Kaval Evolution

A collaboration of creation!

Shop Notes Blog

Collaboration: It’s the secret ingredient.

I’ve had the good fortune over the years to have been blessed with a number of relationships that have fundamentally advanced my craft, lending creative inspiration and a wider scope to my flute making endeavors. In every case these relationships have simply manifested out of the clear blue sky, growing from a chance conversation or meeting, and then evolving into something quite unexpected.

Well, it’s happened again, and once again it came out of nowhere.

A couple of months ago, I received an e-mail from Ashley Jarmack, a professional winds player based in Los Angeles. Ashley was looking into acquiring a quena headjoint for her silver flute, and in the course of discussing the details our conversation began to meander in unexpected ways. And I have to be honest here: things got pretty nerdy. It started out about the headjoint, but as it went on it touched on philosophy, history, recording gear, flute making traditions, and cats.

But to back up a bit…

I had actually visited Ashley’s website in the past, because when I dropped in to check it out after she first made contact, I recognized a photo showing the vast array of world flutes that she uses in her professional work. She also is a very active creator on YouTube and Instagram as well, showcasing a considerable facility with all things “woodwinds”, and I was duly impressed with both her talent and with the natural and genuine way in which she presented information to her audience. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and in the course of the last two months we have exchanged in excess of one hundred e-mails, which might be a record for me. And as anyone who knows me can tell you, my e-mails are rarely short :-)

Anyone who is interested in checking out what Ashley does, you can visit her website, her YouTube channel, or you can follower her on Instagram: @ashleyjarmack

Early on in our e-mail exchange we started talking about various other world flutes (since in addition to flute, clarinet, saxophone and double reeds, she plays more than twenty other types of world flutes) but we ended up focused on the kaval.

Years ago I had made some kaval and really fell in love with them, thinking that I might add them to my catalog of flutes. However, somewhere along the line I convinced myself that there just wasn’t going to be enough interest among players to justify the R&D that would need to take place. So I dropped the idea. I shared this story with Ashley, and she said (and I quote): “Oh my gosh, you should TOTALLY make kaval!” This enthusiasm piqued my curiosity and started a conversation about what it would take to start a line of kavals that were of truly professional quality. And (more to the point) we also discussed that if such an offering were made, would anyone want them?

Well, the idea really took hold, and we started passing ideas back and forth in rapid succession.

For those of you who are at this point saying, “Hold up! What’s a kaval??” let me make a brief detour. Here is a nice, succinct description:

The kaval is a chromatic end-blown flute traditional to the Balkans . The kaval is open at both ends, and is played by blowing at an angle on the beveled edge of the mouthpiece. It has eight playing holes (seven in front and one thumb hole) and four more tuning holes near the foot.

So it is very similar to the ney in many ways, and is extremely challenging to play. And it should be noted here (and follow me closely, because this revelation is going to foreshadow some very interesting future developments) some kavals are made with fipple mouthpieces, like a whistle or recorder, which makes them much more accessible. Just file that bit of info away for the moment.

Ashley said that not only was she an enthusiast of the kaval, she knew other players who were as well, and she felt that creating a really nice kaval would be a worthwhile thing to attempt, even if there were not a vast market for them. This was very compelling, and easier for me to accept because I know very well that there is not a “vast market” for any of the flutes that I make! But there are players who would appreciate them and seek them out, and that’s enough motivation to get me to try it again.

So that was how it started. And like my other fortunate collaborations, this one has already proven it’s value. Having the ability to interface and exchange ideas with a professional player who can provide minute feedback on a flute’s tuning, response and appearance is a boon that cannot be underrated. As I said earlier, I’ve had a number of these collaborations and they have all been game changers for me, and this one promises to be every bit as revolutionary, and it has already been the cause of a major new development that is going to effect my entire flute catalog. But that is the subject of a future blog!

Stay tuned for part 2, in which I’ll dig into the prototyping process and the unexpected fruit that it has yielded.

And please note: these are in development and not yet available (as of this writing). However, it won’t be long before they are officially released and I’ll provide a lot more information on ordering and options when that happens.

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Published Sunday, April 11, 2021