Piano-making firm of Bledsoe and Riebeck, Grantville, August 1632
“Marcus, you have got to be kidding!” Ingram Bledsoe exclaimed, staring at his long-time friend in disbelief.
“No, Ingram, I’m not kidding,” Marcus Wendell replied. “I visited three instrument makers in Jena last week and they all gave me the same answer . . . no. These woodwinds only seem to be like what they make. Once they got a good look at the mechanism keywork and pads underneath, they weren’t interested in spending a whole lot of time and money trying to duplicate them. Their customers are happy with their keyless instruments, so forget it. They’re not interested.”
“But there are a lot of modern instruments being recreated now, and the down-time musicians are loving them.”
“Yeah. The technology needed for making guitars, pianos, trombones, trumpets and other horns aren’t all that different from what they’re used to, but the woodwinds are an entirely different breed of cat. The fingering is so different and the mechanism is so complex and unlike anything these guys have ever made. I’m beginning to understand why it took Theobald Boehm so many years to develop his final version of the flute. Any sensible businessman wouldn’t have been willing to invest the time and resources necessary . . . they’d have given it up if it wasn’t immediately profitable. Aren’t we lucky that Boehm hadn’t been a sensible kind of businessman . . . he was a musician. He designed and refined the kind of flutes he wanted to be able to play and—after decades had passed—the music world came around to his way of thinking.
“I don’t know how I can justify teaching new kids to play the Boehm instruments when there aren’t any new ones being made. Somehow, someway, we have to expand the franchise.”
Grantville High School Band Room, June 1633
“This is all your fault, Marcus!” Ingram stormed into the Grantville High School band room after school had let out for the day. “That instrument maker from Mainz, Leopold What’shisface, just talked Cheyenne into becoming his apprentice! She’s cutting back on everything ‘superfluous,’ ” Ingram punctuated the word with air quotes, “and getting into the GED program.”
“What? She’s too young! She just barely completed her freshman year!”
“Yeah,” Ingram agreed. “If I’d realized she’d do something like this, I never would have agreed to let her skip a couple of grades. But she’s almost fifteen and she’s said that she’ll have her mother supervise her home-schooling work early in the morning so she can spend most of the day at the Brassworks. So one way or another, I don’t get much of a say in the matter.”
“Damn,” Marcus continued, frowning, “I’d been counting on having Cheyenne in the band for the next three years and I was starting to teach her instrument maintenance. I don’t see many kids with the intelligence and flexibility of mind to be able to switch from one instrument to another the way she can.”
“Well, you try talking her out of it,” Ingram snarled. “This Leopold jerk has her convinced that he’s just the guy to tap into the up-time instrument market, and that putting in the time until graduation is just ‘stupid.'”
Grantville High School Gymnasium, September 1636
With a tap on his music stand and an upward wave of his baton, Marcus brought the school assembly to a hushed silence. Exchanging nods with his first chair flute, Bob Davidson, he gave the down beat for the tall, dark-haired senior to begin playing the Star-Spangled Banner. So far, so good, he thought, happily taking in the sight of this year’s band in all its white on black uniformed glory, fluffy white plumes riding high off the top of the tall, visored hats.
The plan for this first pep rally of the new school year was for the solo flute to start it off, and then be joined by the rest of the band. Just as Marcus was about to widen his gestures to include the full band, the end of Bob’s flute fell off.
As the sound of the piece hitting the floor was still reverberating throughout the gymnasium, and as the gasps of sympathy were beginning, Marcus vigorously motioned the band to start playing.
Out of the corner of his eye, Marcus watched as Bob stared in disbelief at the foot joint on the floor and scooped it up. Shaking his head at him, he motioned Bob over to his seat on the bleacher with a quick flick of his left hand while his baton kept the beat going. Bob sat there quietly throughout the entire pep rally, holding both pieces of his flute on his lap, staring straight ahead.
What a rotten thing to have happen, Marcus thought, but I’m so proud of how he’s handling it. Just like a professional.
What a great start to the school year, Bob groaned to himself, slamming open his band locker and pulling out his regular blue jeans. So much for having won a seat in the Magdeburg Symphony, he thought as he unzipped his uniform pants, stepped out of them, and placed them neatly on a wooden hanger along with the jacket. Hanging it on the nearby uniform rack, he stepped into his blue jeans, pulled them up, zipped them closed, and fastened the belt.
It was bad enough that the Ring of Fire left all the music stores behind, along with all the decent flutes in the universe, leaving me with no place to buy my own flute, my own voice. So much for my thinking I could have a career as a flutist. I’d hoped that there’d be a military band before I graduated, something more than a fife and bugle drum corps, so I’d be able to play regularly in and around my regular military duties. But I guess that’s just another pipe dream. I might be able to get a good keyless flute or fife at Gruenwald’s, but it looks as though the only way I’m going to get my own flute is if I can make it myself.
If only I can . . . make . . . it . . . myself.
Shutting his locker carefully and quietly, Bob walked down the hall to his first class.
Grantville High School Band Room, Later that week
Bob was hesitant to approach him after class, but he really wanted to know. “Mr. Wendell, do you think I could build a new flute in machine shop this year?”
“Hmmm.” Marcus Wendell took a moment to think as he straightened up the music on his stand. “With the right kind of help, it shouldn’t be impossible. It depends on whether you want to make a ‘good enough’ flute or a really excellent one. It also depends on whether you want to make one just for yourself or whether you want to design and make flutes for sale.”
“Bob, if you want to make and sell a bunch of student flutes, like the one you’ve been learning on, like the one which just fell apart on you in the middle of a performance, then sure, go ahead and measure your flute to the nth degree while you’re taking machine shop and drafting class. However you get a working flute, you’ll definitely find a market for it. There are a lot of down-time musicians hungry for an up-time flute now that Marla Linder has the orchestra going in Magdeburg and made it plain that one-keyed flutes with their limited range need not apply.”
“Oh.” Bob paused a minute to think. After a moment, he straightened his spine and blurted out, “I don’t care about making a bunch of flutes for other people, I just want a really good flute to play on.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” Bob was surprised to see his teacher slump in relief and say, “that’s exactly what I was hoping you’d say.
“Bob, anybody who has plans for riches and glory in making up-time flutes is doomed to either disappointment or mediocrity. The original designer of the modern concert flute, Theobald Boehm, never made a fortune making flutes. He was a virtuoso on the simple system flute and could have continued doing what he did so well. When he designed his first keyed flute, he had to teach himself how to play all over again.”
Letting out a sigh, he continued. “It’s sad but true that most people don’t want to change if what they’re doing is good enough. It took Boehm fifteen years to perfect his design, and it was decades more before the music world came to appreciate what he’d done. It took a whole generation of kids growing up playing—and competing—on Boehm-system flutes for the older flutists and flute makers to realize that what they were doing wasn’t good enough anymore. As you’ve found through experience, a Boehm flute has a bigger range than a simple system flute and it’s easier to produce a strong and even tone throughout that range.
“You, at least, know what a really good flute sounds and feels like, which is a big advantage over every other down-time player. And if you’re not too busy being a businessman, worrying about the practicalities of the idea, you’ll have a lot better chance of leading the way back into the future of music. It’s not going to be easy, but if you approach it with the right attitude, it should be possible.”
Gathering up his music, and gesturing for Bob to follow, he started walking over to his desk in the far corner of the room.
“Bob, I’m going to share with you a secret I’ve been holding onto since before the Ring of Fire.”
Bob sank into the chair beside the desk, opened the brochure and gasped. “Wow, Mr. Wendell, I’ve never seen a flute with square cups before!” he exclaimed, staring at the picture of two glistening flutes spanning the width of both pages, one with round cups and one with square cups. “Why would anyone put square cups on a flute?”
“To cover the square tone holes underneath them, of course,” he replied with a smile. “You’ve never seen one of these before because they were very new in the 1990s and only displayed at flute fairs and conventions. I looked it up on the Internet well before the Ring of Fire and yes, it’s an acoustically sound idea. The straight edge allows the air column formed by the opening and closing of a key to hit the note all at the same time for a quicker, cleaner response, while the square shape allows for a larger amount of air flow in the lower notes without compromising the tube.”
Tapping the picture, he continued. “A former student of mine went to the National Flute Association’s convention when it was in New York City and brought me back this brochure. He was absolutely raving about this fabulous new flute he’d tried, about how much easier it was to hit the low notes, and yet the high notes were fairly easy to hit and so much more in tune than his step-up flute. He couldn’t afford one, of course, since he wasn’t getting enough gigs to justify the cost of a professional flute, but it definitely made it onto his wish list.
“I don’t know if making a square-holed flute is practical or realistic from a business point of view—you’ll need to show this picture to your shop teacher and talk it over with him—but at least it’s a worthy goal for this universe we find ourselves in . . . a flute that’s better than just ‘good enough.’ ”
As Bob was leaving the band room, flute brochure tucked carefully into a notebook on one arm and his flute case dangling from the other, he glanced back over his shoulder and saw his teacher smiling proudly after him.
Two days after Bob proposed his idea, Marcus was pleased to see the word starting to get around in sixth period band class.
“Hey, Ralphie!” Bob leaned back to hiss at Ralph Onofrio, the lead clarinet player who sat behind him. “Take a look at this! Isn’t this neat?”
Marcus glanced over in time to see Bob pass him a short length of copper tubing and see how unimpressed Ralph looked.
“It’s a copper pipe with a square hole in it,” he whispered back. “What’s so great about it?”
“Nothing much,” Bob replied, pulling out the brochure and opening it up so that Ralph could see the middle spread, “until you put it together with something like this.”
“Whoa!” Marcus grinned at Ralph’s exclamation. “What kind of flute is that guy playing? Is that new?” Marcus was particularly pleased to see that his star saxophone player, Abe Nasi, scion of the jewelry-making firm of Roth and Nasi, leaning forward and taking an interest as well.
That’s it, little fishies, spread the bait far and wide, Marcus thought, stepping up to his lectern and straightening the papers there.
Stefan Klein was in his second year at the State of Thuringia-Franconia Technical College, located adjacent to Grantville High School. He was studying the mathematics and engineering of the building trades when the buzz started going around about Bob Davidson’s quest for an up-time flute. A better flute, he amended mentally, agreeing with the logic behind the thought. What’s the point of making something that’s merely as good as what they had up-time, why not strive for ‘better’?
Which is why he was here in the band room observing what he’d been told were the “Boehm-system, or Boehm-style woodwinds,” fully keyed instruments which he was finding deceptively simple-looking. Bob had disassembled his flute during a machinist class, and they had been amazed to realize that those few pieces were actually a multitude of items all soldered together in very unique ways. “Parts and parts and parts and parts!” as Mr. O’Keefe had phrased it, in his colorful Grantville way.
As they had been examining the keywork closely, one of the machining students had discovered tiny pins on the mechanism tubing which could be carefully removed for even more detailed cleaning. Their discovery had surprised even Bob . . . he hadn’t known they were there.
His eye was caught by the attractive young oboist with brown hair pulled straight back into a simple ponytail. As she played along with the band, he found himself itching to disassemble her instrument as well.
Gerda Heinzenburg had spotted him right away sitting in the back when she came into the band room at Grantville High School. Light brown hair, tortoise-shell glasses sliding down his nose, and much broader shoulders than any geek was entitled to have.
Not a high school student, she deduced immediately. Not an up-timer, either, judging by his clothes. Nice wool slacks, but with a working man’s cut. Not quite blue jeans, which is what an up-timer would have been wearing, but not the horrendously embroidered status-seeking clothes of the pseudo-nobility, either. That flannel shirt looks comfortable and warm, not fancy.
Flashing him a smile as she sat down in her section seat, she busied herself with opening up her case and assembling her oboe. As she made mental excuses occasionally to look at him over her shoulder, she realized his gaze was focused on her . . . oboe.
Another wanna-be instrument maker, she sighed to herself, sucking on one double reed as another soaked in a glass of water on her music stand. They’re all over the place now. What on earth has Bob Davidson gotten started? She mentally shrugged. Oh well, at least he’s cute.
“So let me get this straight,” Gerda said, in her best up-time fashion as she and Stefan sat together in the cafeteria, “you asked to have lunch with me so that you could examine my oboe?”
As Stefan reddened, stammered and generally grew incoherent, Gerda rolled her eyes, shook her head, and used the word, “Geeks!” as an expletive.
Shoving the hard black plastic case across the cafeteria table at him, she slid her tray further down the table away from him. “Return it to the band room when you’re done. It belongs to the school, not to me.”
“Marcus!” Erwin O’Keefe, the Industrial Arts instructor for the State of Thuringia-Fraconia Technical College, caught up to him as he was heading into the teacher’s lounge. “What’s going on with your band kids? One of them started asking me questions about making flutes and the next thing I know just about every tech student has got a question or a project going on that relates to some kind of musical instrument.”
“Really?” Marcus asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
“Really,” Erwin replied emphatically. “My students pulled in the Partow twins to advise them on available technology and it’s just blossomed out from there.”
“Is that a problem?” Marcus grinned.
“Well, no, but since the questions all seem to be centered around a picture of a square-holed flute that someone framed and hung in the drafting room, I figured you might know what’s going on.”
“So that’s where my brochure ended up!” Marcus exclaimed. “My first chair flute asked me about making his own flute and I showed him that brochure I had with a picture of what had been the very latest up-time design. I was hoping to inspire him to be the new Theobald Boehm, the guy who designed the first modern concert flute back in the nineteenth century.”
“Well, it looks like you’ve opened up a bottle and let an instrument-making genie out,” Erwin snorted. “I’ve got one guy working on a square-holed clarinet, another couple on a flute and piccolo, still another on an oboe and a whole group of guys are working on about three different kinds of saxophones.”
“All the major woodwind groups? That’s terrific!”
“Yeah, well, they’ve infected the whole Tech Center with the possibilities. The business division kids are outlining business plans considering the investment possibilities, the marketing department kids are writing up press releases, and every student in my shop classes—both machine shop and wood shop—have found some aspect or problem to focus on. It’s all ‘square-holed this,’ or ‘square-holed that,’ or ‘consider the acoustical aspects of giving a straight edge to each tone hole on this, that, or another instrument.’ I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he said, shaking his head. “What kind of a fire did you light under these kids?”
“I have no idea,” Marcus replied with a smile, “but I’m looking forward to finding out.”
Marcus found Bob in one of the practice rooms after school, working on his tone exercises. Sounding pretty good, he thought to himself as he listened. Nice and even.
“Hey, Bob,” he said, pulling up one of the two plastic chairs in the room. “How’s the flute making going?”
Bob lowered the flute to his lap and shook his head. “Damned if I know.”
At Marcus’ questioning look, he continued. “I show up for machine shop and somebody’ll have me test something they made to see if the reality backs up their mathematics. If I’m lucky, they’ll let me work on one of the machines doing something real basic. Yesterday I actually got to punch out blanks for one size of the cups someone designed. When I asked the engineering student why they were using round blanks to make square cups he spouted something about eliminating stress and material at the corners . . . or something . . . and all but patted my cheek and told me not to worry my sweet-little, flute-playing head about it.
“Sheesh,” he continued. “It’s not as if I want to make flutes for the rest of my life, but I thought I was going to be making my flute, not having someone else—lots of someone else’s—make it for me.
“So since all the engineering and machining students have made it plain that they consider my role to be mainly that of product tester, I figured I’d better spend my free time becoming the best product tester they can get.”
Marcus grinned in delight. “I have some beginning flute students who could use some extra tutoring if you’re interested.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Bob nodded. “I could use the experience, and I certainly seem to have the time.”
Bob raised the flute back up to his lips and Marcus stood up and slipped out the door as the sounds of a chromatic scale filled the room.
“Gerda!” Stefan called to her in the hallway as he saw her about to turn into the band room.
“What?” she turned to look over her shoulder. Her smile faltered when she saw who it was. “Oh, it’s you,” she said. “Do you need to look at my oboe again?”
“Nein!” he said happily. “No, I have something I want you to see.”
Following her into the band room, he waited until she had put down her books and freed up her hands.
“Here,” he said, pushing a folded piece of graph paper at her with one hand as he pushed his glasses back up into place with the other.
Gerda sat down in her chair before accepting it. As she opened it up and saw what was drawn there, her eyes widened.
“What is this?” she demanded. “This doesn’t look anything at all like my oboe, it looks like, like some kind of insect!”
“It’s a design for the oboe in brass,” he explained. “I don’t have access to the grenadilla, the African blackwood that your oboe is made out of. Even if someone handed me a good block of it today, it would take years of carefully working the wood step by step and letting it rest for months in between each step before it would be ready to become an oboe.”
“No,” Gerda said decisively, refolding the paper and thrusting it back at him. “It’s bad enough that you’re going along with Bob Davidson’s square-holed woodwinds nonsense, but there’s no way I’m going to play a metal oboe. Find some kind of wood for making your oboes, or forget it!”
Just then, the warning bell went off and Stefan looked up in dismay as the room started filling up with students dashing into their seats and pulling out their instruments.
Gruenwald Brass Works, December 1636
Cheyenne Bledsoe flipped the switch and carefully shifted the lathe’s belt lever forward to release the tension on it before turning the chuck key to release the newly reamed out length of boxwood. She maneuvered it off the machine and dipped the ends in melted beeswax before setting it onto a side table with others just like it. She was just about to insert another dowel when she heard the bell on the front door jangle, announcing a visitor to the sales room.
Glancing over at the other workbenches lining the back wall of windows, she saw that everyone else had their hands full, so she nodded at Master Gruenwald, set the dowel back down and reached into her back pocket for her bandana before heading for the front.
As Stefan looked around the sales room at the various instruments on display, a slight, brown-haired girl wearing a work apron over blue jeans and a dark t-shirt came out into the front room, wiping her hands on a rag.
“Could I help you?” she asked politely.
“Y-yes,” Stefan stammered out. “My name is Stefan Klein and I’m an engineering student up at the Tech College. I was wondering if you could help me with some information.”
“I’d be happy to try,” the girl said with an encouraging smile. “My name is Cheyenne Bledsoe, and I’m one of Master Gruenwald’s senior apprentices.
A female apprentice? Stefan thought briefly before saying, “Thank you. I have here a picture of an up-time woodwind instrument I’ve been designing, but I don’t know where to find some of the materials I’d need to make it.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket and spread it out on top of the counter.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” Cheyenne said, leaning over the paper.
“Ooh!” she exclaimed after a moment’s exam. “You’re making an up-time oboe!”
“Well,” Stefan said, diffidently, “I’m trying to design an oboe.”
Looking a little closer at the paper, Cheyenne pulled back to look up at him, puzzled. “What’s with the square keys?”
Stefan cast about him both mentally and physically, trying to think of the best way to express the concept. His eyes lit on one of the up-time trumpets on display.
“It works on much the same principle as this trumpet you have here,” he said, slowly. “If you push down on one of the valves, you’re changing the length of the air column you’re making as you blow into it.” Cheyenne nodded.
“The main thing with the trumpet, though, is that the air is coming out of the same size hole at the end. It’s as if you’re playing a whole bunch of different-sized trumpets all at the same time.”
“Okay,” Cheyenne frowned, concentrating. “I can see that. . . .”
“But when you’re playing one of the woodwinds,” he continued, “the only note that’s all correct on it is the very lowest note . . . the one that’s formed by closing all the keys. Everything else is almost correct and not quite as strong as the low note because you don’t have as much air hitting each note. When you add in der krümmung, the curvature of the round hole, you don’t even have the air hitting the note all at the same time.”
“Oh,” Cheyenne said, raising one eyebrow. “I never thought about that when I was trying to learn how to play the woodwinds in middle school.”
Stefan nodded. “The square gives a straight edge to each air column so it can hit the note all at the same time. On the lower notes, where the round tone holes are as big as possible for the size of the tube, putting corners on each tone hole allows a lot more air to hit each note.”
“Yes, over twenty-five percent more air volume, and that’s significant.”
“Oh, I can see that.” Cheyenne nodded.
“It’s based on acoustical tests we’ve performed up at the college on a flute,” he continued, “but we’ve determined that the same rules of physics should apply to all the woodwinds. Mathematically, it seems to be a sound idea, but we won’t know for sure until we test it empirically.”
“Oh,” Cheyenne said brightly. “You won’t know for sure if it works until you make a prototype.”
“Precisely!” Stefan smiled with relief at her quick understanding. “I’m needing some wood to make my prototype out of, but I don’t even know what I’m looking for or where to look.”
“You came to the right place,” Cheyenne said enthusiastically. “Master Gruenwald has a good supply of boxwood suitable for both down-time flutes and oboes that we’ve been seasoning and shaping step by careful step that would probably work well for this. We have a fair amount of time, labor and money into them, so it’ll cost you a premium price per length, but you’d be able to start shaping the final form right away.”
“We also have some good sources of cork and felt which you’ll need for finishing your instrument. We use them on the up-time trumpets we make and the up-time instruments we help Mr. Wendell maintain. Come on back into our work area, and I’ll introduce you to Master Gruenwald. He’ll be happy to learn about your project.”
“What nice wood you’ve found, Stefan!” Ralph Onofrio said, picking up a turned length and peering down its center bore. “Did you find any suitable for clarinets?”
Stefan’s face fell. “No,” he said, “At least not locally. Master Gruenwald was willing—reluctantly—to sell me a few of these pieces of boxwood he’s been working on since he first came to Grantville, but he didn’t have anything that was both far enough along to be able to work and big enough at the base. So your wooden clarinet will have to wait . . . you’ll have to make do right now with brass or silver.
“Don’t feel bad, though. Gerda’s pissed that her English horn is going to have to wait, too.”
It took Marcus a while to find out the full story about the instrument making, but he finally got most of the information from the school newspaper after the Christmas break.
Senior Project Encompasses School read the headline. It went on to talk about how Bob Davidson, a high school senior and first chair of the marching and symphonic bands, found himself in need of a new flute before his graduation in June 1637. When he discussed the possibilities with his band director, he was given a picture of the latest design for up-time flutes: a flute with square keys and tone holes instead of round.
“ ’Fully intending to reproduce this flute himself,’ ” Marcus read aloud, “ ’Bob quickly found himself in over his head. Showing the picture to friends around the school and asking questions, his quest for the flute of the future came to the attention of the engineering and machining classes of the SoTF Technical College, located adjacent to the Grantville High School.’
“So that’s why I’ve had those college kids observing band practice lately!” Marcus lowered the paper briefly as he laughed before continuing. “ ’It was quickly determined that yes, square tone holes make a difference in the playing qualities of the flute, and it was further determined that this same principle also applies to the other Boehm-style woodwinds: the piccolo, the clarinet, the oboe, and the saxophone.’
“All the major woodwinds!” Marcus all but danced in place. “Hot damn!”
Sobering, he continued reading.
A difference in opinion about whether it’s best to have the bodies be in all one long piece or in two segments has split the instrument designers into two camps, with the wood shop classes split down the middle between them. Part of the shop classes are designing cases for the full-length instruments, and the remaining students are betting on the success of the segmented bodies . . .
Before he could finish reading the article, Marcus heard a scuffle out in the hallway. Rapidly setting the paper aside, he rushed out to find Bob and an older student in angry confrontation.
“No!” Bob said shrilly, trying to pull away from the grasp on his upper arm. “Don’t put me in the middle!”
“Hey!” Marcus said sharply. “What’s going on here? Take your hands off him!”
“Mr. Wendell!” Bob cried out to him in a panic, finally jerking free. “They’re wanting me to be the deciding vote between the two types of instrument bodies; long or segmented! What do I do? Either way I’m going to have a bunch of people mad at me!”
“Calm down, Bob,” Marcus said firmly. “Both of you, get in here.”
Bob flung himself into one of the chairs, and the other student cautiously sat in another. Marcus pulled up another chair, swung it around backwards and straddled it, facing them both.
“First,” he said, pointing at the older boy who was a little shorter than Bob, but of a sturdier build with light brown hair and tortoise-shell glasses, “aren’t you one of the students at the Tech College? You sat in on one of our band practices a few weeks ago.”
“Yes sir,” he said, pushing his glasses back up further on his nose. “I’m Stefan Klein, one of Mr. Carson’s building trades students, but when I heard about the square-holed woodwinds, I became interested in their acoustical properties . . . the physics and the mathematics involved. It’s quite an interesting subject, with a lot of practical applications.”
“That’s great,” Marcus said. “But why were you all but fighting in the hallway just now?”
The panic had started to recede from Bob’s eyes as Stefan spoke. He took a deep breath and said, “Stefan and the other Tech students were all getting along fine when they were doing the acoustical testing. They were able to agree on scale and pitch and what size to make the cups for all the different instruments. That picture you gave me helped a lot.
“They started making a business plan and raised the money to buy the material. Mostly brass, but some silver, and they even found some well-seasoned boxwood for the oboes and piccolos.
“They’d divvied up the tool and die and other tool-making jobs between themselves,” he continued. “They started making the parts and were ‘kind enough,’ ” a trace of bitterness seeped into Bob’s voice, “to let me help. Just enough so that I could claim that I ‘made’ my own flute and have learned how to use all the machinery. They gave me an hour punching out cups here, an hour turning some posts on the lathe there. But when it came to any of the more complicated work, like soldering, they couldn’t send me away to the Home Ec department to work on the pads quick enough.”
Bob made a rude sound before continuing.
“Then they became absolutely deadlocked on this whole body structure business. Gerda complained to Stefan that she didn’t want to have to lug her oboe around in a big long case, and so he drew up plans for segmenting all of the instruments, just the way they were up-time. But another faction opposed this, saying that made them more complicated than they needed to be and making even more parts that can go wrong. They’re using what happened to me at that pep rally to absolutely justify their point-of-view and there’s no talking them out of it. So they finally want me—me of all people—to make the final decision.
“What am I going to do, Mr. Wendell?”
“First of all, do you guys actually have a working instrument yet?”
“Nein,” Stefan said. “No, but we’re getting pretty close. Many of them have been buffed and polished now, and we have Cheyenne Bledsoe from the Brass Works helping with the final corking, felting and padding of all of the instruments.”
Marcus nodded his head. “She’s a good choice,” he said. “She knows about as much about how all the woodwinds are put together as anyone I can think of right now. I do know she was disappointed when Gruenwald decided he couldn’t afford to spend the time reproducing the modern woodwinds.”
Stefan nodded his head in agreement. “I am not surprised,” he said. “These instruments are so very complex. I was amazed to realize that there are over two hundred parts to a modern flute alone.”
“That many?” Marcus asked, startled.
Stefan nodded again. “What looks like a single part often turned out to be made up of several parts soldered together. It’s very precise and painstaking work.”
“Whew,” Marcus shook his head in amazement. “I didn’t have a clue.” He paused a minute. “Do you think there are going to be any acoustical benefits to one type of body or the other?”
Stefan hesitated before answering. “Not really. All of these instruments are being made to the same scale and pitch, so they all should sound good and blend well with each other. I feel that making the instruments in segmented bodies doesn’t add that many parts to their making, and there are benefits to having them fit into compact carrying cases.”
Bob snorted. “He just wants to make Gerda happy!”
Marcus looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath.
“Let’s see,” he said, after a moment. “We have challenges and opportunities, as the ladies in the League of Women Voters like to say. Bob, I agree you should be one of the judges of these two designs for the up-time flutes, but only one of them. This is too big of an issue for yours to be the sole deciding vote.”
Locking eyes with Stefan, he said firmly, “If you want to do this as a contest between the two designs, then we’ll by darn make it a contest!”
Marcus was busier than usual over the next month, deciding on the final format of the contest, the venue, choosing the performers and then helping coach the performers in their choice of demonstration piece. Although he was disappointed to learn that no, there was no way to get the bigger versions of the sax and the oboe—a baritone sax and an English horn—ready in time for the contest, he was glad that that cut down on the number of performers needed, since space was going to be tight.
He decreed that if they were going to have a contest, then it would be used to raise money for the band uniform fund. All of the old uniforms were at least ten years old and if they were finally going to be able to expand the band, he wanted enough matching uniforms to go around.
The marketing students drew up press releases, radio spots and promotional flyers, and started selling advertising and tickets.
In the town and the Tech Center, they started laying wagers and buying up shares in the newly formed Grantville Musical Instrument mutual fund.
“Is there any more boring job than padding a flute?” Bob asked dispiritedly while sitting at a long table with a mostly disassembled silver flute in front of him.
“Or an oboe, a clarinet or a saxophone,” Cheyenne added from the workbench next to him. Both of them, along with Cheyenne’s younger brother, Laramie, sitting opposite them, were wielding little popsicle sticks with a small strip of tissue paper glued onto the end, feeling for leaks in their instruments.
“Sheesh,” Bob grumped. “I think the whole thing is done and it sounds great, and then I come in the next day and there are leaks again. Put the keys all on, test for leaks. Find one, take them all off, shim up the pad, put them all back on, test again, repeat. Geez. It feels as if I’ve been doing this forever.”
“At least we didn’t have to make the pads,” Laramie pointed out cheerily. “The ladies in the Home Ec Department just fell all over themselves to help with that.”
“Who’da guessed they were looking for more portable jobs that women—or really, anyone—could do from home,” Bob nodded. “These instruments certainly don’t care who made the pads or keeps them cleaned, oiled and adjusted. Once Mr. Wendell told them how much a good technician got up-time for a COA, they were falling all over themselves to learn. He was even able to recruit a couple more freshmen for the band.”
Cheyenne sighed. “I miss being in the band. It was a lot of fun. Dressing up in uniform and marching in a parade was the best.” Cheyenne smiled. “I was in middle school back in 1631 when Mr. Wendell called me up to march in that first Fourth of July parade with the high school band. It was the craziest three days, but crazy fun. At the end of it all, Mr. Wendell was happy that even though some of the band members were left up-time, he was still able to get a warm body into every single band uniform for the biggest turn-out possible. I was totally hooked and wanted to learn how to play every instrument in the band.
“And I can, too,” she added. “I’m not great on any of them, but I can oompah on the tuba in time, trill on the piccolo, follow the percussion line for any of the drums and cymbals, and pretty much demonstrate the range of every instrument the Brass Works makes.”
“Why’d you quit school, then?” Bob asked. “If I’m not being too nosy,” he added.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” She shrugged. “Actually, Laramie, here, talked me into it. He was twelve at the time, and he pointed out that instrument-making is considered a craft, and if we were to apprentice ourselves to Master Leopold as soon as possible—at age fourteen—then by the time our seven years of apprenticeship was over, we’d be able to either set up our own shop or at least be journeymen by about the time we would have normally been graduating from college up-time.”
“Hey!” Laramie interjected. “If we’d waited until we graduated high school, we would have had seven years of apprenticeship to get through and we would have been twenty-five. Free by age twenty-one with a good craft sounded sensible.”
“Yeah,” Cheyenne agreed with a sigh as she picked up a small, long-bladed screwdriver and proceeded to disassemble her oboe’s mechanism. “Dad was going into business with Master Riebeck and he was getting together with Elisabetha and all her kids, and it just felt more comfortable with Leopold. Of course, that’s when he was making all kinds of big noises about wanting to be the first to make the up-time instruments. After all, he already knew how to make down-time crumhorns, trumpets, hunting horns, sackbuts, simple system flutes and oboes. How much harder could the up-timer versions be?”
Laramie chortled. “Boy, was he surprised when he finally got his shop set up and got his hands on some of the band’s instruments! Lots more complicated than he thought. The pads on the woodwinds alone about sent him into shock. He didn’t have a clue what besides felt and a stiff paper backing was involved, and he knew that plain felt wouldn’t work well.” He put down his feeler gauge, picked up the tenor sax he was working on and started looking at it from different angles.
“It was only recently that Marla Linder mentioned ‘fish skin’ around the right person,” Cheyenne continued the narrative, “and learned that this is actually goldbeater’s skin which is easily available through any down-time jeweler. Little things like that were total bottlenecks for Leopold. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to make these instruments, he simply couldn’t. Once he’d figured out how to make valves for the up-time brasses, though, he decided to specialize in up-time trombones and trumpets and not worry about the woodwinds. He had enough on his plate as it was.”
“But he makes a great valved trumpet, now,” Laramie added. “And one of the older journeymen in the shop is working on a tuba as his master piece.”
“Cool,” said Bob, nodding his head. “Good timing, that. I read somewhere that Mike Stearns wants more brass players in his army, to go along with the drummers and other down-time players he already has.”
“Mike?” Cheyenne laughed, flipping her bangs back from her face. “I heard it was his son, Barry, who thought his daddy needed a big brass band. Everyone else just agreed it was a great idea and immediately contacted Master Gruenwald. That order’s going to keep us all busy for quite some time. It’s a good thing your engineering geeks attracted his attention with these woodwinds, though, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. If we were journeymen, we wouldn’t be here. Apprentices only have to fed and clothed . . . journeymen have to be paid.”
“Not to change the subject,” Bob said, starting to reassemble his keywork, starting with the foot joint keys, “But you still haven’t gotten your GED yet, have you?”
“No, Cheyenne said, disgustedly. “Between work and everything, it just never became a priority. Mom started out trying to do the home-schooling thing with Laramie and me, but that just kind of petered out, particularly when Laramie turned fourteen and became a full-time apprentice. But now that I’ve had a chance to sit in on some of the classes they’re starting to offer here at the Tech College, I’m really going to get on it. It’s pretty amazing how they can work out so much about an instrument’s acoustics through mathematics.” She kicked Laramie under the table, who grimaced at her. “Laramie, too. 1637 is going to be our year for getting it done. It’s ironic, though, that this is actually a year behind when I would have graduated if I’d just stayed in school the way I should’ve. The time just went by faster than I ever would have thought. After you’ve put in a full day’s work, it’s hard to have any energy left for studying.”
Bob finished re-hooking up the straight spring wires into their tiny spring catches under the cups and nodded. “Yeah, when I helped out with maintenance at the power plant during the summer, I’d just drag myself home after work. I was too tired to practice or do much of anything in the evening. I found I had to get up ridiculously early simply to be able to get an hour’s practice in every day to keep from losing my embouchure. But I knew I loved playing the flute and that I didn’t want to put it aside, not if I can possibly make my living at it.”
He peered down the inside of the body. “Looks good!”
Running his fingers up and down the keywork, he added, “Feels good . . . nice and snappy!”
Inserting the head joint and lifting it to his lips, he gave it a good run up and down the scale. “Sounds great!”
“At the rate we’re going,” Cheyenne said, looking over at the instruments left to pad, “We may be able to get them all done by graduation. Too bad the contest is much sooner than that.”
“Oh, don’t be such a pessimist,” Bob said, laying the flute carefully on the table. “At the beginning of the school year I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to get a new flute at any price, and now here I have two flutes and a piccolo . . . just for the price of materials and my labor.”
Cheyenne flashed him a grin. “It helped that the budding musical instrument barons wanted to share the cost of making the tools and buying the materials as much as possible. Anyone who’s smart enough to see the future need for up-time instruments bought shares in the new mutual fund and bought one or more of the blank materials kits. I know I bought several of each.”
Bob matched her grin. “Me, too.”
“Phew, Mr. Wendell,” Bob said, while he and the other judging musicians were waiting off-stage for the program to begin, “This is making me more nervous than my audition for the Magdeburg Symphony!”
“I’m not surprised, Bob,” Marcus replied, straightening up from the peep hole where he had been peering out at the audience. “In many ways there’s a lot more riding on this.
“But,” he continued quietly, “You have the entire audience pulling for you. We all have a vested interest in seeing the up-time instrument industry succeed.”
“Yeah,” Bob groaned, leaning over to take a peek. “But it’s the first two rows of Tech students I’m worried about. There’s no way I can please all of them. They’ve bet their entire future on the results.”
Principal Saluzzo was the MC of the competition held in the high school’s small television studio with simultaneous radio broadcast on the Voice of America. After welcoming everyone both in the studio and on-air audiences, he carefully outlined what was going to happen and what was at stake.
The camera pulled back to reveal a semi-circle of five musicians dressed in concert black slacks with white shirts or tops, sitting in chairs with three instruments resting upright on pegs in front of them. Principal Saluzzo explained that each performer would perform a one-minute excerpt of their own choosing three times in a row. First on their original segmented up-time instrument, once on their new segmented instrument, and once on their long-bodied instrument. To be strictly fair, each player would use the same head joint, mouth-piece or reed on all three instrument bodies. Each of the players had already been playing on the new instruments for least two weeks, so they wouldn’t be playing them cold. The studio audience members would vote for their choice based on what they could hear, the players would vote for which they preferred playing, and the band director, Marcus Wendell, would announce his recommendations to the arts communities.
To no one’s surprise, none of the up-time round-holed instruments won any audience votes. It had been acknowledged right from the beginning that the up-time instruments were not of a very high caliber, being all factory-made student or step-up instruments.
Also to no one’s surprise, there wasn’t much acoustical difference between the down-time versions since they were all handcrafted to the same scale and pitch, and so the audience vote was pretty much split, many declining to vote.
Abe and Matthias, the saxophone players, expressed their opinion that they’d be willing to play either version, any time, since there wasn’t any playing difference.
Gerda admitted to being partial to the segmented oboe body, mainly because she liked the convenience of having a nicely compact instrument case. From the front row of the audience, Stefan smiled broadly at her.
Ralph liked the sturdiness of the non-segmented clarinet. Admitting that he liked being able to just grab it up with a minimum of fuss caused a great cheer to rise up from the second row.
Everyone agreed that Bob’s evaluation was a masterpiece of diplomacy. “I like both of them,” he spoke into the microphone when it came time to give his evaluation. “They both play easily and sound wonderful. But, when I go into the military this summer and am playing on the march, this straight-line flute is what I want to go with me. When I come back to perform in a regular sit-down orchestra, I wouldn’t mind the flexibility of being able to adjust the foot joint for my particular fingers. They’re both good, and I like them both a lot. I appreciate all the work which went into them, from initial design, to acoustical testing, to execution. The current class of engineers and machinists have done this school proud.”
As Bob returned to his seat amidst polite applause, Marcus Wendell stepped up to the microphone.
“I, too, would like to thank all the engineers, machinists and pad-makers who rose to the challenge of re-creating the up-time Boehm instruments. You’ve accomplished in one school year what it took Theobald Boehm more than fifteen years to accomplish in nineteenth-century Germany. Stand up and take a bow, guys!” He gestured down at the first two rows with the participating students who let out whoops of cheers as they sprang to their feet and raised their hands above their heads. As they settled back down in their seats, Marcus continued.
“I thought I was encouraging one young man to follow in Herr Boehm’s footsteps, but I’m thrilled that one up-time picture, which I saved on a whim, has spawned an entirely new class of woodwinds. They combine the best of Boehm’s nineteenth-century work with the improved acoustics and robust sound of Leonard Lopatin’s SquareONE instrument from the late-twentieth century. As we have seen and heard here tonight, Lopatin’s concept is ‘squarely’ the best.”
Marcus paused to grin, savoring with appreciation the groans of dismay from the studio audience.
“But first, before I get on with my announcement, I have an apology to make.” Murmurs of surprise rolled through the audience as Marcus held out his hand and gestured Bob to leave his chair at the far end of the semi-circle and come stand beside him at the microphone.
“Bob, when your foot joint fell off during the pep rally at the beginning of this school year, I was so proud of how well you kept your cool. You didn’t run, you didn’t cry, you maintained your composure in public as a true professional, and I commend you for that. Even better, afterwards, you didn’t rail against the unfairness of it all, you simply searched around for the answer to your problem. You looked to see what you could do to make your world better.”
Bob stood frozen in the spotlight, unsure quite what to do or how to react as Marcus continued.
“I’m here to tell you now, in front of the whole world, that your foot joint falling off wasn’t your fault, or even the fault of your flute. I deliberately put some grease on the tenon of your foot joint in the hope that it would do exactly what it did. If that foot hadn’t fallen off, you would have found it hard to reach the low notes anyway, because I sabotaged a couple of your pads and deliberately made them leaky.
“It was a rotten thing for me to do, and I apologize deeply for this. You seemed to be my best hope for getting something going in the up-time flute area. None of the down-time instrument makers were interested in trying something new. Even Leopold Gruenwald of Gruenwald’s Brass Works—who is one of the sponsors of this contest tonight—had enough on his plate simply recreating our up-time brass section. It would have been years before he could begin experimenting with the woodwinds, if ever.
“Bob, you’re the best and most dedicated flutist I’ve had in the band since Marla Linder graduated, and if I couldn’t get you thinking about how to reproduce the up-time flutes, I didn’t know what else I could do.”
With a self-deprecating chuckle, he added, “I never thought of actually consulting with the Engineering Department, or showing anyone else that Lopatin brochure. It just never occurred to me.
“But you asked the right questions, and when the engineering students recognized this as a great opportunity and feasible challenge, you did what you could to help. If that meant simply doing useful apprentice-level tasks, that’s what you did, all the while working at improving your playing and teaching skills.
“Your willingness to ask questions and seek solutions has started multiple new industries in this world we’ve found ourselves in and ensured that the music that came along with us will survive. All of us who love the jazz and symphonic music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries owe you a debt of gratitude.”
At this, the entire listening audience burst into spontaneous cheers and applause, led by Marcus who backed away from the microphone and gestured Bob forward to take his place.
As the applause finally died down, Bob leaned forward to speak into the microphone. “I don’t know what to say, Mr. Wendell,” he said hesitantly. “I actually had figured out by the end of the day that someone had sabotaged my flute, but I thought it was someone playing a nasty joke on me, trying to embarrass me in front of the whole school.
“I had been worrying for quite some time about what I was going to do when I no longer had access to the school’s flutes. Earning a seat in the Magdeburg Symphony is pretty meaningless if you no longer have a flute to play, and the school just didn’t have any extras to lend out. So although I agree that greasing up the end of my flute was a rotten thing to do, it was also the kindest gift you could have given me.” Bob paused as the audience collectively sighed in appreciation.
“So I not only accept your apology, Mr. Wendell, I also want to thank you. Because of that ‘prank,’ I now not only have two flutes of my own, but a brand new piccolo, too. All of them sound so much better than either of the instruments I had been playing.
“I won’t have to worry about losing my job with the symphony any more, and hopefully this broadcast will bring me in lots of students, too!” Bob grinned at the laughter from the audience, bowed to acknowledge the applause that broke out, and backed away to sit back down in his seat.
Marcus moved forward as he applauded until he was once again in front of the microphone. “Thank you for your gracious understanding, Bob. It’s much appreciated.”
As the camera moved in on Marcus for a close-up, he smiled with relief as he spoke into it. “And now it’s time for me to make my decision. It wasn’t a hard one and probably could have been made over a month ago, except that I really wanted to raise money for band uniforms.” He mugged into the camera as the audience laughed.
“For those of you who are wondering if you’re a winner or a loser in this contest, I’d like to say that you’ve all banded together to create wonderful instruments, each with their own strengths. Although segmented instruments were generally the norm up-time, long-bodied instruments weren’t unknown, either, for all the reasons given here tonight. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of personal taste as long as the instrument sounds good, and boy, do all of these instruments sound good!
“I’m recommending that the long-bodied instruments be used for military purposes on the march and for student purposes at home, and the segmented versions be used for symphonic purposes. Both schools of thought will find customers for every single instrument they make for a good long time. I hope you all continue to experiment, tinker, and strive to improve the designs of all of these instruments and more.” Lowering his voice and raising his eyebrows, he leaned forward to confide conspiratorially with the viewing audience, “Don’t forget that the bassoon isn’t a Boehm-system woodwind . . . yet.”
Returning his posture and voice to normal, he continued. “As far as I’m concerned, all bets are off because you’re all winners!”
As the applause and cheers began, the camera pulled back to reveal to the television audience at home that the seated players were now wearing their band uniform jackets and caps. Waiting until the applause and cheering died down, Marcus leaned toward the microphone and said, “And now I want to introduce one of our school band’s favorite pieces of Dixieland Jazz. We find it to be a lot of fun to play after any school victory. Bob, take up your new piccolo and show us why it may be the smallest instrument in the orchestra, but also the most powerful!
“Ladies and gentlemen, this studio is so small we can’t fit the entire band in here, but we’re happy to present a reduced complement of the Grantville High School Marching Band playing, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In!’ ”
With that, Marcus moved the microphone off to the sidelines as more students in uniform, playing loudly and enthusiastically, marched onto the stage. A trombonist was followed by a trumpet, a French horn, a tuba, a tom-tom drum, a bass drum with Grantville High School written on both sides, and a set of cymbals. With carefully choreographed footwork, they took up places behind and to the side of the five chairs, continuing to march in place.
Bob’s eyes crinkled in delight above his piccolo as he locked eyes with Cheyenne as she enthusiastically played the cymbals at the far end of the stage.
As six cheerleaders high-stepped down the side aisle ways from the back of the studio, waving their pom-poms, the audience jumped up to join in the excitement. They clapped and marched in place and cheered each new woodwind as they stood in their turn to belt out a verse in the spotlight.
As the whole band repeated the tune one last time, the camera focused in on Bob, his piccolo singing out loud and clear above all the other instruments.
“And fade to black!” the assistant director said into his headset. “That’s a wrap!” he called out to the audience from his position beside the main video camera. “Thank you all for coming!”
The standing and cheering audience spilled out into the aisles and led the way up and out of the building, followed by the cheerleaders, the standing musicians, and finally the woodwind players.
Stefan caught up with Gerda as the rest of the players were starting to get in march formation on the road heading into town. “That was great!” he said, giving her a hug. Gerda hugged him back enthusiastically, while holding her oboe carefully out of harm’s way. Releasing him, she smiled up at him.
“We’ll be marching down through the town and ending up at the Thuringen Gardens for a big celebration party. Meet me there?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t miss it!”
“Good!” she shouted over the noise as she turned to join the rest of the band. “We need to talk about that English horn you promised me!”
Art Director’s Note: The title banner art for this story is based upon original art provided by the author, Jackie Britton Lopatin and Alan Moody of Graphic Expressions.
Thanks, Jackie! -Garrett