Month: July 2017

Practice Blueprints – Carmen Fantasie

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We are about to enter the annual astrological sun transit of Leo. Leos are the lions. The kings and queens of the forest, the Beyoncé’s of the stage, the divas of the Silver Screen, Leos demand drama and pageantry. Anything less is not worth their time. When I think of pieces that embody the qualities of a Leo, there is only one that stands out as the true diva of all flute works. The Carmen Fantasie always wins over the toughest crowd. Everyone recognizes the tunes from this beloved opera Carmen (even my own grandma!) but the virtuosic variations offer unexpected fireworks showing off fantastic finger-work. And yet there is much more to the Carmen Fantasie than impressive runs. In today’s blog, I will be discussing various approaches to preparing this flute staple as part of the next installment of my Practice Blueprints series. Although you will be required to assume the role of the diva as well as the virtuoso, it is important to always remember that there is a storyline silently shaping the notes on the page. You are now part of the play. You are the star of the show. Own it!

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First Thing’s First; Watch the Opera.       The Carmen Fantasie is based on melodies taken from the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. Most of us have heard the Habanera at one time or another but have you ever sat down and watched the entire opera (with subtitles)? Do you know what the story is about? Do you know what the characters are singing about or even who they are? To truly understand how to play the Carmen Fantasie, you must first understand the story of Carmen. Read the libretto but also check out YouTube clips from some of the best productions of the opera. My personal favorite performances of the Habanera are listed below! These two performances truly embody the character of Carmen. Keep these in mind when performing the variations to maintain the style of the aria amidst the technical demands of the music.

https://youtu.be/uV9iGv4sKNI – Julia Migenes-Johnson, Film

https://youtu.be/KJ_HHRJf0xg – Anna Caterina Antonacci, The Royal Opera

Of course, the best way to experience Carmen is by attending a live performance. Research offerings of at local opera houses. Carmen is a very popular opera and hosted by numerous opera companies throughout the world. Attend!

Carmen 2

Along these same lines, sing through the melodies.        There are several moments in the Carmen Fantasie that feature melodies taken nearly verbatim from the opera. After watching a performance of the opera, sing the arias in your head as you play the melodies in the score. If the words are difficult for you to understand due to language barriers, make up your own! If there are no words present in the original score (for example, the opening melody is an instrumental theme from the opera), make up words to fit the mood of the excerpt. Be creative! You are the prima donna now. Finally, remember to project! The mezzo forte, for example, before Rehearsal 46 is clearly not fitting for such a powerful low register melody. Belt it out! Give your listeners goosebumps by digging into the depths of the sound and the heartache of the story.

Carmen 3

Be conscious of register jumps.                      François Borne created breathtaking variations by using several octave displacements. This essentially means that you will find numerous lines that jump quickly from the lowest of the low the highest of the high. You must maintain a flexible embouchure throughout these variations and be extra careful not to skim the second note of an octave jump. For example, at the key change following Rehearsal 233, it is very easy to mask the octave jumps beginning on the low G, A, B, and A respectively. To counteract this, make sure to add a clear accent to the lowest note to bring this tone out of the texture. These notes act as pedal tones for the variations in the higher octaves and require a bit more weight to anchor the melody to the musical foreground. Finally, to strengthen embouchure flexibility, add flexibility warm-ups to your daily practice routine. Trevor Wye includes some very effective exercises in his Practice Book on Tone but Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #10 is also a good alternative for a bit of variety.

Carmen 4

Practice your arpeggios!               Many of the variations in this work are based on broken chords (which is the most common way for composers to vary a melody). What this means for the performer is that we must be comfortable and proficient with our arpeggios to execute the fireworks of the phrase properly. A good example of this writing can be found at the Moderato before Rehearsal 73 where a series of scales and arpeggios vary the melody set forth in the first 4 measures of the passage. Practice this work in conjunction with Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise #12 (which covers all those pesky arpeggios).

Carmen 5

Use breath kicks to prevent Wild Fingers.            This piece is very exciting and most passages fit exceptionally well under the fingers. For these reasons, it is easy to rush easier passages and fly recklessly through more difficult runs. Before you know it, you are several beats ahead of your accompanists who is struggling to hear downbeat placements (or really any type of beat placement period). Dial it back a bit by adding breath kicks (small accents or slight additions of vibrato) on tones falling on critical downbeats in a phrase. For example, the Presto following Rehearsal 338 is a notorious place for crash and burn opportunities due to Wild Fingers. Adding breath kicks, particularly at Rehearsal 343, will keep your beat in check and the phrases clearly distinguishable to your audience.

Carmen 6

How do you like to practice the Carmen Fantasie? What sections of this work do you find particularly challenging? What tips do you find most effective? Do you have any other approaches to learning this work that you find valuable? Please comment below.

 

Happy Fluting to all you Divas out there!

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Digs for Gigs

Greetings! Welcome to the holiday edition of Flute Friday (even though it is clearly Tuesday – oops!). Happy 4th of July to those celebrating in the states.

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In the spirit of Independence Day, today’s blog is all about being an independent contractor. Musicians often find themselves stringing together multiple sources of employment to earn their income (these are sometimes referred to as “income streams”). In order to successfully accomplish this, they must find performing and teaching opportunities anywhere they can. Unlike other professions, we cannot simply pull up the want ads and send our resume to HR managers at a handful of organizations. We instead must dig to gig. The internet is a good place to find groups and organizations searching for musicians and many other lower tech techniques can be used to successfully connect to a variety of performance opportunities. In today’s blog, I will discuss some of the most useful resources available to independent freelance musicians searching for gigs. Hopefully these suggestions will help all of you connect to several new income streams both within your own surrounding communities and across the world.

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Musicalchairs.info.  I have stalked this website for well over a decade (I know….#sad). This is one of the best places on the internet to search for audition notices from professional orchestras. I used this website in my college years to research exactly which excerpts I would need to prepare to have a shot at any future orchestral positions. I printed out the audition lists, obtained copies of all listed excerpts, saved these copies in a 3-ring binder, and performed mock auditions for my cat (again, #sad). This was actually very good preparation for real auditions down the road. What I have always loved about this website is that it includes links to the audition notice directly from each institution’s website and displays concrete application deadlines on the home screen. Obviously, you will need to travel for many of these auditions, but keep your eyes peeled for orchestras that require preliminary CD auditions. Simply set up your iPhone, computer, or Zoom recorder and create an audition CD from the privacy of your own practice room. (I think more orchestras should really move toward the preliminary audition CD model because it can be very costly to travel to auditions around the country.)

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International Musician Magazine. When I was studying at the University of Minnesota, the librarians often hid subscription copies of the International Musician behind the front desk because the journal would frequently “go missing” from the library. This is a wonderful journal that is known for it’s large job notice section listing any and all orchestral audition opportunities from around the United States. If it isn’t posted on Musicalchairs.info, it will no doubt be listed in International Musician. If you are searching for an orchestral job, this is the best place to look as nearly all professional orchestras purchase advertising space in International Musician. A monthly subscription to this journal is well worth the subscription fees to keep you in the know each month.

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National Flute Society. Did you know that with your subscription to the NFA, you are also given access to a number of resources on the NFA website, including a job board (!) (this is located under the “Resources” tab)? Many of the links featured here are advertisements for university teaching positions or graduate assistantships, but I have also come across the occasional advertisement for a performance opportunity. Keep your eyes peeled!

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College Music Society. Calling all flute teachers! Are you looking for college teaching opportunities? Would you like to present at a local or national conference? Participate in webinars on a variety of musical topics? The College Music Society is a wonderful resource for all of us DMA’s searching for job openings at the collegiate level. My favorite part about this organization (besides the numerous conferences held around the country and frequent calls for papers) is that they email members an updated list of available job openings once a week! This is a very convenient way to stalk new teaching opportunities on a regular basis and stay informed on all job application deadlines and requirements.

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Higher Ed Music Jobs. This is another very good website to stalk if you are searching for a collegiate teaching position. Higher Ed Jobs is sort of like the International Musician for college instructors. If there is a job available out there, Higher Ed Jobs will most likely have a link to the job description and application requirements. Pro tip: Do not limit your search to “Flute Instructor” or “Flute Professor.” A number of job listings require a bit of digging through job descriptions to determine just what type of candidate they are searching for (for example, links listing “Adjunct Music Professor” or “Assistant Music Instructor” may be looking for specific specialties in woodwind instruction or additional qualifications in music theory or musicology). I often like to peruse these listings on a weekly basis and email relevant job descriptions to myself where I can organize them into inbox folders according to job type and application status. This is a handy way to refer back to original job descriptions when writing cover letters or requesting letters of recommendation.

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Community Orchestra Websites. Are you simply looking for a group to play with to gain community exposure and sustain your performance chops? Grab a pen and paper and sit down to a Google search of local community orchestras. Bookmark the “auditions” page on each website. Are they searching for new members? If so, audition! If not, simply send an email to the personnel director (typically listed under “contacts”) and inquire about upcoming audition or substitute opportunities. Performing with community groups is a great way to connect to other flutists in your community who may refer you to other performance opportunities or direct new students your way. You may also meet other musicians wanting to start smaller chamber groups for other community gigs.

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Craigslist. I know what you are thinking – Not only does this seem outdated but isn’t Craigslist used for finding apartments, used furniture, puppies, and free stuff? Craigslist also has a link for “Musicians.” Most listings are for bands, guitarists, or folks just wanting to jam, but there are some listings searching for church musicians and community teachers to instruct lessons at local music shops or school music programs. You may also search for job listings by simply entering “music” in the search box under any of the job categories. Pro Tip: Be weary of fake listings! Never give out personal info to others on Craigslist. Research groups and musicians you may be contacting before setting up a gig time or applying to jobs. You don’t want to end up on a future episode of Forensic Files! Be careful.

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When in doubt, find your own gigs with an old school flyer. One of my favorite scenes from the movie High Fidelity is when a street musician approaches Jack Black’s character at the record store to ask him about a flyer that was posted in the store searching for garage musicians for Jack Black’s unnamed band. This seemed like an awkward yet funny character scene at the time, however by the end of the movie, Sonic Death Monkey made their debut as a surprisingly talented group of musicians. What is stopping you from doing the same? Find your own group! Set up a flyer searching for musicians for a woodwind quintet, for example, at a local college, using your email to collect information from interested parties. Perform at weddings, special events, churches, community celebrations, or simply host recitals around the community. Some of the greatest rock bands started in a basement. Follow their example! We do not necessarily need to form our groups from the orchestral stage.

 

How do you find gigs within and outside your community? What job boards to like to use when searching for teaching and performing opportunities? Which one of these resources do you find to be the most helpful in your job search? Please comment below.

 

Happy fluting!