Month: February 2016

Flute Favorites: Flute Swag

Welcome to this week’s edition of Flute Friday! Let’s shop.

Several weeks ago I posted a blog on some of my favorite flute books in a series entitled “Flute Favorites.” Today’s blog is the second blog in the Flute Favorites Series covering some of my all-time favorite Flute Swag. Flute Swag refers to all of the gadgets and gismos I have loved in the past and some that are relatively new to me. As an undergraduate student, I would often pocket a portion of my summer earnings to purchase these items from Flute World.  As I review my collection of flute accessories now in my adult years I find that I still use some of the same items I scrimped and saved to buy in my younger years. These are all staples, standbys and new favorites. Hope they inspire you to update or revive your own collections of flute swag.

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Peak Music Stand – This fold up music stand has been by my side throughout places far and wide – apartment practicing, home office practicing, children’s concerts, outdoor concert venues, flute choir rehearsals – you name it! The Peak Music Stand is much lighter than a typical Massenet stand and folds up into a sleek carrying bag. Unlike metal music stands, this stand includes two smaller plastic pieces on the front of the stand to keep your music in place and can be adjusted in two different places to fit to the proper height (without the slowly falling motion that occurs when metal stands are past their expiration date). This stand looks professional, is easily transportable and extremely functional.

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Altieri Double Pocket Flute Bag – I purchased this bag 13 years ago and use it to this very day (even with the holes I have worn out in the bottom of the outer pockets). The Altieri bag is the most practical bag on the market. The inside cushioned pocket features places to secure both your flute and piccolo and the outside pockets conveniently hold your accessories (flute stands, metronome, tuner, phone, laptop, earplugs, etc.) and your music (including most oversized pieces and heavy music folders). I have stuffed my bag to the gills in my graduate and doctoral careers and lugged it halfway across the country. I still have not found a bag more reliable or practical than the Altieri bag.

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Filigree Engraved Triple Base – This instrument stand is perfect for those of you that perform in a flute choir or must switch between multiple instruments in larger group settings. Like the Peak Music Stand, this instrument stand is portable yet attractive and stands (pardon the pun) the test of time. Purchase the base and pegs for your piccolo, C-Flute and alto flute. Although it does not fold as easily as the less expensive brands this stand is gorgeous, sturdy and perfect for the stage.

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Yamaha Pad Cleaning Paper – This is for all of those times when spit get between your pads and tone hole openings momentarily sounding a wrong note. Traditionally cigarette paper is a cheaper option to remove condensation but these Yamaha Pad Cleaning papers are a bit bigger in size therefore requiring only one sheet per tone hole. Simply place the sheet between the pad and the tone hole, press gently on the key and carefully slide the paper out to clear any spit. I prefer to use these during performances to discretely clear out any spit that may collect on the pads between pieces.

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Sabine Zipbeat Metronome – You probably expected me to write something about the Dr. Beat metronome and I might have if my Dr. Beat was not stolen from a practice room in Minnesota three short months after I had purchased it 😦 but I have found that my good, old Sabine metronome has served me just as well over the years (goodbye, Dr. Beat).  Even with the numerous metronome apps out on the market I still prefer this metronome because I can easily scroll to my desired tempo using the dial function and the louder than normal beat clicks make keeping tempo in harsh dynamic ranges much easier. I have crushed the dial one or two (or ten) times in the past so if you decide to add this device to your collection, try to be a bit more gentle than I was.

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Flute Gels – This may just be the third time on my blog that I have raved about Flute Gels. I am fairly rough on my flute blister and try as I might I have not been able to break my bad habit of applying too much pressure between the left hand first finger and the side of the instrument. When I discovered Flute Gels I found the answer to my prayers. Flute Gels are quite literally gel cushions that you stick to the side of your flute with a bit of adhesive backing. Not too worry – the adhesive is removable with a touch of soap and water. These have erased the pain I used to feel after longer hours in the practice room and have improved the condition of my flute blister. They are also useful for students whose hand position may be a bit off. When students have a comfortable place to rest their left hand index fingers and/or their right hand thumb they will likely establish a good hand position routine for years to come.

Do you have Flute Swag that you have loved over the years? What are your favorite flute accessories? Have you used the above products? What were your impressions of these products? Please comment below!

Happy fluting!

 

 

 

 

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High Register RX VLOG

It is Flute Friday once again!

This week’s blog is a video blog on two approaches to improving your high register: air in your cheek and “biting” the inside of your cheek. Please let me know how these methods work for you and if you have any other favorite ways to tackle the high register.

 

Thanks for watching.  Happy Fluting!

And the Winner is… – Audition Tips

Welcome to another Flute Friday. Posting on time this week!

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One of the realities of being a classical musician is that in order perform in a group, compete as a soloist,  apply to college as a music major or simply participate as a performer at a masterclass there is often some type of required audition. The audition process varies widely from group to group and even event to event but the preparation necessary to face such a task often remains the same. I am not simply talking about practice. Practice is a given. I am referring to how we approach our preparation both intellectually (strategic practicing), mentally (stop freaking out!) as well as physically (beware of overdoing it). I have auditioned for a number of groups and competitions over the years. I have won auditions, lost auditions and others I have only barely placed as “mediocre.” What I have gained with each new experience is a new perspective regarding what worked, what did not, how I play under pressure and what I can do in the future to improve my auditioning skills. With Solo and Ensemble season drawing near and Summer Masterclass season following close behind, I hope these tips will be useful to all of those who may be auditioning for various groups and competitions or whose students may be facing auditions of their own. The key to auditioning is to learn from your experience no matter how “good” or “bad” and play the best you can under every circumstance.     images5KXQV1CE

  1. Plan Your Practice Schedule Weeks or Even Months In Advance. I realize that this is easier said than done but the best approach for achieving any goal is to plan ahead. Break daunting tasks (such as memorizing the opening movement of a concerto or learning a long list of piccolo excerpts that you have never played before) into smaller bite-sized pieces that you can work on each day. For example, if you worked on learning, sharpening and memorizing 5 orchestral excerpts per week for an audition list that included 20 excerpts, in 1 month you would have the entire list perfected and ready perform from memory. Leave 2-3 extra weeks before the audition to hold mock auditions before your friends, family and colleagues and you will be more than ready for your audition. The same goes for memorizing a piece of music. Devote 3 months, for example, to memorizing a 3 movement work. A reasonable memorization schedule for a typical concerto may look something like this:

Month 1, Week 1 memorize the exposition of the opening movement.

Month 1, Week 2 memorize the development section of the opening movement.

Month 1, Week 3 memorize the recapitulation and coda of the opening movement.

Month 1, Week 4 practice opening movement from memory start to finish. Fill in any missing memory gaps.

Month 2, Week 1 memorize the exposition of the 2nd movement.

Month 2, Week 2 memorize the development section of the 2nd movement.

Month 2, Week 3 memorize the recapitulation and coda of the 2nd movement.

Month 2, Week 4 practice 2nd movement from memory start to finish. Fill in any missing memory gaps.

Month 3, Week 1 memorize the exposition of the 3rd movement.

Month 3, Week 2 memorize the development section of the 3rd movement.

Month 3, Week 3 memorize the recapitulation and coda of the 3rd movement.

Month 3, Week 4 practice 3rd movement from memory start to finish. Fill in any missing memory gaps.

Of course if you are more advanced you may convert months into weeks to memorize (or rememorize) 1 new piece each month! #presentgoals

You do not need any specialized app or excel spreadsheet to make your practice plan – a simple pen and paper will do but it is important to have some sort of skeletal plan in place before you jump into preparing for your audition. I have experienced a number of what some musicians refer to as “11th hour auditions” where practicing was left until the very last minute. You do yourself an injustice whenever your perform an audition that is not truly representative of your best playing. Careful yet patient planning is the best way to create performances that will win over the harshest of critics and help you to become a better musician.

  1. If your audition material includes orchestral excerpts, make sure you understand how your solo fits into the musical texture. This requires listening to your music and following along with a complete score. Orchestra (and band) conductors want to make sure you know how to listen to other instruments rather than just your own part and that you understand what your role is within the larger picture. The flute solo in the 3rd movement of Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis, for example, may appear to be the star with its summersaulting rhythmic meanderings however it is actually an accompaniment to the melody played by the horn. The solo in the 4th movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony is accompanied by the strings and requires the flutist to keep a very strict, reliable tempo throughout the solo while remaining, pardon the pun, the “hero” of the music. Modern technology has made finding both a score and recording quite simple with sites such as YouTube and Imslp. Listen to your music and understand the role that your line plays in the symphony.

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  1. Host mock auditions in front of your family, friends and colleagues. I always like to torture my husband with a mock audition whenever I am very nervous about an upcoming orchestra audition because playing for him terrifies me the most. If you have younger brothers and sisters, they may even find this process fun! Set up the living room the way the stage will be set up on the day of your audition. Perform your piece(s) in front of your family using a SmartMusic accompaniment (to practice your cues) or have them randomly select orchestral excerpts for you to play on demand. If you know that your audition will take place behind a screen, set up a curtain or create a barricade between your family of judges and your performance space. I once even asked my student to perform in the hallway slightly down the hall from my office while I shouted instructions to her from my desk. If you are in a school flute studio or perform regularly with a flute choir, request to hold a mock audition during the next group masterclass or meeting. It is quite unnerving to perform for other flutists and mock auditions are great opportunities to work out those insecurities.

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Cartoon by Loren Fishman https://humoresquecartoons.com

  1. Record yourself. When you are listening to your own performance, you must listen with a critical ear. How can you improve this performance? What are your tendencies when you are nervous? Are you rushing? Are you dragging? How are your dynamics? How is your pitch (especially in the high register)? Can you make your vibrato sparkle a bit more? Are you using too much vibrato? Is your sound muffled in the middle register? If you are preparing for an orchestra audition, select random excerpts out of a hat or a ziplock bag, place them in the progression that you will play them and hit “record” (essentially hosting a mock audition for yourself). I like to tell my students that recordings are like mirrors for our ears. Use them wisely and they will show you elements of your playing that you did not even realize were there.

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  1. Practice Sight Reading. Sight reading is the little “gotcha” that many conductors like to tack on to the end of an audition and it is an element of performance that catches most of us off guard. A great way to practice sight reading is purchase a new etude book (preferably one that you have never worked on before), select a page at random and record yourself sight reading. Having a recording device recreates the pressure of an audition environment. Remember the golden rules of sight reading – 1. Scan the key and time signatures, 2. Determine the tempo, 3. Search for obstacles such as crazy runs, difficult rhythms, key or time changes or strange articulations, and 4. DON’T STOP no matter what happens. The show must go on.

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  1. Research and practice relaxation exercises to properly confront performance anxiety. You will get nervous. Even the best of us often crumble under fear and anxiety. Prevention is key. I have discussed many exercises on this very blog to deal with stage fright but you may want to take a few Alexander Technique lessons, practice daily meditation, make friends with bananas (bananas contain natural beta blockers which relieve some of the symptoms associated with anxiety) and purchase a breathing bag (simply breathing in and out using a breathing bag relaxes muscles and properly distributes oxygen to the body when breathing is otherwise shallow). A simple phrase to remember is think “up and forward” from the top of your head. This will help to properly align your head, neck and shoulders allowing you to breathe freely and retain muscular support. Research these techniques in advance and have a game plan on the day of your audition. Accept your nerves as a sign that creating music has profound psychological meaning to you and confront them using practical and easy to remember tricks.

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  1. On the day of your audition, HYDRATE. Dry mouth is devastating for a wind player during an audition. It is difficult to breathe, difficult to control air support and difficult sustain longer phrases. Tone suffers. Techniques suffers. Focus suffers. Hydrate constantly from the time you wake up until after your performance. This seems obvious but it is fairly easy to forget these basic necessities under extreme pressure.

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  1. Remember this mantra: “Early is on time. On time is late and late is unacceptable.” Make every effort to be at your audition site early and warmed up on time. Audition committees have very little patience for musicians that disrespect their time and it is simply unprofessional to ever be late to an interview or audition. Don’t give your committee a silly excuse to cut you from the first round prematurely.

 

  1. No matter what happens, play your best. If you make a mistake, channel Princess Elsa and Let it Go! Let it Go! Do not let silly lapses early in your audition derail your entire performance. Focus and play the best you can at the present moment.

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  1. Learn from your experience no matter the outcome. Even if you win the audition take some time to reflect on ways you can improve in the future. When did you feel the most vulnerable during your audition? Was it during the sight reading ? Did you take breaths in places you did not anticipate? Did you rush particular runs? How can you correct this for future auditions? I do not recommend reliving your mistakes over and over again – simply think critically about different approaches you may take in the future and new ways to think about old problems.

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Finally….. do not let a failed audition lead you to fear future auditions. Think of auditions simply as job interviews. Only 1 person can win the job. If it is not you than it is not meant to be but there are other opportunities waiting to be explored that may better fit your interest and expertise. Continue to learn and grow as a musician with every new audition. There is no such thing as a perfect musician but there plenty of musicians that achieve their goals using perfect planning. You can be one of them too!

How do you prepare for an audition? Do you have a good story of a audition that went exceptionally well? Exceptionally bad? What did you learn from your experiences? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

Finding Moyse – Ibert vs. Bozza

Welcome to Flute Friday Monday!

For a bit of fun this week I revisited an old favorite, Ibert’s Pièce pour flûte seule. The last time I played this piece in public was countless years ago at a studio recital as a Freshmen at DePauw University, long before I tackled the Ibert and Nielsen Concerti and other seminal works from the standard contemporary flute canon. After brushing off the years of dust from this piece and woodshedding some of the technical passages, I began to hear a clear influence of other works written around this time period. When I played the piece from beginning to end, I discovered that Pièce pour flûte seule is shockingly similar in structure to Bozza’s Image. It is difficult to say which piece influenced the other due to discrepancies among scholars regarding publication dates yet both pieces were written for Marcel Moyse. Perhaps Bozza and Ibert were in agreement that there was a “Moyse” style. Perhaps Ibert was trying to set the groundwork for the Image. Or maybe Bozza designed Image to function as a larger, more intricate version of Ibert’s Piece. This of course is all just speculation. What is clear, however, is that there are striking similarities between both of these pieces, structurally as well as and harmonically. Could these pieces be outlining a “Moyse” style?

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Backgrounds

The Pièce pour flûte seule by Jacques Ibert was written in 1937 as an encore piece for Marcel Moyse to perform (or sight-read, essentially) after a concert held at the French Embassy in Prague. Earlier in the evening, Moyse had premiered the now famous Ibert Flute Concerto and as a musical “treat” for the audience, Ibert composed this short, five minute “encore” piece for Moyse to perform at the end of the concert. Pièce pour flûte seule is similar in compositional style to Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun and Syrinx for Solo Flute.

Bozza’s Image, Op 28, for solo flute was published initially in 1940, however scholars have speculated that the piece may have been writing as early as 1936 during his studies at the Academie de France at the Milla Medici in Rome, Italy. This work is also dedicated to Marcel Moyse, Professor of Flute at the Paris Conservatory. Image is written in ternary (ABA) form with a slower, fantasy-like introduction. The faster, technically demanding A sections are enhanced by a slower, more lyrical B section. Each section is linked together with virtuosic cadenzas exploring the range of the instrument and incorporating extended techniques such as flutter tonging.

Both Pieces are written in ABA with a Quasi-Improvised, Fantasy-like Introduction.

This falls under the “so what” category as there are many pieces written in ternary form with an improvisational introduction. What is similar, however, is that each section is connected by rhythmically intricate cadenzas. Although not marked as a cadenza, the section marked “Vivo” in Piece features faster moving sextuplets that spin in and around Db major and F minor until the resolution of the scale on a high E natural introduces the entrance of the rather brief B section:

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Image features a similar cadenza linking the A section to the B section at the top of the 2nd page, beginning with a fermata placed above a low B sharp. Although substantially more difficult, the cadenza functions much like the cadenza from Ibert’s Piece to introduce the shorter B section.

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Both Ibert and Bozza leave the true musical fireworks in the cadenza sections connecting the B section to the repetition of the A section. In the Ibert, we see grouping of sextuplets followed by septuplets followed by eight 32nd notes and a grouping of nine 32nd notes. This is all but a prelude to the most technically demanding element of the piece, a long progression of rapidly moving minor thirds extending chromatically for 2 octaves. After a brief climax and a fermata placed over a high Fb, the A section returns in the proceeding 6/8 Andante.

Ibert 2a

Ibert 2b

Like the Ibert, Bozza uses the cadenza between the B section and the return of the A section in Image to showcase the most technically demanding elements in the work. After swirling 32nd note figures appear at the bottom of the 2nd page in the measures marked “a picaere,” the music erupts into an fantastical line extending to a high Bb and falling in chromatic broken chords until a chromatic scale beginning on a high D introduces the brief but critical element of flutter-tonguing. Octave displacements complete the cadenza and introduce the return of the A section at the Piu lento.

Bozza 2a

Bozza 2b

The use of the virtuosic cadenza sections in both works displays a clear similarity in function to connect the A section to the B and the B section to the return of the A section. They also save their most important compositional “fireworks” for the end of the B section cadenza. Coincidence? Were these composers copying each other’s approach? Where they somehow commenting on the Moyse style?

Duple vs. Triple Subdivisions in the Primary Melodies

The primary melody of the B section in Bozza’s Image is built upon a juxtaposition of a duple pattern followed by triplets and again interrupted with a duple pattern. For example, the second and third measure of the 3/4 B section begin with duplets followed by two beats of triplets:

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This pattern replays throughout the B section namely in and around the impending Animanto:

Bozza 3b

The same duple vs. triple melodic construction also appears in the primary A melody in the Ibert, most significantly 15 measures after the 6/8 a Tempo where a measure of duple eighth notes are followed by a measure of triples before briefly returning to a duple beat. This is followed by 1 beat of triples and one beat of 4 sixteenth notes:

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What is the significance of the duple vs. triple melody? Was this again evocative of the “Moyse” style or were the composers simply copying from each other?

“Swirling” Patterns I have already briefly mentioned that there are rhythmic figures in both the Bozza and the Ibert placed in the cadenza following the B section of each work that “swirl.” What I mean by this term is that either chromatically or in scale-wise motion, these figures ascend and descend rapidly often landing on a pedal tone. The similarities between these swirling figures in both pieces are quite eerie.

Bozza:

Bozza Swirling

Ibert:

Ibert Swriling

In both instances, there are 3 repetitions of this swirling figure, all gaining in intensity with each repetition to lead into the most virtuosic moment of each piece. Was this swirling figure somehow evocative of Moyse? Perhaps this was an exercise used at the Paris Conservatoire. Or maybe a commentary on the nature of a brooding performer who perhaps lets his thoughts bubble not once, not twice, but three times before he takes action (sounds like a Taurus…). It could also simply be a musical duplicate created by composers either trying to pay homage to each other’s work or trying to shoplift trademark compositional figures.

Repetitive Recitative

The Introductions of both works are strikingly similar – meandering lines creating fantasy-like imagery using echo effects and rapid lines leading to false climaxes. The most significant similarity, however, is the repetitive notes that create a sense of recitative without words.

In the Ibert, such a figure appears at the very beginning of the piece:

Ibert Recit

In the Bozza a matching figure appears at the measure marked “Lent”:

Bozza Recit

Is this intended to be the voice of Moyse? Is there a sentence or a phrase known only to the composer that is created using these rhythmic syllables? Is there a joke buried in these lines that only Moyse would understand? The monotone rhythm of the line could represent a monotone voice speaking musical knowledge without the use of words. Far-fetched?

They say that imitation is the finest form of flattery. There are several works throughout the history of Western Music that could be considered imitations of one another. There are even works that clearly pay tribute to other works (Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, for example, tips its hat to the fugal works of J.S. Bach as does many of the works by Felix Mendelssohn). In this instance, although the works appear to be musical “dupes,” both composers may have been using the same structures and compositional devices to comment on the performer for which these works were written. Is there a “Moyse” style buried within these works? Can you hear other similarities between Ibert’s Piece and Bozza’s Image? Do these figures point at Moyse’s strengths as a performer or his approach as a teacher? Please comment below!

Happy Fluting!