Month: May 2018

On the Cusp

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday.

While I was drafting my June flute horoscopes earlier this week, I began thinking about the cusp phenomenon. There are a number of cuspers in my family (mostly falling in the Cusp of Power) and I know all too well how different their energies are from their standard sun sign placements. Cuspers are those born 3 days before or 3 days after the Sun moves into a new sign. What this means, according to some astrological experts, is that these individuals often exhibit personality traits common to both the surrounding signs. In some cases, the combo of the two signs helps to smooth over any difficult aspects in one sign or the another, but in other cases challenging traits are enhanced with the influence of the adjacent sign. For example, many of my family members who are born on the Cusp of Power (between Aries and Taurus) are quite strong individuals but also some of the most stubborn people on Planet Earth (both Aries and Taurus are known to be very fixed and stubborn signs). Today’s blog will take a look into how the unique characteristics of cuspers manifest in our flute playing lives. Whether you are a cusper or not, I hope to leave you with better understanding of some of your flute playing colleagues who fall within these very special astrological zones.

*Please note: All cusp descriptions are taken from tarot.com https://www.tarot.com/astrology/cusps/born-on-the-zodiac-cusp . How they make their way into flute playing is, of course, my original interpretation.

 

 

The Cusp of Power (Aries/Taurus) – April 16-22

Strengths: Strong, energetic, fun, smart, humorous, courageous

You have the energy and determination to climb mountains in both your professional life and your home and family life. You want to be the best and want to lead your team to success! You love to be out and about, and you play even harder than you work — if you can imagine that. You’re your own best friend and are strong enough to know that you’ll always be OK no matter what happens.

Weaknesses: Stubborn, pushy, harsh, selfish, controlling

It’s very hard for you to let things go or let others do things that you know you could do better. You tend to get fired up about an opinion, idea, or project and then you dig in your heels and refuse to drop it. You like things done the best way possible, and you aren’t able to easily trust others to do your bidding. Sharing responsibilities is tough for you — almost as tough as it is to share your feelings and life! Your independence and freedom are important, but try to be sensitive to your friends and family and realize that their desires and opinions matter, too.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

These cuspers make extremely good section leaders. Their strength, courage, and determination allow them to easily project solo passages high above the orchestra. It is rare for conductors to demand more sound from these flutists as they are literally afraid of nothing. Although they may be abrasive at times, they are great leaders for the rest of the section as they can show musical and non-musical cues very clearly. You will never need to guess what your section leader wants if they are born on the Cusp of Power. They are certainly not warm and fuzzy, so they might want to leave the party planning to the Geminis and Libras of the group. As a musical leader, however, they are the best of the best and this deserves mad respect.

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The Cusp of Energy (Taurus/Gemini) – May 17-23

Strengths: Fun, energetic, witty, charming, adaptable, exciting, outgoing

You’re a pleasure-loving individual who’s blessed with endless energy! You live life to its fullest by enjoying all the experiences the world has to offer. You’re the person everyone calls when they want to have fun or have a good talk. You’re adaptable and can get along with a vast variety of personalities. You have a sense of wonder and creativity about you that lights up any room!

Weaknesses: Self-centered, reckless, wild, impatient, indulgent, loud

You’re quite the conversationalist, but sometimes you don’t know when to shut up. Everyone loves having you around because you always have a good story or an interesting anecdote to share, but you often forget to let others get a word in. If your friends and family start to feel overshadowed or second-rate, they could start to put a little distance into your relationship. You’ll have more, better friendships if you remember that conversations are as much about listening as talking. Give everyone a chance to be heard — you never know what you’ll learn!

How this manifests in your flute playing:

This cusper is a masterclasses aficionado! Not only are their masterclasses fun and informative, they really know how to connect to everybody in the room in creative and imaginative ways. This is a rare and beautiful gift. They always have a great story to tell when they teach that both entertains and instructs at the same time. Their energy is amazing and they have no problem teaching 3-4 hour masterclasses without batting an eye. In fact, teaching in front of a large group enhances their natural creative energy. They know how to work the crowd and have great, practical, and approachable ideas.

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The Cusp of Magic (Gemini/Cancer) – June 17-23

Strengths: Fun, flirty, curious, intellectual, affectionate, caring, devoted, sensitive and inspirational.

Weaknesses: Moody, overly emotional, scatterbrained, selfish, depressive and self-destructive.

How Gemini-Cancer energy works together: Gemini’s speedy and breezy energy combines with Cancer’s slower and more thoughtful nature to create people who are both light and bright. Gemini’s restlessness is nicely balanced by Cancer’s sensitivity, resulting in a well-rounded soul.

What they love: Great big books about history and philosophy, trying out new recipes, hosting dinner parties and playing with children (after all, they’re kids at heart, too).

What they need: Sensitive and affectionate Gemini-Cancer cuspers need someone to love! Without a special someone to nurture, they can become moody or depressed.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Individuals falling on this cusp are very gifted flute teachers, especially for younger, beginning students. Being kids at heart, these cuspers are very good at explaining complex issues such as embouchure placement and air capacity in simple ways that children can identify with. Their thoughtful nature helps them create 901 ways to explain the same concept to students with widely different personality types. They do not like being stuck in a practice room alone, so it is important for these individuals to be surrounded by musicians that like to rehearse in larger groups.

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The Cusp of Oscillation (Cancer/Leo) – July 19-25

Strengths: Loving, devoted, expressive, creative, cheerful, passionate.

Weaknesses: Self-absorbed, insensitive, dramatic, dependent, volatile.

How Cancer and Leo energy work together: Cancer’s sensitivity doesn’t always mix well with Leo’s bold nature. These cuspers need to be careful of oscillating between extreme highs and lows, and of being either too sensitive or completely insensitive. If you can learn to let Cancer’s soft side tone down Leo’s outrageousness, you’ll find more balance and peace.

What they love: Pendulums. Just kidding! These cuspers are in love with love. Because they are so loving and devoted, they develop long lasting relationships and often have big families.

What they need: A purpose greater than themselves! Cancer-Leo cuspers need to find balance, and in order to do so they need to get outside of themselves. Helping others or devoting time to a worthy cause is a great way to find peace and focus on something other than themselves.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Flutists born on this cusp are recital masters! (esp. when performances are for good causes) Their personalities are a perfect fit for the stage and, in true Leo style, they need to be the center of attention. The oscillation between extreme highs and lows help them pump incredible interpretation into solo pieces that demand similar changes in mood and tone color. They love the drama of music and are no doubt known for their brilliantly convincing performances of French Flute School works. The Cancer side of the these cuspers likes to have plenty of friends and family at their performances and also likes to host benefit recitals for local charities, particularly around the holiday season.

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The Cusp of Exposure (Leo/Virgo) – August 19-25

Strengths: Hardworking, passionate, discriminating, positive, success-driven and honest.

Weaknesses: Critical, antisocial, manipulative, stubborn, quarrelsome and melodramatic.

How Leo and Virgo energy work together: Leo’s flair for drama and Virgo’s down to earth practicality don’t always mix well. These cuspers need to be careful of living a life of extremes — either bold and loud or silent and secretive. But if they can strike a balance between their extroverted and introverted sides, they will master the rare ability to know exactly when to speak up and when to remain silent.

What they love: Getting behind a good cause. Leo is a loving and natural born leader, while Virgo is hardworking, detail oriented and devoted to helping others. Together this is a persuasive cusp combination that is happiest when rallying a group of people in support of a great cause. And know this: They will succeed!

What they need: Intimacy. It won’t come easy for these cuspers, who value secrets and privacy above all else, but they really need to have people in their lives who know them well and love them for exactly who they are.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

If you need a group leader to talk to the higher ups about funding opportunities or a new rehearsal space, send in one of these cuspers. They are the masters of the boardroom and can very efficiently cut through the thickest of red tape. Not only do they pour their heart and soul into performing with your group, they can also put on a very sharp suit and advocate with convincing facts and figures to any agency or institution. Need a travel grant for your group to perform at a conference? These individuals will get it done. Want to go to Europe and study with a chamber music guru? They will masterfully fill out the grant application and ace any interview to make it happen.

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The Cusp of Beauty (Virgo/Libra) – September 19-25

Strengths: Attractive, intellectual, communicative, artistic, social, sensuous.

Weaknesses: Superficial, materialistic, detached, perfectionist, nervous, jaded.

How Virgo-Libra energy works together: Virgo’s analytical skills and attention to detail combine nicely with Libra’s social skills and love of beauty to create balanced individuals who are both intelligent and artistic. Both signs share a love of beauty that meshes nicely.

What they love: Objects of beauty, including people, art, fashion, home décor, nature and anything pretty you can look at, buy or adorn yourself with.

What they need: Virgo-Libra cuspers need to keep their lives in order and everything running smoothly and looking good in order to prevent anxiety.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

These cuspers are masters at making weird, new, experimental music sound amazing. 12-tone music, for example, speaks to their analytical strengths while the Libra influence helps them to convert the intellectual into something beautiful. Music by Steve Reich or Phillip Glass really speaks to these individuals, who can create beauty even amongst relentless repetition. If you are a composer wanting to experiment with new, off the wall compositional techniques for the flute, find a flutist whose birthday falls within this cusp to discover new, beautiful ways to bring your compositions to life.

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The Cusp of Drama (Libra/Scorpio) – October 19-25

Strengths: Powerful, competent, sexy, charming, intellectual, honest.

Weaknesses: Cynical, sarcastic, picky, self-absorbed, blunt.

How Libra-Scorpio energy works together: Libra is ruled by thought and intellect, while Scorpio is about powerful and deep-seated emotions. This can result in a conflict between head and heart, but these individuals are powerful overall – even more so if they can find balance.

What they love: The truth. Libra-Scorpio cuspers aim to get to the bottom of every situation, and won’t stop until they’ve picked at something from every angle to get to the truth.

What they need: To relax! These cuspers will be much happier if they can give their inner critic a day off once in a while and try to have fun without an agenda.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Because these cuspers love a good drama, they naturally make talented opera or ballet pit performers. Battles between the head and the heart are at the center of most opera and ballet libretti. These individual find it easy to connect with the story on stage and exhilarated to be part of the musical fabric that pulls the performance together. Because they have a tendency to criticize themselves too harshly at times, performing as part of a pit orchestra removes the very stressful element of an audience staring at them during the performance. This gives these cuspers a bit more confidence to play out, finding creative ways to meld their parts seamlessly into the music surrounding the story.

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The Cusp of Revolution (Scorpio/Sagittarius) – November 18-24

Strengths: Energetic, adventurous, powerful, accomplished, generous, passionate

Your combination of vision and determination gives you a competitive edge that will carry you far in life. The ability to think deeply as well as philosophically gives you a great understanding of who you are and where you fit into the world. The energy and intensity you feel fuels your desire to make positive changes for yourself and those around you. Your bright sense of humor, optimistic outlook, and willingness to interact genuinely with others will gain you fast, loyal friends.

Weaknesses: Secretive, selfish, rebellious, wild, aggressive, blunt, misunderstood

With the fury of Scorpio and the fire of Sagittarius, your demeanor might seem aggressive or overwhelming to those around you. And since you always need to be on the move, you can get impatient if others get in your way or slow you down — be gentle with them, they could use your spunk! Your desire to fight for your beliefs is admired, but it can manifest as a rebellious and unfocused frenzy if your energy isn’t channeled properly.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

The relentless focus, energy, and competitive edge to these cuspers make them very talented auditioners. They are not afraid of a battle. They come prepared to every audition and, unlike some of their water sign colleagues, are not afraid of the screen in a blind audition. They laugh in the face of stage fright. If, for any reason, they do not win the audition (which is a rarity), they do not fall apart. Instead, they learn everything they need to learn from past mistakes and show up to the next audition 110% prepared and essentially unstoppable. They don’t really like to stay in the same place for a long time so you will frequently see them cruising the audition circuit for bigger and better opportunities throughout the world. Learn from their tenacity.

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The Cusp of Prophecy (Sagittarius/Capricorn) – December 18-24

Strengths: Responsible, outgoing, friendly, fair, loyal, humorous, successful

Your desire to expand your mind and experience all life has to offer — coupled with your determination and drive — can have you making a big, positive impact in your life and the lives of others. You’re able to see and understand the issues at large, then be organized enough to take the slow and steady steps needed to reach your goals. You know how to problem solve strategically, without losing your optimistic attitude — the makings of an incredible leader!

Weaknesses: Moody, closed, intense, impatient, uncooperative, selfish

You can come across as quite isolated and intense when you’re in the zone. You’re influenced by that fiery Sagittarius energy, but your Capricorn side prefers to turn into ambition and success. With all this passion going into your work world, there’s not a lot of time left for the people in your life. Though you’re outgoing and loyal to those who make it into your circle, you might not offer them the emotional balance that a true friendship or romance deserves.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

An organized individual with determination and drive who can see the larger picture and takes steady, strategic steps to achieve their goals suggests the core traits of a very gifted conductor. Individuals born within this cusp are very good at examining all of the details in a score and can also motivate an entire orchestra to achieve all of their performance goals. These conductors are wonderfully knowledgeable leaders and easily earn the respect of all musicians that perform in their ensembles.

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The Cusp of Mystery (Capricorn/Aquarius) – January 16-23

Strengths: Determined, creative, entertaining, idealistic, witty, empathetic

Born on the Capricorn-Aquarius cusp, you are blessed with the drive for success and the gift of creativity. Normally these two traits might clash, but for you these traits allow you to dream big and envision positive change. You can easily put yourself in others’ shoes and see the world from different perspectives. This also makes you a kind and generous friend — when you take the time to listen.

Weaknesses: Detached, chaotic, selfish, aloof, critical, judgmental

Because you have your amazing imagination and creativity to keep you entertained, you may close yourself off in your own world and feel like you don’t need others to keep you company. You enjoy being alone with your thoughts, but this can make your loved ones feel unwanted — which is a shame because they are your greatest supporters! Remember that teamwork makes the dream work and if you don’t put a little effort into your relationships every now and then, they may not be there anymore when you need them.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Flutists falling under this cusp love to spend most of their time in the practice room. They are highly creative and love trying new ideas in the safety of their own practice space. You may find these cuspers auditing masterclasses near and far, taking vigorous notes, and absorbing all of the new tips, tricks, and ideas in their own practice sesssions. These individuals are very skilled at organizing their practice time to their best advantage and know how to prepare for a performance well in advance. We all wish that we could use our practice time as well as these cuspers!

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The Cusp of Sensitivity (Aquarius/Pisces) – February 15-21

Strengths: Understanding, empathetic, generous, intuitive, idealistic, creative

Your innate sensitivity and love for humanity make you a very kind, caring, and generous individual. Others are attracted to your selflessness and ability to see the world with all- encompassing compassion and understanding. You’re strongly appreciated amongst your friends and family because you’re such a great listener and confidant.

Weaknesses: Detached, depressed, isolated, unfocused, insecure

Your mind is in the clouds and your eyes are on the future, which disconnects you from what’s happening in the present moment. It can be hard for you to engage in casual, everyday conversation with friends, family, or coworkers, because you’d rather escape into your imagination. Dreams will enrich you, but you’ll need to pull yourself back down to earth every once in a while in order to live your fullest, most balanced life.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Although their heads may be up in the clouds sometimes, these cuspers are the best chamber musicians in the zodiac. They are musical chameleons and very gifted at blending their sound into the sounds around them. They often do not like to be the leaders (they would rather leave that to their Aries counterparts) but are very good at following the lead of a talented section leader or conductor. Their sensitivity to changes in dynamics and tone color is unparalleled. If you are looking for solid members of your ensemble, look no further!

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The Cusp of Rebirth (Pisces/Aries) – March 17-23

Strengths: Intuitive, smart, empathetic, driven, fun, quirky, creative

Your ability to churn out ideas, solutions, and plans makes you an exceptional leader. Life is never dull when you’re around! You know how to solve problems creatively and have the energy to act and make concrete decisions. You have a strong empathy and compassion for your loved ones, and you’re eager to listen and advise them with your intuitive senses.

Weaknesses: Stubborn, loud, impulsive, direct, selfish, uncompromising

Your different way of looking at the world and willingness to share with others can sometimes be off-putting in social settings. You love to dive into deep subjects quickly with anyone who is willing to listen, and while this can make fast friends for those willing to engage, it can also make other people quite uncomfortable. You tend to latch on to your beliefs and can be very stubborn when someone challenges you. Enjoy the debate! Try to relax and have a fun, diverse conversation with those who disagree with you.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

These cuspers are well suited to be very talented and popular college professors. They are full of amazingly creative ideas and opinions and are quite in-tune with the current state of political and social issues that surround them. These cuspers are not afraid to dive incredibly deep in a topic within a classroom environment and truly respect the perspectives that their students offer. They are not afraid of a heated debate. Their energy and valuable advice make the beloved members of the faculty and often strong leaders for higher administrative roles. They are often the glue that keeps the music department together.

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Are you a cusper? Do you exhibit the personality traits mentioned above? How do they make their way into your flute playing? Please comment below!

 

 

Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

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Practice Blueprints: Repertoire 101 – Menuet by Bizet

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.

Bizet 1

Today’s blog is the second installment in the Practice Blueprints: Repertoire 101 Series (hope you are enjoying these – please let me know in the comments!). Bizet’s Menuet from L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2 is perhaps a little more advanced than the Gavotte discussed last week, but it is nevertheless chalk-full of important lessons in endurance, pacing of air, dynamics, embouchure flexibility, and finding the ebbs and flows in each phrase using strategic variations in tone color. Working on these elements is a great place to start if you are a beginner just learning the basics of this work. If you are a teacher, today’s blog will also help you identify some of the musical priorities to discuss with your beginners. You may even add your own creative exercises to address any of the below musical elements. Grace and beauty is the name of the game for this work. Never let the technique distract from the beauty buried within the manuscript.

Bizet 2

Endurance. For many beginners, a 2-pager is a bit longer of a piece than normally assigned and the slower, Andantino quasi allegretto tempo indicates that the road ahead is not a quick one (it’s more of a garden trail than a freeway). Therefore, it is necessary for students to build performance endurance. Much like the Gavotte, there are natural pauses in the standard ABA form that serve as benchmarks, breaking the piece down into smaller components. I encourage students to learn the piece one section at a time, building endurance gradually. For example, a student may begin their study by mastering measures 1-18 before adding measures 19-30. When they feel confident playing from measures 1-30, they can add measures 31-42, and so on until playing from beginning to end is not such a chore. The natural sections in this piece are arranged in the following sequence:

Section 1         mm. 1-18

Section 2         mm. 19-30

Section 3         mm. 31-42

Section 4         mm. 43-58

Section 5         mm. 59-66

Section 6         mm. 67-78

Section 7         mm. 79-end

Master one before moving to next and, once the piece is performance ready, go back and memorize the work in the same sequence. This step-by-step method will simplify the learning process and solidify the piece both within the fingers and within the mind.

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Phrasing. Another defining feature of this work is the elongated phrase structure. This may prove a bit difficult for beginners as they make their way through the challenges of pacing their air. A great place to start is by creating a phrase map with clear breaks between phrases. Not only will this help newbies take appropriately placed breaths, but it will also outline where each phrase begins, where it ends, and how the melody ebbs and flows within each starting and ending point. Such an outline will show your more visual learners how each of the smaller parts relate to the work as a whole which, in turn, influences the way they interpret the piece. Going a step further, putting together a phrase map will also uncover opportunities for a sneaky, emergency breaths (which may come in handy under the pressure of the stage). Hint: Good, hidden breaths can typically be placed after longer notes in the phrase by ending the note a sixteenth note early, leaving that space to take a short breath.

And with your phrase map in hand, you may also start to design a tone color plan:

Tone Color. In one of my very first blog postings, I discussed creating a tone color plan in your music by selecting a color to represent each type of sound and literally coloring in your music to reflect those tone color changes (of course, make a copy of your music before doing this – no colored pencils on original manuscripts). For beginners, this can also be achieved by first understanding how the phrases fit together and how dynamics and rhythmic motion influence sound. Help your students find their own interpretations of colors in warm up exercises (for example, ask them to play what they think purple sounds like, what red sounds like, and so forth). Help them to define what characteristics create that sound (vibrato, dynamics, intensity). Once they have developed their own personal tone color legend, ask them to apply that to their interpretation of the piece. This is a great roadmap for the stage!

Bizet 5

Embouchure flexibility. This piece is a great way to introduce harmonics to your beginners. The opening phrase in measures 2-3 reoccurs throughout the work and contains a number of notated harmonics. Harmonics require a flexible embouchure to move quickly from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. A great warm-up to use in conjunction with this work is the harmonic exercises found on page 6 of Trevor Wye’s Practice Book on Tone. These studies begin simply by building harmonics on a low C. Using your embouchure, the natural harmonic series will sound by move your lips gradually forward and increasing the pressure of your air stream. The same manipulations of the embouchure will help achieve the notated pitches in the Menuet. For an added challenge, try playing these notated pitches using only harmonic fingerings! An Eb fingering, for example, will produce all of the harmonics indicated in measure 3.

Bizet 6

Dynamics. Are you ready to learn how to play quietly yet still project? This piece is a study in dynamic control at the extremes. A majority of the work remains in a pp-p range. It is important to remain quiet and graceful, but still project as the soloist, AND stay in tune. That’s a tall order! But it can be done with a bit of practice (and a reliable tuning app). Beginning in measure 39, however, the dynamic, seemingly out of nowhere, increases to forte. What the heck?! Out of a graceful, beautiful, yet simple and quiet melody, we are suddenly transported to the land of boisterous trumpets and the entrance of the king and queen. This is your opportunity to show the audience the difference in tone color between a piano dynamic and a forte. Use these measures to unleash the flute diva within! Belt it out, Beyoncé style. Of course, the grace and simplicity return in measure 59 with another piano dynamic. The overall dynamic fades to a “ppp” by the end of the work. Control is the name of the game. Remember to keep a supported center to the tone and project while remaining mindful of the fading dynamic and intonation. Ham up that fade out at the end of the piece (it does indicate “(long)” below the fermata on this last note, after all).

 

What do you think are the most challenging components of this piece? How do you like to approach this work as a performer? As a teacher? What exercises do you use in conjunction with this piece? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!