Month: June 2016

Get with the Program

Welcome to Flute Friday! Summer is upon us.

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I always liked to use my summer months in college to daydream about my next recital program. I listened to CDs (or watched YouTube videos later in grad school), checked out music from our school library to add to my lazy summer practice session queue, purchased music from Flute World that I knew I would want to work on some day if not for my next recital and raided the depths of my own music collection for pieces that may have been collecting dust for too long. After the necessary review, practice and soul searching, I would select pieces that could be programed based on a theme and in a progression that made sense. As most students are already on summer vacation, this is a perfect time to think about programing upcoming recitals. Today’s blog will offer some ideas about how and what to include on your (or your student’s) next recital and how to develop unique program themes. Variety tied together under a unifying thread creates an interesting yet challenging program that will truly show your flexibility as a musician and your bravado as a performer.

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The Musical Era Program.  The easiest way to select a program is to choose one piece from each of the four major classical music eras – Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary. The opens up a number of possibilities because the repertoire within each era is so vast. Recitals programed using the era system will sound completely different from one another because composers falling under the same era will use sounds and techniques that differ greatly from their contemporaries. The combinations of composers juxtaposed against composers from other eras are endless. For example, a recital program under this system could open with a Bach Flute Sonata (perhaps one of the favorites – C Major, E minor or B minor) followed by a Mozart Concerto (G or D). After a brief intermission, the second half of the recital could kick off with and a piece from the French Flute School (the Hue Fantasie is a good choice with this program to counteract the length of the Mozart) and finally the program could end with a 20th century work such as the Prokofiev Sonata. Of course you do not necessarily need to follow the passage of music history and can mix up the eras within the progression of the program. I typically prefer to end a recital with a work from the Romantic period for the obvious musical fireworks provided at the end of pieces from the French Flute School. I also like to include an unaccompanied work from the 20th century that includes some kookie extended techniques to remind my audience that music is not always about playing something “pretty.” Pieces from the Baroque and Classical eras could be programed to include some ensemble playing. For example, you might include Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D Major or the trio sonata from Bach’s “Musical Offering” (scored for flute, violin and basso continuo). Finally you may use this era system to program works for other instruments from the flute family (including the piccolo, alto or bass). A Vivaldi piccolo concerto would fit nicely into a recital that included Mozart’s Concerto for C Major for Flute and Harp, Enesco’s Cantabile et Presto and the Nielsen Flute Concerto.

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The Single Period Program. Perform a selection of works from only one of the major compositional eras. Word of warning: some eras are going to be much easier to program this way than others. For example, the Romantic and Contemporary periods have more of a selection of different types of music using a wider variety of techniques than the Classical period which may feature only two different composers (Mozart and Haydn). The most important thing to keep in mind when programing a single period program is that you must integrate some form of variety. The most effective way to accomplish this is by selecting works featuring different types of instrumentation. You could program an all Baroque recital featuring a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, a Vivaldi piccolo concerto, a Telemann Sonata with Flute Choir Accompaniment and Bach’s solo flute Partita in A minor. Or perhaps a Romantic period recital featuring the Beethoven Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola, Demersseman’s Sixth Solo de Concert, Doppler’s Andante et Rondo and a Paganini Caprice would work nicely. Try to select as many different composers from the same era as possible to retain the changing nature of decade represented. If you wanted to take this idea a step further, you could also dress up in a costume evocative of the century (within reason). Finally, you could easily turn such a program into a lecture recital and discuss the historical and political changes that were happening around the time of each composition and how those change might have influenced the work of the composer. However you wish to present your program, just make sure that there is a detectable amount of variety among the pieces to keep music interesting and your audience entertained.

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The Single Composer Program. Along the same lines of the Single Period Program, select a program featuring the works of a single composer. This is the best type of program for a lecture recital as you will have an opportunity to pause between pieces and discuss the events that unfolded in the life of a composer between each work. There must be an element of variety in this type of program as well and again the easiest way to accomplish this is by selecting works featuring different types of instrumentation. Bach is a good example of a composer whose flute compositions would do well in a single composer program. A Bach Only program could open with a Bach Flute Sonata followed by the Solo Flute Partita (or a transposition of the unaccompanied Cello Suites) and subsequently followed by the Musical Offering trio sonata. After a brief intermission, the recital could conclude with a Brandenburg Concerto. A Single Composer recital program is a nice compliment to an article, dissertation, book or other large scale writing project that you have completed or are in the process of completing as you are quite literally bringing your studies to the stage. Bonus points if you have a tech savvy friend who can conjure up a hologram of your composer for your recital! For us low tech musicians, a projection or slide show of portraits of the composer may also be a good addition to your program and visual treat for your audience.

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The Theme Program. This is the most difficult type of program and one that will require quite a bit of creativity. A theme is simply an element that ties each piece together. “Love stories,” for example is a popular recital theme as numerous works of music and art throughout the ages have been written about love stories or written by composers and dedicated to the loves of their lives. A theme that would be a bit easier for us fluties to program would be “Story time” which could focus solely on works based on stories. Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen by Schubert could be followed by Honneger’s Danse de la chevre and Reineke’s Udine. After a brief intermission the recital could end with a flute choir arrangement of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe. My fantasy has always been to host a recital based on mythology (Pan, Hercules, Udine, Krishna, etc.). Perhaps there is a common element that you can find between composers (a night of German composers or Royal Composers (composers who were under the patronage of royalty)). The sky is the limit when it comes to the theme program but finding a common element across many different works is very tricky. Brainstorm! Collect a number of works that inspire you. Do they share a common element?

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Selecting a program is in my opinion the best part of recital preparation. It is here that you are the artist and can create a musical portrait with the works you select to perform to the world. Be creative but remember to always challenge yourself. Keep your audience interested by providing variety and consistencies in your choice of pieces and experiment with different types of recital themes. Create a new story with each performance.

 

What did you perform at your last recital? What types of recital programs do you prefer? Do you have a theme that you would like to program into a recital? Please comment below!

 

 

Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

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The Times They Are A Changin’

Welcome to a very (very) belated Flute Friday (posting on Tuesday).

Last week I took a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to London, England. This breathtaking city is home to numerous cultural artifacts and a wealth of history buried within spectacular museums and centuries old castle walls. As I walked through Hampton Court I was overwhelmed by the stories captured in each room and the rich background represented by simple, ancient objects. It was a bit difficult, however, to keep track of the timeline of kings, queens, wars and triumphs and how each event fit into the greater history of the country and the world. My hotel room in Greenwich offered a beautiful and functional solution by providing a timeline of significant historical events painted on the bathroom door. This door inspired me to compile the below timeline cataloging the history of flute development. Our modern instrument represents a long history of practice, experimentation and manufacturing that expands into ancient civilizations where the flute was a simple instrument created from basic materials used to symbolize significant cultural and religious events. You may not be inspired to paint this timeline on your bathroom walls but I hope you will gain a new appreciation of the developments happening to the flute during each musical era and how these developments shaped compositional approaches to the changing instrument.

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300 B.C. – Artwork appears in western Europe, Asia, and the middle east depicting flutes held vertically made of hollowed out bones or sticks with embouchure holes, used for hunting and magical rituals.

200 A.D. – Flutes gain popularity with the Romans and Etruscans, used to entertain royalty, in theatrical productions, and at festivals and celebrations.

1000 A.D. – Flutes become less popular after the fall of Rome, but are eventually re-introduced to Western Europe through Germany.

1300 – The flute appears in France, Spain, and Flanders.

Circa 1320 – The one-piece, two inch, wooden flute is created, sounding in the key of “D”.

1360 – Guillaume de Machaut develops a distinction flute using a block to direct air at the edge of the embouchure hole and flutes requiring players to direct air with their lips (The transverse flute).

1350 – Flutes are frequently portrayed in paintings, primarily in the hands cherubs.

1460 – Flutes are introduced in military practices.

1511 – The Zwerchpheiff is created. This flute has six finger holes and has a narrower structure.

1529 – The descant, alto, tenor, and bass flutes are created.

1619 – Praetorius’ “Styntagma Musicum” features three Querflötten, flutes with ranges of two octaves.

1636 – Flutes Allemands (German Flutes) also called Transverse flutes, are developed in Germany. These flutes have keys of “D” and “G”, a cylindrical bore, and are made of wood.

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1670 – Jean Hotteterre makes adjustments to the flute by sectioning the instrument into three pieces (the headjoint, middle joint and foot joint). Hotteterre also gave the flute a conical bore (the foot joint was smallest in diameter), reduced the size of the standard six finger holes, and added an Eb key (the first key developed for the instrument).

1670 – Three-piece, 1-keyed flute in “D” appears in Jean Baptiste Lully’s famous orchestra in France.

Circa 1710 – Flute method books are developed and sold to beginners.

1720 – The middle joint was divided into two pieces and into extra joints of different length, called the corps de recharge. The purpose of this new design was to allow the flute player to shift the pitch of the instrument to be in tune with the orchestra. The short and long bits could be adjusted to play higher or lower.

1722 –  Johann Joachim Quantz adds a tuning cork in the head joint, and a C# key on the foot joint.

1726 – The E- flat key was added on standard flute foot joint.

1760 –  Flute makers in London add three keys to the flute. The G#, B-flat, and F keys.

1774 – Flute makers Florio, Gedney, and Potter in London remove C# key from the foot joint.

Circa 1780 – Mozart and Haydn compose symphonies calling for flutes with four and six keys. The Meyer-system flute is also developed featuring eight keys.

1782 – Flutemaker J.H. Ribock adds the closed C key.

1800 – B-flat lever and left hand lever added.

1806 – 1844 Claude Laurent creates several glass flutes with three, four, or seven keys.

1808 – Rev. Frederick Nolan invents open holes (Finger pads cover holes), and connects the keys together.

1810 – George Miller develops flutes with metal bores in London England. Theobald Boehm creates his own model of the flute, experimenting with different keys, springs and pads.

1812 – Tebaldo Monzani places knobs on the mouth-hole

1814 – James Wood in London creates three tuning slides for the flute.

1822 – The Nicholsons (father and son) adjust the placement of keys, make the tone holes larger, and develop a thinner walled flute.

1824 – Marker Pottgiessen invents the ring and crescent keys which he subsequently adds to the standard flute.

1827 – Rudall and Rose create an eight keyed flute.

1829 – Boehm creates his own fingering system using rods that connected the keys and builds an elaborate machine for boring holes, pillars, posts, and flat gold springs.

1830-1831 Boehm finishes his new model and presents it in performance in London and Paris.

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circa 1830 – Beethoven uses the flute extensively in his symphonies.

1832 – Boehm is impressed by flute virtuoso Charles Nicholson’s flute design, which produces a clearer tone, and switches to ring keys instead of open holes, thus improving the tone of his flutes. He also developed the thumb left hand crutch.

1833 – Gordon’s Diatonic Flute comes out with crescent-shaped touchpieces.

1834 – Boehm’s model becomes very popular among German and French flutists.

1837 – Auguste Buffet (Paris instrument maker) improves on the Boehm flute model – changing axles, hole placements, lugs, rods, and sleeves (the latter hold the rods and axles together)

1838 – Buffet and Coche add the D# key and the G# key.

1846-1847 – Boehm gives his flutes a new cylindrical bore. He also enlarges the embouchure to a quadrangular hole to produce a fuller and clearer tone. His new fingering system covers the inside of his closed keys with felt pads and the rims of keys with skins, holding the keys together with screws and washers. He experiments with different materials for making flutes. He decides that silver is the best, seeing as it is light and produces the best tone.

1847 – Rudall and Rose, Clair Godfroy and Louis Lot buy for rights to manufacture Boehm flutes from Boehm. The flute goes to New York, where it becomes very popular. Flutes are adopted as official orchestral instruments in the Paris conservatory.

1848 – Giulio Briccialdi, an Italian flute virtuoso living in London, introduces the lever for the thumb Bb fingering. This mechanism was a common retrofit to older flutes. The foot joint key design goes through rapid changes, with very probable influence from makers outside the flute world. Makers begin enlarging tone holes and utilizing pads with holes in them to cover the holes but still allow for Boehm’s fully vented design.

1855 – The Boehm Flute wins a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition, to general acclaim. New players make great technical advances thanks to Boehm’s mechanical breakthroughs. Louis Lot leaves the employ of Godfroy and opens his own flute making business.

1860 – Tulou retires from the Paris Conservatory. Dorus is appointed his successor. Dorus grants Louis Lot a contract to provide Boehm flutes to theConservatory.

July 20, 1860 – Dorus and Henri Altés visit Lot and each order a silver flute (Lot #475 & 476). With the adoption of Lot’s design by the Paris Conservatory professor and his eventual successor, this is the advent of the age of the silver flute.

1878 – Boehm perfects his ‘modern silver flute’. His final model is accepted as the standard today.

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1948 – Alexander Murray, well-known flutist and teacher, collaborates with makers Albert Cooper and Elmer Cole, on the “Murray” flute – based on the “Cooper experimental” scale, and with a “corrected” C# key

1961 – 62 – Murray’s next model, the “Mark I” appears.

1967 – Murray collaborates with Jack Moore, a well-known maker with the Armstrong Company.

1972 – Murray and Moore bring out production model flutes and piccolos.

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There are of course many developments from the 1970s to present day that do not appear on this list. Please let me know what you would like me to include on this timeline as I would love to have a more comprehensive collection of the advancements that have occurred in our modern age.

How do you think the development of the flute has changed our approach to flute music? What do you think is the most significant event in the creation of the modern flute? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

 

Woodshedding -Back to Basics

Welcome to another Flute Friday!

Earlier this week I began practicing the Chaminade Concertino, a piece that has been collecting dust in my music collection for several years now. It is always surprising to me whenever I practice music I have not touched in a long time how performance struggles that existed before seem to vanish into thin air but are instantly replaced with new struggles that a younger version of myself took for granted. As I was practicing some of the more technical passages in the vivo section, I noticed how easy it was to fake my way through the chromatic runs (something I tell my students NOT to do) and rush the trill fingerings now that I am a bit more comfortable using them. The articulated 16th notes and sextuplets that follow also tend to rush as I explore faster tempos and new uses of rubato. I began thinking about creative ways to solve common technical issues such as rushing and realized that there are a number of tools and techniques I have at my disposal as an adult that I did not have when I was studying this piece in my younger days. Today’s blog will address some of the approaches you may take if you are struggling with technical passages or simply rushing overly familiar music. “Woodshedding” is nothing more than a return to basics. Dial down your metronome and pick a new rhythm to rejuvenate what is old with a fresh, new perspective.

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Slow it down. This is a time tested, tried and true technique that all of us have used but some of us forget to practice in moments of panic. If you are having trouble with a technical passage the first thing to do is dial back your metronome to half the written speed. Once you feel comfortable playing flawlessly in that tempo, move your metronome up a couple of clicks (this works best if you have a dial style metronome but you can also just increase the tempo by 10 or so beats on a digitized or app style metronome). As you feel comfortable playing flawlessly in this tempo increase gradually until you arrive at the written tempo. It may take you a few days or even weeks to feel comfortable at the written tempo so do not lose heart if it is taking longer than you had hoped to play your music perfectly. Stay the course and practice in slow motion.

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Change the rhythm. If your music is written in never ending 16th notes, practice the passage instead in triplets. If the music is written in sextuplets (like the ones in the Chaminade), practice the passage instead in 16th notes. Change complicated triplets into 8th notes. Your ear will be uncomfortable but your fingers will be easier to control when you remove the terrifying rhythmic stimulus. When you change the rhythm you are simply isolating the note patterns away from the written rhythm, learning the phrase one step at a time.

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Chunk it. Several weeks ago I wrote a blog on how to practice your music in chunks. https://racheltaylorgeier.org/2015/11/21/chunky-monkey/  Examine your music for natural mini-groupings of notes (for example, typically a group of four 16th notes  includes a 16th note down beat while the three remaining 16th notes lead to the next downbeat). Practice your chunks slowly placing long rests in between each grouping. This will help you to think of your passage not merely as one long, “difficult” line but as a series of interconnected mini musical chunks. Our brains prefer smaller units  of information (as do our fingers).

Dot it. Change all rhythms to dotted 8ths/16ths in French Overture style. This is another variation on changing the rhythm but will also enable you to march to the beat stabilizing both the notes and rhythm. Select a nice walking tempo for your passage (an easy 72 or march-like 88 will suffice) and march to the beat (left, right, left, right) as you perform your passage in dotted rhythms. This is quite literally boot camp for your technique.

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Snappy Fingers.  This is a spin off technique of “slow it down” and helps train your fingers to move swiftly between notes. Set your metronome to half the written speed of your excerpt. Play as written but move your fingers as quickly and deliberately between each note (I sometimes refer to this to my students as “robot fingers” as the movements are so snappy they often resemble robot fingers playing the flute). This will train your fingers to move quickly between each note making your technique much tighter at higher speeds.

Transpose it. This is not my idea but one developed by a past flute mentors. Transpose your passage to a different key (C or F major are good keys to start out with). This technique will help you to hear your passage in new and exciting ways and enable you to find ways to emphasize certain notes over others. If you can play the passage in Eb major, chances are good that when you return to B major, the notes will be easier to play and you will have a new understanding of how each note relates to another.

Insert Breath Kicks. This is a great practice if you are like me and like to rush through your scales. Place a small emphasis on the first note of each downbeat or the first note in each grouping. This can be done by adding the smallest amount of vibrato to a note, inserting an accent or elongating the note falling on a down beat slightly more than the surrounding notes. This is a great practice in the vivo section of the Chaminade for the sextuplet chromatic scales to ensure that each grouping of 3 is clearly heard within the texture.

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How do you like to work on technical passages? How do you take apart excerpts that rush into chaos? Do you have a favorite method to breaking phrases apart and putting them back together? Please comment below.

 

 

Happy Fluting!