FLUTE Member Of The Week
April 5 to 11, 1999
Dear reader, it is a great honour to be featured as FLUTE list member of the week.

I was born 1959 in Amsterdam in an artist family: both of my parents are painters and my grandfather was also a painter, Germ de Jong. My father used to take me to bizarre jazz concerts with Leo Kuipers, Han Bennink, Herman de Wit and so forth. In summer, after school I would sit in the Vondel Park meeting strange people and enjoying the artists of the Festival of Fools.

I tried making flutes when I was 14, with little succes, but later I joined the Nederlands Pijpers Gilde where I learned to make bamboo instruments. On a camp of that Gilde someone did a slide show of instruments they made for handicapped children. This strongly moved me, for the fun these kids were given with the ability to play music, and also for the ingenuity of the inventions and the complete freedom from traditionalism that spoke from the specially made instruments. That day I decided to become a woodwind maker.

Many years later I found myself studying woodwind making and repair at Newark Technical College in Newark-on-Trent in the UK. There I studied with Peter Hudson and Geoffrey Else in a tiny school. Being British, they did things the old-fashioned way. Now, when I handle very old instruments I often think: "hey, that's the way I learned at school".

On a vacation back home, my old friend Soline Arons, who was then studying oboe, gave me an old flute, wrapped in a towel. It was an 8-key wooden Couesnon flute that she had found on a scrapheap. I took the instrument to England and restored it as carefully as I could, and learned a lot from that. Having the flute kicking about my house, I started playing it. It had a soft but warm tone and I took lessons in playing the flute. I returned to Amsterdam with a diploma and no idea as what to do.

There was no way I could find work, and none of the shops would give me any. But as soon as I found a house, I started a little workshop. Then I met Jaap Frank. Jaap had an amazing collection of flutes a a very deep knowledge of the 19th century makers. He made me work on instruments by Bonneville, Lebret, Clair Godfoy and many others. I made my own pads, screws, tools, workshop furniture, everything.

In that same period I decided to look for the people who made these adapted instruments, as that had never left my mind. This brought me to the SWAM, a foundation committed to building adapted instruments. They were glad I could make the wind instruments, and I started to make adapted wind instruments. I made flutes, saxophones, recorders, trumpets, and so forth, and made them playable for my customers, with arthritis, missing limbs, paralysis, muscle diseases and chopped-off fingers (stay away from circular saws, reader!) and many more, often dramatic conditions. I invented novel ways of holding horns and implemented entire keyworks I designed for the purpose.

In the years to follow, I made well over a 100 adaptations. I studied acoustics as I had to be able to calculate tone holes. I had an extensive peek into neurology to understand what makes fingering systems easy to learn and fast to play. I read all I could about medicine and music. I had a look at ergonomics, and found the intensity of man-machine relationships in musical instruments to be so intense industrial ergonomics hardly compares to it. And I experienced that of all wind instruments, the flute is the hardest to adapt: with only very little loss of function playing the flute is impossible. I started to think on how to improve the flute's small "margin of playability".

I commenced with central heating tubing bent into various shapes with makeshift embouchures and touch pieces stuck to them and tested these at a NFG (Dutch Flute Society) convention. I ended up having students a faculty of movement sciences do their research projects with my designs. 6 Years after my first experiments with flutes, I sold the first ergonomically adapted flute. It had adjustable supports both left and right and strongly extended foot joint keys. And it had a head joint with a S-shaped bend in it, along the lines of the Burghley flute depicted in Nancy Toff's Development of the Modern Flute.

Latest developments are a flute that can be played vertically, which I have just finished and which works very well, and I am making a flute for one-handed playing, requested by a professional player who was paralysed after a stroke.

I live in the heart of Amsterdam in a commune together with my wife Anna, who works at the BIM-huis (superb jazz venue) and my son Nathan (9) and 8 other people. Living below sea level doesn't bother me, but the climate does. If you're around, come to see me. The workshop is only 2km/1.3miles from Amsterdam central station.

Maarten Visser

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