Month: September 2015

Who in the World is Henri Busser? – Lesser Known French Flute School Composers

Welcome to this week’s edition of Flute Friday! *enter majestic flute music accompanied by harps and trumpets*

In your life as a flutist you will undoubtedly come into contact with the collection of 19th century flute works from the seminal book, Flute Music by French Composers for Flute and Piano, edited by Louis Moyse. The works in this book are staples of flute repertoire and contain pieces by famous French Flute School composers such as Paul Taffanel, Gabriel Faure and Philippe Gaubert. There are also a few pieces by composers that are quite obscure. It is often very important to understand who the composer is in order to properly understand the underlying style of a piece and any hidden characteristic compositional traits buried within the texture. I have composed the following short biographies on some of these lesser known composers so that those of you working on these pieces may discover new approaches to the music by examining the life and work of the artist behind its conceptualization. Enjoy!

  1.  Henri Busser – Prelude et Scherzo. Henri Busser was known in France primarily as a composer, conductor, arranger and educator. Born in January 1872 in Toulouse, France, Busser’s began his musical training at the Ecole Niedermeyer under Alexander George before entering the Paris Conservatoire in 1889 to study organ with César Franck and composition with Ernest Guiraud. After serving as organist at Saint Cloud in 1892, he won the Prix de Rome in 1893 and began his career as a conductor at the Opera-Comique in Paris. Here he became the protégé of Jules Massenet and was appointed as the chief conductor at the Grand Opera, a post he remained in until 1939. Busser led the 4th and numerous subsequent performances of Claude Debussy’s Pellets et Melisande and in 1921 began teaching at the Paris Conservatoire where he was later promoted to Professor of Composition in 1931. He was elected as a member of the Academie francais in 1938 and married French soprano Yvonne Gall in 1958 at the age of 86 (this was a bit of a scandal as Busser was 12 years her senior). Busser’s former students include Henri Challan and Japanese composer Tomojiro Ikenouchi. His most important works include the operas Daphnis et Chloe, Colomba and Les noces corinthiennes and his compositional style adheres to the traditional 19th century French tradition. Henri Busser died on December 30, 1973 at the age of 101.  untitled (28)
  2. Alphonse Duvernoy – Concertino. Alphonse Duvernoy was a renowned French pianist, composer and son of the noted bass-baritone Charles-Francois Duvernoy. Born in August 30, 1842, Duvernoy studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire in 1886 with Antoine Marmontel, Francois Bazin and August Barbereau and later became a piano virtuoso, composer and professor of piano at the Conservatoire de Paris (date unknown). His 1880 symphonic poem, La tempete for soloists, chorus and orchestra (based on Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest) won Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris in 1900. In 1892, Duvernoy produced his first opera, Sardanapale, at the Theatre Royal, Liege. Other notable works include the two-act ballet, Bacchus, produced at the Paris Opera in 1902 and many shorter piano, chamber and orchestral pieces. His students include Alexander Winkler and Norah Drewett de Kresz. Duvernoy died in Paris on March 7, 1907. untitled (30)
  3. George Enesco (Enescu) – Cantabile et Presto. This composer is probably the most “famous” on today’s blog and almost did not make the obscure composer list… George Enesco is regarded as Romania’s most important musician. Born on August 19, 1881 in Lieveni, Romania, Enesco was a child prodigy on the violin and composed his first work, Pamint romanesc (Romanian Land) at the age of 5. The inscription on this work reads, “Opus for piano and violin by George Enescu Romanian composer, aged five years and a quarter.” At the age of 7, he entered the Vienna Conservatory, the youngest student ever admitted, to study violin with Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr. Robert Fuchs and Sigismund Bachrich. In 1895, Enesco entered the Paris Conservatoire and studied composition and violin with Andre Gadalge. Premièring his first mature work, Poeme Romana with the Colonne Orchestra, at the age of 16, he went on to win first prize in violin at the Paris Conservatoire in 1899. Enesco’s compositional style is influenced heavily by Romanian Folk music and his most popular compositions include two Romanian Rhapsodies (1901-2) and the Opera Oedipe (1936). On January 8, 1923, Enesco made his American début as conductor in a concert hosted by the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City and returned to New York to conduct the New York Philharmonic between 1937-8. In 1939 he married Maria Rosetta (known at that time as Princess Cantacuzino through her first husband, Mihail Cantacuzino), and remained in Paris after the Soviet occupation of Romania in World War II. Enesco was a noted violin teacher whose students included Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ivey Gitils and Joan Field. Enesco died in Paris on May 4, 1955. Today, Bucharest houses a museum in his memory and the Bacau International Airport in Romania was renamed the George Enescu International Airport shortly after the composer’s death. untitled (29)
  4. Louis Ganne – Andante et Scherzo. Known primarily as one of the leading composers of lighter music in France, Louis Ganne was born in the Auveryne region of France on April 5, 1862 and grew up in Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the suburbs of Paris. Ganne studied composition under Cesar Franck and Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatorie and served as conductor at the Nouveau Theatre de la Rue Banche and at the Follies-Bergere. He is recognized today for popular patriotic marches such as Le pere la victories and La marche Lorraine (1892) which became a battle song for the Free French during World War II. Although many of his operettas are now rarely performed, Ganne’s most successful light opera is the circus musical, Les Satimbanques (The Acrobats), composed in 1899. Ganne was perhaps most recognized for his very popular concert series, Les Concerts de Louis Gannet, hosted at the Monte Carlo Casino. Louis Ganne died in Paris on July 13, 1923. untitled (26)
  5. Albert Perilhou – Ballade. Albert Perilhou was a French composer, organist and pianist. Born in Duazaman, Ariege on April 2, 1846, he studied organ at an early age at the Niedermeyer School where he met Saint-Saens. Perilhou began his early career as organist and piano teacher in Saint-Etienne, France and became professor of piano at the Conservatoire de Lyon in 1883. In 1889 he became organist of Saint-Severin and subsequently organist of Saint-Eustace in 1905 and 1906. In 1910 Perilhou was named as the director of the Niedermeyer School. Composer of several pieces for piano, organ, orchestra and voice, he was renowned for his improvisational techniques in the 18th century style and preferred delicacy over virtuosic writing. Perilhou died on August 28, 1936 in Tain-I’Hermitage, France. untitled (27)

I hope these short biographies help you in your practice of these works, knowing now that a concert pianist may approach writing for the flute in a different style as an organist or a violinist. Please let me know if you have any other research on these composers and I will be happy to update their bios.

Have you performed these pieces before? How has learning about a composer’s background and style influenced your performance approach? Please comment below!

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First Lessons – Nice to Meet You! Let’s Learn How to Play the Flute

It is Flute Friday once again! I wish my flute knew that it was Flute Friday and would, by some sort of Harry Potter magic, play everything perfectly without my help to celebrate.

For most of us the new school year is well under way. This is the time of year when many new flute students, or continuing flute students not yet studying privately, approach flute teachers for introductory lessons. The first lesson with any student is tricky. As a teacher you not yet familiar with their strengths and weaknesses and as a student you probably have no idea how strict (or, in my case, eccentric) your teacher will be. Parents are also concerned with how younger students will progress in your studio and what their responsibility is in their child’s study. So many question marks!

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As I mentioned in my last blog, I moved to Houston recently and have already taught a handful of introductory lessons so far this school year in my new community. Although I presume that many of you have your own systems and lesson plans in your practices, I have found some of the below approaches quite successful in preparing for introductory lessons. I hope these suggestions are helpful to new teachers or ones looking for new ways to relate to parents and students at the first lesson.

If the student is a beginner (meaning they have 0 experience with the flute or flute playing), the first place to begin is with the headjoint. We must establish a sound before we add the keys, notes, rhythm, breath control, etc. Work with your student to achieve a strong, steady sound by placing the lip plate at the bottom center of the lips and, with the right hand, roll the headjoint back and forth to find what we call the “sweet spot” (this is just a hokey way of describing the angle and alignment of the embrochure that will produce the best quality of sound). Once the tone is established you can demonstrate to your student how to play a rather abstract version of Mary Had a Little Lamb simply using the headjoint (did you know you could do this??). Make an “L” with your right hand and place the open end of the headjoint in the bend of the “L”. Blow across the headjoint to sound the pitch. This will be the highest note in the tune. To play the middle note, curve the index finger around the headjoint and lightly curve the 2nd and 3rd fingers around the space outside of the headjoint. Again, blow across the headjoint to sound the pitch. This will represent the middle note of the song. Finally, to produce the lowest tone, curve the fingers completely around the space outside of the headjoint and again blow across the lip plate to create the sound. Mary Had a Little Lamb follows the sequence below:

High, middle, low, middle, high, high, high (pause), middle, middle, middle (pause), high, high, high (pause), high, middle, low, middle, high, high, high, high, middle, middle, high, middle, high.

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They have just played their first piece!! Of course it will not sound exactly like the notes in the tune but it will be generally within the ballpark. With this simple song in their head, it is time to learn the first few notes. At this point you can demonstrate how to properly put the instrument together and how to align the tone hole with the center of the first key. The first 3 fingerings they will learn are B, A, G (as in “this piece is in the BAG”…. I said I was a little eccentric!). Take them through these fingering and then apply them to the notes in Mary Had a Little Lamb:

B, A, G, A, B, B, B (pause), A, A, A, B, B, B (pause), B, A, G, A, B, B, B, B, A, A, B, A, G.

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From here I lead them through the fingerings for a simple C major scale in the middle octave, assigning them to master these fingerings for their next lesson from memory (without the help of their fingering chart). I also assign introductory lessons from their workbook (I am partial to the Rubank beginner series but you may have your own favorites) for homework. With the remainder of the lesson we discuss proper posture (both sitting and standing) and tips on breathing (this may include an introduction to “frog breathing” depending on how much time is still left in their lesson). Finally we discuss practice – how to structure, how much to practice each day, what tools they will need to properly practice (music stand, water, pencil) and I distribute practice cards. All beginning students are required to submit practice card so I can get an idea of how much they are practicing and where they are devoting most of their time. This way we can look for better ways to plan their flute playing over busy weeks and how to get the most out of shorter practice session.

This is typically more than enough material for the first lesson with a beginner. Often a beginner will have questions or will want to discuss goals or songs they would like to learn at this first lesson. Make sure to jot everything down in their notebooks so you can begin to research and assign music in subsequent lessons.

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I typically ask students that have already been playing for 1 or more years to prepare 2 pieces or excerpts of their choice – one fast and one slow. This allows me to gage both their sound quality and mastery of technique. There are 3 “P”s that I always address at the first lesson – posture, pulse and practice. The very first thing I monitor is how they stand, how they hold the flute and how much (or little) do they move their arms when they play. Depending on what we need to work on, I will lead them through some Alexander Technique based exercises or work on the trampoline before moving on to rhythmic exercises such as marching and playing or working with an egg shaker. Finally we discuss practice – how they structure their time and what exercises we will use for long tones, scales (cue Taffanel and Gaubert), and what pieces they would like to work on (even if it is just a certain style that we discuss). The lesson always ends with an improvisation exercise – because sometimes we need to remember that music is simply an act of communication and expression. Please see my Practicing Improvisation blog for more information about this exercise.

I hope that these lesson plans give you some ideas on how to design your own first lessons, or, if you are a student, what to expect at an introductory lesson with a new teacher. Do you have other approaches to first lessons? Do you have a first lesson experience that really stands out as a positive experience? Please comment below!

Creating an Empire – Building (or Expanding) a Flute Studio

Welcome to another edition of Flute Friday!

This week’s post addresses a topic that I am facing in my own career and hopefully those of you in similar situations can benefit from my research. Roughly a month ago I moved from California to Houston with the intent of setting up my flute studio in a new location at the beginning of the 15-16 school year. I am finding, however, that advertising my practice and recruiting students is just as difficult in Houston as it was at my previous home in Davis. A few years ago I came across a wonderful e-book from Lloyd Steiner entitled Make a Fortune Teaching Private Music Lessons and, although I was initially skeptical of the overly optimistic title, found the following simple suggestions quite helpful and in some cases extremely eye opening. This book helped me develop my blog and expand my twitter following. Although we may not “make a fortune” as the book promises, these tips will hopefully help all of us develop our practice and bring the gift of flute playing to more students far and wide.

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Develop a blog. I did it – and you can too! A blog is a great platform for sharing your pedagogical ideas, tips and tricks for your students, research pursuits and studio expectations and policies. It is also a good place to share articles and link to other blogs within our flute community.

Offer a free masterclass at a local school. This is a great opportunity for students to try before they buy and really helps you bring group exercises to a larger audience. Watching light bulbs go on all around you using a simple phrase or exercise is absolutely priceless.

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Create an instructional video and upload to YouTube. Yeah, okay, I’ve only made one of these (“Practicing Improvisation”) and probably should make a few more (*adding to my list of projects) but instructional videos not only help you to develop a web presence but also give your current students an opportunity to participate in videos. This is a great way to confront the onset stage fright by removing the stage and performing in a safe space.

Perform a free recital at a local church or school. This is another really good, direct way to advertise who you are as a performer and what strengths you bring to the table for future students. In my notes I placed a big, red “DUH” next to this tip. A performance of any type is by far the best recruitment technique under the sun.

Create some old school flyers. There are numerous flyer templates in standard word processing programs such as Microsoft Word and, with a few personal touches like photos and quotes, you can create some stunningly beautiful advertisements. Post these on bulletin boards at community centers, cafes, churches, Starbucks and hotel lobbies. These can also be sent as PDF files to local schools and music centers.

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Ask Former Students for Testimonials. Testimonials can easily be added to your website or other promotional materials and provide validation to potential parents and students that your methods are effective. These also outline exactly what new students can expect from you as a teacher.

Promotional Swag. Pencils, key chains, cleaning cloths, tote bags and other such freebies with your studio’s logo will help new and current students advertise your studio to their friends and colleagues. Corporate companies use branding in the same way to spread their company name far and wide and musicians can also use this simple marketing technique on items that students need anyways to become successful musicians.

Join Local Teaching Societies and Flute Clubs. Organizations often have teacher directories that you can add your name to and other teachers with whom you can share contact information for referrals. Here you will meet musicians who may also give you some great advice regarding where to advertise or which band and orchestra directors to contact who may be searching for private teachers for their students.

Teach Skype Lessons. Teaching Skype lessons is not only easy but also allows you to stay connected to former students all over the globe. These are also great for students that may find a post on your blog that they like and want some further instruction or development on the techniques mentioned on your page.

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Do you have other recruitment techniques that have been successful in your practice? Have any of these techniques helped you recruit students? Please comment below!

I Sound Horrible!!!! – Top 10 Flute Tone Improvement Tips

Welcome to another edition of Flute Friday!

Whenever I am nervous prior to a performance or audition, the first thing to go is my sound. What was beautiful and crystal clear 24 hours ago suddenly turns into a strangled, airy, tense, cacophony of sound reminiscent of a dying cat. I typically leave the scene of the crime ashamed and confused, knowing very well that that was not the type of flute tone I had wished to project to the world. After experiencing a handful of unsuccessful auditions, I have researched several ways to improve overall flute tone, strengthen embouchure flexibility, and develop a larger, yet reliable, volume of sound. The following top 10 list of tips and tricks is designed to help all of you in Flute Land strengthen your own sound and silence the dying cat within.

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1. Posture.  Having proper flute posture is the foundation of flute playing. The way you hold yourself and the instrument drastically alters your sound quality, fluidity of technique, and ease of breathing. Sit or stand with your back straight and your head positioned up and forward. Hold your flute as close to parallel with the floor as comfortable (at no more than a 20-degree angle). Make sure to keep one foot slightly in front of the other when standing and properly balance your weight between both feet. While sitting, position yourself at an angle to the music keeping both feet on the floor.

2. Air Support.  Tense air leads to tense sound. Remember all of those times that your band and/or orchestra director screamed, “AIR SUPPORT!” in the general direction of the woodwind section during rehearsal? Taking a proper breath and supporting your tone with a steady air stream will center your tone, adding appropriate depth to your sound.

3. Aperture.  The space where your lips meet to form the opening for your air stream is referred to as the aperture. A larger aperture creates an airy tone that is quite difficult to control. Practice creating a smaller aperture by practicing long tones in mirror. Faster, more concentrated air will produce a stronger, clearer sound.

4. Record Yourself.  Sometimes the tone you hear up close is nothing like the tone others hear at a distance. Unfortunately, your ears can deceive you! Recording yourself and listening critically to your tone may uncover tendencies you did not even know you had.  Use your smartphone to create basic recordings or, for better sound quality, invest in a handheld Zoom recorder: Zoom ZH1 H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder (Black) . Remember: Recordings are mirrors for your ears.

5. Long Tones.  This one falls under the “duh” category. Devote time each day to practicing a specific range (low, middle, high) and listen closely to the quality of sound produced on each note. Does the sound change from note to note? Aim to use the same tone on all notes throughout the range of the instrument. A great resource to practice long tones is Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for Flute on Tone (Available on Amazon: Trevor Wye Practice Book for the Flute: Volume 1 – Tone Book Only), which includes a variety of exercises in each octave range. Practicing long tones for 15-20 minutes a day will gradually yet drastically improve your sound over time. It has been rumored that even James Galway devotes at least an hour of practice to long tones per day. Can you match this for at least 1 week?

6. Embouchure Alignment.  Align the flute on the lower lip so that the edge of the tone hole lines up with the edge of your lower lip. Most flutists tend to hold the flute higher on the lips than necessary. I remember this tip scribbled across several pages of my flute lesson notebook in my youth but still need to remind myself from time to time to lower my flute.

7. Angle your Airstream.  Because only about 1/3 of the air we use goes into the flute and the rest is blown across the tone hole, the angle of the air going into the instrument effects the quality of tone produced by that air. Several years ago, I was taught to aim my air across the room to an area where the farthest wall meets the ceiling. This helped me to keep my pitch from drooping and my tone from falling flat. It is difficult to remember to do this when you are nervous, however, an arrow pointed in the direction of that spot marked on your score serves as a convenient visual reminder to properly aim your air. Keep in mind that what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Experiment by angling your air both slightly higher (toward the ceiling) and slightly lower (toward the floor) until you find your ideal sound.

8. Tone Hole Coverage.  As I was researching for this blog, I had an AHA moment when I remembered that generally only 1/3 of the tone hole should be covered by the lips. If too much of the hole is left uncovered, the tone will be airy. I have been experimenting with the placement of my headjoint for several years now, positioning the tone hole more to the left of standard alignment, after attending a masterclass where I was told that most flutists align their headjoints too far to the right (or closer to the body). I now recall, however, that my childhood flute teacher was always trying to get me to examine not the position of the headjoint but the amount of lip covering the tone hole! Starting today, I will be practicing long tones in a mirror to rectify a past “bad” habit! Conversely, if you are covering too much of the tone hole, your sound will be pinched and flat. Use a mirror to monitor and correct coverage. Your tone will magically improve.

9. Harmonics.  Practicing harmonics is like working on the very foundation of sound production. A simple harmonic warm-up exercise is to play a low C and, by moving your lips slightly forward with each new pitch and increasing air speed between notes, sound a low C, middle C, middle G, high C, high E, high G and even a high Bb using the same fingering for a low C. When you return the lower register, you will notice a larger, more rounded and significantly more colorful sound.

10.   Practice Outdoors.  When I was growing up on my family’s tree farm in rural Northern Idaho, I often practiced in our old barn which conveniently contained a smaller space that was once an enclosed storage room. After years of difficult winters and spectacular wind storms, the outer walls and roof of this room had been torn down leaving a wonderful, rustic private stage. On this stage during the warmer seasons of the year, I would put on concerts for the trees, practicing my long tones, scales, solos, and orchestral repertoire for the greenery surrounding me. What I did not realize at the time, that I have now come to appreciate in my adulthood, is that it is easy to fill up a small room with a small sound but rather difficult to fill a forest with the same voice. Playing outdoors helped me to develop sound projection and taught me to not be afraid to play loudly. Although I am not about to step onto my balcony in Houston and start belting out some Chaminade, I know there will always be a place in the country that will welcome my sound and help me improve my ability to project at large distances. If you have a place like this in the country or even have access to an outdoor space on a larger parcel of land, reserve some time to practice outdoors. Upon your return to the recital hall, your sound will be much larger and project beyond your wildest expectations.

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Do you have techniques that have improved your tone? Have any of the above tips changed your playing for better? Please comment below!