The Orkon Flute: A 20th-Century Recorder

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Nicholas Bodley

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Feb 10, 1996, 3:00:00 AM2/10/96
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Earlier in this century, before the 1929+ depression, a flute
manufacturer advertised an instrument which they called the Orkon Flute.
It was, I'm told, offered as an instrument for those who wanted to play
flute, but didn't want to struggle with learning to create a decent
embouchure. It has apparently sunk deeply into obscurity since.

It's a bit surprising that this topic apparently has not been mentioned
in r.m.e. at all (I did a search of the archives a number of weeks ago).
Please forgive me if it has come up recently; in that case, this message
would simply be another commentary and anecdote.

Someday, I hope to do more research into this instrument, but would like
to pass on to the r.m.e. community what I do know about it; perhaps some
other newsgroup (wind instrument makers? I should check) also would be
appropriate; but considering that many here are involved with recorders in
some sense, I guess it's OK.

The instrument is a recorder-like duct flute, with a beak. As I recall,
the beak is enclosed by a metal cap of a silvery color, possibly a nickel
alloy. The body is of a black wood, presumably ebony, and it has a number
of keys (roughly six or so) made of metal. It's well-made, and looks like
a wind instrument made with technology of the period.

Its head joint fits the midsection recorder-style, probably with metal
band reinforcements. Whether it has a separate foot joint, I don't recall.

Although I saw it only once, my best recollection is that its size is
somewhat between a soprano and an alto recorder (I realize that has
consequences, suggesting that its key would not be close to either F or C.)
B flat might be plausible.

Plainly, the keys simplified the fingering. None had any particular
complexity; nothing like the keywork on a 20th-century wind. The keys
were more like those on wooden flutes, once they started to gain a few.
I'm fairly sure the Orkon Flute had a thumb hole, possibly with a key
with a hole in it.

I'm sure a small number of readers would love scaled drawings, bore
diameters and profile, windway shape and dimensions, etc., and I dearly
wish I could attach a file containing everything! However, a wee bit
of information is, I hope, better than none. (Does it seem remotely
plausible that one could obtain a grant to find out more? One would need
credentials...)

One place to begin would be issues of Down Beat magazine, I expect,
from the 1920s; look for ads. Perhaps other magazines would be equally
good or better.

As to how many were made, I'd guess possibly 10,000 tops, but that is a
very loosely-supported guess. As to what became of the instrument, I think
I heard it said that few people could afford them in the Depression.
That's certainly plausible.

The identity of the company that made it is not a secret, but I know
quite well that that company definitely does >not< want to have any
inquiries about the instrument! I have promised the company president that
I would not publicize their identity.
However, I'd be glad to answer queries by individual e-mail if that
seems advisable; it would be rude or worse to be childish and keep a
secret. The company in question is quite well known and respected for its
metal transverse flutes; they don't want to make a 20th century recorder,
nor do they want to be talked into doing so. I don't know, nor recall,
anything more than what is in this message, in general.

A few years ago, in one of those fortuitous circumstances (of the
"chance favors the prepared" variety) I talked with someone who was
reasonably sure that a stash of parts still exists in New Hampshire, and
that instruments could be assembled from those parts. I think the same
person knew of someone who had made these flutes at the factory.

My recollection of the instrument's tone color was that it was plausible
for a duct flute, and relatively pleasant, but having no outstandingly
distinctive attribute; possibly I thought at the time of remarks about
how redesign of earlier instruments removes a good bit of the "character"
from their tone color.

The circumstances when I saw it were an evening when I arrived quite
late at an English country dance in NY City; I used to play recorder for
them, and when I saw a wind player in the band, of course my senses perked
up in milliseconds. When I saw the instrument she was playing, it was a
major exercise in self-discipline to give my partner a proper amount of
courteous attention! It must have been one of the last dances of the
evening. The pianist was our beloved Phil Merrill, who is almost a legend
in the Country Dance and Song Society. He lived well into his 80s, and
played as long as he was able to get down the stairs. (Dances were, and
still are, held in a basement gym.)

The player was an elderly, cheerful-spirited English woman who was
visiting in NYC; I have forgotten her real name, although I have seen it
in print, probably in connection with a Pat Shaw collection. She was known
as "Kattles", for reasons I don't know; she was the "K" of the Pat Shaw
dance called "K and E". (An enjoyable dance, btw.) She had been playing the
Orkon Flute for decades, and had some strong idiosyncracies of style that
were not likely to change; they weren't unmusical, just quite atypical.

Naturally, I had never heard of the instrument, even though at the time
I was fairly busy learning more about the recorder. I asked what the
instrument was, and was told it was an "Orkon Flute". Phil and Kattles
were friends from long ago, as I remember, so both spoke of it. Phil
thought he had one around his apartment, and wanted to give it to me, but
had given away all he had. He apparently didn't mind giving them away,
even though they were of significant value,

If Life permits me to find out more about this instrument (I might find
out more at the New England Folk Festival this April), I shall certainly
share what I learn if possible.

-----

NB Nicholas Bodley Autodidact & Polymath |*| Keep smiling! It makes
Waltham, Mass. Amateur musician |*| people wonder what
nbo...@sunspot.tiac.net (OK to omit "sunspot.") |*| you have been up to.


JMullhaupt

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Feb 10, 1996, 3:00:00 AM2/10/96
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In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960210...@sunspot.tiac.net>,
Nicholas Bodley <nbo...@sunspot.tiac.net> writes:

>. I asked what the
>instrument was, and was told it was an "Orkon Flute".

I've never heard of The Orkon Flute. What an interesting note you have
posted.

Joan M. Mullhaupt

Richard M. Wilson

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Feb 12, 1996, 3:00:00 AM2/12/96
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In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960210...@sunspot.tiac.net>,
Nicholas Bodley <nbo...@sunspot.tiac.net> wrote, in part:

> The instrument is a recorder-like duct flute, with a beak. As I recall,
>the beak is enclosed by a metal cap of a silvery color, possibly a nickel
>alloy. The body is of a black wood, presumably ebony, and it has a number
>of keys (roughly six or so) made of metal. It's well-made, and looks like
>a wind instrument made with technology of the period.
> Its head joint fits the midsection recorder-style, probably with metal
>band reinforcements. Whether it has a separate foot joint, I don't recall.
> Although I saw it only once, my best recollection is that its size is
>somewhat between a soprano and an alto recorder (I realize that has
>consequences, suggesting that its key would not be close to either F or C.)
>B flat might be plausible.
> Plainly, the keys simplified the fingering. None had any particular
>complexity; nothing like the keywork on a 20th-century wind. The keys
>were more like those on wooden flutes, once they started to gain a few.
>I'm fairly sure the Orkon Flute had a thumb hole, possibly with a key
>with a hole in it.

Perhaps the Orkon flute was modeled after the czakan. The czakan
was a keyed recorder-like instrument that was popular in early 19th
century Vienna, and there were virtuosi (Heberle, Kraemher [sp?])
who wrote for it. Viennese flute makers like Koch and Ziegler made
czakans. The czakan had six or more keys and was in A flat (or
sometimes A I think I recall) --- a size between the soprano and
alto recorder. It had a conical bore but one which flared a bit
in the bell.

I found a beat-up anonymous czakan at a flea market a few years ago.
Mine was probably made about 1900. It is cocuswood with six nickel
silver keys (resembling those on an old system flute). It has seven
finger holes on the front and one small hole for the left thumb on
the back. The thumb hole is not a tone hole (it is tiny) but was
used only as an octave hole on the czakan. The low note is Ab at
A=450 or so.

There are many other types of flageolets and fipple flutes that were
made throughout the 19th century and into this one, but as far as
I know only the czakan had a thumb hole.

--Rick Wilson

Richard M. Wilson

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Feb 14, 1996, 3:00:00 AM2/14/96
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In article <4fr7ep$c...@newsbf02.news.aol.com>,
K Andresen <kand...@aol.com> wrote:
>The Orkon Flute was an attempt by E.V. Powell to create a recorder-like
>instrument with flute-like fingering. Sad to say the attempt was not very
>successful from the point of view of sound.
>I own one that I recently found in an antique shop and, aside from its
>curiosity value, it is not a valuable instrument.

I looked up E. V. Powell in The New Langwill Index and found this:

Edward Verne Powell (1903--1986), son of V. Q. Powell, was a flutist
and college lecturer. His "Chromette" or "Orkon" (a keyed fipple
flute) was invented in 1943, US patent #2330379.

--Rick Wilson


bad...@mindspring.com

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Apr 23, 2016, 6:56:04 PM4/23/16
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The Orkon trademark was published by the USPTO in March of 1952, with a claim of first use in July of 1949. This goes with the patent of 1943 also mentioned.

- Kurt Walter

The Band Man

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Feb 11, 2021, 2:52:35 PMFeb 11
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For those still interested. On Shop goodwill.com https://www.shopgoodwill.com/Item/115175150

Robert Resnik

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Feb 15, 2021, 3:34:56 PMFeb 15
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2/15/21 I am listing an Orkon on eBay this afternoon. It is in beautiful condition, and comes with a custom hard case built by E.V. Powell.
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