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Today’s blog is the first in a new series that I will be featuring on Flute Friday affectionately titled, Practice Blueprints. In these posts, I will discuss a few different ways to approach sections from some of the most famous and widely played flute works. I will not analyze the entire piece per say (I will leave that up to you J), but instead suggest practice methods for a handful of the most technically difficult or melodically important phrases in the piece. My goal with this series is to provide those of you just picking up these pieces a “blueprint” on how to tackle the score in the practice room. If you have any suggestions for other works you would like me to discuss in this series, please comment below or email me at email@example.com. I welcome all requests!
I will begin the Practice Blueprints series with a discussion on Georges Hue’s Fantasie pour flute et orchestra. A piece cherished by millions, the Hue Fantasie is a good example of a piece that appears more difficult on the score than it actually is to perform on stage. At first glance, the opening page is covered in ink, leading many to, how do I put this eloquently, run for their lives. 32nd second notes for several measures are followed by a terrifying articulated section, complete with slashes crossed through sextuplet 16th notes that seem to say, “I’d turn back if I were you” (Here I am reminded of the wooden sign posts from the Haunted Forrest in the Wizard of Oz…). After a brief melodic section (refreshing), the insanity of the opening page returns briefly at Rehearsal 5 and then back to a dramatic melody 5 measures after Rehearsal 6. A creepy dotted section follows after Rehearsal 8 that gives way to another chromatic, meandering melody at Rehearsal 10. This melody continues in various transpositions until Rehearsal 17. Here we find a gradual tapering of dynamic and speed (and a return to the familiar scale-wise motion of the opening measures) that gives us a moment of zen before the dramatic closing climatic coda surprises us at Rehearsal 18 (time to wake up Grandpa!). For the final cherry on top, the work concludes with an ornamented high Bb, because it is French and that is typically how the French say “The End” (aka with a little added drama).
Are you scared yet? Don’t be. There are very easy ways to break this work into several workable sections and, with a little bit of analysis, make those scary 32nd notes fall gracefully under our fingers.
Find the Scales. So much of this piece is based on scales. Time to pull out the old Taffanel and Gaubert and start drilling! The opening 8 measures are in the key of Eb Major and move primarily in scales with a few broken 3rds here and there to provide some depth to the melody. Using a pencil, bracket this section with a note indicating “Eb Major.” Before attempting to play these few measures, practice a 2 octave Eb Major scale. Not that difficult, right? After a very brief, 2 measure foray in G major (a nod to the Romantic obsession with transposing a melody up or down a major third), the second half of the opening page is primarily in F major, with a few sprinkles of D minor thrown in for a clever, and surprising, harmonic effect. Bracket this, again, by denoting “F Major” over most of the section, and D minor over the 2nd and 3rd staves from the bottom of the page. Practice simple 2 octave scales in both F major and D minor in preparation for this phrase. Isolating these scales under our fingers prior to launching into the work prepares us physically for the virtuosic passages that lay ahead but also trains our brain to quickly identify sections of scales and key changes, enabling us to anticipate and maintain composure. It’s just a scale. You can play scales!
The same scale theory can be applied to practicing the overtly chromatic melodies beginning at Rehearsal 8 (marked “Tres vif”). Upon close examination, this entire section from Rehearsal 8 until Rehearsal 15 is entrenched in chromatic figures of all shapes and sizes. Taffanel and Gaubert have a few decent chromatic scale exercises, however an easy way to practice chromatic scales is simply to begin at the lowest note and play chromatically up to the highest and back down again in a slurred pattern. Set your metronome to a reasonable tempo and move the dial up by one click each day to quickly master the chromatic scale. Practice your chromatic scale each day before attempting to perform this section of the music. You will find over time that the notes fall quite easy under your fingers, making this stretch of the score quite simple, and enjoyable, to play.
Test your double tonging chops. The French are renowned for their lighter-than-air articulation. In the French tradition, the Hue Fantaise contains a number of phrases denoted with articulated slashes through the notes, requesting a light articulation from the performer. These are perfect phrases to use to practice all of the clever double tonguing articulations in your proverbial toolbox. For example, practice the selection located 4 measures before Rehearsal 2 using first a “coo-coo” articulation, followed by some “uka-tuka”s, and finally practice your unarticulated chirps (sound produced using only your airstream). In fact, make this a daily exercise! When you put the phrase back together with your standard double tonguing syllables (“too-coo,” “doo-goo,” or my favorite, “duc-ky”), you will easily produce a much lighter and balanced articulation over the notes in this selection. Other sections of the score to practice with these alternative syllables include the pick-up to 7 measures before Rehearsal 15, and 7 measures after Rehearsal 16. Turn these phrases into opportunities to create your best impression of Rampal-eque French tonguing. Your audience will be impressed and your music will be reminiscent of one of those perfect French macrons that we all pay too much for at the bakery.
Sing through the melodies. No, I mean it. Literally. Sing. Through. The. Melodies. I was horrified the first time my flute teacher asked me to do this during a lesson and even more so when he asked me to sing in front of my peers, but the payoff was well worth the fleeting embarrassment. There is so much extra “stuff” in this piece (from the cascading scales to crisply articulated passages) that it is quite refreshing when the music features a beautiful melody. I often joke that this piece has multiple personalities! Cherish the moments when the music slows down and highlights something sing-able by singing the syllables of the notes (A, B, G, F#), or, for a challenge, the solfege (I know, I know….it’s a challenge). If you would like to test your creativity and give a more personal meaning to the notes, come up with your own words to the music. The translation of singing the melody to your playing is remarkable! The melody will literally become personalized and it will suddenly be clear how each note connects to the other and how all notes connect to the larger picture. The best phrase to literally sing through your notes is found after Rehearsal 2 through the downbeat of Rehearsal 5. Sing it loud and proud! Then play. Create magical melodies! (Corny, yes, I know. But highly effective!)
Use breath kicks to prevent rushing. As I mentioned before, much of this work is based on scales and other repetitive patterns. It is, therefore, very easy to rush through your lines and consequently leave your pianist in the dust (not cool!). This can be prevented by placing a breath kick, or small accent or vibrato emphasis, on any notes that fall on eighth note or quarter note downbeats. Breath kicks are like mileposts along the highway, or, for my more athletic inclined readers, mile markers by the side of the road during a marathon, as they help remind you, your audience, and your pianist, where the beat falls. A very good place to practice adding breath kicks to a phrase is 4 measures after Rehearsal 6 where a chromatic scale ushers in the dramatic reappearance of the melody in the high register. If you get there before your pianist, your audience will know for sure that you rushed the phrase (embarrassing), and your pianist will be steamed (rightly so). Placing breath kicks on the notes falling on downbeats in this phrase will keep you from rushing and create a more dramatic, and measured build-up to the climax in the next measure. (Yay! Great success.) The same practice can be applied to other “build-up” phrases within the work including the chromatic phrase located 5 measures before Rehearsal 12, and the virtuosic broken chords at the beginning of the coda section at Rehearsal 18. Adding breath kicks throughout the work will anchor your rhythm both in the practice room and on stage as you perform this incredible piece in front of an audience.
Have you performed the Hue Fantasie? What are some of the passages that challenged you the most? What practice techniques did you use to address the above problems or other issues not mentioned in this blog? Please comment below!