Sun, Jul 05, 2009 - Page 14 News List

SUNDAY PROFILE: The flute doctor

Wong Cheng-jung is set on surpassing his international competitors with the ‘healthy’ flutes he makes

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Flute maker Wong Cheng-jung (汪正榮) has high ambitions. “Japanese and American flute makers lead the world,” he said. “But I want to show the world that Taiwanese flute makers can also come up with world-class flutes.”

The 53-year-old flute maker currently has his own studio in Kuandu, Taipei County. Making and fixing flutes has been his lifelong job and the only thing, Wong says, that makes him smile.

His two-story studio resembles a small factory, cluttered with machinery and what appear to be metalworking tools, though it’s difficult to immediately discern what exactly is made here. It’s only when Wong and his assistant pick up the tools and begin bending and hammering thin silver pipes that the object of Wong’s affections becomes clear.

“A ‘healthy’ flute is something that I will always insist on, no matter how much the flute is worth,” said Wong.

A healthy flute has a sound that is clean and loud, but is also well-tuned and functions normally and accurately. The finger holes are either completely open or sealed by keys when the flute is played, and there must be a good headjoint, the most important part of a flute, which is also the most difficult to make.

“This is the hardest part of the entire production process,” Wong said as he tested the headjoint he had just constructed by blowing into it, listening to the sound it made, and making adjustments. “It must fit the shape of the [player’s mouth] so when he [or she] blows into it, the air will flow smoothly from the headjoint to the rest of the flute.”

Wong then demonstrated the production of the instrument’s body. Following a manual that he calls the flutemaker’s “bible,” he installed keypads and neck screws onto a silver tube. “Whether the keys can close completely and open smoothly determines the sound the flute makes,” Wong explained. “If they do not work, you will hear the sound of air leaking from the flute as it is played.”

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

It takes approximately 200 hours for Wong to produce a brand new, hand-made silver flute, which could cost about NT$180,000. Although flutes can be made of wood, copper, silver or gold, according to Wong, silver is the best and most widely used material in today’s market.

Upon encountering his first harmonica when he was 14 years old, Wong fell in love with music. He first played a flute during his junior year in college. “I immediately fell in love with the musical instrument,” Wong recalls, adding that he purchased his first for NT$10,000. “I spent a lot of time practicing.”

It’s no surprise, then, that although Wong graduated from Feng Chia University with a bachelor’s degree from the Department of Water Resources Engineering and Conservation, his first job, after serving his compulsory military term, was as a flute maker at a Yamaha KHS Music Company factory in Luchou, Taipei County. “Working at KHS was the period when I learned pretty much everything about making a flute,” Wong said.

Ten years after he joined KHS, Wong left to establish his own studio, where he has been working for the past 16 years.

Although he is a flute maker, Wong does not always recommend expensive flutes. “Prices do not necessarily mean quality. As long as the flute comes with a good pipe that fits the flutist and tight seals that can completely open and close the instrument’s pinholes, it will be the best flute that a flutist can get. It does not have to be very expensive.”

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