel’s large exhibit hall. Hundreds of unseen flutes filling the air with abbreviated melodies like hidden cross-currents, conversing flocks of twittering birds. I bought a cheap, used, Western, student flute. Because one has to split one’s breath of air across a thin edge, for a beginner it ain’t easy to elicit a sound, but I once learned to play “happy birthday” on it.

*   *   *

Western Orchestral

The standard, Western style (its configuration of seemingly complex but efficient key-system created in 1847 by Theobald Boehm, a clever fellow ), nowadays usually metal, is played in symphony orchestras. The side-blown, or transverse flute, held horizontally, left to right in front of the body, one blows across a hole near the left end to elicit sound. That sculpted hole has  a French name–the embouchure.(Knowing nothing about flutes, I have to look up these details.)  Many other flutes, especially non-Western one, are end-blown. I have several of each type. For our music wall, I made oak display racks with plexiglas tubing for my flutes.

The top one, from the desert coast of Peru, is two-thousand year-old bone, scribed with a simple fish motif. (End blown.)

Below it, the very short orchestral one of reddish wood with silver surrounds for the holes is an elegant little job that’s actually a piccolo I bought for its looks. (Side blown.)


The dark one with the pointy-looking face on its left end is baked clay with sculpted, anthropomorphic décore, pre-Columbian Mexican— not a flute, it’s really an extended whistle–you just blow into it past the fipple. Lookitup! (End blown.)

Next is a modern Peruvian quena. (End blown.)

The flute that’s half pale blue is ceramic that I bought at a crafts fair because I liked its looks. (Side blown.)

The black, 19th Century flute has outrageously long key-arms, which is why I bought it. (Side blown.)

The silver-plated student flute, one-up from the bottom, is a sad, mottled gray because it’s not polished. (Side blown.)

*   *   *

Non-Western flutes, such as the Japanese shakuhachi, and the traditional Peruvian flute, are blown end-wise through a specially carved opening. Fingertips, not metal keys, close the sound holes.




(Remembrance of Injuries Past)

The elegantly colored boxwood, 19th century flute, I bought from a flute dealer, his private stock displayed in his up-state barn. It has four short keys and  open sound holes–it’s a transitional symphonic form. This flute has an old crack, fixed with a series of small cords or metal clamps, then filled with a dark adhesive, forming a rather stark and decorative repair.

In the middle is the Western student flute, that has only been polished once in 20 years.

I took a one-semester adult night-course in making a bamboo shakuhatchi. It soon split open—making it impossible to play. I filled the crack with white, flexible caulking but that opened. Only the strongest pressure keeps the shakuhachi crack tightly sealed. Visually, despite being grossly inappropriate to the natural bamboo material, I’ve held it airtight with metal hose clamps. They are ugly and strange. But I’ve learned that sometimes functional, quirky, and ugly needs vanquish attractive form.

These fartsy flutey clamps amuse me.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *


The sound of a flute is the sound of human breath.

I commented to a craftsman of keyless wooden flutes regarding

an elegant physical effect I enjoy. I’d surprised him

as I was the only person he’d ever heard say this:

With fingers covering the holes, I feel

 life’s breath gently caressing my fingertips.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

I play no flute even half-adequately.

I simply look and contemplate.



1 Comment

  1. Bettylou Steadman says:

    It was very interesting about the flutes.  I play the flute in our high school band for four years, and was the only girl in the band during my first year of high school in 1947.  I’m sending an attachment that should show me in the high school band with my flute.Bettylou Steadman

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