Video: Newport Man Makes Flutes to Order in an Old World Style

  • John Lunn works in his shop at his home making a flute on Nov., 28, 2016 in Newport, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

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    John Lunn of Newport, N.H. makes a flute with themes from "Chronicles of Narnia" on Nov. 28, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. John Lunn of Newport, N.H. makes a flute with themes from "Chronicles of Narnia" on Nov. 28, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

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    John Lunn illustrated scenes from the "Chronicles of Narnia" on the flute he is making. These will be the keys on the flute. Lunn was working on the flute at his home in Newport, N.H. on Nov. 28, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

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    John Lunn illustrated scenes from the "Chronicles of Narnia" on the flute he is making. He keeps the illustrations on his computer screen while working on the flute at his home in Newport, N.H. on Nov. 28, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. John Lunn illustrated scenes from the "Chronicles of Narnia" on the flute he is making. He keeps the illustrations on his computer screen while working on the flute at his home in Newport, N.H. on Nov. 28, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • John Lunn makes flutes from silver and gold at his home in Newport, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

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    John Lunn illustrated scenes from the "Chronicles of Narnia" on the flute he is making. These will be the keys on the flute. Lunn was working on the flute at his home in Newport, N.H. on Nov. 28, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2016 10:00:10 PM
Modified: 12/6/2016 11:17:38 AM

John Lunn’s handmade flutes are not the kind of instruments you’d hand out to the high school marching band prior to a big game.

These are concert flutes in the European tradition, crafted from sterling silver and gold. They also feature on the keys such handmade elements as flowers and vines, Art Deco motifs, folklore of the Inuit or characters from the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. You could be forgiven for thinking that they belonged in a museum as ornamental sculpture.

Lunn rolls his eyes at the idea. “If it can’t play, then what a waste of space,” he said.

Lunn, 58, and his wife, Meredith Lunn, who helps him with the business, have lived in Newport for 25 years.

He’s been making flutes since he apprenticed from 1976 to 1979, from age 18 to 21, to a flute maker in his native Canada. He grew up both in Toronto and in a rural area outside the city and picked up the flute when he was a boy, following in the path of his older brother, who was also studying the instrument.

Although Lunn practiced the flute diligently, he realized he wasn’t interested enough to pursue it as a professional musician. But he was interested in making them.

Because his mother, who grew up in Norwich, is American, Lunn applied for and was granted American citizenship, which enabled him to move to Boston in 1979, which was then and still is the flute-making capital of the United States, he said. (And, Lunn said, it is the only musical instrument built primarily in Boston).

Two of the music world’s most highly regarded flute manufacturers, William S. Haynes Co. and Verne Q. Powell, whose artist rosters are a Who’s Who of classical and jazz flutists, started their businesses in downtown Boston in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respectively.

Lunn got a job with Powell’s company, by then relocated to suburban Boston. (Powell and Haynes are still only a few miles apart in the suburbs.) Part of the application involved, of course, making a flute which he did quickly and ably enough to be hired on the spot.

Once he had the job, Lunn discovered, he said, that “I had an affinity for flute making. I could make two in the time in which someone else would make just one. I made a good product and I made it well. ”

In 1988 he decided to start his own business. “The idea is always a risk, but we decided to take the risk.”

Aside from going out on his own, part of his goal was to strip away the mechanization of flute making: “I went in the entire opposite direction. What manufacturing process can I undo?”

There were some changes and adaptations he could make that seemed obvious to him. He could customize the flute for the musician playing it, and give the instrument greater flexibility, not in its sound necessarily but in how musicians used it.

Over the years, Lunn has designed flutes that are easier on a musician’s hands and wrists by repositioning the keys so that the wrists and hands are leveled out, not bent at an angle that, over time, can result in stress to the tendons.

“I hand match the instrument to the player. I want each flute to do what the customer is looking for. I want to make sure a flute has the right balance,” he said.

To buy a custom-made Lunn sterling silver flute will cost in the neighborhood of $13,000; to buy a flute’s head joint, where the embouchure, or mouthpiece, is found, can run from between $1,450 for sterling silver all the way up to nearly $7,000 for one made of gold.

Nola Aldrich, a flutist who lives in Wilmot, N.H., uses a Lunn flute. “They are very lightweight so there’s no strain on your arms. The position of the keys allows for fingering comfort. It minimizes the pressure on the wrist and allows for finger flexibility and it also minimizes having to stretch your fingers to reach the lower keys,” she said.

Lunn has been in the business long enough to see changes in styles of playing. The modern European orchestral flute dates from the mid-19th century, when a German flutist and inventor Theobald Bohm changed the fingering system of the Baroque instrument, giving it greater tonal range. And he made flutes from silver, rather than the wood they’d been made from for centuries.

“He keyed the flute completely, and with that you could extend the tuning and the length of it much more accurately and create a chromatic scale that was more in tune,” Lunn said.

In the mid- to late-20th century, the so-called French sound prevailed, with such notable musicians as Jean-Pierre Rampal and Michel Debost producing, Lunn said, a sweeter, gentler sound.

When Sir James Galway left the Berlin Philharmonic for a solo career, he popularized a more booming sound, which Lunn likened to something you might expect to hear in the horn section. Some manufacturers followed suit, producing flutes that could ape Galway’s distinctive tone, Lunn said.

The problem was that while such flutes were able to achieve a crisp, clear, big sound, Lunn said, they’d also lost the subtler tones. But, he added, his intuition is that the pendulum will swing back in the direction of the French sound.

Nicole Densmore, a professional flutist who also teaches in the Kearsarge Regional School District, had heard of Lunn’s flutes but was slightly skeptical, she said.

“How could something so beautiful to behold have a beautiful sound?” she said. But she visited Lunn’s workshop, brought home one of his flutes and was quickly converted.

“Every note is clear and in tune and when you go into the lower register the richness in the overtones is just so gorgeous. I can also play softer. The precision of his mechanics is just impeccable. I can play with so much more fluidity because everything moves so gracefully,” Densmore said.

In his other life as a Newport resident, Lunn has served on the Selectboard two times, and on the board of trustees of the Richards Free Library. He has run twice for the state Legislature, in 2004 and, most recently this fall, on a platform of bringing economic prosperity back to Newport and surrounding communities. (He lost both times.)

And in his other, other life, he has written novels and screenplays and is working on a graphic novel. (His mother, Janet Lunn, is a well-known writer of children’s books in Canada.)

Dedicated to his work, Lunn shies away from one necessary facet of his business: self-promotion. “It’s hard promoting against the wind. I don’t have the nature to tell you what you want.”

Which is why he makes custom-made flutes but also does contract work for the bigger flute manufacturers, which guarantees a steady income.

“I turned it into a job I could love,” he said.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.




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