Monday, February 3, 2014

Sinister fingerings - left-handed musical instruments

Activist terrorist left-handers sometimes blow up bombs (and not always the right way) because of a world that demeans them and relegates them to second-class status. But if the left-handers happen to be musicians, there is hope for them, even in this right-handed world in which we live.

Now when you think of left-handed musical instruments, the first one that comes to mind is the left-handed sewer flute. And when you think of the left-handed sewer flute, two names come to mind - Bob Block and Peter Nothnagle.

Bob and his friend Peter Nothnagle had been unimpressed with the quality, and especially the tuning, of the imitation renaissance flutes on the market at that time, and decided to try making their own, using plastic plumber's tubing in different widths, and corks donated by their wine-drinking friends. Bob and Peter spent a lot of time experimenting with width and length, sizes and shapes of the holes, and the feathering of the edges of the holes in order to make each and every flute play reliably on pitch. The sold entire consorts of soprano, alto, tenor and bass flutes for several years under the name "Aardvark Fluteworks." (He once received a catalog in the mail addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Aardvark Flutewo.")

OK, perhaps you think of two other names when discussing the left-handed sewer flute - some Schickele and some Bach - but did either of those people have a frog collection?

A very popular instrument for left-handers is the guitar, since it is relatively easy to convert a right-handed guitar to a left handed one. Among the people who are known for playing left-handed guitar are Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, and Kurt Cobain.

After all, it's much easier to convert a guitar for left-handed use than, say, a piano. If you look at the very shape of a grand piano, it's obvious that the longer bass strings can only go on the left side. In addition, the arrangement of the white and black keys on the keyboard can't really work in a left-handed fashion. (If you switched the order, then C#, which is a black key on the keyboard, would have to be played on a white key, the one that was formerly assigned to B.)

So if you want a left-handed piano, you'd have to build the entire thing from scratch - and who is going to do that?


The instrument was built by Poletti and Tuinman Fortepiano Makers of Holland, one of the finest firms in the world. It is a mirror-image piano based on an instrument built by Conrad Graf in Vienna around 1826.

This piano was built for the benefit of Christopher Seed, who to my knowledge has never played a left-handed sewer flute.
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