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need advice flute, recorder, cold weather

10 May 06 - 11:21 AM (#1737226)
Subject: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: GUEST,leeneia

My nephew is getting married outdoors in two days. I'm supposed to play a wind instrument, either recorder (alto or soprano) or wooden flute. Problem is, the weather will be chilly, only about 54 degrees. (Who dealt this mess?)

Obviously, 98-degree breath running through 54-degree instruments is going to condense like anything. Of course, I will have someone tuck them inside his suit jacket to warm them up before play starts. But they will chill rapidly.

In your experience, would the wooden flutes be a better bet than the recorders? Does anybody have any tips for such a situation?

We will be flying in, so we can't carry a lot of gear. There is no electricity at the wedding site.

10 May 06 - 11:46 AM (#1737248)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: Paul Burke

Play them in for a quarter of an hour or so before you are due to perform. BTW 54 is ordinary-to-warmish in the UK.

10 May 06 - 11:47 AM (#1737249)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: Paul Burke

Unless you meant 54K of course.

10 May 06 - 11:55 AM (#1737259)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: MaineDog

You can use an anti-clogging agent, such as Dupranol, to help keep the windway open, and/or, the player can (gross!) suck back frequently, during rests, to clear things up. If not playing with other instruments, the lowering of pitch as the recorder cools will probably not be noticed by the audience. Keep the piece short, and in the midrange of the instrument. Serve everyone some wine first, if possible. Good luck!

10 May 06 - 12:30 PM (#1737284)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: GUEST,leeneia

" 54 is ordinary-to-warmish in the UK" Right. That's why Henry VIII had scores of recorders and had courtiers tuck them inside their garb to keep them warm till he needed them.

It's just occurred to me that this probably explains the elaborate draping, pleating and folding of Tudor garments.
Maine Dog: Sucking the moisure out is not an option. I loathe that! I will get some Dupranol and some wine. Thanks for the tips.
Paul: I don't expect it to be as cold as 54K, even if it is Minnesota. It's May, after all.

10 May 06 - 01:22 PM (#1737318)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: GUEST,Vixen @ work

At the CT Ren Faire, in October, I have to deal with this often. I play both recorder and pennywhistle, and here's what I've found, for what it's worth.

Before anything, consider the instruments you'll be playing with (if any) Strings go sharp when they get cold, and wind instruments go flat, so finding a nice middle point is essential if playing with anyone else.

1) use an anti-condense drop or two in the fipple before you start. In my experience, it's best applied from the window end, and allowed to trickle out the mouthpiece, which you can then wipe, so you don't taste soap/detergent and/or blow a bubble or two.

2) definitely warm up the instrument out of earshot, then tuck it somewhere in close to your body. Slipping it up a sleeve will not keep it warm enough.

3) When the weather gets cold, I find my plastic recorders warm up faster and stay on pitch more reliably than my wooden ones

4) My fingers get slower and less reliably seal the holes when they get colder

5) I've found that playing a transverse flute is much more difficult than playing a fippled instrument when the wind is blowing. With either one, however, I turn my back to the wind and often wear a hood to help create a windbreak.

6)I second sticking to the midrange of the instrument
7) I second serving wine to the audience beforehand

Keep your sense of humor...

My $0.02, fwiw--

Good luck,


10 May 06 - 01:59 PM (#1737339)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: JohnInKansas

By way of reference, the football "marching bands" even in my region regularly play in temperatures down to about 35 F (2 C) or lower at least once or twice during a season with virtually no special treatment for the instruments.

Sitting on open bleachers through a typically 2 hour game, with a 5 or 10 minute parade at half time is a real endurance test for the players at those temperatures, which often shows a bit in the performance.

Reeds must be kept warm enough to be flexible, and flutists and brass players may prefer to stick the mouthpiece "someplace warm" just before starting to play, to avoid the "tongue on the pump handle" kind of problem.

(I wouldn't recommend subjecting a professional orchestra grade instrument to those conditions just on principle, if there's a choice; but I never heard of an instrument being harmed by it.)

With a metal instrument, there may be a rapid initial bit of condensation, but there's less with wood or plastic instruments. The first passage or so warms the instrument some, and the first film of moisture that forms seems to insulate the "fresh air flow" from the cold of the main tube of the instrument, especially on the non-metal instruments. After the first few notes, there may be additional condensation; but probably less than you'd expect, because the first bit of moisture acts as an insulator for the air going through.

With most brass instruments, there is a significant continuous flow of air through the instrument, so there's a fresh supply of moist air continually going through. (That's why they have "spit valves.") Flutes, especially, have a significant through flow only as notes start, and after that its the same air just vibrating inside with a fair percentage of it coming back out the blowhole, so much less "breath" actually goes through.

If you're playing more than one or two numbers, you may want to have a "swab stick" handy for a flute, to clear it after the first couple of tunes; but unless you have an instrument that's more than usually susceptible, at 50 F or above your only problem should be keeping yourself comfortable enough to play to your normal level of performance. Keep the fingers warm, and don't let the lip quiver.

Of course a rehearsal with conditions similar to what you expect (possibly including a simulation of how you will be dressed) will tell you whether you actually do need to make some adjustments. At 50 F, I'd expect the most likely adjustment would be a scarf or longer sleeves to keep you warm enough to play well.


10 May 06 - 02:23 PM (#1737354)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: Kaleea

I often play a variety of flute-like instruments outdoors. (flutes, bamboo/wood & metal; recorders, wood & plastic; whistles, metals & wood; fifes, piccolos, etc.) I would be less concerned with the temp affecting the instrument, and more concerned about how the instrument will be heard by the wedding party & guests. What, if any, instruments will you be performing with? If you are going to have a sound system, it probably won't matter. If not, I might suggest that you use an instrument which has a sound which will carry better than the average recorder.   I would probably be tempted to take with me a couple of choices of instruments. If tunable, tune as best you can beforehand (& with any other instruments you will be performing with). Just prior to playing, close all the holes & gently breathe air into the instrument so as to not be heard, but warm it a bit. In any case, before the performance begins, take note of which way the wind blows & attempt to turn yourself so that the wind cannot go up the instrument & block your air from going out.

10 May 06 - 06:53 PM (#1737547)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: Snuffy

In windy weather you need inverted fipples (with the hole underneath)

10 May 06 - 09:46 PM (#1737671)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: The Fooles Troupe

oooooooo, oh, he said fipples...

Was just about to suggest that - it doesn't take much practice to play a whistle effectively with the holes turned towards the body. You just have to wrap your hands further around the instrument so that the fingers reach the holes. Feels really strange at first, but most non-musos probably won't even notice what you are doing. A recorder may be a bit harder, because you need to use the little fingers. Can't see how the hell you could do that sort of thing with a transverse flute though.

You could consider the old fashioned 'gloves with cutoff finger tips' - they look a bit weird at first, but they are very effective. You would need to practice playing wearing them before the performance though.

I used to run some hot tap water thru my Chieftains (totally metal) in very cold weather - they would often come out of my transport case like ice, but if you can't get easy access to hot water, you will have to keep them close to a warm body for a good 20 mins beforehand. I used to hold the whistle under the tap and trickle some water from the open end, rather than subject the fipple end directly. This would often get the whole instrument up to about 30+ degrees Cent, but the mass of the instrument would then spread the heat evenly and the thing would cool down to nearer body heat in a couple of minutes.

I do recommend the teeny drop of dishwashing liquid on the fipple before hand, but the hot water treatment interferes with that, and I found it wasn't really necessary then - provided that you don't stop actually playing the instrument for very long. If you have several in different keys that you are swapping between, you must keep the fipple end under your armpit or similar, or the condensation problem will start up seriously.

To clear the fipple, hold in your mouth normally, block the fipple hole area with a finger or thumb, and blow hard - no noise. You can then flick the moisture out the bottom of the instrument - hold on tightly! You thus have a useful weapon for annoying at a distance small dogs and children!

10 May 06 - 10:21 PM (#1737697)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: dick greenhaus

54F is one degree colder than I keep my house at night in the winter. I've never had problems with fifes, whistles or recorders (I don't playa flute.) Fife and drum corps commonly play in below-freezing weather with no problems (except for cold hands), and I've worked outdoors with a group of recorder players on Christmas Eve during a light snow.

Not to worry.

11 May 06 - 08:11 AM (#1737918)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: MaineDog

I too was surprised and disturbed when my very professional and well respected recorder teacher told me how to deal with moisture, but she explained " you're only putting it back where it came from, so if you keep your instrument clean, no problem" -- and it does work. Do what is best for you.

23 Sep 06 - 08:21 AM (#1841462)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: Mr Red

Just a thought - but what about those liquid crystal hand warmers. The keep warm for quite a while and they would fit in a bag of recorders/whistles. Especially if the bag was well lagged. I used to have two of the things - they would work for about half hour each.

Body heat would be the easiest for one instrument but if you have several and you are only playing one at a time - it is an alternative.

Joy is learning the recorder and I was looking for info on range for "alto-soprano-descant".

23 Sep 06 - 03:48 PM (#1841560)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: GUEST,Jack Campin

It doesn't take much wind to stop a transverse flute from producing any sound at all (even worse with Boehm flutes, the open-standing padded keys funnel the wind into the bore). A recorder can keep going in much worse weather.

It's damaging to play a wooden instrument in extreme cold for long.

Your tuning will be all over the place as the instrument warms up and cools down. Not much you can do about that.

The ultimate nightmare instrument to play in the cold is an Overton whistle. They have a *metal* fipple, which means every you time you come in the thing will block with condensation and reduce your dramatic entry to a gurgle.

23 Sep 06 - 07:55 PM (#1841711)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weathe
From: Tootler

If you are playing a recorder, I suggest using a plastic one. Sucking moisture out of the windway is the recommended method of clearing condensation while you are playing, though I would echo the use of a drop of washing up liquid in the windway to reduce condensation. It does work.

I played a plastic tenor recorder by the graveside at my mother's funeral, playing harmony while the vicar played melody on a Boehm system flute. It worked very well and provided hymn accompaniment for the rest of those present to sing to. I warmed the head joint up before going out and stuffed it into my trouser belt until needed to keep it warm. Providing you do something like this, you should be OK and the tuning should not be too much out.

24 Sep 06 - 03:50 AM (#1841830)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weather
From: Joe Offer

Hmmmm. Not that this applies directly, but it reminds me of the urban legends of my youth in Racine, Wisconsin, which claimed to be the world capital of drum and bugle corps. The story went that all of the buglers in the YMCA Kilties were rushed to the hospital with bugles frozen to their lips, one day when it was twenty below.
Careful with that flute and recorder, Leeneia!
-Joe Offer-

24 Sep 06 - 10:36 AM (#1842030)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weather
From: leeneia

As you can see from the dates of the posts, the wedding date has come and gone.

The weather demons were feeling vengeful on May 12th. After some days at 70-degrees, the temp dropped to 40-45 for an outdoor wedding. I had packed a silk shirt and a wool poncho, and when the temperature plummeted, I added an undershirt from my husband to add real class to the ensemble. (It didn't matter what I wore because I never took the poncho off.) Or the wool hat from my previous trip to Iceland.

For some reason, the wedding started an hour and a half late while we all stood around near Minnehaha Falls. Fortunately, there were no babies or preschoolers in attendance, and all the adults were Cheerful Charlies.

I kept the mouthpiece of my recorder tucked into the waistband of my slacks, near the pocket, and that did the trick. Thus the components of the warming system were:

leeneia's abdomen (heat-generating system)
slacks waistband
man's cotton T-shirt
silk blouse
wool poncho

My brother (cello) and I played some Renaissance Dance music as a prelude, he played "Jesu, Joy" for the march, and we ended with another Renaissance piece. During the ceremony, the mouthpiece returned to the waistband, of course.

After the ceremony we drove to another park building that had a circular central fireplace that warmed one surface of a person from the knees up. Those Minnesotans are tough!

It took a long soak in a hot tub to return me to normal, but it was worth it.

24 Sep 06 - 04:49 PM (#1842309)
Subject: RE: need advice flute, recorder, cold weather
From: shepherdlass

Yep - I agree with the suggestion that a plastic recorder would be the easiest option. My daughter's recorder teacher - a leading light in early music circles - also swears by holding the instrument under your armpit for 5-10 minutes prior to playing (at least at that temperature you won't have to deal with any perspiration!)