Month: June 2018

Practice Blueprints Repertoire 101 – Siciliano, Sonata No. 2 in E-flat Major by J.S. Bach

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday!

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Today’s blog is a continuation of the Practice Blueprints – Repertoire 101 Series (Are you all still enjoying this series? Please comment below!). The Siciliano movement from Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in Eb major is an excellent introduction to Baroque repertoire and often one of the first pieces I assign to beginners just learning to subdivide sextuplets (they are really not as scary as they look). This piece was requested by one of my readers (thank you!) and I encourage anyone searching for practice blueprints on a particular piece to please comment below or send me a direct message so that I can discuss your piece on an upcoming blog.

There are a number of foundational components to this short movement that, when isolated, not only strengthen your performance of the piece itself but significantly improve your flute playing overall. As the kitten Marie observes in the Disney animated film, The Aristocats, “If you’re smart you’ll learn by heart what every artist knows. You must learn your scales and your arpeggios.” Keep the below guidelines in mind as you work your way through this piece and use them as forever exercises. The music does not end when the performance is over. Use the lessons here to gradually build upon your flute technique over time.

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Practice your G minor and D minor scales. Much of this work centers around the tonalities of G minor and D minor, so familiarize yourself with all the different versions of these two scales in your daily warm ups (natural, harmonic, melodic minor variations). Your fingers and your ears will get used to hearing and playing familiar note patterns that directly translate to this movement. A good exercise to practice in conjunction with this piece is good, old Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #4 from the 17 Daily Exercises collection. You will learn to work through a number of different types of minor scales and adapt to transpositions in and out of each scale. On the same note…

Also practice your G minor and D minor arpeggios. One of the things to understand about Baroque music is that, in general, what goes up (ascends) typically comes back down (descends) and this is done through the use of scales in conjunction with arpeggios. Therefore, it is important to familiarize yourself with both during your daily warm ups. A good example of this type of writing can be found at measure 8 where a pattern of ascending broken chords, primarily in F Major, is followed by a melodic g minor descending scale. To save yourself some time and headache, I urge you to simply write the name of the scale or chord above where it appears in your music and devote some of your warm up time to mastering those harmonic patterns. Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #10 and #12 are both excellent warm ups to strengthen your skills in these areas. Add these to your practice routine as you learn this movement.

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Lift the crown of your head slightly up to “reach” higher notes. The melody of this short movement often contains higher notes that seem to jump out of the texture and if you are not prepared, these notes create a sound equivalent to wearing a tube top in church – completely out of place. To give these notes a bit of grace and balance, work that mind/body connection and use the top of your head to lift your neck and head to achieve proper posture. This will enable your air column to open and produce a note with excellent resonance. Try this for the first four measures of the movement to balance out your sound for a much more effective performance

Ask yourself, “Where are these 16th notes leading?” All of the passages written in 16th notes are always trying to lead to a more suspended downbeat or melodic fragment. Picture these phrases as arrows and circle the notes where the arrows lead. Intensify the line as it approaches each landing note. Remember that in this movement the melody is key. Everything else is merely decoration (and lovely notated arrows) that lead us back to the melody.

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Bring out the leading tones. Bach creates tension in this movement by including a number of suspended leading tones that briefly resolve before moving on to the next musical idea. In a subtle way, he dares his listeners (and performers) to embrace the uncomfortable longing that these notes create in the texture. Therefore, it is very important to emphasize these pitches and, with a sprinkle of strategically placed vibrato, intensify the sound on suspended leading tones. These can be found particularly in measures 17 and 18 and again at measures 27 and 28.

Do not forget to dance. Remember that the Siciliano was a dance movement characterized by lilting dotted figures in a compound meter. March to the larger duple beats as you practice this piece and, if you feel brave enough, even dance around your practice room to these beats to capture the style of the music. Marching and/or dancing will also help iron out any rhythmic difficulties that may arise (such as holding notes a bit too long or resting too long after a sixteenth note rest).

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Identify opportunities to sneak a breath after a downbeat. Bach does not leave a lot of time to breathe in some of his flute sonatas, but he does hint and places where the melody temporarily resolves enough before the next musical idea, giving us flutists an opportunity to add a Rampal-esque sneak breath. For example, at measure 13 the melody almost always seems to pause on the downbeat of the beginning of a 16th note continuation. These are perfect places to sneak in a very quick breath before moving on. These breaths fit quite well into the natural configuration of the melody and are nearly undetectable to your audience. To ensure that you do not take too long of a breath, shorten the downbeat just enough to inhale a small bit of air. You do want to resolve the cadence, but you also still want to move the music forward.

Keep your volume and tone quality even throughout the dipping and meandering scales. This movement is a very subtle exercise in tone flexibility. Practice retaining volume and sound quality throughout the registers by reviewing Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise No. 10 from the 17 Daily Studies. This exercise will lead you through similar patterns in every major and minor scale under the sun. Focus on keeping your low register resonate while balancing your higher register with a calm yet sparkling sound. This will translate perfectly to the Siciliano and create a much more even and centered sound through the movement.

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Have you performed this movement before? What were your challenges? Have any of the techniques in today’s blog worked for you? Do you have other techniques that you like to practice in relation to this piece? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

 

 

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What is a Shakuhachi?

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.

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Several years ago when I was working on Fukushima’s Mei, my flute instructor at the time asked me to listen to pieces featuring the Shakuhachi to get a better sense of the overall musical tone of the piece. I thought she had just made up a new name for a fictional instrument played by the aliens on Star Trek or existing on some other strange planet featured in science fiction dramas on television. I had no idea what the Shakuhachi was, where it was played, what it sounded like, how it was performed, or what type of repertoire was written for the instrument. By performing a little bit of research, I came to understand that the Shakuhachi is a beautiful instrument with a haunting, hypnotic sound well suited to solo performance scenarios. In today’s blog, we will be examining the Shakuhachi. I hope to leave you with a new appreciation for this instrument and encourage you to find fresh inspiration buried deep within its sound.

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What is a Shakuhachi?

A Shakuhachi is a Japanese end-blown bamboo flute that is tuned to a minor pentatonic scale (D-F-G-A-C-D). A simple instrument, the Shakuhachi contains only five finger holes (four in the front and one in the back for the thumb). The term “shakuhachi” translates to “1.8 shaku,” which refers to the size of the instrument. A “shaku” is a unit of length equal to about 30.3 centimeters that is subdivided into 10 subunits. “Hachi” translates to “eight,” and in this case relates to eight subunits of a hachi. Therefore, a typical Shakuhachi measuring at 1.8 shaku is about 54.54 centimeters. It is played by blowing across a block called a “fipple,” similar to blowing across an empty bottle. The sharp edge that the player blows across is called an utaguchi and provides substantial pitch control. When the blowing angle is adjusted, the pitch can be bent easily upward and downward. Combined with embouchure and fingering adjustments, pitches can be altered as much as a whole tone or more (!). This makes it possible for composers to indicate different note names for the same pitch to achieve different tone colors. The Shakuhachi has slightly more than a two octave range, and requires performers to hit the finger holes with a very fast movement to create articulated patters. Due to the skill and time required and the quality of the bamboo materials, Shakuhachis may range from $1,000 to $8,000. Plastic or PVC Shakuhachi are also available on the market, typically for less than $100, however the tone quality of the bamboo model instruments is far superior.

What does a Shakuhachi Look Like?

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History of the Shakuhachi

The Shakuhachi was transported from Japan to China during the 8th century. Later during the Edo period (approximately 1600-1868), Shakuhachis were most notable for their connection to the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks, known as komuso, who used the instrument as a spiritual tool in meditative practices to relax the mind. They referred to Shukuhachi repertoire at that time as “honkyoku.” These monks often wore wicker baskets while they performed as a symbol of their detachment from the world. Although the honkyoku repertoire was passed down from generation to generation aurally, much has been lost over time. The Shakuhachi has traditionally been played by men in Japan until recently. In 2004, the first-ever concert of international women Shakuhachi masters was held at the Big Apple Shakuhachi Festival in New York City.

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Shakuhachi Repertoire

The instrument is performed widely in Zen music but has also been featured in folk music and jazz ensembles. The Shakuhachi has been used in film scores such as Karate Kid Parts II and III, Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, Jurassic Park, The Last Samurai, and Memoirs of a Geisha. Renowned Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu wrote numerous piece for the Shakuhachi, including his well-known Celeste, Autumn and November Steps. The primary genres of Shakuhachi music are the honkyoku (traditional solo works), sankyoku (ensemble, with koto and shamisen), and the shinkyoku (new music composed for the Shakuhachi and koto – influenced by western music). Sythesized Shakuhachi became all the rage beginning in the 1980s when electronica, pop, and rock groups began to feature the instrument on various album tracks. These recordings include Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” (1982), Dire Straits’ “Ride Across the River” (1985), Rush’s “Tai Shan” (1987), Enigma’s “Sadeness” (1990), Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray,” (1993), and Linkin Park’s “Nobody’s Listening” (2003).

Shakuhachi Performers

Riley Lee – Best known for his performance of Down Mantras (Sydney Opera House at sunrise on January 1,2000 – televised internationally).

Gorō Yamaguchi – Best known for his performance of Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky. This was the first Shakuhachi recording to appear in the United States.

Jim Franklyn – Australian Shakuhachi performer and composer – Composed music for solo Shakuhachi with electronics.

Yoshikazu Iwamoto – Collaborated with British composer John Palmer on Koan (1999), a piece for Shakuhachi and ensemble containing a wide range of extended techniques.

The N.Y.C. Shakuhachi Club (featuring Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes) – This group plays Avant-garde jazz versions of traditional American Folk and Blues songs with Shakuhachi accompaniment.

Clips featuring the Shakuhachi (What does the Shakuhachi sound like?)

 

 

 

Do you own a Shakuhachi? Have you attended a Shakuhachi performance before? What is your favorite piece featuring the Shakuhachi? Can you hear the influence of the Shakuhachi in flute pieces by Fukushima and Takemitsu? Please comment below.

 

 

Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Flute Recording Recommendations

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday (one of these days I will get my act together and start posting Flute Friday ON Fridays).

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Summer is just around the corner! This is typically a good time to regroup, reprioritize, and explore new ideas for repertoire. I often find myself getting lost in recordings I find on YouTube or iTunes during the summer months while soaking in the beautiful California Summer sun. I use this time to step outside my own playing and discover something new and inspiring in the playing of another.  Throughout my career there have been a handful of recordings that I have considered staples in my collection. In today’s blog, I will share my top 5 favorite (and highly recommended) flute recordings. If you are searching for new inspiration, spend some time with these masterpieces (and a pair of earbuds). Listen for new ways to approach tried and true repertoire that you may not have considered before, or simply soak in some beautiful flute music under the summer sun.

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  1. 20th Century Flute Masterpieces – Jean-Pierre Rampal

Available on Amazon: 20th Century Flute Masterpieces

Why I love this album:

I was fascinated with complicated yet exciting 20th century works as a graduate student. This CD is full of the best of the best repertoire (Ibert Concerto, Poulenc Sonata, Hindemith Sonata, etc.), many of which have been edited by Jean-Pierre himself at one point or another. I gravitated toward Rampal editions whenever selecting new repertoire, so it was very helpful to have a very good example of how the editor intended the work to be performed. Rampal’s performances are always breathtaking, intricate, technically flawless, and nothing less than inspiring. If you are searching for a 20th century work to program on your next recital, spend some time perusing the tracks on this recording. This will no doubt become a staple in your collection.

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  1. Mozart Concertos for Flute & Harp: Classic Library Series – James Galway

Available on Amazon: Mozart Concertos for Flute & Harp: Classic Library Series

Why I love this album:

This collection has a special place in my heart as one of my very first flute CDs was a similar recording of James Galway performing the Mozart Flute Concerto in G Major. I love how James Galway kicks up the intensity of these very standard flute concerti with a some added vibrato. This gives the works a bit of sparkle that Mozart would have enjoyed if he were alive today. I also really enjoy Galway’s cadenzas on this recording which, like the Rampal recording above, have been transcribed in Galway’s own editions. One of the challenges in performing Mozart Flute Concerti is finding new ways to breathe life into these standard, meat and potatoes, works. Galway’s recordings will help you discover new possibilities to keep your next performance of Mozart fresh and alive.

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  1. The Virtuoso Flute, Volume 1 – Julius Baker

Available on Amazon: The Virtuoso Flute, Vol. 1

Why I love this album:

What can I say besides, “Julius Baker is the man!” Everybody has their own opinion about which flutist is their all-time favorite, and for me it is a very close tie between Rampal and Julius Baker. Baker, however, I feel is much stronger as a Baroque artist than Rampal and this recording shows Baker doing what he does best. The Telemann is a work that does not receive enough airplay, but I think Baker’s performance will inspire you to program it on your next recital. I highly recommend this recording if you are curious as to why Julius Baker is revered as one of the most important flutists of the late 20th century.

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  1. Bach: Complete Flute Sonatas – Emmanuel Pahud

Available on Amazon: Bach: Complete Flute Sonatas

Why I love this album:

I really like when a collection contains a number of works by the same composer and since Bach Sonatas are often sold as a collection in manuscript form, this album is a great way to listen and follow along with each sonata. Bach and the beach is a great combination for summer! I really enjoy Pahud’s interpretation of these works and, like Galway, he adds a bit of sparkle and newness to the tried and true Bach Sonatas. We all have our favorite Bach Sonatas (for example, I am partial to No. 4 in C), but when was the last time that you sat down and listened ALL of them? Is there one that you find interesting that does not often get programed on flute recitals? You might find something new in the recording that you did not know about Bach before.

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  1. Flute Music by French Composers by Ransom Wilson

Available on Amazon: Flute Music by French Composers

Why I love this album:

Like the Pahud album above, I really enjoy recordings that are arranged in the same manner that the manuscript appears in our standard collections. If you know that you would like to program a French Flute School work on your next recital, for example, you may simply pick up one of these recordings, follow along with your manuscripts, and select one of the pieces after you have listened to all of them. This Ransom Wilson recording is a good example of such an album. This is an excellent recording as it is never too over the top. The danger of performing the exciting and emotional music found in the Flute Music by French Composer collection is that it is very easy to overplay literally everything when you are nervous on the stage. Ransom reminds us all to chill – music can be phenomenal while still remaining precise.

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What is on your list of favorite recordings? Do you own any of the above recordings? Which one is your favorite and why? What recordings are on your summer listening list? Please comment below!

Happy Fluting!