Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!