Month: September 2016

Second Fiddle

Welcome to another edition of Flute Friday. I’m actually posting this on a Friday, for a change!

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A few weeks ago I discussed auditioning tips for placement in school ensembles. By now most ensemble directors have assigned students to various parts for opening Fall semester concerts far and wide. What part did you land? Congratulations to those of you assigned to Principal and piccolo parts. Today’s blog is not for you. Playing 2nd Flute may initially feel like “always a bridesmaid, but never the bride,” (as the saying goes) but there is often more work required from the 2nd part than that of the Principal. You must be a chameleon but you must also be able to step up to the plate as a soloist when the music calls for it. Your part may be written to support the Principal flute but at other times you may also be required to lead the 2nd clarinet behind you, the 2nd oboe or bassoon to your far left, or in some circumstances, the 2nd and 4th horns two rows back. It’s a tough gig. Today’s blog is devoted to ways to approach the 2nd Flute part and the extremely valuable lessons that are gained by tackling this important musical role.

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Get to know your Principal Both Personally and Musically. The relationship between Principal and 2nd Flute is at times tumultuous (for obvious reasons). Bruised or inflated egos and emotional reactions to competition often inhibit a very beneficial bond that could otherwise make both flutists perform better both individually and together, forming a stronger section within the orchestra. As a 2nd flutist, one of the most difficult things you may need to do to repair this bond, or start off on the right foot if you are new to the ensemble, is to leave your ego at the door. The audition is over. What’s done is done. It is time to learn how to be a team player and build your skills from a different perspective. You don’t have to be best friends with the Principal but you must have a strong enough relationship that he/she feels comfortable communicating musical decisions, fingerings, intonation, and dynamics with you without unnecessary interpersonal tensions. And vice versa! You must be able to ask questions and clarifications about the music whenever they arise. You are, after all, a team. Beyond being able to communicate verbally, you must also get to know how your Principal approaches their part. Listen closely and match pitch and vibrato speed whenever possible. Do they tend to play behind the beat? Are their B naturals a hair on the sharp side? Are their “pianos” a bit louder than marked? Do not judge. Match. This is probably the most difficult part about playing 2nd Flute. You must put aside your own opinions about how the music “should” be played and instead adhere to another player’s interpretation (which might not even be their own – it might be the conductor’s). Your time will come but until then playing 2nd helps you develop critical ensemble skills and strengthens your ability to listen, match, and play together as a team.

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Listen, Listen, and Listen Some More. You will not always be playing the same notes or rhythms at the same time as the Principal. In fact, composers love to compose flute lines that dovetail moving figures between the two parts (think Smetana), therefore you will need to count, watch, and listen to make sure your part fits seamlessly with the Principal. There may also be times when you are not playing anything that fits in or around the Principal part at all and instead may be playing a duet with the clarinets or 2nd violins or a trio with the oboes and horns. Listen closely to your part both with a recording as well as in rehearsal and write reminders in the score to draw your attention to your role and other instruments that may be playing the same line at the same time. Match styling, pitch, and tempo whenever possible. You are indeed the chameleon. Flexibility is therefore of the utmost importance for the successful performance of a 2nd Flute part.

Get Ready to Take the Reins. Despite what you may think, playing 2nd part does not mean you get to sit back with your feet up, sipping Starbucks, occasionally playing a few unimportant notes, and watching innocently as the players around you sweat out the score. You will occasionally be the soloist. That low G natural at the end of the movement may just be you and a few lower strings. Be ready! Smetana, Dvorak, and Ravel are notorious for including soloistic writing for the 2nd flute part and they are not alone. Be prepared to transform momentarily into a soloist without much warning. Play out! Enjoy your rock star moments. Shine.

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You still need to watch the conductor. Do not simply let the Principal take the fall for whole section. You will still need to follow the conductor’s beat and cues. A very common criticism from conductors is that the 2nd flute part does not play loudly enough. Be on the lookout for the universal signs from the conductor indicating “more sound.” 2nd flutes are often written in the middle and lower registers which are significantly more difficult to project than notes in the high register. Keep this in mind for anything written in dynamics louder than mezzo forte. Project these parts slightly more than you would in a solo scenario to properly support the voices that may be sounding above your part for proper balance.

And finally,

Be a Reliable Member of your Section. If you are going to be absent from rehearsal or are running late, make sure to inform your section leader, personnel manager, or director ASAP and arrange for a sub. This, again, assumes that you are in good communication with the other members of your ensemble. An orchestra often has a substitute list of other flute players in the community that they may call upon in your absence, but you may also want to have a back-up list of your own to share with your section leader. If you unexpectedly find yourself in a situation that prevents you from attending a rehearsal or performance, you or your section leader will be able to quickly find a good, last minute solution.

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Do you play 2nd Flute in a school or professional ensemble? What do you think is this most important aspect about playing 2nd Flute? Do you have any stories about playing 2nd Flute that have changed your approach to the part? Please comment below!

Happy Fluting!

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Chicken Soup for the Flute Player’s Soul

Welcome to another Flute Friday/Saturday.

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I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling a bit sluggish and uninspired this week. Perhaps it is the summer coming to an end and the slight temperature changes in the evening wind. What I think I need is a few words to jump-start my own creative intuition. Today’s blog is part shameless self-promotion as well as a preview of a short writing project that I am currently putting together. If you have been following me on Twitter, you may have caught one or two of my Dr. G’s Daily Flute Tips. My only frustration with these is that I am limited to 140 characters and sometimes my thoughts require further explanation to inspire readers and, frankly, myself. Today’s blog is about inspiration. The following is a list of my top 20 tweets and longer inspirational tips and tidbits. I hope this list helps those of you who, like myself, may need a few words to spark a new idea, project, or creative approach to a tired situation.

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Top 20 Inspirational Tips and Tidbits

1.       Always play music that you create from the bottom of your heart. Mechanical music is empty and predictable. Be inspiring! An inspired scale is more profound than an uninspired concerto.

2.       Analyze your music before you begin focusing on practice. Chances are it is easier than it looks. #simplifythescore

3.       Aim for the stars but give yourself permission to fail. What is the worst that can happen? Nobody ever died from a missed note.

4.       Your students are your greatest teachers. Embrace the lessons they give you.

5.       Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of each practice session improvising. Chuck the rules and play whatever inspires you.

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6.       Break up your practice sessions into morning and evening mini-sessions. Fundamentals in the AM. Repertoire in PM.

7.       Our perception of “right” and “wrong” is often misleading. What feels “right” is often wrong and what feels “wrong” is often right. The same theory can be applied to sound. What sounds “right” may be wrong and what sounds “wrong” may be right. Flexibility will make the uncomfortable comfortable.

8.       Playing Bach is like trying to solve a crossword puzzle. Playing Mozart is like eavesdropping on a conversation.

9.       If you play a musical instrument you are by definition a musician. You do not need to wait until you earn an opportunity to perform with the New York Philharmonic to take ownership of your craft. Own your musical identity every time you pick up your instrument.

10.   Use every inch of your practice space. Memorize scales and walk around the room. March. Dance to your music.

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11.   Start a performance journal. Write down a few short sentences each day reflecting on your practice sessions or performances and what you envision for your short and longer term goals. This keeps you on track with your objectives and removes any unnecessary judgments about your playing from the recesses of your mind.

12.   It takes courage to perform onstage. Build confidence gradually by accepting and conquering each new performance.

13.   Practice in small groups with your colleagues. Practicing does not have to be the lonely, isolated experience it often is.

14.   The composer left markings in the score for a reason. Do what you can to honor their requests.

15.   Lacking musical direction? Listen to a new recording of a professional soloist on your instrument each day for 30 days. YouTube is a great resource to explore new playing styles of playing.

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16.   There is such a thing as over-practicing. Practice with an eye toward improvement not just mindless repetition.

17.   As musicians, we are constantly reminded by others that we “probably won’t make it.” Make them eat their words and “make it” on you own terms.

18.   Begin woodshedding technical passages slowly. Practicing is like exercising. Build strength and speed gradually.

19.   Hold a free masterclass in your community and inspire a younger generation to love your craft.

20.   Come up with a story behind every piece of music you play to create deeper meaning and a stronger performance.

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What helps inspire you? Have any of these ideas or insights helped you find a new direction or project? Do you have your own inspirational words for those of us searching for new, creative ideas? Please comment below!

 

Happy fluting!

I’ll Pencil You In!

Welcome to another Flute Friday/Labor Day Weekend. I promise one of these days I will start publishing these posts on Fridays!

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A few days ago on Facebook, a former professor posted his frustrations regarding scheduling lessons with all of his students at the beginning of the new school semester. I absolutely understand this frustration as I often negotiate a calendar of lessons between students who only want lessons once or twice a month with those who want weekly lessons. A student’s schedule is always changing and juggling each shifting schedule on top of your own is often a monotonous and confusing task. If you run an independent private studio and have rehearsal commitments of your own, finding the ideal slots in your schedule to accommodate everyone’s demands is a huge obstacle that may even lead to turning away new students or referring them to colleagues with more flexible teaching schedules. In one of my recent day jobs, I worked as an assistant to a university Dean with an insane calendar of meetings, committees, and events, and quickly became a scheduling specialist. In today’s blog, I will be sharing some of the organizational insights I developed in this position to help those of you trying to quickly and efficiently set up your Fall schedules amidst a mountain of rambling emails. It’s okay to give your students a little bit of scheduling responsibility, and you may find that technology will help you achieve this in far less time than you ever imagined.

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Let’s start out with one basic mantra – You are the master of your own schedule. It is very easy to bend so much to the needs of your students that you end up creating a disastrous schedule that leaves you wiped out by the end of the week (if you even have a moment when your week “ends” – hello, Sunday lessons!). Before suggesting possible lesson times, block out sections in your schedule that are completely off limits. This obviously includes teaching and rehearsal commitments, but it also includes times when you need to be home with your family, dedicated practice time, work-out times, travel time, and meals (give yourself at least half an hour for lunch to avoid eating hurriedly between lessons or teaching on an empty stomach. Teachers often morph into frustrated, Frankenstein-like creatures when running on empty (we’ve all been there!)). Begin structuring your schedule with your sanity and health in mind to maintain that proper “work/life” balance that the motivational speakers at faculty and staff workshops are always yammering about. Having this balance in your life helps you to strengthen the areas that matter the most while avoiding stress and eventual burnout. You will also end up being less of a zombie around your family after hours!

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Avoid Friday and Monday lessons if possible. The best days to schedule lessons are any time between Tuesdays and Thursdays. A number of national holidays occur on Mondays, meaning that you will be setting yourself up for rescheduling headaches down the line if you pile up your teaching on Mondays. By the same reasoning, Fridays are traditional “leave early so we can beat the traffic” days for both yourself and your students to embark on the occasional out of town, weekend adventure. Avoid Fridays and you also avoid rescheduling nightmares later. That being said, Friday mornings are sometimes great times to reserve for lessons. My most productive and relaxed lessons in grad school took place on Friday mornings at 9:00 am. As long as Friday lessons are over no later than noon, you should be able to avoid the chronic early weekenders that reschedule lessons at the last minute.

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If you can, try to schedule your lessons in 90-minute time blocks. Okay, okay, okay – Before I start receiving the traditional, “You’re insane! That is not even remotely possible!” response, I understand if this simply cannot be done, especially if all of your students are scheduled for 1-hour, weekly lessons. However, studies have shown that the most effective people work on tasks in 90-minute productivity bursts to increase focus and prevent burnout. Any less and your mind wanders. Any more and you become off-task and bored. Schedule an hour-long student followed immediately by a 30-minute student, then give yourself a 30-minute break to check email, grab some coffee, perform light research for an upcoming project, meet with a colleague, etc. Rinse and repeat! If 90-minutes is not possible, switch to 120-minute blocks but proceed with caution and take longer breaks between productivity bursts. Work these slots into your schedule as available time blocks before circulating your availability to students.

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Now that you have mapped out all available and unavailable times in your schedule, it’s time to Doodle. Set up a Doodle Poll www.doodle.com listing all of the times you are available for lessons and circulate to your students via email. Doodle polls are absolutely essential for scheduling anything that involves a relatively large group of people. Students may simply click a checkmark next to the times that they are available for lessons and submit their responses using an online form. All of their responses are collected on one page, allowing you to quickly determine the times that work best for students while staying within your parameters. No more long chains of emails to click through. No more endless schedules to stare at. All of your answers are in one place! The only downside is that you will need to confirm your student’s time via email once it is set (there is no automatic email confirmation feature), but considering a simple, 1-sentence email to each student will suffice, this should be a relatively quick and easy process.

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Another option that removes nearly all of the scheduling work on your end is to set up a Google Calendar specifically for lessons. Again, block out the times in your schedule that are off limits (preferably using a terrifying purple or red color to make sure your students know you mean business). Enter your student’s email addresses under the Permissions tab as calendar editors (can view, can edit). When you email this shared calendar to the group, it then becomes the student’s responsibility to schedule their own lessons on a first come, first serve basis. Your work is done for you! Integrate this calendar into your master calendar and change the permissions as soon as everyone has responded. My favorite things about using a Google Calendar to schedule lessons is that I can set up lessons as reoccurring appointments on my master calendar, enter notes on each student’s appointment entry regarding what we are working on in their lessons (pieces, goals, techniques), and set up reminder notification alarms 5 minutes prior to each lesson to help keep me on track and not rambling over into another student’s allotted lesson time. Letting your students schedule their own lessons on a shared Google Calendar does take a bit of bravery on your part, but if your students are on the older side and prepared to accept responsibility for their own time management, this is a truly a win-win scheduling system.

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Finally, if you have a TA (teaching assistant) or even a PA (personal assistant), setting up your lesson schedule is a perfect “welcome to your new job” task to delegate to them. TAs can easily bug their friends during class to fill out the Doodle Poll ASAP or to pull up the shared calendar and fill it in by the end of the week. They might even enjoy finding new ways to make technology streamline your schedule and help keep you on task with your teaching responsibilities. Trust your TAs with the dirty work!

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What are some of the systems you use to schedule private lessons? Do you use Doodle or another similar program? How much responsibility do you give to your students to schedule their lessons? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!