I recently relished the opportunity to play for a production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aïda.

Along the way, I figured out something that’s worthy of a brief public service announcement.

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The Reed 1 book calls for Flute, Alto Flute, Big Bamboo Flute in F, Big Bamboo Flute in G, and Small Bamboo Flute in Bb.

Two of these flutes (in F and Bb) only get used for 3 measures total – in the song How I Know You (song 5).  The third flute (in G) has a featured solo in After Dance (song 11A).

These moments are so brief that some people (understandably) just substitute piccolo for these parts.

But I think it’s worth tracking down a six-hole bamboo flute so you can enjoy the chance to paint with a breathy sound, use finger vibrato, and bend pitches…such fun!

So here’s the thing: there are various ways to describe what key a flute is in.

Classically trained people will define it by what pitch sounds when you use the C fingering.

Indian bansuri players define it as the pitch that sounds when 3 fingers are down (a G fingering).

For Irish fliúit players, it’s the pitch that sounds when 6 fingers are down (a D fingering) – in other words, a “D” flute plays at concert pitch.

To give an example, I have a lovely low Irish flute in Bb that classical people tell me is in A; I suppose bansuri players would say it’s in Eb.

Plus, it’s not clear what system the Aïda book uses (actually, I’m pretty sure different songs use different systems – but this feature is what makes my solution possible, so I’m not complaining).

In other words, it’s altogether possible to go to a lot of trouble to obtain what you think are the right flutes, and get to rehearsal and find out you’re in the wrong key.

But take heart! You only need one bamboo flute for all three moments.

The flute you need will play an F with your C fingering, a C with your G fingering, and a G with your D fingering.

In other words, classically, it’s in F. If buying a bansuri on eBay, you probably want one in C (but check their description because they might be accommodating classical buyers). And if you ask a friend who plays Irish music, they’ll tell you it’s in G. (To be honest, a G whistle would probably be a nice alternate option, too…get one with a good, ‘chuffy’ sound and you’ll be grand.)

Bonus: you’ll only need to change two measures. Here’s how to do it:

In How I Know You, play measure 4 just as written.

Then, play measures 114 and 115 starting on a B natural (“BCBCBAGA”).

In After Dance, play it just as written.

And that’s it!

(Huge thanks to Shelley Phillips, who makes bamboo flutes and plays them quite nicely too, for lending me several flutes and providing key insights as I figured all this out.)

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