Month: October 2021

Rampal’s Astrological Chart

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!

In honor of Halloween, today’s blog will be a departure from the normal discussions of the shoulds and should-nots of flute playing (or if either of those things are even necessary anymore). We are going to have some fun with astrology! As many of you may know, I publish a monthly flute horoscope column for The Flute View (check out your horoscopes here if you are curious what the stars have in store for you:  https://thefluteview.com/sections/dr-gs-flute-horoscopes/). I find astrology to be fascinating and, at times, somewhat comforting (particularly if the world is spinning in directions that I do not understand). I always like to remind my readers (and my tarot clients) that I am not a witch or Voldemort, so please keep this in mind as you read today’s post. This is all for entertainment purposes only! I use astrology and tarot merely as a tool to understand people, places, things, and circumstances a bit better while also seeking creative solutions to problems I may have not yet considered. Okay, disclaimer over. Now upward into the stars!

Today we will be discussing Jean Pierre Rampal’s astrological chart.

Jean Pierre Rampal was a legendary flutist and teacher, inspiring generations of flutists not just on traditional French flute playing techniques, but on how to truly be an international flutist icon. Rampal was, has, and will always be #fluteplayinggoals (as the kids say). He began life as the son of flute teacher (Joseph Rampal) and was somewhat of a prodigy. He began playing the flute at the age of 12, eventually studying the Altes Method at the Marseille Conservatoire where he would go on to win first prize in the school’s annual competition in 1937 at the age of 16. Although quite talented at an early age, Rampal was encouraged by his parents to attend the Marseille Medical School to become a doctor or a surgeon (aka professions with a bit more stability than music). That was short-lived, however, as he was drafted for forced labour in Germany during the Nazi Occupation of France in 1943. He instead fled to Paris where he avoided detection by frequently changing his lodgings. While in Paris, he studied flute at the Paris Conservatorie with Gaston Crunelle, winning the coveted first prize in the conservatorie’s annual flute competition in a short four months (1944). Rampal received his big break in 1945 following the liberation of Paris, when he was invited by composer Henri Tomasi, conductor of the Orchestre National de France, to perform the Ibert Flute Concerto on French National Radio. In 1945 terms, Rampal essentially went viral! Thus began a series of performances, first in France in 1947, then in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. He joined the Vichy Opéra orchestra in 1947 and later served as principal flute at the Paris Opéra (1956-62). He joined the faculty at the Paris Conservatorie in 1968 (and needless to say the flute-playing world has not been the same since!). On the chamber music scene, Rampal founded the French Wind Quintet in 1945 and the Baroque Ensemble of Paris in 1953. Some may suggest that his popularity was in large part due to his expansive list of recordings (like a YouTube superstar before the days of the interwebs). Rampal was also well-regarded for his authentic interpretation of 18th-century music, editing several works by Baroque composers. His autobiography, Music, My Love: An Autobiography was published in 1989. Rampal died of heart failure on May 20, 2000 in Paris, France at the age of 78. French President Jacques Chirac led the tributes, saying “his flute spoke to the heart. A light in the musical world has just flickered out.” Flautist Eugenia Zukerman observed: “He played with such a rich palette of color in a way that few people had done before and no one since. He had an ability to imbue sound with texture and clarity and emotional content. He was a dazzling virtuoso, but more than anything he was a supreme poet.”

He was to many of us (myself included) the penultimate master of flute playing!

So, astrologically speaking, was there anything written in the stars that suggested he would be the best flutist in the World? Let’s look a bit deeper into some of his placements to answer this question.

For my fellow astrology experts, here is what Rampal’s natal chart looks like:

And what some of his primary placements are:

Let’s start with some of the basics:

Rampal’s Sun Sign was Capricorn. The Sun represents who a person is at the very core of their personality. Capricorns are extremely hard-working and realistic. They have the ability to act on their ambitions with the fire of an Aries but stick to it with the persistence of a Virgo or a Taurus. Capricorns get things done correctly and on time. They demand recognition for a job well-done and do not spend a lot of time on things they may find frivolous. They like to pare things down and often take pleasures in the simple things in life but appreciate quality rather than quantity when it comes to their surroundings. They may be a bit stubborn sometimes, but it is usually with a personal goal or good cause in mind (some may call this “strong-willed.”). Dependable, honest, responsible, and a very hard worker. Rampal clearly meets all of these Capricorn bench-marks just by looking at his long and successful career. When he was interested in something (such as Baroque music), he worked incredibly hard to edit the score and perform all of the details with the sensitivity of a master craftsman. That takes a degree of grit and persistency that often alludes other signs.

Rampal’s Moon Sign was Aries. The Moon represents how we deal with emotions. I sometimes like to think about the Moon as the personification of the whispers we hear in our own heads at night. How do we deal with the way we feel? A Moon placement in Aries suggests that Rampal may have loved to live in the moment. Whenever there was something he wanted, he would likely make it happen ASAP. Efficiency and speed are two very important values to people with this Moon placement (which we can hear just by listening to his 16th notes!). These folks do not waste time and do not like to wait for things to happen. They are quite independent but rarely sulk if they do not get their way. They just move on to the next thing!

Rampal’s Mercury was in Capricorn. Mercury represents the way that we communicate. For musicians, this could even be tied to the way that we communication non-verbally through our music. We have already discussed many of the general characteristics of a Capricorn, but when it comes to this Mercury placement, it suggests that Rampal appreciated structure and order in his communications (and in his music – which would explain his interest in editing Baroque compositions). Folks with Mercury in Capricorn are resourceful, reflective, and deep thinkers – they notice everything! Although this placement may lead to some skepticism and sarcasm, they do still possess a very sharp sense of humor (even when explaining the flute to Miss Piggy on the Muppet’s Show – Still one of my favorite clips of all time).

Rampal’s Venus was also in Capricorn. Rampal had a lot of Capricorn in his chart! This explains so much – always hardworking, reliable, dependable, and prolific. But at the core a flutist with clear convictions. Venus represents how we love. A person with Venus in Capricorn wins us all over by showing us their responsible side. We can trust them no matter what! They are goal-oriented, witty (I dare you to find a masterclass video where he was not witty!), savvy, and self-controlled. Nobody can get the best of them. They may not be all puppies and rainbows all the time like a Cancer, but rather enjoy to win others over by showing them how practical and realistic they can be when it matters the most.

Rampal’s Mars was in Scorpio. Mars represents how we take action (or how we get things done). As a Scorpio Sun myself, I can spot another Scorpio from a mile away! Scorpios like to get to the bottom of whatever it is that interests them. They throw themselves into activities with concentrated energy and incredible willpower. Tell us that something cannot be done and we will find a way to prove you wrong! We will research tirelessly for hours, or in Rampal’s case practice all of the things until they are completely transformed into something better, but will do so quietly and away from others. You will never see us sweat – we are calm and collected to the outside world. Didn’t Rampal prove to his parents that he could not only thrive as a musician (rather than a doctor) but indeed become the best flutist on Earth? Very Scorpio in Mars!

And Finally,

Rampal’s Jupiter was in Libra. This is a beautiful placement. Jupiter represents luck and grace. Someone with Jupiter in Libra attracts good fortune by being fair-minded. They treat others with equality and are fantastic promotors and mediators. They value relationships and find it comforting to relate to others. They use charm and grace to achieve all of their goals. This speaks to Rampal’s approach as a teacher. Generous and altruistic, he was a sensitive teacher that knew how to listen to others. A dreamer with a fantastic imagination – This is how he will continue to inspire generations of flutists now and in the future.

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Do you enjoy these astrology-based blogs? Is there another composer or performer that you would like me to discuss? Are there other ways that you believe Rampal embodied his astrological placements? Please comment below.

Happy fluting and Happy Halloween!

Don’t Throw your Tart in the Bin – 10 Lessons on Competition Recordings

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday. Apologies for my absence (thanks a lot, Mercury retrograde!).

Today’s blog will be a bit more reflective than instructive, but there are a number of important lessons to be learned for those of you in similar circumstances. My husband and I have recently been binge-watching The Great British Baking Championship (thanks to Netflix). In the first season of the show, contestants were required to make their own creative interpretations of a Baked Alaska, which is a dessert that features cake covered in a layer of ice cream. One contestant was struggling to keep the ice cream layer on his Baked Alaska from melting under the heat of the tent, so he placed his creation in the freezer and hoped for the best. Unbeknownst to him, another contestant accidentally removed his work-in-progress from the freezer and left it on the counter to melt. When it was discovered, the Baked Alaska had turned into soup. The contestant was understandably enraged. Rather than trying to salvage what he could of his cake to present to the judges, he tossed his entire dessert in the trash bin and stormed out of the tent. Needless to say, he was eliminated from the competition.

Wait a minute – this is a flute blog! Why am I talking about a baking show?

Well, I had a similar experience recently while preparing a competition recording. There were only two required pieces for this competition, one of which I had performed in a previous life, and the other was a new piece that I rather enjoyed practicing behind the scenes. I prepped both pieces over the course of about a month and was feeling quite confident about making the required videos. Unfortunately, my poor planning and overconfidence led me to procrastinate recording videos well in advance of the competition deadline. I only gave myself three days (which were also packed with a number of other responsibilities). The videos were not as easy as I thought they would be and my own perfectionism made it impossible to get through entire takes without stopping and scrapping them. I was frustrated with myself and discouraged by my playing.

I wanted to toss my Baked Alaska (aka competition videos) in the trash bin and give up just like the contestant did on The Great British Baking Competition. 

But I didn’t. I kept pushing onward. I kept recording my takes, no matter how disappointed I was with my not-so-perfect playing. I uploaded the best ones I could find, even though I knew they weren’t perfect and a far cry from the music I had been creating in the practice room in previous weeks. I put out what I could and entered the contest against the wishes of my inner critic. I did not advance to the next round, but learned a few very valuable lessons:

  1.  Give yourself a lot of time to record. Although you may not be performing these works for a live audience, your fight/flight instinct will be activated simply by pressing the “record” button. Make sure you have more than enough time to record as many takes as reasonably possible.
  2. Learn from each take (no matter how “good” or “bad”). Rather than stopping a take in the first few seconds because the beginning is not perfect (a cracked note here, an iffy articulation there, etc.), play the piece all the way through and reassess afterwards. What went well? Keep doing that! What could be improved? Mark it in your part!
  3. Be patient with mistakes. I am super guilty of angry practicing between takes when I make a mistake. What does it usually accomplish? Nothing. Just more frustration. Instead, try breaking down your mistake. Practice it slowly. Practice it in chunks. Change the way you think about note groupings. Transpose it to a number of different keys. Use your mistakes as opportunities to think about the music differently. With that being said, also…
  4. Take more time between takes. This will help you think calmly yet critically about what to change in the next take. I think one of my biggest mistakes was to immediately begin the next take after chucking the previous one over an attack I wasn’t quite happy with or other minor imperfection, restarting the video already frustrated with myself. Use the time between takes to reflect and refresh. Grab a glass of water and practice a few meditative breaths or meridian tapping sequences.
  5. Target tricky bits by listening carefully to others. YouTube is a great resource for videos and recordings of flute pieces by a number of performers. Listen very carefully to any technical bits you may be struggling with. How do other performers approach these parts? Do they take strategic breaths? Use rubato to help them over difficult fingerings? There may be an easier way to approach sections that are likely to throw you for a loop on recording days.
  6. Take a number of complete takes each day, but rank your top 3 from each session. More takes requires more review at the end of your recording project in order to select the right one to use for the competition. Be confident with your cuts. Second guessing your instincts will send you spiraling on the path of “what ifs.” Life is too short to live in “what ifs.”
  7. Location. Location. Location. Select a variety of locations to record in (if at all possible). Is there a recital hall at your school that you may use after hours? A church that remains quiet during the day? A studio space in your home with great acoustics. Experiment with any space available to you.
  8. Don’t forget about fundamentals. Remember to keep working on harmonics, long tones, scales, and articulation exercises while prepping your recordings. It is easy to become so focused on your recording project that you forget about the important fundamentals of flute playing. These fundamentals are often what separates the good flute players from the great ones.
  9. Give yourself a reasonable recording schedule and stick to your time blocks. Recording is intense! It is easy to keep saying “5 more minutes,” thinking that the perfect take is just around the corner, only to find yourself frustrated hours later with not much to show for it. Your sanity, health, and well-being are worth far more than the “perfect” recording.
  10. Finally, don’t throw your tart in the bin. No matter what, don’t give up. You may feel that your recordings aren’t perfect. You may also think that someone else out there will be “better” than you. These are misleading messages from your inner critic! Tune them out. So what if you do not win the competition? The work you have put in to creating your recordings, reviewing and thinking creatively about your playing, and trying (and trying again) is worth more than any prize or accolade. Remember that while submitting your application with pride! You did it (and nobody can take that away from you)! Think ahead to your next competition with all of the lessons you learned from this one.

Do you have your own tales from past recording projects? What have you learned through the recording process? Do any of the above lessons resonate with you? Share your stories below!

Keep performing. Keep recording. Keep competing. And above all keep fluting, no matter what!

Happy fluting!