WAMPUM — Jonathan Landell could have played with a professional symphony orchestra.
However, the Wampum resident chose to spend his life building one of their instruments instead.
Now the 75-year-old flute maker is really glad he did.
Landell, who moved to Wampum in 2021 and is now in his 50th year building custom flutes, was a private music student in Boston as a teenager.
“I was going to be an orchestra player; it was my life plan,” he said. “Science and mechanical things were all easy for me. I had a ham radio station and built radios and equipment for my ham radio station. It was my passion in high school.
“But the music was definitely number one. I practiced regularly and entered the New England Conservatory (of Music) at the last minute. They accepted me into a flute studio and I studied with musicians from the Boston Symphony.
At some point, Landell auditioned and was accepted into the Tanglewood Music Center Fellowship Program, which is the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer academy for advanced musical study. It was an experience that gave him a glimpse into the life of a professional musician.
“That was just the top,” he said. “We had four or five weeks of consistent rehearsals and performances. and I realized that the players are not happy. They are always in rehearsal, always playing, teaching, running towards distant constant performances.
“And the women are not happy and the children never see their father. It’s not a job for a family person who wants to have children and a real life.
Yet the biggest life change for Landell came at age 19, when he found a job at the Boston-based Powell Flute Company, “one of the best in the business”, he said. he declares.
After reading a book written by Theodbald Boehm, the inventor of the modern flute, “it just clicked,” Landell said. “I thought, ‘That was a hundred years ago. How hard could that be?
The company took on Landell as an apprentice, and he served there for three years. “They taught me everything I wanted to know.”
Eventually, Landell married and started his own business. He built two flutes in 1972, the first being sold to a man who gave him the dimensions of the tone hole positions on the flute.
“The more you drive the holes, the lower the note; higher, sharper,” he explained.
It wasn’t long before Landell became one of the key players in the design revolution of the 1970s that affected the way flutes were tuned.
Until the middle of that decade, he explained, flutes were built to a turning pitch scale of A435. However, a flute maker in London named Albert Cooper then designed a range for A440, and when Landell heard the music from Cooper’s new design, “I heard the intonation was almost perfect”, he says on its website.
Eventually he would meet Cooper and adopt his design, building what he said was the first Cooper scale flute made in America,
This range has become standard for all modern flute makers, according to Landell, but “For about the first 10 years of my business, I was the only flute maker to play just 440. So I had a lot of orders. It was great. Boston’s two major flute makers had a four-year waiting list. So there was a lot of business waiting there.
Landell enjoyed his calling, but his place was another story.
“Boston was driving me crazy,” he said.
So he packed his bags and moved to southern Vermont, where he found both peace and God.
“I ‘identified’ as a hippie, and all that,” he said. “And I said the first prayer I can remember to God: ‘Please take this smoke away from me, because I had tried to quit – tobacco and marijuana – and I couldn’t. didn’t arrive.
“And he did – the next day he was gone, and I was a different person.”
In the meantime, Landell’s wife, who had suffered from mental health issues, had committed suicide. He prayed again that God would provide someone to come to his side and share his life.
“I’m not going to look; you do – that was my prayer,” he said. “I don’t go out, I don’t go to bars. I’m just going to wait. and I’ve been waiting.
“Six months later, I met the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen, and we got married and moved to northern Vermont, near her family.”
The couple ended up having five children – all musicians – and with his wife, Marcie, on piano and Landell on flute, they still play together. Indeed, they will be among the musicians performing in the annual presentation of Handel’s “Messiah” by the New Castle Music Club Chorus at 3 p.m. on November 27 at Holy Redeemer Church in Ellwood City.
The Landells’ youngest daughter lives with her family in Wampum, and a year ago her parents decided to move to the borough to be near her.
Landell has a small store on Main Street in Wampum where he repairs flutes and continues to build flutes for professional players. So far he has built 186 in his career, mostly in silver or gold, except for one titanium instrument he built for himself (that’s half the weight silver, he said, and it is much harder – “like steel”).
Landell said he spends around 100 hours to build a flute and acknowledges that the instrument can be made commercially in around five hours via an assembly line type process.
“The top players realized they really needed something that was more than an assembly line product,” he said.
Among the less sought-after manufactured flutes are those made in China, he said. They are the only ones he refuses to repair.
“They’re badly made,” he said. “They are terrible. I should spend hours correcting their mistakes.
Landell’s flutes are not “one size fits all”. Depending on what the buyer wants, they can vary in length, have open or closed holes or even optional keys.
Besides being a repairman and builder, Landell is also a teacher. He teaches in his studio, where he can handle three to four students at a time (a registration form is available at www.landellflutes.com).
Now he is looking for someone for even longer instruction.
“I hope to find an apprentice,” he says. “I am 75 years old. I don’t want to stop working. I am healthy and I love what I do. I wouldn’t know what to do if I retired.
“But if I can find someone who is that serious to take on all of this, I’m looking for someone to train for a few years and then take over the shop. I’m going to sell it as a business – a going concern. for 50 years.
Landell credits God for this success. His corporate logo is an Alpha Omega symbol, in which he sees his initials: JAL.
“I chose this before I even knew the Lord,” he said. “Looking back on this and all that has happened, I have to say that it is all the work of the Lord to provide for us.
“We weren’t rich, but we never missed a meal.”
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