The name Sanford Drelinger inspires quite strong reactions from people who know him. He is a genius. People either admire him tremendously, or have some difficulty appreciating his work due to their reluctance to work with him in choosing from his headjoints. Sandy has extraordinarily astute ears (he has the best ears I have seen in action). He also knows his headjoints and their individual characteristics extremely well. His ability to exactly match a very small selection of his hundreds of headjoints to the individual - headjoints that will entirely complement that flutist’s individual tastes - is remarkable. This is a skill greatly appreciated by many including myself. But to some flutists, this feat is unacceptably impossible.
I have known Sandy, as his friends call him, since 1983 when I bought my first Drelinger headjoint and I’ve been playing Sandy’s headjoints ever since. Many years ago, on one of my visits to his workshop, Sandy produced some drawings of what he called a vertical flute, a flute he has trademarked the UpRite.
He had acousticians and engineers working on this idea at great effort and cost for many, many years before it ever was taken from the drawings and made in metal. Sandy explains many of the acoustical issues encountered (and much, much more!) on his website: www.drelinger.com
Then I was lucky enough to see the prototype, and … to try it! The shock of hearing a flute evenly, that is with the sound beginning between your ears, cannot be described.
This flute, the result of many, many experimental castings and done to Sandy’s very high expectations of finish, was certainly a thing of beauty. You can see from the images that it is quite angular. The silver tubing is of various diameters (some surprisingly small compared to a regular headjoint) and at the angles, the silver tubing is fit into much stronger stainless steel bends, all highly polished. The fitting to your flute body is done the same way Sandy fits his other headjoints: extremely careful measurement of your existing headjoint into specially machined “barrels” with a note if you want it to be a tighter or looser fit, and then the UpRite is delivered with a coat of silver-plating at whatever thickness is required to make the tubing snug inside your flute’s barrel (this method avoids any distortion of the interior tubing dimensions and can be removed at any time).
But this UpRite sure looked weird. To be honest, I was very keen to try it but I wasn’t sure I’d want to play it…. And then I discovered that it really worked; it played beautifully too. It was an absorbing experience: beautiful flute sounds emerging, very effortlessly, from an entirely different playing posture.
After years of effort, Sandy anticipated and hoped for a welcoming reaction that I realize, in retrospect, just couldn’t happen overnight…. Flutists are basically vain and just don’t want to be seen doing something weird. They certainly don’t admit to being tired of holding their arms up! Sandy was incredibly disappointed, but persevered anyway, releasing some CD recordings (featuring flutists Moshe A. Epstein- Professor of flute at the Hamburg Hoschule, Aralee Dorough-Principal flute Houston Symphony Orchestra, and myself) to prove that it is indeed as playable as any professional quality flute. As a few years have passed, and flutists have come to realize that there really isn’t any compromise in sound, the UpRite has become an in-demand item and Sandy has quite a waiting list.
I have had two very serious and accomplished fulltime flute students play these; one is on her UpRite 100%, the other is on hers about 80% (The UpRite comes with a transverse piece so you can look “normal” if desired). I have assisted perhaps a dozen more players. In most cases, the reason for trying it is to alleviate some discomfort that results from “normal” flute playing in the back, shoulders or neck area, perhaps the most common physical ailments of flutists. I have also assisted two who simply preferred the sound of the UpRite. Sandy suggests that young players may have an easier time resting the flute on the knee than holding it to the side. Easy to understand, these UpRites are also immensely popular with doublers (usually sax players), who never really liked the “normal” flute playing position anyway. Personally, I find it very educational: playing on the UpRite in a very different physical sensation. By being observant about the differences in tension levels between the Uprite and a “normal” flute, I learn to be more selective about my physical involvement when I play “normally”.
Some of my exclusively-flutist colleagues, especially people with many impressive years of experience, like to have one around to practice on in order to accomplish more without physicallytiring as quickly. Sandy makes the following comments:
“I think that while the UpRite falls into many venues within the flute playing world, its greatest draw has been from those who have endured some physical malady which has made it impossible or difficult to play the standard transverse flute. For me the UpRite’s major advantage is its long-term benefits. All flutists have a limit to the amount of time they can play the instrument before normal physical deterioration renders playing a real chore to impossible. At a certain age all people who play the flute find it increasingly difficult to physically manage the instrument. With the UpRite and all of its comforting ergonomic factors the extension of the useful playing life of the flutist is almost implicit. I see a greater number of the aging population of flutists finding the UpRite very appropriate to their physical needs.”
Interestingly, Sandy discovered in his extensive research that Theobald Boehm had also worked on a vertical flute design, and was sent copies of Boehm’s drawings by one of Boehm’s descendents (these drawings have never previously been published). The design is a little different, but obviously Boehm saw the same potential application.
Over time, Sandy has further developed the accessories, working with Paul Butcher of Case Closed Inc to create a case (even some of carbon fiber) that reduces set-up time. And he has further developed the various attachments that assist with holding the vertical flute steady; there are attached gadgets that provide contact points for both hands. Some players prefer to rest the UpRite on a knee for stability, and Sandy has a “boot” for the flute to do this that can be adjusted to almost any slope and length. This suits players who like a firm contact at the embouchure plate. Sandy has also developed a neck strap that has some “give” in it. I prefer this arrangement because I play with more flexibility at the contact point on the lip. The neck strap provides a little stability and carries a significant part of the weight.
“My work assisting flutists with the UpRite is entirely on finding the best playing position for them. Of course they can play it just as well as they play their regular flute and everyone I have heard on it plays it better than their “normal” flute. We work on transferring what feels best of their previous playing position, in the hands particularly, and making sure they avoid any previous or new areas of tension. I truly believe any flutist, with any physical problems, can play the UpRite with great success.” - Sanford Drelinger