Arts profile

Flute maker Scott Epstein

Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2000

Traded silver for bamboo: Scott Epstein, 31, began playing the silver flute in junior high school in Florida. A few years ago he traded his silver flute for an open-hole bamboo flute. When that was stolen on a road trip, he replaced it with an end-blown Native American style flute and fell in love with the sound and the style of playing.

He said the end-blown flutes aren't as technically difficult to play as side-blown flutes.

``It's very easy to play, and soothing,'' he said.

As a player, he prefers improvisation to memorized or composed tunes.

``I like the fluctuation in breath, dynamics, variations in the tone and playing with the sound,'' he said.

Boat-based: He makes his flutes on the back deck of a boat in Harris Harbor, arranging his work to economize the limited space. Using tools ranging from a lathe and router to a blow torch, he creates flutes from red and yellow cedar.

Measuring the length and diameter of the sound chamber, he calculates where to drill the holes and how big to make them, which determines the key. He uses an electronic tuner to fine-tune them.

``I can concert-tune them to any key, although traditionally they're in the F and G range. I make them in F sharp,'' he said.

U.S. Tour: Epstein said his grandparents immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, from Russia and Poland. His family left Brooklyn when he was young and he grew up south of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He first came to Juneau five years ago.

Last year he traveled to the four corners of the United States visiting family and camping out. He wound up in Hawaii last winter and lived hand-to-mouth for five months. He worked on a farm to earn money for a plane ticket to San Francisco. He hitchhiked north and did a tour of the Interior before returning to Juneau.

In his travels through Alaska, he didn't find a single Native American-style flute for sale, and was inspired to begin making them himself. Using books, a how-to video and practice, he set up shop. He began selling them locally this winter.

He hopes to make about 150 flutes this winter and spring, and travel around the state next summer, selling them at music festivals and craft shows. He's working at the Armadillo Tex-Mex Cafe this winter while he's building flutes.

Epstein also carves small, detailed faces in ivory, and has done figure sculpting in clay and wax. He writes poetry, and shares his work occasionally at local poetry readings.

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