Here are some Halloween-y musical treats--just in time to celebrate!
*This is the first post in a three part series on the history of the modern flute.
As an eleven-year-old beginning flutist, I never paused to consider the origin of the instrument precariously placed in my lap. As I am sure others did, I purposed only to press the correct keys down at the right time so as to achieve the holy grail of flute playing—principal chair. It never occurred to me to educate myself about the history of the amazing craft I would spend the next twenty years pursuing. I cared only to be the best flutist among the six others at my side—and to have rocking vibrato. Because everyone knows intense vibrato is the mark of an amazing flute player, right?
All flute jokes aside, this is a growing epidemic in many band and orchestra programs due to the inaccessibility of critical historical information. If ever a young person desired to dig deeper, pages and pages of tedious technical information would likely extinguish any curiosity. I feel, however that this knowledge is vital as the flutist approaches music from different time periods.
Awareness of the flute for which a particular piece was written can add meaning to the preparation of the work and validity to its performance. As musicians in the twenty-first century, it is exciting to embark on a new era of musical innovation; however it is also our duty to preserve the tireless efforts of the great musicians who paved the way for us to do so. It is my hope that this series will provide an accurate yet succinct roadmap to the journey of flute workmanship from the earliest times to the present—a platform for music educators to enrich the studies of young flutists.
Middle Ages (500-1400)
In its primitive state, the flute of the Middle Ages played a supporting role to vocal works of the time. Virtuosic flute playing was inconceivable in the culture of this period, thus the design of the flute was quite simple. Its makeup consisted of a plain wooden cylinder measuring less than two feet in length with six finger holes cut into the tube enabling the player to execute a D-Major scale. These openings were designed to comfortably fit the flutist’s hand placement without regard to the scientific awareness of acoustics. Consequently, intonation was less than ideal.
The Renaissance (1400-1600)
Gaining independence from the supportive role of the middle ages, flute music gradually became its own genre during the Renaissance. Mimicking the human nature of previous ventures, models were available in several voices, including discant, alto or tenor, and bass. The expansion of the flute family accounted for the larger range requirements the transverse flute alone could not achieve. It was common practice to rotate through the different flutes according to the mood of the piece being performed.
As the expressive qualities of Baroque music emerged, so did the requirement for a flute capable of a wider range of technical possibilities. Though little music existed for the flute at this point other than a few works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), many performers adapted those written for solo violin and oboe. Unfortunately, the range of these two instruments exceeded that of the flute necessitating renovation in the flute’s design. Thus began the centuries-long process of reconstructing a temperamental piece of hollow wood into something capable of negotiating the current musical territory.
Today, we've covered three historical periods of early music--tune in for the next two Mondays as we cover the rest!
Thanks for reading, and happy practicing!
For article sources, click here.
Do you ever experience pain while you play the flute? What about after a long practice session? Maybe it's just because I'm creeping up in age, but I've noticed a lot more pain issues associated with flute playing than I did when I was a teenager and through my twenties. In fact, it wasn't until I began studying music again as a graduate student that I really began noticing the debilitating effects of practicing for longer periods of time. The biggest problem for me is the area on my back between my shoulder blades, but I've also had issues with my arms, hands, neck, and even my legs (from standing "pigeon toed" rather than both feet facing forward). I've tried many things to alleviate the pain including cold/heat therapy, stretching, pain medication, etc...but to really prevent the pain from happening in the first place, one must adopt a proactive mindset.
If, like me, you also struggle to get through painful practice sessions, I've rounded up a few ideas from other flutists and other professionals on how to deal. I'm looking forward to reading as well, because even as I sit and write this post--my neck is killing me!
Happy Pain-Free Practicing!
Pain-Free Flute Resources
1. Alexander Technique
I first heard of this practice when my undergraduate flute professor, Jill Heyboer invited an expert in the field to present a masterclass to our flute studio. Being the idealistic (and sometime idiotic) young person that I was, I didn't pay much attention to what he had to say--in fact, I don't even remember his name. In my mind I was invincible, and I could just push through my pain--no big deal. Looking back, in addition to having much compassion for my flute professor and her endless patience with me, I also wish I would have taken the whole idea more seriously, as I'm sure I wouldn't be experiencing the pain I do now. Another Alexander Technique teacher and professional percussionist, Mark Josefsburg, wrote a brief yet enlightening article on how this practice can be used by flutists. To learn more about Alexander Technique, Mr. Josefsburg covers it all in this informational video. To locate a practitioner in your area, go to THIS website and search by state.
To combat stress in my twenties I began practicing Yoga, and I did notice a difference in my posture while I played my flute, as well. There are many "fluties" who are also "yogis," so finding info about how the two intermingle isn't very difficult. I found a great flute/yoga article written by professional flutist and piccoloist, Cindy Ellis. She covers the benefits of yoga and how it has affected her musical career. If you'd like a secluded arena in which to introduce your tight limbs to the practice of yoga, I'd suggest purchasing a few of these Gaiam Yoga Videos. If you are in the Columbia area and ready to venture out into a class setting, alleyCat Yoga Studio is one of my favorites. They have a restorative yoga session that is most helpful.
3. Flute Posture
For some helpful tips on posture, read this article written by Laurel Ann Maurer. In the post, she explains why she holds her flute parallel to the ground, rather than a downward angle. I'm constantly reminding my conservatory and private students to heed this advice because of how it affects air flow, tuning, and proper head/neck/shoulder alignment. This can be a controversial topic, so if you are a studying with a flute teacher, talk it over with them before changing the way you hold/play the flute.
4. Physical Therapy
This last find is in honor of my poor illiotibial band (IT band)--which has nothing to do with flute, really, but the concept applies. Two months ago I decided to train for a vigorous and LONG bike ride. I did it in three weeks, and in my usual "invincible" attitude, I didn't do much to stretch or strengthen my muscles aside from the actual training rides. As a result, after my 115-mile ride through the hills of mid-Missouri, I haven't been able to run, bike, or sometimes even walk because of pain in my IT band. I had to see a physical therapist who prescribed a specific stretching/strenghening/foam-rolling regimen for several weeks--and maybe...just MAYBE I'll get to work out again soon. So...all this to say...if you don't prepare your body to play the flute--especially during endurance type practicing or performing situations--you will pay for it! Maybe not today...maybe not tomorrow...but soon. Very soon. If you would like to learn more about how to avoid this terrible fate, I suggest reading this article about physical therapy for flutists by flutist/physical trainer, Angela McCuiston.
What are things that help you avoid pain while playing the flute? I could use all the suggestions I can get--and I'm sure I'm not alone!
Thanks for reading!
So, here you are.
Sitting in in a band or orchestra for the very first time--In the flute section, nonetheless.
Situations like these can be tricky to navigate, especially if the director of your ensemble doesn't have much experience dealing with flute players.
Because, in case you haven't already figured it out...flutists are a species all their own. Usually of the feline type, if you catch my drift..
If you aren't careful, the dynamics of the section can get screwed up in a hurry and before you know it, you'll be in the middle of your own worst nightmare. Unless, of course, you thrive on drama...in which case I'm not sure I can be of any help to you:)
When you find yourself in a section with other flutists (or really any musical section in a band or orchestra), there is a protocol--often unspoken--that needs to be followed in order for peace to preside. If the flute section is peaceful--life is much better for everyone else. Trust me. :)
This is by no means an exhausted list, but rather a round-up of tips I've learned (mostly the hard way...) in my performance journey from 5th grade band to the pro-orchestral scene.
Ten Tips for a Thriving Flute Section
Did any of the tips ring a bell for you? Have additional tips? Please comment here or on Facebook to share your opinion!
Thanks for reading!
Whether you are out in the professional world taking major orchestral auditions or getting ready to try for your first high school honor band position, there are basic steps that can help you score that amazing job you’ve always dreamed of. However, for most of us the process of taking auditions can be a long road fraught with trial and many errors. The brave few who forge to the final blessed round will tell you that years of persistence and fortitude cleared the path to their dream—not relying only on natural talent and/or luck. The moral of the story is that consistent and purposeful practice and reflection is the only way to land that next gig—well, for most of us at least!!
The following is a list of some things I have learned (mostly the hard way…) to implement each time I set out for a new audition. This is the method that works for me—if you are seasoned enough to know what works for you, modifying the list to suite your needs will be the best plan. If you are younger and/or new to the auditioning, I encourage you to follow this technique closely for several auditions until you get a better handle on what the process is all about.
1. Make a list of all excerpts, deadlines, fee requirements, and travel plans if applicable.
My biggest advice for this one is to triple check the audition information as soon as you receive it. I’ve wasted so much time and money simply because I failed to simply follow the directions! Here is a great introductory article on how to prepare the most frequently requested orchestral excerpts.
2. Locate the music if the organization doesn’t provide it for you.
IMSLP Petrucci Music Library is a wonderful online source of free PDF downloads of music that is under public domain. While you are at it, print a copy of the scores—piano or orchestral—and organize them with the audition excerpts in a thin three-ring binder. I prefer to use clear sheet protectors to keep everything nice and neat. You’ll be thankful on audition day when your music isn’t falling all over the place. If you’re like me, you’ll be nervous enough without this added stressor.
3. Plan out your practice time.
Using the length of time you have left until the audition, make weekly goals for learning the music including gradually increasing goal tempos. This may go without saying, but it’s really important to divide longer and/or more difficult pieces into small manageable sections. This reduces frustration when learning a difficult excerpt. Sometimes I only work a measure at a time (ahem—Firebird!). I've designated a small notebook to keep track of my progress—and also to keep me from getting distracted. It’s also helpful for me to actually write down how many minutes I will spend on each piece, and then set the stopwatch on my iPhone to help me know when my time is up. Your time is a precious resource, so be deliberate in how you spend it!
4. Listen to recordings.
In my pre-graduate studies, I was reluctant to listen to recordings. Maybe it was the desire to figure it all out on my own, but I’m fairly certain it was just plain stubbornness. It took several years, but I have seen the light! Not only does listening to a great performance inspire you to create a more beautiful tone and artistic interpretation, it is crucial in learning how the piece fits together.
Please remember that the excerpt of music you are practicing is much more than your individual part. Most likely you have a pianist, other wind instruments, or an entire orchestra full of various colors, harmonies, and rhythms to coordinate. This can be very complicated—especially when you rehearse the actual piece for an actual performance. Even though you will be the only musician playing during the audition (though this isn’t always true…), your job is to show the committee/adjudicator that you fully understand the piece of music and are prepared to rehearse it with actual live musicians.
Resources I use to find great recordings are iTunes, YouTube, and Naxos. Be careful that you are listening to recordings of professional flutists with tones and technique you admire--especially on YouTube. If you tend to get distracted while listening like I do, plan to do so with either the score or your part in front of you. A pencil to mark notes in the music is also helpful.
5. Record yourself.
When it feels more comfortable to play the music at or near the indicated tempo with appropriate style, start recording yourself.. I use the iTalk app on my iPhone and my Zoom Q2 HD video recorder. I recommend sending some of your better takes to a trusted colleague or teacher and ask them for their feedback. Also, study the recordings on your own to evaluate where you should focus your energy while practicing. More often than not, the sound we think we are producing isn’t what is projecting from the flute. Recording yourself is sometimes the only way to get a true sense of what is going on. It will most likely be intimidating (or possibly depressing...) at first, but just keep trying---I promise you will improve!
6. Practice being nervous.
Maybe you are someone who never experiences the wretched nervousness (shaking/sweating/blacking out) that often accompanies the audition process, but for the rest of us, getting used to playing well despite our bodily functions is an important skill to acquire. To learn more about this process, click HERE.
7. Plan for the audition day.
The worst thing to realize while you are waiting hours to audition is that you didn’t bring enough to eat. When it comes to food and water, OVER prepare. If your blood sugar is low and your stomach is rumbling, you will not be able to think well enough to withstand the mental pressure. I usually pack a banana and a Larabar or two. Also bring something to occupy your mind (a book, magazine, or game) while you are waiting around. If listening to other flute players psyches you out, bring really great earplugs. Lastly, this is a great opportunity to triple check the audition information one last time. Be sure to know where you are going, where to park, where to walk in, and what time to be there. Wear professional but comfortable clothes, and go win that audition!!
Today I've invited my friend and trusted colleague Elysia at Crecelius Flute Studio to share her recent blog on sight-reading. I've been playing with this woman for four years now, and she is KILLER when it comes to reading new (and especially difficult) music. .
Whoops my butt every time...
In all seriousness though, reading duets with Elysia is so exciting because I come away from the experience challenged and inspired to work more and more to "up" my sight-reading game. :)
So...without further adieu...
Click on over to Flutey Things And How To Play Notes: Sight Reading and I'll see you again on Monday.
Happy Practicing, Everyone!!
Performance Anxiety is something that has plagued me since I was four years old.
Well, when I was four my mother had me get up in front of my whole church and sing a little song. It was a song I knew by heart and loved singing it at home for close family and friends. When I got up on the stage with the microphone in front of my face and peered out over the audience just staring at me...I completely forgot the whole thing.
My mom had to help me by singing with me, and I was MORTIFIED.
I'm sure everyone would have thought I was adorable whatever the heck I did up there...but as a very sensitive child with perfectionist tendencies (even at the age of FOUR...)...I was beside myself with shame that I'd screwed it up and let everyone down.
If you are someone who gets really nervous when performing in front of others, you are not alone! Most accomplished musicians with whom I have conversed struggle with this on some level. It's good to remember that part of your nervousness is because you are so passionate about your craft and are quite concerned that the audience enjoys the experience with you.
Scenarios That Can Trigger Performance Anxiety
On my journey to cope with performance anxiety I have learned a few things that have really helped me overcome the more severe bouts of nervousness. If you have a performance or audition coming up, try following these five simple steps to set you up for success!
Preparing for Performance in Five Easy Steps
Was this article helpful? Do you have other ways to combat performance anxiety? I'd love to hear about your journey--please comment below or contact me if you have any specific questions!
And We're Back!
Leaves are falling and the crisp air is a gentle reminder that the semester is in full swing! Lessons at Smyth Flute Studio are ramping up and I am ready for new discoveries and musical milestones for each of my wonderful students.
Rehearsals at the Missouri Symphony Conservatory are also underway and the flute sections in both orchestras are quite sizable! I am so pleased with the talent and morale in each of the sections--the first concert is bound to be a treat. It's also very exciting to teach the young flutists the differences of playing in an orchestral setting versus band. Considering I was almost thirty years old before I played in an orchestra myself, I find it so important to show each of the students the ins and outs of sitting in the back of the ensemble. Most of them love the new found "freedom" they have to whisper to one another without the director noticing. :)
Thank you to all who attended the Pipes and Keys family concert last month--it was a blast! I must say my most favorite moment of the recital was playing a Bach invention with Elysia from Crecelius Flute Studio while Jazz Flute Extraordinaire Justin Cook beat-boxed in the background. A-Maz-ing. I'm sure we were quite the spectacle...but it was a performance I will never forget. Recordings will be coming soon, but to see some recently uploaded videos from our Summer Duo Recital, click HERE and scroll to the Chamber Music section. Enjoy!
Taking a much needed break from the rigors of pro orchestra auditions this year has been bittersweet. I find if I don't have something musically challenging on the horizon I get horribly bored and un-motivated in my flute playing. So--I'm dreaming up a solo recital...hopefully for Spring 2015. I'd like to combine a few older pieces in my rep that I've never performed with some new ones. Here are some considerations...I'd love to know what you think!
Sunday Morning by Ian Clarke
Piece by Jaques Ibert
Bortel--1900 and Cafe 1930 from the History of the Tango by Astor Piazzolla (replacing cello with flute, of course...however in moments like these, I really wish I would've learned classical guitar...)
Happy fluting, everyone!
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