A noted music man

A noted music man

Learning how to design and build a flute can take up to four years of intensive study, Japanese instrument maker Kuniaki Nomata tells Young Post

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Flute maker Kuniaki Nomata with one of his instruments.
Flute maker Kuniaki Nomata with one of his instruments.
Photo: Nora Tam
Often left in the shadows, instrument makers are nonetheless essential to the production of beautiful music pieces. Renowned Japanese flute-maker Kuniaki Nomata visited Hong Kong this month for the Hong Kong Cello Festival organised by the Hong Kong Cellist Society. Young Post meets the expert and explores the world of instrument making.

Requirements

Makers of musical instruments should have a passion for music. Their knowledge of music will allow them to understand the needs of musicians and produce the best instrument possible.

Yet Nomata says it is even more important to be good at making things with your hands, such as building a toy or a model boat.

Instrument makers also have to learn about materials. Flutes can be made out of different metals. The cheapest flutes are made out of nickel, while the most expensive ones are silver-plated. Every material has its own properties, which will alter the way instrument makers use them to build their instrument.

The design part of instrument making requires observation and imagination.

Instrument designers are creative people, who do well working in three dimensions.

Nomata says he likes to visit museums and uses art as an inspiration to create unique flutes.

Making an instrument is also a long process, which demands many hours of concentration and a great deal of patience.

Qualifications

Physics, chemistry and mathematics are all basic knowledge for musical instrument makers.

There are no instrument-making courses in Hong Kong, but the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing offers a four-year Arts of Instruments Making and Repair bachelor's degree. Countries renowned for their courses include Germany, Italy and the United States.

In most other countries, such as Japan, instrument makers learn their profession by training at a factory. Nomata, for example, learned how to make flutes by working at Yamaha. The training period lasted about a year.

Work prospects

Nomata says it takes three to four years to learn how to make a flute. However, it takes much longer to make top-quality flutes, he adds.

During his time at Yamaha, Nomata worked in different flute-making departments: manufacturing, design, repair and the atelier (workshop).

Professional players and instrument makers work together to develop more efficient, beautiful models at the atelier.

After 16 years, Nomata left Yamaha and started a flute-making company.

He has been working on his own branded Nomata Flute, striving to make them unique.

Average salary

Instrument makers in companies such as Yamaha earn a salary depending on their experience. Those in servicing or working for themselves are often paid commissions. Earnings also depend on the instruments you specialise in. For example, it is a lot more expensive to make string instruments than flutes, so this can lead to a higher salary.

Renowned instrument makers can ask for a higher commission, but are limited by the number of instruments they can make every year. It takes a long time to make an instrument. Yet once you acquire a good reputation, there should always be work for you.

Where to apply

In Hong Kong, instrument makers can work for music stores such Tom Lee Music. They always need help with repairs and servicing.

To join instrument manufacturers, head to Japan (flutes, string instruments), Spain and the United States (guitars), China (cello, piano), Germany and Italy (string instruments).

At a glance

Nomata focuses on flute-making, repairing and servicing.

Flute-making starts with the design. Nomata uses graphic computer software to draw his model.

He then needs to make the parts, some of which he buys from outside. He assembles the parts by soldering and other techniques.

He then needs to work on the final details and test the flute until it is perfectly adjusted. It takes him one month to make each flute.

Unlike most things that people build today, Nomata can make all of the parts of a flute by himself.

He says it is rewarding for him to be able to complete the whole process - from start to finish.

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Albert Smith

16:44pm

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