It was nine years before APO’s Principal Flautist Melanie Lançon received the call in July 2018 she had been waiting for. After almost a decade of being waitlisted for a coveted 22-carat gold J.R. Lafin headjoint (the part of the flute that a flautist blows into), one was finally available if she wanted it. She had been saving for years for this particular headjoint, so it was a nobrainer – she immediately bought it.
Melanie’s face lights up when she recalls the first concert she played with the headjoint – APO’s The New Zealand Herald Premier Series Fantasy concert in February 2019.
“I’ll never forget it. I was playing an extended solo with the violins in [Berlioz’] Symphonie Fantastique; I just kept pushing through the long crescendo and it wouldn’t max out. It was like driving a sports car! The sound stayed full and rich and even,” says Melanie. “It’s how I’ve always wanted to sound.”
Handcrafted by J.R. Lafin himself in Germany, the headjoints – ranging from silver to gold to platinum – are in extreme demand. So much so that he stopped supplying the American market, making them even more difficult to come by.
Melanie encountered the flute by chance. Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the United States, she took piano and violin lessons but never felt passionate about either. However, after seeing her middle school’s band play for the first time, she was enamoured.
“I’ll never forget that moment I heard all the different parts working together at the same time. I just knew I had to be a part of that,” recalls Melanie. “But I only had a violin at the time, which was too big and awkward to take with me on the bus to school.”
It just so happened that a great aunt had a solution to her dilemma – an old nickel flute that she never used. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In the ensuing years, Melanie gradually upgraded her instrument as her skills improved. In high school, she used a goldplated intermediate flute that she played for nine years until a teacher encouraged her to invest in a handmade professional flute. She travelled the US, trying around 30 flutes until finally settling on one.
“None of the flutes I tried spoke to me, and I was never even crazy about the one I ended up buying. I chose a Powell, which takes a bit more effort than some of the other brands. It’s like driving a manual car versus an automatic, you have to work harder to get the power and sense of control you want, but the payoff is worth it,” explains Melanie. “I played on the silver headjoint that came with the flute for about 10 years but I always had issues. I liked the sound but I was starting to get face pain because of it.”
She was encouraged by doctors and other flautists to expand her collection of headjoints and swap them out to engage different facial muscles each time she played. Having given up hope of getting the 22-carat gold Lafin headjoint she desired, she bought three other headjoints.
Melanie continued to play with different headjoints until she finally laid her hands on the Lafin she had waited a decade for. Today, she still has her collection of headjoints but she primarily uses the 22-carat gold one.
“I never felt completely happy with the way I sounded until I heard myself on the recording of the first APO concert I played with it. For me, finally getting a 22-carat gold Lafin headjoint was like a violinist finding a Stradivarius.”