Making the Magic at Powell Flutes

Walking through the Powell Flutes workshop, one can sense the special combination of tradition and innovation that has marked their flutes over the past 95 years. Today’s flute makers continue to utilize many of the same methods that were used by Verne Powell himself when he started his company out of a small workshop on Huntington Avenue in Boston in 1927. The focus on quality and sonority that made Powell Flutes stand out remains. As the needs of flutists changed over the years, Powell Flutes introduced new products and techniques to meet these requests. From new materials such as the first gold-silver combination called Aurumite, or with patented drawn tone hole technology, Powell Flutes has been at the forefront of development. Techniques and materials are vitally important to the process, but so are the hands who make our handmade instruments. We are happy to share a bit more about our craft and craftspeople. 

 

 The process of creating a handmade flute can be divided into three stages: bodymaking, stringing, and finishing. In the body department, the ribs, posts, rings, and, when applicable, the toneholes, will be soldered on to the tubing. In the stringing stage, the keys of the flute are assembled together onto a completed body, ensuring all mechanical and aesthetic requirements are met. Smaller components will need to be soldered together, such as arms on key cups, and every piece will be shaped and buffed so that it fits together smoothly. Finally, the flute will go to finishing, where the springs, felts, corks, and pads are installed. It’s at this stage that the mechanism and acoustic will be perfected to the exactness required by a performing flutist. At Powell, many of our finishers are also flutists! Walking through the workshop, you can hear them testing flutes as they work, a process which concludes with several final play-tests and checks by multiple finishers and our Director of Quality.

We receive many questions from flutists all over the world about working at Powell. Becoming a flutemaker isn’t always at the forefront of career discussions in music schools, so how does one get into it? Let’s talk with some of the team at Powell to find out! We asked four of our flutemakers to tell us about their background, how they got into flutemaking, their favorite parts about their job, and what they have on their bench right now!

 Left to Right: Brianna Oglesby, Katie Berry, Miguel Hijar, Preston Livesey

KATIE BERRY, Finisher

I graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy and I have a B.M in Flute Performance from the Butler School of Music at The University of Texas at Austin, where I studied under Nancy Stagnita and Marianne Gedigian, respectively. I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled throughout the country in order to perform in various masterclasses, competitions and summer institutes. While attending Interlochen, I attended a repair class given by Adam Workman. He lit a spark in me that I didn’t even notice at the time. Through the years and the purchase of two Powell flutes, he became a cherished mentor. He helped me realize that my true passion and love of flute didn’t entail performing in the way I once thought. I presented this realization to my professor, Marianne Gedigian, and she could not have been more supportive. At that moment, my career trajectory was forever changed.

As for my desire to work specifically at Powell, I fell in love with Powell based on my own personal experience of owning two Powell flutes. I truly believe the artistry and craftsmanship of these instruments furthered my development as a musician. As a college junior, I began to think of a career that would give me the opportunity to work with such beautiful instruments. Shortly after, I was fortunate to meet one of Powell’s sales managers at a masterclass. I took note of our meeting because of my new interest in flute making. After the masterclass, I reached out to her with some questions regarding how to prepare for a job in this field. Through her, I met a repair technician, who introduced me to the Band Instrument Repair Program at MSCSE and told me it would help prepare me for a career with Powell. I enrolled in the program upon my graduation from UT and my time in the program solidified my desire to work on flutes. Halfway through the program, Powell posted an ad looking for Flute Finishers on their Instagram story and the rest is history.

The things I enjoy the most about flute making are the tedious aspects that would probably make most people crazy. I start with this imperfect, unfinished product and get to turn it into a beautiful, finished musical instrument. From the first moment of inspection to the fitting of the mechanics are all my favorite parts. Striving to tape the flute perfectly to protect it and filing the tone holes are very satisfying. Every flute I handle is being handmade for someone that has chosen a Powell. It is gratifying to know that I may have a literal hand in furthering someone else’s development as a musician, as my Powells did for me.

At this very moment, I’m in the process of adding corks and felts to an in-line G silver Conservatory.”

PRESTON LIVESEY, Body Maker

“I have been playing flute for about a decade now, having started in 5th grade, though I only started taking private lessons for about 2 years under Dr. Lisa Wolynec while I was studying music education in university. I have always loved music and playing the flute, and also loved tinkering and working with my hands to make things. These two aspects came together perfectly in my discovery of flutemaking, and the more I looked into it, the more my interest grew. The part that I most enjoy is the incredible focus and attention that I get to put into every aspect of working on the body. I am also motivated by the knowledge that what I'm doing will ultimately help contribute to someone's hopefully magical experience of trying and finding a flute that brings them joy and is fun to play. Right now on my bench I have two Handmade Sterling Silver C footjoints and a Handmade Aurumite C footjoint. I am also working on shaping ribs and posts for Signature and Conservatory flutes, as well as for wood flutes and piccolos.”

BRIANNA OGELSBY, Finishing Department Manager

“I have been playing the flute for around 18 years now and have two performance degrees. I completed my undergrad at the University of Georgia with Angela Jones-Reus and my master’s at the University of South Carolina with Dr. Jennifer Parker-Harley (a Powell artist!)

Originally, like many flutists, my goal was to become an orchestral musician. After taking a few auditions and spending time in the life of a freelancer, I quickly realized that living the life of auditions, and the uncertainty that comes with it, wasn’t something I was interested in full time. I really wanted to continue being around the instrument I have spent so much time studying and loving, but I wanted to be in a more stable workplace environment. The obvious choice to me from that point was to apply for jobs in the industry. I spent a summer interning at a flute shop in their repair department and fell in love with the craft. As a Powell player, on both flute and piccolo, applying for a finishing position at Powell was a no-brainer after I completed my master’s degree. 

My favorite part of being a flute maker is taking what is essentially a bunch of pieces of beautifully handcrafted metal and turning them into a working instrument that will someday be someone’s livelihood or favorite pastime activity. As a flutist myself, I know how much sentimental and personal value an instrument can have for an individual, so being the final step in the process to bring that value to a customer is extremely fulfilling. The first moment when I play an instrument after spending the hours needed to fit all the mechanics, complete all the adjustments, seat the pads, etc. and having the flute actually play is a bit of magic I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.

As the manager of my department, my own flutemaking looks a little different since I am also responsible for a lot of administrative duties. Most of the time, especially near the end of the month, I assist my fellow finishers in the very end stages of their instruments by helping to finalize them before they are put in cases and shipped out of the shop. Currently I have four Signature flutes, four Conservatory flutes, two Sonare 905s, and around 95 Sonare 501-705s that I am juggling between. We stay busy here at Powell!”

MIGUEL HIJAR, Finisher

“I began playing the flute in middle school band when I was twelve years old and still play today! I have a B.M. from the University of South Florida and a M.M. from the University of South Carolina. After graduate school I freelanced with several regional orchestras in the southeast and toured with a musical production in Japan for four months. Shortly after returning to the states I applied to the open Finisher position at Powell. 

My interest in flutemaking started in high school, just after attending my first flute convention. The first time I played a handmade flute made a huge impression on me. I wanted to know why there was such a stark difference between my student flute and a custom flute. I remember this leading me to try making headjoints out of PVC and eventually performing various “operations” on my poor old Gemeinhardt. Once I was in college, my career was streamlined into performance, but my interest in flutemaking persisted, so when a good friend who was working at Powell told me there was an open position I immediately applied. 

I think my favorite part of the process has to be when we actually get to play the instrument! This comes after we’ve finished installing all the pads, adjustments, corks, etc. It’s the first time we get to hear the instrument come to life!

Right now I have a Custom Sterling Silver flute and a Custom Grenadilla flute on my bench.”


If you would be interested in a career at Powell Flutes, please contact Heidi Derven at (Heidi.Derven@buffetcrampon.com) or see the following link to read about current open positions at the workshop. Even if you are unsure if you meet the qualifications to work at Powell, don’t hesitate to contact Powell with your questions. They welcome all kinds of inquiries and are happy to speak with you personally. Flutemaking is an extremely satisfying career, but not without passion and commitment. Many of their Flutemakers have spent their entire careers at Powell and represent a diverse and welcoming community. 

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