Practice Blueprints – Carmen Fantasie

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We are about to enter the annual astrological sun transit of Leo. Leos are the lions. The kings and queens of the forest, the Beyoncé’s of the stage, the divas of the Silver Screen, Leos demand drama and pageantry. Anything less is not worth their time. When I think of pieces that embody the qualities of a Leo, there is only one that stands out as the true diva of all flute works. The Carmen Fantasie always wins over the toughest crowd. Everyone recognizes the tunes from this beloved opera Carmen (even my own grandma!) but the virtuosic variations offer unexpected fireworks showing off fantastic finger-work. And yet there is much more to the Carmen Fantasie than impressive runs. In today’s blog, I will be discussing various approaches to preparing this flute staple as part of the next installment of my Practice Blueprints series. Although you will be required to assume the role of the diva as well as the virtuoso, it is important to always remember that there is a storyline silently shaping the notes on the page. You are now part of the play. You are the star of the show. Own it!

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First Thing’s First; Watch the Opera.       The Carmen Fantasie is based on melodies taken from the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. Most of us have heard the Habanera at one time or another but have you ever sat down and watched the entire opera (with subtitles)? Do you know what the story is about? Do you know what the characters are singing about or even who they are? To truly understand how to play the Carmen Fantasie, you must first understand the story of Carmen. Read the libretto but also check out YouTube clips from some of the best productions of the opera. My personal favorite performances of the Habanera are listed below! These two performances truly embody the character of Carmen. Keep these in mind when performing the variations to maintain the style of the aria amidst the technical demands of the music.

https://youtu.be/uV9iGv4sKNI – Julia Migenes-Johnson, Film

https://youtu.be/KJ_HHRJf0xg – Anna Caterina Antonacci, The Royal Opera

Of course, the best way to experience Carmen is by attending a live performance. Research offerings of at local opera houses. Carmen is a very popular opera and hosted by numerous opera companies throughout the world. Attend!

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Along these same lines, sing through the melodies.        There are several moments in the Carmen Fantasie that feature melodies taken nearly verbatim from the opera. After watching a performance of the opera, sing the arias in your head as you play the melodies in the score. If the words are difficult for you to understand due to language barriers, make up your own! If there are no words present in the original score (for example, the opening melody is an instrumental theme from the opera), make up words to fit the mood of the excerpt. Be creative! You are the prima donna now. Finally, remember to project! The mezzo forte, for example, before Rehearsal 46 is clearly not fitting for such a powerful low register melody. Belt it out! Give your listeners goosebumps by digging into the depths of the sound and the heartache of the story.

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Be conscious of register jumps.                      François Borne created breathtaking variations by using several octave displacements. This essentially means that you will find numerous lines that jump quickly from the lowest of the low the highest of the high. You must maintain a flexible embouchure throughout these variations and be extra careful not to skim the second note of an octave jump. For example, at the key change following Rehearsal 233, it is very easy to mask the octave jumps beginning on the low G, A, B, and A respectively. To counteract this, make sure to add a clear accent to the lowest note to bring this tone out of the texture. These notes act as pedal tones for the variations in the higher octaves and require a bit more weight to anchor the melody to the musical foreground. Finally, to strengthen embouchure flexibility, add flexibility warm-ups to your daily practice routine. Trevor Wye includes some very effective exercises in his Practice Book on Tone but Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #10 is also a good alternative for a bit of variety.

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Practice your arpeggios!               Many of the variations in this work are based on broken chords (which is the most common way for composers to vary a melody). What this means for the performer is that we must be comfortable and proficient with our arpeggios to execute the fireworks of the phrase properly. A good example of this writing can be found at the Moderato before Rehearsal 73 where a series of scales and arpeggios vary the melody set forth in the first 4 measures of the passage. Practice this work in conjunction with Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise #12 (which covers all those pesky arpeggios).

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Use breath kicks to prevent Wild Fingers.            This piece is very exciting and most passages fit exceptionally well under the fingers. For these reasons, it is easy to rush easier passages and fly recklessly through more difficult runs. Before you know it, you are several beats ahead of your accompanists who is struggling to hear downbeat placements (or really any type of beat placement period). Dial it back a bit by adding breath kicks (small accents or slight additions of vibrato) on tones falling on critical downbeats in a phrase. For example, the Presto following Rehearsal 338 is a notorious place for crash and burn opportunities due to Wild Fingers. Adding breath kicks, particularly at Rehearsal 343, will keep your beat in check and the phrases clearly distinguishable to your audience.

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How do you like to practice the Carmen Fantasie? What sections of this work do you find particularly challenging? What tips do you find most effective? Do you have any other approaches to learning this work that you find valuable? Please comment below.

 

Happy Fluting to all you Divas out there!

Digs for Gigs

Greetings! Welcome to the holiday edition of Flute Friday (even though it is clearly Tuesday – oops!). Happy 4th of July to those celebrating in the states.

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In the spirit of Independence Day, today’s blog is all about being an independent contractor. Musicians often find themselves stringing together multiple sources of employment to earn their income (these are sometimes referred to as “income streams”). In order to successfully accomplish this, they must find performing and teaching opportunities anywhere they can. Unlike other professions, we cannot simply pull up the want ads and send our resume to HR managers at a handful of organizations. We instead must dig to gig. The internet is a good place to find groups and organizations searching for musicians and many other lower tech techniques can be used to successfully connect to a variety of performance opportunities. In today’s blog, I will discuss some of the most useful resources available to independent freelance musicians searching for gigs. Hopefully these suggestions will help all of you connect to several new income streams both within your own surrounding communities and across the world.

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Musicalchairs.info.  I have stalked this website for well over a decade (I know….#sad). This is one of the best places on the internet to search for audition notices from professional orchestras. I used this website in my college years to research exactly which excerpts I would need to prepare to have a shot at any future orchestral positions. I printed out the audition lists, obtained copies of all listed excerpts, saved these copies in a 3-ring binder, and performed mock auditions for my cat (again, #sad). This was actually very good preparation for real auditions down the road. What I have always loved about this website is that it includes links to the audition notice directly from each institution’s website and displays concrete application deadlines on the home screen. Obviously, you will need to travel for many of these auditions, but keep your eyes peeled for orchestras that require preliminary CD auditions. Simply set up your iPhone, computer, or Zoom recorder and create an audition CD from the privacy of your own practice room. (I think more orchestras should really move toward the preliminary audition CD model because it can be very costly to travel to auditions around the country.)

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International Musician Magazine. When I was studying at the University of Minnesota, the librarians often hid subscription copies of the International Musician behind the front desk because the journal would frequently “go missing” from the library. This is a wonderful journal that is known for it’s large job notice section listing any and all orchestral audition opportunities from around the United States. If it isn’t posted on Musicalchairs.info, it will no doubt be listed in International Musician. If you are searching for an orchestral job, this is the best place to look as nearly all professional orchestras purchase advertising space in International Musician. A monthly subscription to this journal is well worth the subscription fees to keep you in the know each month.

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National Flute Society. Did you know that with your subscription to the NFA, you are also given access to a number of resources on the NFA website, including a job board (!) (this is located under the “Resources” tab)? Many of the links featured here are advertisements for university teaching positions or graduate assistantships, but I have also come across the occasional advertisement for a performance opportunity. Keep your eyes peeled!

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College Music Society. Calling all flute teachers! Are you looking for college teaching opportunities? Would you like to present at a local or national conference? Participate in webinars on a variety of musical topics? The College Music Society is a wonderful resource for all of us DMA’s searching for job openings at the collegiate level. My favorite part about this organization (besides the numerous conferences held around the country and frequent calls for papers) is that they email members an updated list of available job openings once a week! This is a very convenient way to stalk new teaching opportunities on a regular basis and stay informed on all job application deadlines and requirements.

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Higher Ed Music Jobs. This is another very good website to stalk if you are searching for a collegiate teaching position. Higher Ed Jobs is sort of like the International Musician for college instructors. If there is a job available out there, Higher Ed Jobs will most likely have a link to the job description and application requirements. Pro tip: Do not limit your search to “Flute Instructor” or “Flute Professor.” A number of job listings require a bit of digging through job descriptions to determine just what type of candidate they are searching for (for example, links listing “Adjunct Music Professor” or “Assistant Music Instructor” may be looking for specific specialties in woodwind instruction or additional qualifications in music theory or musicology). I often like to peruse these listings on a weekly basis and email relevant job descriptions to myself where I can organize them into inbox folders according to job type and application status. This is a handy way to refer back to original job descriptions when writing cover letters or requesting letters of recommendation.

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Community Orchestra Websites. Are you simply looking for a group to play with to gain community exposure and sustain your performance chops? Grab a pen and paper and sit down to a Google search of local community orchestras. Bookmark the “auditions” page on each website. Are they searching for new members? If so, audition! If not, simply send an email to the personnel director (typically listed under “contacts”) and inquire about upcoming audition or substitute opportunities. Performing with community groups is a great way to connect to other flutists in your community who may refer you to other performance opportunities or direct new students your way. You may also meet other musicians wanting to start smaller chamber groups for other community gigs.

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Craigslist. I know what you are thinking – Not only does this seem outdated but isn’t Craigslist used for finding apartments, used furniture, puppies, and free stuff? Craigslist also has a link for “Musicians.” Most listings are for bands, guitarists, or folks just wanting to jam, but there are some listings searching for church musicians and community teachers to instruct lessons at local music shops or school music programs. You may also search for job listings by simply entering “music” in the search box under any of the job categories. Pro Tip: Be weary of fake listings! Never give out personal info to others on Craigslist. Research groups and musicians you may be contacting before setting up a gig time or applying to jobs. You don’t want to end up on a future episode of Forensic Files! Be careful.

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When in doubt, find your own gigs with an old school flyer. One of my favorite scenes from the movie High Fidelity is when a street musician approaches Jack Black’s character at the record store to ask him about a flyer that was posted in the store searching for garage musicians for Jack Black’s unnamed band. This seemed like an awkward yet funny character scene at the time, however by the end of the movie, Sonic Death Monkey made their debut as a surprisingly talented group of musicians. What is stopping you from doing the same? Find your own group! Set up a flyer searching for musicians for a woodwind quintet, for example, at a local college, using your email to collect information from interested parties. Perform at weddings, special events, churches, community celebrations, or simply host recitals around the community. Some of the greatest rock bands started in a basement. Follow their example! We do not necessarily need to form our groups from the orchestral stage.

 

How do you find gigs within and outside your community? What job boards to like to use when searching for teaching and performing opportunities? Which one of these resources do you find to be the most helpful in your job search? Please comment below.

 

Happy fluting!

Dear Diary

Greetings and welcome to another Flute Friday!

Journaling has been around for centuries and is widely considered a healthy way to confront some of the difficulties in one’s daily life. Often, just the act of writing down your goals or challenges may help you to think critically about the next course of action or how you may be incorrectly interpreting the world around you. Journaling, in a nutshell, is a an excellent way to incite change. It is also a good way to document successful vs. unsuccessful approaches to virtually anything. Including music! I am sure at one point or another, a well-meaning music teacher has asked you to keep a music journal without much of an idea about what that journal should look like or how you might use it to better your musical goals. Perhaps they wanted to understand your specific interests, talents, or insights to help guide you down the path most suited to your individual strengths. That’s great! But you can also use this journal to simply learn about yourself and explore ideas that perhaps are only brewing within the basements of your mind. Today’s blog is devoted to music journals and how to use them to your best advantage. Journals come in many different forms that speak to a variety of learning styles. Find the one that best fits your life and a journal will become a tool you use often to organize your career and develop concrete goals for the future.

Before I discuss the different types of journals to explore, it is important to explain what the general purpose is of keeping a journal. For a performing artist, for example, keeping a daily practice journal helps us record what we worked on in our practice session, what challenges we faced, possible solutions to musical difficulties, and a plan for the next practice session. These entries do not need to be article-sized explanations (in fact, do not spend a ton of time working in your journal – prevent burnout before it starts!). Simple 1-2 line bullet points are sufficient. If you had a particularly difficult practice session, you may want to use your journal simply to vent your frustrations. Write it down. Get it out of your head. When you are removed from the situation, reexamine your journal entry from a more critical perspective. What was the core challenge and what can you do to work on the skills necessary to overcome that challenge? Keeping a journal like this will keep you thinking forward toward solutions and goals rather than remaining stagnant, only playing things that are easy and safe. Creating art is not about being easy and safe. You may also keep a journal for musical observations that can be translated into your own music making career (I like to do this whenever I visit a conference). Keep a record of performances you attend and record what worked and what did not work. Use what worked in your daily practice and try to reinvent what didn’t work into something new. The whole point is to reflect on your observations and experiences to both troubleshoot and dream of new ideas that nobody has ever tried before. Write it down. Test it out. And dream big.

Journal Suggestions

Practice Journal – Write down the repertoire you worked on during your daily practice session, what challenges you faced, what obstacles you overcame, ideas for future performances, how long you spent practicing, and your goals for the next practice session. You may even use this journal to graph the time you spend practicing and the effectiveness of certain practice techniques. A practice journal helps you record your progress and allows you to set concrete short and long term musical goals.

Performance Journal – Use this journal to record your thoughts from each performance and your goals for the subsequent performances. This is particularly useful for those of us that suffer from performance anxiety. How did you calm your nerves before the performance? What worked? What didn’t work? Why were you nervous in the first place? How did your playing change while under pressure? Did you have breathing issues? Explore these issues and make a plan for the next time around.

Informational Interview Journal – Who do you idolize? Is there a musician whose sound you wish you had? Do you know someone who performs in an orchestra that you’d love perform with? Is there a performer who’s technique literally blows your mind? Is there another musician in your orchestra that truly inspires you? Contact them! Ask them how they practice or what their most important experiences have been. Ask for simple advice to help you get to the next step in your career. Keep track of all of their answers in a journal and reflect on how you can best incorporate their advice into your own music career.

Observational Journal – Every time you attend a concert, use this journal to record your impressions of that performance. What was successful and what just did not work? What can you try in your own practice? What did the performance make you think about? What inspired you? Compare and contrast the quality of the performances you attend. Set goals based on your impressions and inspirations.

Journal Formats

The Gold Standard: Paper Journals. This is by far the easiest type of journal to use. Simple pen and paper. Nothing fancy. You may use a small notebook or invest in a beautiful moleskin version, bedazzled with glue-on gems or brightly colored embellishments. You may also easily change the structure of your paper journal whenever you want, depending on what goals you wish to emphasize.

Online Journals. No, I am not talking about LiveJournal (does this still exist somewhere on the internet????). There are online journaling platforms that will save your content in the cloud for only you to access via login. This is a good option if you do not want to carry a journal around with you and want to update on the go. Uptothesky is a great option because there is a handy preview menu on the left side of the screen. If you type the most important information in the first couple of lines in each entry, you will have a great way to compare small bits of information over the last few entries.

Word Journal. This is similar to a paper journal but in an electronic form. Type your entries and save them as a word document. This is relatively straightforward and will allow you to add graphs, pictures, and links to articles or videos to help document your ideas. Be sure to save!

Video Journal. Calling all Millenials! Would you like to share your musical experiences with the world? Are you curious what others have to say about your ideas and would you like to connect to other musicians far and wide about shared thoughts, ideas, and experiences? A video journal is perfect for those of you who value collaborating and connecting with others. The easiest way to do this is to set up a YouTube account and create a VLOG. I have not experimented very much with the vlogging platform, but countless other musicians consider vloging as a way of life. Challenge yourself to put your ideas out there and connect with musicians all over the world.

Excel-Based Journal. This is my favorite method to record and organize small bits of information into a usable and easily measurable format. Create columns for your observations, goals, and measurable units of information such as practice time, repertoire, metronome speeds, and so forth. Using Excel demands that you keep your entries very susinct but also makes it easy to compare daily experiences and goals to numerous previous entries and chart your progress.

Whichever journal and format you choose to use, always remember that your main objectives are to reflect, problem-solve, and create new goals and ideas for the future. Keeping a music journal is a very useful way to think creatively about who you are as a musician, where you would like to go, and how you are going to get there.

Do you maintain a music journal? What types of journals do you update? How do you use your journal to develop your goals. Please comment below!

Happy fluting!

Mario vs. Flute – On Hand-Eye Coordination

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday!

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My husband and I are children of the 90s. Most of the music on our respective iPods originates from circa 1991-2001 and our movie collection is filled with feel good, cheesy 90s movies such as Forrest Gump, Clueless, Airheads, Titanic, and Hook. Recently, in good 90s kid fashion, my husband purchased a vintage style Nintendo preloaded with many of our favorite childhood games (Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, Bubble Bobble, etc). This little box has become one of our newest obsessions, providing us with nostalgic games we have loved to death and many that we never had an opportunity to play in the days of yesteryear. My game of choice at the moment is the Adventures of Link (I am stuck on Death Mountain, so if any of you reading this have any tips to help me pass this level, please share below). A funny thing happened, however, the other day when I ended my game of Link and began practicing my flute. After a few warm-up exercises and scales, I launched into my practice of Dutilleux’s Sonatine for Flute and Piano. Fast-moving technical passages that were only so-so in past practice sessions now flew through my fingers with minimal effort and, by some wonderful Harry Potter-type magic, were graceful and even. How could this be? I had not isolated these passages with slow practice or chunked the groupings into smaller bits… And then it dawned on me. Hand-Eye Coordination. When we are young, adults yammer on and on about the importance of developing “hand-eye coordination” (not that we know or care what that means at the time) but as adults, we often see just how crucial a role that hand-eye coordination plays in the functioning of our daily lives. We just do not practice these skills as much as we did when we were kids.

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For many musicians, particularly instrumentalists, hand-eye coordination is the foundation of our technique. We are the masters of hand-eye coordination! But, even the best of the best can always be better, and when our craft is based heavily on a single skill, doing what we can to improve our foundation is vital. My technique had improved by playing Nintendo because I was essentially practicing hand-eye coordination away from my instrument. Fortunately, playing video games is not the only way to work on this skill set. Today’s blog is devoted to the some of the activities that we can do away from our flutes to strengthen our technical ability by improving hand-eye coordination skills. With summer just around the corner, it is a good time to get outside and enjoy some of the more sportier suggestions below, or simply enjoy some time under the shade with a coloring book. And, yes, by doing so you will be indirectly improving your flute playing outside of the practice room.

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Video Games. I am starting with this one due to my personal experience with our Nintendo. It is true – playing video games improves your hand-eye coordination for obvious reasons. You are literally controlling the game with the buttons on the controller. That sounds a bit familiar……sort of like controlling the variety and types of notes you create with the buttons on an instrument…. One caveat here is that game systems such as Wii or others that are based more on creating larger movements with your body rather than buttons on the controller may not strengthen hand-eye coordinator as well as traditional button controllers. Don’t have a Nintendo? No problem! There are online emulators of classic Nintendo games that use keyboard buttons in place of typical controllers (I spent Christmas 2008 playing Zelda on such a platform). One such emulator can be found at http://emulator.online/nes/ . Go ahead, pull up a seat next to your weird nephew or nerdy little brother (or husband) and enjoy a Saturday afternoon playing Mario. You will still be improving your flute playing without even having to take your flute out of its case.

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Ball vs. Wall Exercise.  Want to get away from your couch? It’s a beautiful day! Why not? In this exercise, you will need a basketball and a wall (outside, away from valuable furniture, appliances, and instruments). From about 6-8 feet away, throw the basketball against the wall with your dominant hand and, without catching it, push the ball back with the fingertips of the same hand. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat. When you are ready, repeat the process with your non-dominant hand. Whoa. *head explodes* For the final challenge, step in closer to the wall, shortening your available reaction time. This is a great exercise to improve hand-eye coordination. Just be extra careful to not hit the ball too hard with your fingers. You do still need your fingers to play the flute….

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Make friends with the Speed Bag at the Gym.  Like musicians, boxers have exceptional hand-eye coordinator due to many hours spent practicing on these terrifying bags at the gym (and also because their craft, like ours, is based on quick hand-eye reflexes). I know what you are thinking – I too run screaming in the other direction when I see these. I am a klutz and have nightmares of going to the ER after an inevitable bag to the face, but what would the world be like if we didn’t face our fears, amiright? Start slowly and wear proper boxing gloves with lots of padding to protect your fingers. You may even want to consult a trainer to guide you on proper, and safe, stance and technique. Added bonus – Boxing, like performing, requires excellent posture. Not only are you strengthening hand-eye coordination by using the speed bag, but you are also practicing maintaining a balanced stance that can be translated to your flute playing.

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Play catch.  My husband is going to read this blog and immediately want to go to the park. Remember the good, old, days when you played catch with your dad in the back yard? Did you know that by doing so, you were actually improving your hand-eye coordination and developing important skills that you would use later in life? Like the ball vs. wall exercise, simply playing catch trains your eyes to anticipate the ball and quickly react (much like when you read a score and react to the notes on the page). Recruit your family and go play a game of catch! Everyone will have fun and you will further develop skills to strengthen your flute playing at the same time.

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Enjoy a game of Tennis, Badminton, Ping-Pong, or Golf. I think Donald Trump might want to take some flute lessons because with the amount of golf that he plays, he probably has a well-developed sense of hand-eye coordination and may be very good at executing difficult passages on the flute. Like playing catch, these games train your eyes to react to a ball or birdie, but unlike catch, each sport includes an additional stimulus such as a racket or club, making reactions a bit more challenging. Dealing with this stimulus is very similar to dealing with a musical instrument. Although our eyes know what to do, there is still a physical obstacle that we must negotiate with to achieve our goals.

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Juggling. If you think about it, juggling is sort of a fancy way of playing catch by yourself. Juggling is a great way to practice hand-eye coordination as you can control how simple or complex to make your routines and you can essentially practice anywhere. Like other sports, you are training your hands to react to a ball (or bowling pin, or flaming torch – please do not juggle flaming torches around your instrument!). Entertain your family and friends at parties! You will not only be the most popular person at most gatherings but you will also be indirectly improving your flute playing skills. When Grandma blows out the candles, you will be able to easily improvise impressive cadenzas on the theme to “Happy Birthday” (this juggler has done lost their mind….).

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Coloring. Pick up that fancy Adult Coloring Book that you saw at that cute mom and pop bookstore downtown, invest in colored pencils or borrow your child’s box of 64 Crayolas, kick your feet up, and color like it’s 1984. Yes – You are improving your hand-eye coordination with every crayon stroke. This is also a great break-time activity during your typical practice sessions. Next time you head to the practice room, bring your crayons and your coloring book. Even on your break, you will be improving your flute playing technique.

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Puzzles. This is another great family activity that improves hand-eye coordination! Break out a puzzle and challenge your brain to find the right pieces to place in the right parts of the picture. For a wonderful added challenge, bring home one of those scary 3D puzzles. Who knew that doing something fun away from your flute would actually help you strengthen the very foundation of your technique? It isn’t all scales, after all!

 

Now it’s your turn. What activities do you practice to strengthen your hand-eye coordination skills? How does your playing improve after participating in these activities? How often do you practice hand-eye coordination skills? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

 

Perfectionism

Greetings and welcome to another Flute Friday!

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Earlier this week, I teamed up with my husband to host a guest lecture on writing in the arts. This was wonderful timing as I had just drafted an article on blogging and was eager to speak about my own approaches to writing about music and the joys and challenges of hosting a weekly blog. Like a typical Type A musician, I came up with two different outlines. The first outline was a bit more detailed than the shorter, condensed outline, but both were perfectly prepared presentation roadmaps. What I did not remember, however, was that my husband’s teaching style is vastly different from my own. My husband is an improvisational artist, often devising brilliant concepts out of thin air with no preparation whatsoever – a skill that I have always wished I had. As my husband has more classroom teaching experience than myself, I agreed to let him take the lead on the lecture while I waited for an organic opportunity to launch into my outline. That moment never came. Instead, I was faced head on with the boundaries of my comfort zone, speaking off-script and discussing writing experiences without any preparation about what points I wanted to make or how I would relate my experience to the general topic of writing about art. This lecture highlighted something I already knew about myself but often try to ignore….

 

I am a perfectionist.

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But I know that I am not alone. The music profession attracts perfectionism and often the traits exhibited by successful performers are the same as those attributed to perfectionists.  In general, perfectionists refuse to accept any standard that is short of perfection, or at least the conception of “perfection” that they have developed in their minds. Instead of focusing on new experiences and/or skills, the primary objective for a perfectionist is to avoid any type of failure on their pathway to success. The problem with this type of thinking is that it leads to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety which all lead to greater health issues down the road. In short, a perfectionist never quite feels “good enough.” Perfectionism also invites procrastination as more challenging tasks tend to overwhelm the perfectionist who usually only undertakes projects that they think they can perfect. Perfection, however, does not exist. My concept of what “perfect” means is much different than what James Galway’s idea of “perfect” may be or what playing “perfectly” means to my students. Today’s blog is devoted to how perfectionism manifests in our own music careers and what steps we can take to address and conquer our perfectionist tendencies. Like Queen Elsa reminds us, sometimes we all just need to Let It GO!

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First, let’s identify what traits are associated with perfectionism. Be warned – Many of these are skills that we practice as part of our musical training and continue to use in our professional careers.

Top 10 Signs that you are a Perfectionist

  1. Perfectionists freak out if they do not receive praise for their hard work. I bet you can relate to this one (I know I can!). You practice for hours, days, weeks, months to prepare a very important solo in your orchestral music (aka Firebird Suite), and at the concert, the conductor almost forgets to acknowledge you during the applause. Or perhaps you perform a successful solo recital and the final applause does not last long enough for a second bow. What is your reaction? Do you perceive your performance as a failure? Are you insulted by the conductor and vow to never play in that orchestra again?
  2. Perfectionists give up before they start. Have you ever opened a piece of music, played through a couple of bars, and decided not to work on it because it would obviously be too difficult to prepare for a recital? Or perhaps when performing a recital, you make a mistake within the first few bars of the opening piece. Is the recital doomed from that point or are you already categorizing the performance as a failure? Maybe you’ve buried That Etude Book in the bottom of your library because you are terrified of the amount of practice that will be required to master the music.
  3. Perfectionists find themselves frequently correcting others. This is literally the job description for conductors and section leaders. Do you find yourself informing your stand partner that they are on the sharp-side during rehearsal? Do you play just a bit louder than the principal player who tends to play too softly? If you are a section leader, do you find yourself berating your section for playing behind the beat or taking an enormous amount of time between pieces to tune your section?
  4. Perfectionists want to be good at new things right away and avoid challenges outside of their comfort zone. My experience guest lecturing with my husband is a good example of this. How many times have you been handed a piece of music that you could not play well from the get go? How did you react to your unsuccessful run-through? Did you feel like a failure? Perhaps you have programed a recital of works that you knew were easy just to have the satisfaction of playing them well right away. How many pieces have you avoided because you knew they were extremely challenging?
  5. A perfectionist’s self-esteem hinges on accomplishments in a few domains (career, income, etc.). This one hits a little too close to home for many musicians. Music is a profession that intermingles emotion and interpretation as core demands from its workers. It is difficult not to personalize the process of creating music when we always strive to put “ourselves” into our music. Who we are is not defined by what we do. If you find yourself defining your worth as a person by the outcome of your performances, you may be a perfectionist.
  6. A perfectionist may become very upset when other people do not do something their way. This also strikes a nerve with many musicians. A conductor, for example, has a particular sound in mind before he/she reaches the podium and often struggles to communicate these intentions with members of the orchestra who may all have different interpretations of the music.
  7. Perfectionists often say no to opportunities that they are not 100% confident they can perform well. How many auditions have you skipped because you did not think you could prepare the audition material adequately prior to the audition date? How many competitions have you not participated in simply because you did not think you could win? Have you ever postponed a recital because you were not confident that you could play the pieces up to your own standards by the scheduled recital date? If you are a nervous performer, perhaps you have let performance opportunities slip through your hands because you were not sure how your nerves would affect your performance.
  8. Perfectionists like to follow directions exactly. This is a classical performer’s life. We perform predetermined notes, in a predetermined fashion, under the baton of a conductor with a predetermined style in mind. Following directions, therefore, becomes the key to a successful career as an orchestral musician. Auditions themselves are a test of how accurately a performer can “follow the rules.” This is a good example of a trait that both helps and hinders members of an orchestra.
  9. Perfectionists become defensive of criticism. How many times have you been insulted when a conductor has called you out in front of the ensemble for not playing something correctly? You want to play your part perfectly but when the cracks in your surface are exposed, it is very difficult to maintain composure. I cannot tell you how many times I have left rehearsal in tears because I was called out for not playing something correctly. I could not process exactly what the conductor was asking because I was too busy mentally criticizing myself for not being perfect. Have you had experiences like this?
  10. Perfectionists become very stressed out if they do not complete routines as planned. Two words: Practice Sessions. You procrastinate and procrastinate and before you know it, it is 10:00 pm and you have not yet opened your instrument case. You plan a make-up practice session for the next day, which gets cut short by an invite from friends to get brunch. You finally get to your normally scheduled 2 hour practice session on the third day and realize 90 minutes into your work that you have only practiced 2 pieces out of the 5 that you had intended to work on that day. (I’m stressing out just writing this hypothetical scenario!) We have all been there yet some musicians handle these situations much differently than others. Perfectionists will react with anxiety and may add another 2 hours of panic practice to make sure they practice all of the works they intended to rehearse that day.

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There are a number of other traits associated with perfectionism, but these are the ones that can be most directly related to musicians. Are you a perfectionist? It’s okay – don’t panic! We can get through this together! The following techniques can help you cope with perfectionism and turn your life around. The biggest lesson here is to make peace with your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes but it is how we deal with them that determines whether we are growing or holding ourselves back.

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Dealing with Perfectionism – How to Cope

  1. Highlight the good (or “Good Enough”). Make a list of your best performance qualities, best music making exercises, and the best groups, performers, and conductors you have worked with in the past. Refer to this list frequently. You are a much better musician than you may realize and your experiences will give you insights into who you truly are as a musician.
  2. Pay attention to all-or-nothing thinking. Will the World really end if you bomb your solo in Mozart’s 3rd Symphony at the next orchestral concert? Probably not. Will you get kicked out of school for having a memory lapse at your senior recital? Doubtful. Recognize those moments of black vs. white or right vs. wrong and select a different reaction. Be okay with the grey areas that are good enough.
  3. Be less critical of others. Treat other musicians with respect, patience, and compassion. We all are at different levels in our musical development and have different strengths and weaknesses. Be sensitive to the laws of Karma! When you encourage others, rather than criticize, you create better working relationships with your colleagues and become less of a target for criticism from others.
  4. Surround yourself with musicians who make music purely for the enjoyment of the art (and not to secure a certain chair placement). Join a community orchestra or flute choir! Some of my best experiences have been playing with community groups who genuinely like what they do. That is, after all, the most important part of making music. If you don’t like performing, than why choose to do it?
  5. Therapy. This is the straight-forward answer, however a good therapist will help you examine why you are a perfectionist and how to be self-accepting and hopeful for the future. They will also have a number of exercises and techniques developed specifically for your unique brand of perfectionism.
  6. Recognize your perfectionist tendencies and how and when they manifest in your daily musical life. Reading this blog is a step in the right direction! Ask yourself honestly if you identify with some of the traits of a perfectionist and take steps to change your reaction to mistakes.
  7. Be realistic. Nobody is perfect! Just play to the best of your ability. Mistakes happen to everyone. It is okay if others do not like your playing. Even Mozart had his critics (“too many notes” as the saying goes).
  8. Ask yourself what you would say to a fellow musician, or student, who was worried about playing their music perfectly. What coping tools would you share with them? How would you point them in the right direction? Say these things to yourself J.
  9. Give yourself permission to fail. What is the worst thing that could happen if you make a mistake? Can you survive those consequences? Will it matter 24 hours from now? In 3 months? In a year?
  10. Lower your standards gradually. Do you really need to practice that piece for 4 hours? Are you okay with making mistakes on 2 out of 5 pieces at your recital? Accept your mistakes and move on to greater challenges.
  11. Exposure therapy. This is how many psychologists help patients overcome phobias. Challenge yourself to encounter situations that will expose your musical imperfections (especially those that you typically avoid). Sight read a piece in front of an audience. Show up to rehearsal 5 minutes before downbeat (rather than your usual 30 minutes). Wear a piece of clothing to your studio with a visible stain on the front. Attend a rehearsal without having practiced your part since the previous rehearsal. Throw out your lesson plan for the day and let your teaching organically flow from what you hear in your student’s performance.
  12. Set up realistic performance preparation schedules. Break down complicated pieces into baby steps. Learn one new piece at a time. Set egg timers and only work within your timelines. Let go of what you are working on when the buzzer goes off no matter what shape it is in.
  13. Set priorities and only devote your time and energy to the most important musical goals. Let the rest go!

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Are you a perfectionist? Which one of the traits of a perfectionist resonates most with you? How do you cope with your own perfectionist tendencies? Please comment below!

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Happy fluting!

75 Inspirational Composer Quotes

Welcome to another Flute Friday! Happy Easter to those celebrating this upcoming Sunday. May your Easter baskets runeth over.

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I often discuss finding musical inspiration in my weekly posts, whether in relation to playing, writing, or teaching. In some instances, however, all we really need is a few words of wisdom. In today’s blog, I offer you 75 of my favorite inspirational quotes from composers so that you too may find creative insights from the geniuses of the past. Find one that speaks to you and carry it with you to your next rehearsal or performance.

75 Inspirational Composer Quotes

1.             Claude Debussy: “Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.”

2.             Georg Frideric Handel: “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better.”

3.              Leonard Bernstein: “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”

composers bernstein

4.              Giuseppe Verdi: “To copy the truth can be a good thing, but to invent the truth is better, much better.”

5.               Bela Bartok: “Competitions are for horses, not artists.”

6.            Aaron Copland: “So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it.”

7.            Franz Liszt: “Mournful and yet grand is the destiny of the artist.”

8.            Jean Sibelius: “Music begins where the possibilities of language end.”

9.            Gustav Mahler: “I am hitting my head against the walls, but the walls are giving way.”

10.          George Gershwin: “I frequently hear music in the heart of noise.”

11.          Igor Stravinsky: “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.”

composers stravinsky

12.          Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

13.          Edward Elgar: “I always said God was against art and I still believe it.”

14.          Gustav Holst: “Music, being identical with heaven, isn’t a thing of momentary thrills, or even hourly ones. It’s a condition of eternity.”

15.          Johannes Brahms: “Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.”

16.          Ludwig van Beethoven: Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets.”

17.          Joseph Haydn: “There was no one near to confuse me, so I was forced to become original.”

18.          Arnold Schoenberg: “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.”

19.          George Bizet: “As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.”

20.          Alexander Borodin: “Music is a pastime, a relaxation from more serious occupations.”

21.          J.S. Bach: “I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

22.          Giacchino Rossini: “Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity.”

23.          Erik Satie: “The musician is perhaps the most modest of animals, but he is also the proudest.”

24.          Frederic Chopin: “Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

25.          Robert Schumann: “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.”

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26.          Frederick Delius: “There is only one real happiness in life and that is the happiness of creating.”

27.          Dmitri Shostakovich: “A creative artist works on his next composition because he was not satisfied with his previous one.”

28.          Robert Schumann: “In order to compose, all you need to do is remember a tune that nobody else has thought of.”

29.          Richard Strauss: “I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.”

30.          Hector Berlioz: “Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.”

31.          John Cage: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

32.          Charles Ives: “Every great inspiration is but an experiment.”

33.          Karlheinz Stockhausen: “I’m an adventurer. I like invention, I like discovery.”

32.          Franz Schubert: “When I wished to sing of love, it turned to sorrow. And when I wished to sing of sorrow, it was transformed for me into love.”

33.          Benjamin Britten: “The old idea of a composer suddenly having a terrific idea and sitting up all night to write it is nonsense. Nighttime is for sleeping.”

34.          Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me.”

35.          Giacomo Puccini: “Inspiration is an awakening, a quickening of all man’s faculties, and it is manifested in all high artistic achievements.”

36.          Ralph Vaughan Williams: “It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music.”

37.          Malcolm Arnold: “Music is the social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is.”

38.          Sergei Prokofiev: “I detest imitation, I detest hackneyed devices.”

39.          Maurice Ravel: “The only love affair I have ever had was with music.”

40.          Alan Hovhaness: “There is nothing like practice.”

41.          Richard Wagner: “Imagination creates reality.”

42.          Alban Berg: “Music is at once the product of feeling and knowledge, for it requires from its disciples, composers and performers alike, not only talent and enthusiasm, but also that knowledge and perception which are the result of protracted study and reflection.”

43.          Alexander Scriabin: “In love’s godlike breathing, there’s the innermost aspect of the universe.”

44.          Franz Liszt: “Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words.”

composers liszt

45.          Aaron Copland: “To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.”

46.          Luciano Berio: “In music, as I find myself forever saying, things don’t get better or worse: they evolve and transform themselves.”

47.          Igor Stravinsky; “I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.”

48.          Robert Schumann: “Nothing right can be accomplished in art without enthusiasm.”

49.          Franz Schubert: “I try to decorate my imagination as much as I can.”

50.          Igor Stravinsky: “Music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including and particularly, the coordination between man and time.”

51.          Ludwig van Beethoven: “Music is a high revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”

composers beethoven

52.          Leonard Bernstein: “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

53.          Zoltan Kodaly: “Real art is one of the most powerful forces in the rise of mankind, and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of humanity.”

54.          Toru Takemitsu: “Music is a form of prayer.”

55.          Virgil Thomson: “I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.

56.          Edgard Varese: “Contrary to general belief, an artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs.”

57.          Felix Mendelssohn: “The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.”

58.          Gustav Mahler: “Never let oneself be guided by the opinion of one’s contemporaries. Continue steadfastly on one’s way.”

59.          Johann Sebastian Bach: “It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.”

composers bach

60.          Carl Maria von Weber: “An artist’s sphere of influence is the world.”

61.          Carl Orff: “Tell me, I forget, show me, I remember, involve me, I understand.”

62.          Charles Ives: “Vagueness is at times an indication of nearness to a perfect truth.”

63.          Claudio Monteverdi: “The end of all good music is to affect the soul.”

64.          Elliott Carter: “Silences between movements are employed only in order to bring the opposing duo to the fore.”

65.          Ludwig van Beethoven: “Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.”

66.          Eric Whitacre: “A really good poem is full of music.”

67.          George Gershwin: “Life is a lot like jazz…it’s best when you improvise.”

68.          Giuseppe Verdi: “I adore art… when I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear.”

69.          John Corigliano: “Art is not only about angst.”

70.          Ludwig van Beethoven: “Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.”

 71.         Maurice Ravel: “Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.”

composers ravel

72.          Modest Mussorgsky: “Art is not an end in itself, but a means of addressing humanity.”

73.          Leonard Bernstein: “The key to the mystery of a great artist is that for reasons unknown, he will give away his energies and his life just make sure that one note follows another…and leaves us with the feeling that something is right in the world.”

74.          Richard Wagner: “Everything lives and lasts by the inner necessity of its being, by its own nature’s need.”

75.          Hector Berlioz: “Love cannot express the idea of music, while music may give an idea of love.”

 

What is your favorite composer quote? Is there a quote that really speaks to you but is not included on the above list? Please comment below!

 

Happy fluting!

 

 

Practice Blueprints – Muczynski’s Sonata for Flute and Piano

Welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday/Weekend!

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We return this week to another installment in the Practice Blueprints series. The Muczynski Sonata for Flute and Piano is a bizarre, but not quite off the tracks, genre of work that appeals to the budding flutist wanting to do something a bit different from the norm. Before diving into the piece, however, you must be prepared to put your rhythmic skills to the test. Count, then count, then count some more and count differently from what you know to be “correct.” But don’t let me scare you! Once the counting is under control, there are moments of grace and vitality that make the piece introspective at times and exciting at others. I often joke with students and colleagues that the Muczynski Sonata for Flute and Piano must have been written for or about a person falling under the Scorpio astrological sign due to the juxtaposition of extremes and “stinging” surprises (and syncopation that, at times, recalls the creepy scurrying of an insect such as a scorpion or spider). This piece appeals to anyone who finds themselves wanting to express something different from the politeness of a Bach Sonata or the over-the-top virtuosity of the French favorites. If you march to a different drummer (one that switches from 6/8 to 4/4 to 3/8 and back to 3/4 with strange syncopations in between), the Muczynski Flute Sonata will speak directly to your unique, if not unconventional, personality.

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But where to start…? Looking at the score is a bit confusing as it is not quite clear what the composer is trying to achieve even within the first movement. Today’s blog will help point all of you working on this sonata in the right direction to iron out some of the work’s technical potholes. Elbow grease is required and patience is necessary. Once the foundation is set, however, the piece evolves into the flute’s equivalent of an 80s rock ballad. Can’t you just hear Slash playing some of the patterns from the final movement on his 12-string? I know I can!

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Practice this music with SmartMusic accompaniments. One of the trickiest elements of this piece is knowing your piano cues and figuring out just how your part interacts with the piano. There is a reason that the piece is titled Sonata for Flute AND Piano. The piano accompaniment does not simply play a supporting role in this scenario but acts as an equal partner that you will be communicating with in moments of rhythmic instability. When I was learning this piece in college, I literally locked myself in a practice room with a SmartMusic setup for hours at a time just trying to listen and understand how everything fits together, particularly in the 1st and 4th movements. It is one thing to read the score and see how the notes work themselves out but it is quite another to play what is written when the harmonic foundation is not so straight forward. The inner movements are a bit more stable rhythmically speaking so they will take less time to master than the outer two. SmartMusic will help you go over the tricky bits within the privacy of your practice room, saving precious rehearsal time with your accompanist trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

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Think bigger beats when time signatures create rhythmic confusion. Okay, I must preface this by saying that you will need to subdivide EVERYTHING, of course. But, if you get lost in the subdivisions, you will most likely get run over by the steam engine of notes in the piano part. Remember that element of grace that I was referring to in the beginning of this post? It is not just reserved for the tranquil 3rd movement but in the larger melodies that exist between notes in the complicated bits of the outer movements. For example, 6 measures before rehearsal 37 in the 4th movement is a bit strange because what you see on the page is a measure that should be written in 6/8 (based on how the note stems are grouped) followed by a couple of measures in 3/4 and a strange lyrical measure that seems to drift into a slower 3/8. WTF?? Muczynski, get a grip, dude! Why not count the entire phrase in larger downbeats? Doesn’t that make more sense to the larger musical picture? Uhm, yes! First step – work out your subdivisions. Second step – find the big beats. Third step – play the music.

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Breath kicks are your friends. I have discussed breath kicks in previous blogs, but for those new to my blog, a breath kick is simply an accent you place on the downbeat to establish where the beat actually is (helping both you and your pianist stay on the same page as the music flies by). You can do this by simply adding an air accent on the beat, elongating the downbeat slightly, or by placing a bit more vibrato on the most important, anchoring notes. Breath kicks will save your life in this work. Placing a breath kick on downbeats will help you establish where the beat is when the beat is constantly changing throughout complicated time changes. For example, opening measures of the 1st movement may not necessarily change according to time signature but do feature a variety of syncopations and changing rhythms. If you look closely, Muczynski gives us hints as to where to place these breath kicks with the indication of accent marks. Use these but also add a few of your own when switching from triplets to 16th note patterns. Another section to add a few breath kicks is at rehearsal 17 in the opening movement where the time signature changes almost every measure. Breath kicks here will ground the rhythmic figures and help you communicate the beat clearly with both your pianist and your audience.

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Conduct the (ever-changing) beat with the end of your flute. Yes – you can, in fact, conduct and play the flute at the same time (whaaaat???). Practice conducting simply 2,3, and 4 beat patterns with the end of your flute while you play. It will take a bit of practice to feel confident doing this while playing difficult repertoire but if you can master it, this is one of the best pieces to practice conducting and playing. The beat will change. The subdivisions will change. The notes to emphasize will change. BUT if you are conducting in small motions with the end of your flute while you play, you will not get lost. You may even understand why the measures are barred the way they are and why Mucyznski wrote a measure that appears to be in 6/8 over a 3/4 time signature.

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You still need to be in tune for the 3rd movement. Do not let the craziness of the opening movements make you disregard intonation. Sure – the music moves along mostly in “stinging” interjections and brief moments of moving melody, however the 3rd movement requires an altogether different approach. Practice the opening measures of this movement with a tuner and be prepared for that low D at measure 31. The piano joins you on the low D and if you are out of tune, everybody within a 20 mile radius will know it. Practice playing both piano and forte dynamics with your tuner in preparation for the 3rd movement because if you are out of tune, the piano will unintentionally expose you at rehearsal 33 and again at 34. You know how the dentist is always telling you not to neglect your gums? Well, along the same lines, do not neglect your intonation when performing this piece. The 3rd movement will expose your cavities if you are not careful.

 

Have you performed Muczynski’s Sonata for Flute and Piano? What rhythmic elements did you struggle with and what did you do to iron those parts out? Have you practiced this piece with SmartMusic? How did you start your own practice of this work? Please comment below.

 

Happy fluting!

Flute Swag – Flute Bags

Welcome to another (belated) Flute Friday! Let’s talk flute bags.

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Before I begin today’s blog, I just want let everyone know that I have not been sponsored by any of these companies for my opinions. I have watched numerous YouTube product “review” videos that are not true opinions at all but rather just nice things that someone has been paid to say in exchange for an enormous box of products. My thoughts on these bags are based on solely on my experience. I have owned some of these bags and have shopped nearly all of them. Some will work better for performers with schedules, habits, and musical priorities much different than my own. There is truly a bag for everybody and I hope today’s blog will help those of you searching for a new bag find the right one for your unique flutist lifestyle.

Bags Allora

Allora Flute Bag.   My husband purchased this flute bag for me as a Christmas present several years ago and I loved it so much that I developed tunnel vision for any other flute bags on the market. What I like most about this bag is that the padding on the inner most pocket is super thick and protects your instruments well from accidental bumps and bruises (you know, for those times that you set your flute case on the edge of a table and some brass player accidentally knocks it over…or those other times when you trip over a staircase because you are late to a rehearsal… Basically, if you are accident prone, this is the case for you!). The larger outer case is a perfect spot to hide your phone and wallet while the smallest outer pocket is a very convenient place to store extra pencils, a metronome, or a tuner. The straps are great if you like to bike to your gigs as they stay put and create a light and safe package easy to transport. Speaking of travel, this bag fits perfectly below the seat of an orchestra chair or the seat in front of you on most airplanes. The downside to this bag is that you cannot fit a music folder in the largest pocket but it is just big enough to fit in too much extra stuff. I am a bit of a pack-rat (a trait I inherited from my family) and often find myself packing too much stuff in the pocket reserved solely for my instruments. This is not the fault of the bag, obviously, but if you have hording tendencies, a smaller bag might suit you better. Less space, less stuff you will be able to cram into one bag.

Bags Altieri

Altieri C Flute and Piccolo Combo (Double Pocket Model).  I scrimped and saved earnings from a summer job during my early college years to purchase this bag. Everyone had this bag and for a good reason. This is the bag that can fit everything: flute, piccolo, wire music stand, any and all accessories, music in a variety of shapes and sizes, books, a wallet, your lunch, phone, change of clothes for the gym, etc. (#packrat). Sometimes you just want everything you could possibly want or need in one place and this bag accomplishes just that. The thing that I love the most about this bag is that the outside pockets are big enough to hold those ginormous folders assigned in bands and orchestras or weird, oversized scores that you would love to reduce on a copy machine but doing so renders the music impossible to read by human eyes. I also really like that there is a designated compartment for your piccolo that does not touch the designated space for the flute case. The shoulder strap can be adjusted to be worn as a cross-body bag and the handle is extremely sturdy. This is a great bag if you need to haul a lot of stuff to and from gigs or practice sessions. The cons of this bag are that the padding is not the best (nowhere near as sturdy as the Allora bag) and the nylon outer pockets are a bit thin and wear down at the bottom over time. Again, if you are a pack-rat, avoid this bag. You will be lugging around waaay too much stuff you know you do not need just because it will fit (you and I both know that you do not need ALL THE MUSIC with you at all times, amiright?).

Bags Cavallaro

Cavallero C Flute/Piccolo Backpack.  Most new, professional series flutes come with a Cavellero style outer case. The fluffy padding on the inside of Cavellero cases is magical. Very soft yet very durable – It is like a fluffy pillow protecting your flute from the outside world (It will be all right. You are safe in here with the magical fluff, my precious). With that design in mind, the C Flute/Piccolo Backpack offers the same lining in the largest pocket with designated compartments for both your flute and piccolo and ample room for smaller scores. The outer pocket is a bit bigger and can fit larger scores (although I am skeptical that a large orchestra folder will fit in this pocket….) and there is a handy compartment for a water bottle on the outermost pocket. Stay hydrated! This is a great bag for keeping everything locked, loaded, organized and limited to the necessities. If you want to streamline your practice by focusing strictly on the priorities or only want to take the essentials with you to rehearsal, this bag is for you. The top zipper is also good for those of us that may be accident prone and the backpack straps may be converted to a shoulder strap if you prefer to wear this bag cross-body style. Of course, the downside is that you will not be able to pack a ton of music and accessories into this model the way you can with the Altieri bag. This may actually be a good thing for us pack-rats but if you need to pack for a number of different types of rehearsals, a bigger bag that can accommodate more might suit you better.

Bags Olanthe

Olathe Flute and Piccolo Bag. This bag is very similar to the Altieri bag, however rather than keeping the instruments in the innermost pocket, they are given separate, fleece-lined pockets on the outside of the bag, reserving the single, thinner, inside pocket for music and accessories. The idea is a good one to keep organized by providing everything its own, designated space and limiting any tendency to cram more items than can fit in one area, however the accident-prone player might want to find a bag with a bit more protection. What I love about this bag is that it is very easy to access what you need quickly. For example, if you are player that switches frequently between flute and piccolo in rehearsal, having an easy compartment to access your piccolo (or quickly put your piccolo away when not in use) will save you a ton of time and annoyance from having to search for your cases in a larger bag. This is a great bag for the hyper-organized and super-efficient player who prefers to have everything easily accessible at all times.

Bags Patillo

Pattillo Fluterscooter Bag. This is an awesome bag for those of you who need to carry a ton of extra stuff all.of.the.time. The new Patillo Fluterscooter Bag reminds me of those old-school Adidas gym bags everybody used to have in the 90s (but, of course, tailored moreso for the busy flutist than the bodybuilder). You can literally fit everything! There is even more space than the Altieri bag (if I had had this in college, I would have saved $25/semester on an instrument locker). I think one of the best things about this bag is that your instruments can sit flat rather than upright (my repair guy warned me that storing your instruments flat prevents accidental damage that may occur during travel). This is the perfect bag for an avid flute choir performer who switches frequently between several instruments. If you are a pack-rat, you will be immediately attracted to this bag. I love love love love the outer pocket for smaller accessories because it is super sturdy and will hold all of your electronics, smaller instrument stands, pencils, pocket music dictionary (do we still use these?), ear plugs, and much more. The outer pockets on both Altieri and Olathe bags are not nearly as rugged as this one. And just imagine how much music you can fit into the largest pocket! #marathonpracticesessionanyone

Bags Fluterscooter

Fluterscooter Case Cover. For several years, I have salivated over these bags. I have walked by professionals at flute conventions carrying the beautiful silver models, sleek red and black patent leather styles, and even passed by Vivian Guzman herself carrying the very stylish ocean blue design (this color is even more gorgeous in person than it is online). Although they were very chic, I was always a bit concerned that they would not be big enough to hold both my flute and piccolo (which my Allora bag held nicely). I was happily surprised recently when I bit the bullet and finally ordered the Spring Lilac bag to find that these bags do, indeed, hold both instruments with room to spare. What makes these bags so unique is that they are the most stylish bags on the market. There is a color and style to fit just about any performer. Every musician backstage has a boring, industry approved, black nylon carrying case. Sturdy, does the job, but nothing to write home about. Fluterscooter bags add a splash a color to a bleak backstage while remaining supportive and functional. We are creative artists, aren’t we? Shouldn’t our cases express our individuality? Uhm, yes. What I love most about the bag, however, is the hefty nylon strap on the inside that wraps around your flute case, securing it directly to the bag. My Allora does not have that and the Altieri only has a flimsy drawstring on the inside of the bag for the same purpose. For an accident-prone person like myself, I am very confident that if something happens during travel, or simply because I am a klutz, my flute will not jimmy around in its outer case causing unexpected damage. Of course, the only downside is that you cannot carry your music in this bag (unless you fold it…eeek!!). As part of my anti pack-rat therapy, I am okay with this. My solution is to invest in a really sturdy orchestra-type black music folder with bungees on the outside that can hold all of my music in one place. Works brilliantly! (And prevents me from packing my entire house into a bulky bag for rehearsals.) Chic and streamline. Two thumbs up, Fluterscooter 😊. P.S. If you need a bag that can hold more but still want some style, be sure to check out Fluterscooter’s backpack and messenger bag styles.

Bags Final

There are many other bags on the market, but these remain the most popular bags on display at conventions and used in greenrooms around the country. All of these bags have pros and cons and appeal to different personalities and performer types. For example, the hyper-organized performer would do well with the Cavellero backpack or the Olathe bag while the super busy, multi-instrument performer would get the most bang for their buck with the Patillio or Altieri bags and, of course, the fashionista would dig a Fluterscooter bag with tons of personality.

 

What type of bag would fit your priorities and tastes? Do you own a bag not on this list that you love and how does it differ from the other bags? What do you look for in a flute case or gig bag? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

Practice Blueprints – Doppler’s Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise

Welcome to a new Flute Friday! It’s time for another installment of Practice Blueprints.

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This week I will be discussing Francois Doppler’s Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise, a work that embraces the nationalistic vibe of the late Romantic era but also adds a bit of the famous French Flute School flair that we all know and love. Whenever I hear this piece, I immediately envision a circus. The melancholy yet mysterious opening sets the stage upon a quiet village awaiting the arrival and set up of the tents (spinning scales even suggest wind lightly blowing against polyester fabric). The following Andantino Moderato cuts to the tightrope walker who nearly falls to an untimely death in the proceeding cadenza. The Allegro at measure 120 ushers in the lions who perform spectacular tricks including jumping through increasingly magnificent hoops of fire. The jugglers interrupt at the Moderato where the line is quite literally broken into two separate voice followed by short scales moving up, then down, then back up again, mimicking objects being tossed through the air. The concluding Allegro is the grand curtain call signaling the end of the performance (perhaps fireworks? But…we don’t want to scare those lions). This work demands creative interpretation. Maybe you do not see a circus. Do you see a cityscape in a foreign country? Is this a rock concert or a trip to an amusement park? However you interpret the music, the most important part of delivering a convincing performance is changing things up from one section to the next. This is not one of those clever works that transports a single musical idea from clarity to instability and back again. It is a series of scenes. The follow practice guidelines in today’s blog will help you create variety in your performance based on your vision of the world that Doppler inspires in this work. Sure, we will also talk about some of the mechanics, but creating a story is how we make those mechanics meaningful.

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  1. Map out your color plan. In previous blogs, I have talked about the importance of developing a tone color plan (aka coloring your music) based on your interpretation of how certain colors relate to sound quality. For example, for me, a pale-yellow color etched into my music suggests a hollow, delicate, creepy sound with very little vibrato at a p-pp dynamic level while a red indicates a robust, climatic sound with more vibrato and volume than is necessary.  This is the perfect work to experiment with tone colors because it demands tonal change from one section to the next. What color do you think the opening Molto Andante suggests? How does that differ from the following Andantino Moderato? What musical and interpretative elements in the music make you associate a particular section to a particular color? Ask yourself these questions to develop your own tone color spectrum. Finally, apply that spectrum to each section of the piece and literally color your music to fit your tone color plan. By keeping your sound changing, you will bring an exciting element of variety to your performance and a stronger connection to your own interpretation. This is an essential difference between a good performance and an exceptional one.

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  1. Map out your rubato. I have also discussed how to effectively use rubato in past blogs, but as it pertains to Doppler, rubato is crucial to painting your vision of the underlying story. If you look carefully at the music, you will notice that nearly each section of the piece includes its own cadenza. As with any cadenza, the interpretation is up to you, however Doppler gives us many clues as to which notes are the most important using carefully placed fermatas (okay, okay, okay – these may have actually been Jean-Pierre Rampal’s editorial decisions, but they are good ones). An easy way to approach these critical notes is to slow down as you approach and move away from each fermata. Carefully consider moments outside of cadential passages where important notes appear in the texture and how you may use rubato to bring these notes to the forefront. For example, in the Poco Piu Allegro section, you may begin the phrase slower, working your way up to tempo, then slowing back down on the last few notes before the longer dotted eighth note E natural at the top of the phrase to bring this note out of the texture. This is even more important in the following phrase between the low B natural and high E natural eighth notes. Identify these “rockstar” notes throughout the piece and create a similar rubato plan to bring them out of the texture. Like creating a tonal plan, planning out your rubato with an eye toward bringing out critical notes will add much needed variety to your performance while keeping the music unique and interesting.

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  1. Practice your flexibility exercises. This work demands the performer to quickly transition from the depths of the lowest register to the highest of the high notes and back again rather quickly and quite frequently. You must prepare your embouchure for Olympic level gymnastics. Time to some quality time with the Trevor Wye practice book on Tone and Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #10. Both of these books include excellent flexibility studies to help strengthen your embouchure in preparation for works such as the Doppler. Add these studies to your normal practice routine and strive to keep your sound consistent throughout the registers.

 

  1. Dual Voices. In the final Moderato (or what I like to think of as the juggling scene), there is a brief section written in what appears to be two voices. Of course, Doppler is again helping us pick out the most important notes in each measure by splitting the melody, but just how do we create the impression of two voice rather than one. Fortunately, this is a musical question posed by Karg Elert in his 30 Caprices, which features a number of exercises written in the same two voice format (Is this a French thing, or what?). A bit of vibrato and an added sparkle of an accent on the upper voices will help emphasize the second line, however to really practice this technique, quality time with the Karg Elert will be required. Are these few measures a subtle, compositional “shout out” to Karg Elert?

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  1. Refine those triplet grace notes. There are grace notes littered throughout this work, particularly in patterns of triplets. Hope you are good at playing triplets! If not, another exercise you may consider adding to your daily warm ups is simply practicing your scales by placing triplet grace notes, either alternating with the note above or in a series of surrounding turns, before each note in all major and minor, two octave scales. Focus on creating sharp, yet snappy, figures that translate to the same type of notes required in the Doppler. Keeping these grace notes as light as air is key. Use a light touch and keep your fingers close to the keys to eliminate any unnecessary extra movements.

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Creating a story and developing a tonal and rhythmic plan to correspond to your story is a good way to breathe life into Dopper’s Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise. With the right practice techniques, and supporting daily exercises to develop these techniques, the mechanics of the work will support your interpretation of the music, creating a memorable and meaningful performance for both you and your audience.

 

What do you picture when you hear this piece? How do you translate that picture into sound? What does your color plan look like for this work? What other exercises do you practice in conjunction with the Doppler? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

Dos and Don’ts of Deep Practice

Welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday!

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I have discussed goal setting and how to effectively organize practice time in previous blog postings, but I have not yet touched on the differences between effective and ineffective practice techniques. Numerous books have been published about the necessary evil of practice, covering topics from practice time management, playing from the heart, relaxation, and self-evaluation. The gist of many of these books is that practice makes perfect (as the saying goes). Well…that is only partly true. Smart practice makes perfect. Mindless, repetitive practice, however, is simply a waste of effort (ain’t nobody got time for that). Today’s blog is devoted to the dos and don’ts of practicing. How can we make the most of the one-on-one time we spend with our music? What is the difference between 10 minutes spent drilling scales and 10 minutes spent woodshedding technical passages in Bach Sonatas? What are the future effects of “deep practice”?

In his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle discusses the idea of “deep practice,” which, simply stated, is the process of stopping, stumbling, and working through mistakes. To create a stronger performance, or learn new skills, we must give ourselves permission to make mistakes and learn from our errors. Do not be afraid to confront your practice demons! Deep practice forces us to slow down and, as Coyle states, “operate at the edge of your ability.” (pg. 26) This is essentially the biggest difference between effective and ineffective practice. Effective practice requires us to examine our weaknesses with a large magnifying glass and patiently seek solutions. Sometimes the answer is simply to slow down. Other times we must take apart the entire passage, practicing it in chunks, or in different rhythms, or transposing it to different keys. Deep practice demands that we face the struggle and, as Tim Gunn from Project Runway says, “make it work.”

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On a biological level, the process of deep practice encourages the growth of myelin in our brains, which helps us permanently retain whatever we struggle to learn. What the heck is myelin?? Myelin is a protein-rich fatty material that coats and insulates nerves, creating, as Coyle suggests, a brain activity code. Whenever we learn a new skill, electrical signals are circulated between neurons connected by axons (thread-like extensions). When these signals fire repeatedly along axons, myelin-producing cells recognize the repeating signal and wrap myelin (or white matter) around the active circuit wiring. Okay – boring science talk done. What this means is that the myelin our brains collect during the deep practice ritual is protecting what we learn for later retention (like saran wrap for skills). We are literally programing our brains to remember patterns. Struggling in the short term, therefore, has significant power to create lasting results. Remember this the next time you are frustrated trying to master that impossible run in Chant de Linos.

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It is very easy to fall into the trap of mindless practice. Often, when the time comes to focus on musical problems needing our attention, we lose interest, or, more likely, the struggle intimidates us into procrastination. Struggle is uncomfortable. It is easier to simply clock our hours playing pieces we like that do not challenge us. I have been there. I have even programed recitals featuring only pieces I like or ones that I know will be easy, making the inevitable struggle easier to stomach. Did I create new skills preparing these recitals? Rarely. Did I produce new myelin? Probably not. The pieces that presented me with a challenge, however, are the ones that have stuck with me. Why? Because I remember the struggle and the ways I won the battle with my own mind. They are the reason I write this blog. They are the reason I seek out new challenges and learn new pieces that make me uncomfortable up front but move me forward toward my goals in the end. Muscle memory obtained from mindless practice is not reliable (a memory slip early in the Carmen Fantasie at my Junior Recital taught me that the hard way). Skills obtained through deep practice, however, last forever. That is the difference between effective and ineffective practice.

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That was a long introduction to a Dos and Don’ts list, but it is important to understand the idea of deep practice before identifying small ways that we can incorporate the concept into our own practice. As you read through this list, think about some of the ways you can bring deep practice into your next practice session. Where are your struggles? What can you do to stop, stumble, and correct?

Dos and Don’t’s of Effective Practicing

DO begin your practice session with a plan. What are your priorities during this time? What would you like to accomplish by the end of your session?

DON’T warm up by playing through an entire piece that you “like” just to inspire you to practice what you don’t like later. I like to think of playing through these types of pieces as the dessert course to my practice session. If I can get through the appetizers and the main course successfully, then I may indulge in dessert.

DO bracket sections in your music that you are struggling with. These include complicated runs, long phrases that are difficult to perform in single breathes, and passages that are difficult to keep in tune.

DON’T spend too much time playing through beautiful melodies already under your fingers. Yeah, I know – They are pretty and easy to play and make you feel good. Save them for the end. Playing through these is often a clever way to procrastinate working on the scary bits which actually need our attention.

DO find new ways to practice scales. Find new scale exercises! Use scales to practice new articulation or to work on finding a better center to your tone in different dynamics or through different tone colors.

DON’T mindlessly drill scales. Taffanel and Gaubert is a great exercise but it does not need to sound the same. every. time. you. play. it. Experiment with one of the many scale games available for this exercise. Make up your own!

DO pull out that etude book that made you cry once upon a time and look at it with fresh, more experienced, eyes. What skills can you work on using these exercises? Challenge yourself to conquer what you once thought was impossible.

DON’T avoid difficult etude books in favor of easier, more attainable, studies. Don’t simply practice studies your students are working on because you want them to sound good in lessons. Remember – always practice at the edge of your ability.

DO download the entire part to famous orchestral works that contain famous excerpts. There is, for example, much more to the Firebird Suite than the firebird movement. Understanding the work as a whole will help you understand how the technical passages fit within the context of the piece.

DON’T just stick to the orchestral excerpt book. Although these books are great for collecting all the most famous excerpts in one place, they only tell part of the story. Audition committees can tell when you do not actually know what is happening in and around the music you are playing.

DO select to work on pieces that you believe are waaaaay out of your ability. Watch YouTube videos to search for performances of pieces that sound challenging but very exciting. Face what intimidates you! It may not be as scary as you think.

DON’T program those same, boring French pieces that you have played a million times since high school simply because they are easy to work up to performance quality. You know the ones I am talking about! There is no challenge there. Myelin has already been created for those pieces. Create new collections of myelin!

DO set goals for your playing. What level would you like to reach in your flute playing? What groups are you hoping to join? Which pieces would you love to learn and perform? Which works would you like to memorize? What techniques would you like to master? When will you host your next recital? What will your program consist of? Remind yourself of these goals each time you sit down to practice. What small measure can you take to get you one step closer to your goals?

DON’T settle for your current rut. There are always new pieces to learn, new performing groups to participate in, new performances waiting for you to host, new skills to experiment with, new classes to take, and new challenges to be met. Find them! Your playing is not defined as a single category. It is ever-changing. Be the agent of change!

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How do you challenge yourself to make the most out of your practice sessions? What techniques to you use to achieve moments of “deep practice”? How do you snap out of mindless practice? What do you do to play at the edge of your ability? Please comment below!

 

Happy fluting (and practicing)!