prosthetic flute thumb in action

Got a UCL tear?  No use of your thumb?  Can’t stop playing traditional Irish flute because your need to do so is a compulsion bordering on addiction, the cessation of which would cause a debilitating self-identity crisis?  No problem!  At least not if you have the following:

1.  Access to a great hand specialist practice.  I highly recommend Lamont Cardon (MD) and Broheen Elias (PA) at Alta Bates.  Competent and accommodating, they respected my professional needs and supported my decision to continue playing flute during the healing process.

2.  A solid cast to protect the injured ligament, one with extra wiggle room for four fingers.

3.  Prosthetic materials/supplies:  plastic coat hanger, ace bandage, scotch tape roll, OTC wrist support brace, duct or teflon tape, hot glue, patience, a sense of humor.

4.   (and this is critical…)  Indomitability.

5.  Optional: bottle opener fixture and epoxy to adhere.  I decided this was important because what could be cooler than opening someone’s beer with your prosthetic flute thumb?

CONSTRUCTION INSTRUCTION

Remove layers of scotch tape until the outer diameter of the tape roll fits into the inner curve of your coat hanger hook.  Glue the scotch tape roll into the curve of the coat hanger.  Use duct or teflon tape adjust the inner diameter of the scotch tape roll — it should fit snugly onto the bore of your flute, right at the point of desired support.  Optionally, attach bottle opener to the distal coat hanger arm using epoxy.  Here’s what it should look like so far.

coat hanger with scotch tape roll attached

bottle opener

Now work out how you will put the coat hanger on in a way that is comfortable and stable.  I used a simple velcro wrist brace to support the distal end of the hanger, then an ace bandage to hold the hanger in place against the cast and keep it adjacent to my forefinger.

Now your thumb is on, and you are ready to hit the seisiún.  Attach flute.  I play a keyless split-body (four piece) Olwell and designed the scotch tape roll to fit at the proximal end of the third section, right up against the silver tenon ring.  Wherever you choose to attach the hanger, the instrument should be held firmly in place, just as if you were supporting it with your previously-functional thumb.

A scrappy plastic thumb that can open beer bottles is exciting, I know, as is playing again for the first time since your big injury.  But be mindful of the medical situation and your (dis)abilities.  Muscle fatigue was a problem for me, as were hand tremors and spasms.  Be gentle with yourself and play only to tolerance.  Long term healing is critical, so construct your project with safety in mind — run the basic design of your prosthetic by a hand specialist.  That’s one of the reasons you went to the trouble of hiring a hand specialist, right?  Utilize his/her expertise.

For longer performances, detach the flute from the hanger to take a break and socialize.  But I suggest leaving the prosthetic attached for the whole evening, partly for convenience, but also because it is a great conversation starter.

Over time, make flute body alignment and ace bandage wrap changes as necessary.  As your fingers grow stronger and the swelling goes down, you may need to make minor adjustments to get the instrument in the right place for your healing fingers.

coat hanger thumb in action at the starry plough

an earlier version (pre- scotch tape ring) where globs of hot glue supported the bore

Wednesday, February 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . flute, music, sculpture, traditional music. Leave a comment.

self-duets from outer space

two tunes using artificially galactic instrument sounds.  space piano is created by adding a phaser effect.  space flute uses amp simulation and speech enhancer.

Piano improvisation/Price of My Pig:

Here the piano plays an A pedal as the downbeat of every measure. The remaining notes in each measure are natural minor fillers, keys where my fingers fell (often with eyes closed.)  Over this the flute is playing an altered version of a traditional double jig, Price of My Pig, omitting the tune’s usual F#s and stripping it of its dorian flavor.

Breton Dance:

Some years back I learned this tune from piper E.J. Jones at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.   My sweet and eager piano wished to be both accompanist and melody partner.  I could not say no.

When E.J. recorded it on his excellent album The Willow he included these brilliant liner notes about this tune —

“This is a dance tune often done at night festivals in Brittany.  It has words which tell a story of a ten year old boy who tries to impress all the pretty girls in the town with a song and a gift of the eels he caught. ‘Je n’avais pas dix ans que je pêchais l’anguille pour en faire un présent à toutes ces joiles filles. Assis de sur un banc, je leur parle d’amourettes et je les divertis avec mes chansonnettes’ “

Thursday, November 5, 2009. Tags: , , , . flute, music, traditional music. Leave a comment.