Every year around this time it seems like we get a nice little arctic blast in the Midwest, and this one is truly going to be one for the record books. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I have previously written about avoiding temperature extremes with your instrument, but I wanted to dive a little deeper into the “why” of what exactly happens when a flute or piccolo is exposed to extreme cold–say, when it is left in a car overnight. With just a little foresight and care, you can avoid potentially costly repair issues during the cold and dry that often occurs this time of year.
There are two issues that can cause potential damage to instruments when dealing with cold weather: the temperatures themselves, including fluctuations (between cold and warm buildings, transport, etc); and low humidity levels, especially in buildings with older heat systems. I read a statistic from the Flute Pro Shop that the average concert hall, with the lights up, has the same humidity level as Death Valley! That’s…dry. Even if you don’t frequent concert halls, the air in your homes, performing venues, and workplaces is significantly drier than during the summer months. Many people notice changes in their skin, lips, and eyes, and it can affect flute pads and mechanisms as well. In frigid and dry temperatures, some of the glues used to hold corks, felts, and shims in place can become brittle, shrink, and fail, which will put the flute out of regulation.
Flute tenons, which are the pieces that fit together when assembling the instrument, can also be significantly affected by temperature changes. Frequent fluctuations in temperature cause the metal, particularly the thinner tenon pieces, to expand and shrink. Over time, this can cause the pieces to not fit properly–they will either be too loose and risk falling off (particularly the footjoint), or it will be very difficult to assemble. Forcing tenons together can lead to a whole host of other problems, including bent keys, bent or broken tenons, and increased downtime with your instrument.
What’s the lesson here? Keep your flute comfortable and protected to avoid potentially costly repair issues. If you have a rental or an annual service policy with the Indy Flute Shop, don’t fret–your repairs will be covered!