Sally Walker – An Interview

Elena Kats-Chernin’s new flute concerto Night and Now is the result of a long friendship and collaboration with flautist Sally Walker. Sally will be premiering the concerto on Saturday 24 October with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Wood.

Angus McPherson spoke to Sally Walker. (Excerpts from Elena Kats-Chernin’s program note for Night and Now are in italics.)

 

When did you know Elena was writing you a concerto?

The idea of writing me a concerto stemmed naturally from our many other collaborations; it had been talked about for some years but crystallised once Elena was awarded the Australia Council Fellowship in late 2014, which also meant a confirmation of a timeline of events. She then began writing furiously and by January played me her idea for the first movement (on piano, from which she composes).

Photo: Steven Goodbee Publicity.

Sally & elena

How did the collaboration between you and Elena work?

Our collaboration process is very easy. It always begins with a lot of talking and a lot of laughing in a session at her place around the piano – trying things out. As we are both very itinerant, we are emailing mostly thereafter, with occasional phone calls. If we are in the same city at the same time, of course we try to meet, but the contact is very constant in the written form. Sometimes I will send her a sound file (like yesterday, so she could hear the recording of the first tutti rehearsal).

Sally often hears sketches of my work as I’m writing them and she has great insight into my processes. When Sally and I began to think about what a major work for flute and orchestra would sound like, we discussed all of these qualities and how to showcase the flute as a solo instrument and emphasise its unique sound and capabilities. Sally’s sound is full bodied. It isn’t a little flute which flies away – it has earth. That is Sally…how she is, very earthy and elf‐like at the same time. That’s what flute is, the way Sally plays it.

We began with talking about what the piece should be. I said that I would like a work of depth and seriousness, which has beautiful melodies and embodies her knowledge of unusual harmonies. I especially wanted some darkness (so many flute concertos have the ‘brilliante’ aspect of the flute, but I think our low register is very stirring). In 2006, Elena wrote her flute and piano version of Blue Silence for me and it became my favourite of all her works. She needed some persuading that the slowness of the music was convincing; she is more comfortable writing very busy music. When it was broadcast by the ABC on a show called For Matthew and Others, she received enormous praise for this contemplative work. I had wanted that work to be a starting point for the concerto. Consequently, the concerto starts on a low E, in a minor key and very slowly. “Night”.

The timbre and sonorities of the flute itself offer much variation to the composer. It can be brilliant, shrill and scurrying, or whispering and mellow. The flute can draw sharp or soft lines. It can be rich, or mystical, or virtuosic, penetrate a full sound or sigh into the texture.

I wanted her somehow to document her childhood in Russia, with all its extremes, its suffering and its wonder.

It is a Concerto in three movements and takes aspects of the Russian personality and character as its starting point, as well as aspects of the flute itself. It draws very much on my own experiences as a child of that world, both aurally and from day to day life. Until I was 17, that was everything that I knew. One of my overriding memories of childhood in Russia is of lining up for hours and hours for one loaf of bread or piece of cheese, and the perseverance and sometimes ultimate disappointment that had to be faced when food just ran out.

 

Being familiar with Elena and her music, did you have any preconceptions about the piece? Were there any surprises?

I was delighted to hear a reference to J.S. Bach in the fugue-ish second movement. I half-jokingly suggested a ‘Latigo’ (an Argentine Tango technique) in the second movement and then I saw she put it in the score! – both for violin (which is typical) and then for piccolo (not typical, but effective).

 

What has been the most challenging thing about preparing Night and Now?

That I premiere this in three days and we are still making changes. I love to play from memory, but I think that may be a little too risky!

 

How would you describe the overall sound of the work?

Colourful, from the foreboding to the sublime. It is a transformation, really, from the darkest of darks to exuberant triumph (with abundant percussion). A Lament, a Fugue and a Tarantella.

Sally also suggested to me that I might use stories from my early years in Russia, or from my own life as a template to the overall design of the composition. And so I did. The first movement is based on two imagined Russian fairy tales; one taking place deep in the woods – always a place of foreboding and unease (for this writer), but also promise and adventure and transformation. The other is in a silvery castle, impressively elaborate and bejewelled. Two very different “nights”.

 

What is your favourite moment in the music?

The first, certainly. For its intensity and colour. Low register flute, low strings and Tubular bells is an eerie, other-worldly sound.

 

Are there different challenges when preparing and performing a work written for you by a friend?

Somehow it feels like a higher responsibility, even though I have been integrally involved in the whole writing process. You want everybody to be happy with the final result. Luckily I love the piece – imagine where would it leave a friendship if someone writes you a concerto and you don’t like it!

 

How do you see this work fitting into the wider canon of flute concertos?

It is perhaps more focussed upon melody than virtuosity (although there are a couple of awkward acrobatic moments). We had specifically wanted a piece that many people could enjoy playing, so its level of technical difficulty is not as high as other concertos. Also, we discussed the idea of making the concerto for multiple flutes, but I thought that would limit how many people would play it and so it is for C flute only.

Although it is an ‘Australian Flute Concerto’, it is very much bound with Elena’s cultural background as a Russian Jew, so there are elements of Russian music certainly, hints of Klezmer and, of course, Bach.

 

Are there any plans for further tours?

It will be performed with the Zelman Symphony, conducted by Mark Shiell, in Melbourne on December fifth, with the Newcastle Youth Orchestra in September next year and the Queensland Youth Symphony the year after. Some overseas orchestras have approached us too; it would be really special to take this work to different countries.

 

UPDATE Monday 2 November 2015

ALL of the team at FTA extend our most heartfelt congratulations to both Elena and Sally and of course the Darwin Symphony Orchestra on an incredibly successful world premier of “Night and Now” which received a standing ovation!

Please find below some stunning photos of the World Premier courtesy of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra

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Doubling for Woodwind Players

By Jacqueline Pace

As a high school student taking lessons on 3 woodwind instruments, I heard all sorts of theories about how reed instruments would ruin my flute embouchure. I was also told never to touch brass instruments, because this would be even worse for my flute playing.

I was advised to practise flute, then clarinet, then saxophone in that order. This has always seemed to work for me. I have played flute directly after clarinet or saxophone occasionally, usually when playing a reed part for a musical. The most noticeable change to my flute playing was when I played flute directly after playing saxophone. My tone was horrible. I checked the mirror – my embouchure was the same, but I had lost all feeling in my bottom lip due to the vibrating reed. After a break to let my lip rest, my flute playing returned to normal.

I later took up oboe for a group music subject at university. Again, it was tired lips due to vibrating reeds which affected my flute playing immediately after playing oboe. There were no long-term disadvantages.

In terms of career opportunities, spending years studying extra instruments has made me a much more versatile teacher. Many schools now want a general woodwind teacher, rather than a specialist on each instrument. This is not an ideal situation – I have had many conversations with panicking woodwind teachers when a school wants them to teach an instrument they have never played and have seen many students develop poor technique due to poor teaching (the most common one I see is incorrect chromatic fingerings on clarinet). I am confident in the way I teach other woodwinds due to my hard work when I was a teenager.

Comments on this topic are welcome.

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The Art of Elegant Conversation – Elysium Ensemble

Review by Angus McPherson

Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773)

Sei Duetti, op. 2 (1959)

elysiumreview

  The Art of Elegant Conversation, a recording of Johann Joachim Quantz’s Sei Duetti by Greg Dikmans and Lucinda Moon of the Elysium Ensemble, is the first of a series of recordings intended to promote newly discovered and hitherto neglected chamber music from the Baroque and early-Classical periods. Despite the fame Quantz enjoys in the flute community, particularly for his treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752) and some of his better-known sonatas and concertos, much of his vast compositional output remains unpublished and unrecorded. Performed on period instruments and informed by a close study of the Versuch, this CD is a thoughtful and sensitive exploration of Quantz’s rarely performed Sei Duetti.   From 1741 until his death in 1773, Quantz served in the court of King Frederick II of Prussia, a flute player and an avid music lover. Quantz was Frederick’s flute teacher and was responsible for the King’s private chamber music concerts; he was also the only member of the court permitted to critique the King’s flute playing. Written as didactic works (in his preface to the score, Quantz extolls the virtues of playing duets as an important part of a musician’s training) it is not impossible that the Sei Duetti were first played by Quantz and King.   Although Quantz composed these duets for two flutes, in his preface he outlines a number of different possible instrumental combinations, writing: “In general, duets as well as trios produce a better and more intelligible effect on two instruments of different type than upon instruments of the same kind.” The combination of flute and violin used in this recording is particularly effective. The two distinct timbres provide clarity between the voices, allowing the listener to follow Quantz’s two-part writing and enhancing the impression of a sophisticated dialogue. Dikmans and Moon form a crisp, well-balanced ensemble, their parts weaving independently at times before joining together in perfectly synchronised flourishes. The result is beautiful, engaging and far more interesting than one would expect from over an hour of flute duets.   This CD will be fascinating for those interested in the music of Quantz and the style that straddles the end of the Baroque and beginning of the Classical period. Well-researched and insightful, this performance is also an excellent example of the practical applications of the study of Quantz’s Versuch. A PDF scan of the first edition of the score, from 1759, is available from the International Music Score Library Project for those who want to delve more deeply into this music.   The Art of Elegant Conversation is a charming, multifaceted recording that will delight both casual listeners and aficionados of historically informed performance. Dikmans and Moon have taken Quantz’s duets, deceptively light on the surface, and turned them into a conversation that is stimulating as well as elegant.   The Art of Elegant Conversation is available from Resonus Classics and iTunes.

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

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Flute Essentials

CLAIM YOUR FREE COPY! – 24 hours ONLY

Friday 14 November 2014 New York Time

(available until 4pm Saturday 15th 2014 Sydney time)

To claim your copy follow this link (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/481225) and enter the coupon code NN84H to receive your free copy

Flute Essentials Cover

 

My name is Drew Niemeyer and I am a woodwind technician working at Blow Woodwind and Brass in Brisbane. I am writing a series of books containing information, not about playing the flute, but about the flute from a more technical standpoint.

I have noticed that many parents and even many teachers know very little about what to look for in a flute, i.e. what good and poor quality is, and what a flute needs in upkeep and care. Many teachers are allowing their students to buy instruments that are almost guaranteed to cause frustration and disillusionment. Some instruments are completely unfixable and it is sad to see so many people give up flute for a reason such as this.

From my bench as a repair technician I see the results of the choices people make. Damage is more often caused by neglect than recklessness, and I speak to clients every day about how to care for their instruments properly. Flutes made with low quality parts are often very expensive to fix properly, and the result for these people is an instrument that is not working as well as it should most of the time.

I wrote Flute Essentials because this problem is so wide spread.

This first book in the series is a very broad (but concise) outline of what people should be looking for in flutes, how to go about purchasing one, how to care for it, as well as some tips about getting the most from the instrument when you do begin to play. It will be especially good for parents looking to buy a first flute, and teachers may also find the book useful to encourage parents in their choices.

Taking up flute can be a big commitment. Flute Essentials delves into the necessity of obtaining a good quality flute for enjoyment, describes how this can be done, and explains how it is within the reach of almost anyone that desires to have it.

For more information contact Drew at Drew@fluteessentials.com or visit the website www.fluteessentials.com.

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About the Author: Drew has provided his services as a professional woodwind technician to musicians for over 20 years. His career has included teaching and performance, and has been highlighted by various prizes and awards. He is based at Blow Woodwind and Brass in Brisbane, Australia, and services clients throughout the Asia-Pacific Region.

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View the Flute Essentials Press Release here

For information on purchasing flute essentials and to view a preview of this book please visit  www.fluteessentials.com.

 

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

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TRITONE BRASS & WOODWIND – A Short History

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORKSHOP IN CANBERRA

AT TRITONE BRASS & WOODWIND 

AND THE OWNER DIRK ZEYLMANS VAN EMMICHIOVEN.

It all started in 1983 when I was in high school and my music teacher sent an aspiring young student to do work experience with a woodwind repair man called Don Archer for two weeks  It was to become a journey that has continued to the current day, 31 years later. The place seemed to appeal to someone who wanted to spend time with instruments in hand between the study and practice of a novice player, however it was quickly expressed that to pursue this craft it would be important to study music in depth as mastery of an instrument is key to understanding the functional and mechanical aspects of it through playing and feeling the results of a well set up instrument.  This resulted in my studying undergraduate music studies at the Victorian college or the arts in Melbourne (1989-1991) and postgraduate study at the Sweelinck Conservatorium Amsterdam (1992-94) and then the ANU school of music (1995-96)

By this time I had found (between study and teaching/playing gigs) an English gentleman named Geoff Speed. It was under him that I really began to develop skills in repair of wind instruments. This gave the basis that would lead to more than just repair and flowed on to making of flutes, head joints, high end padding techniques that are a must in todays flute world and my business.

Working with Geoff, I  covered all aspects of repair, dent work, key fitting and alignment, and re-padding as well as understanding the acoustic needs of the instrument, pad heights, pad thickness. It was an intense time of learning how the instrument functions as well as understanding the needs of the player and how different players respond to the setup of the flute. Geoff also encouraged me to travel to the USA and attend conferences, visit factories and makers, to seek knowledge.

This process never stopped and I am glad for his initial encouragement to keep thinking about the instrument I was working on and seek people who knew more about the subject. Every year or so I would take time from my workbench to seek to better the skills that had now given me a full time business and supported me.

I first registered my own business here in Canberra in 1996 and called it “tritone” brass and woodwind repair and flutes in Canberra were one of the biggest parts of the business and initially the instruments were student flutes and intermediate flutes.

Eventually high end flutes were coming into the shop, flues that required very special pads, materials that required different techniques to install and prepare for than the student Yamaha’s that were so central to the business.  My focus then shifted to concentrate on getting certified in these more specialised techniques, using pads that had the closest tolerances to 4 thousands of an inch, pads that were no longer soft felt type pads to the firm pads that would produce great results with the lightest technique. This means that the mechanics of the flute needed to run at the same tolerances. For this I started to visit makers, people like David Straubinger (who learned his craft from Bickford Brannen and developed the Straubinger pad),web002-1 Johnathan Landell (who learned is craft from Verne Powell) and Harry van Eckert who still makes flutes for Powell today. They all had their roots with one of the finest and oldest high end flute makers, Powell of Boston. This company took the louis lot design on in the late 1800’s to make really modern flutes, and then bought the Cooper system of tone hole placement to make a flute that had very good intonation.

This resulted in a great investment in education and tools and pads for the workshop, it transformed my understanding of the geometry of the flute, the dynamics of how the pads under the players fingers needed to feel and most importantly the understanding of the head joint, creating the sound wave (this is the place where the sound begins and its so important to the whole flute), how it behaves under different conditions and in the hands of different players.  These parameters now didn’t just include the setup of the pads but also things such as the fit of the head joint, the head cork and the spring action because the flute needs to operate as a whole and if one thing isn’t correct the entire instrument is affected.

Flutists are perhaps the most sensitive of all woodwind players at the high levels of playing.  Being able to work with them to achieve something that makes them feel like the instrument is really responding well and enables them to play easily across the entire range of the instrument is central to my craft.

web053-1By 2010 I had become a Straubinger technician and I had made my first sterling silver head joint and by 2013 I had made my first flute, a silver flute with open holes, low B, french pointed arms.

It took six weeks of hard work. Filing, making tubes for the body, head and foot joint. It was a challenge that required a type of patience that was new to me in order to really understand how the flute works, theory became reality and the end result was great.

 

Now it is 2014 and it’s my 31st year of instrument repair and my business ‘tritone” has existed for 18 years!

I am not surprised hat so much time has past as it really feels like it takes this long to understand totally what you are trying to achieve in this business.  Last year I became an agent for David Leviston’s shop ‘Flutes and Flutists‘ something I wish to continue into the future. Although selling flutes is part of the business I consider myself a flute specialist in repair and someone who has a great understanding of making flutes, not yet a great flute maker…..

My eight year old son is my apprentice, disassembling flutes and cleaning them, the place where I started. I hope he will travel this road along with me and continue after I finish.

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Dirk would be happy to answer questions from anyone interested in flute repair or anyone looking for a flute service in or near the ACT.  You can contact Dirk via his website at tritone.net.au

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic below also

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

 

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Giuliani to Tango. Sally Walker – flute, Giuseppe Zangari – guitar

ARGENTINE FIRE FOR FLUTE AND GUITAR

Concert review by Latham Horn

(The reviewer, Latham Horn, was the only flautist to successfully audition for Prof. Johanna Dömötör’s class at the Anton-Bruckner-Privatuniversität Linz, Austria, is also one of Sally Walker’s past flute students)

 

On a bright and warm last day of winter acclaimed duo Sally Walker and Giuseppe Zangari presented a lunchtime concert of Argentine, Australian and Italian music for flute and guitar in the delightfully intimate theatrette of the recently redeveloped Newcastle Museum. Both Walker – international prize winning flutist formerly of the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester and the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss am Rhein and Zangari – Italian Government scholarship recipient and faculty of the Sydney Conservatorium are lectures at the University of Newcastle Conservatorium of Music.

There was no need for programs as the performers communicated wonderfully with the substantial audience giving brilliant insight into each of the presented works.  The first work performed was the Callejon by Argentine composer Maximo Diego Pujol whom Walker will meet personally during a tour of South America later in the year. The Callejon originally existed as a work for voice and guitar, here presented as the Australian premiere in a new arrangement for flute and guitar.

The second work was the first two movements of the Grand Duo Concertante by Mauro Giuliani – the composer who is also the current subject of guitarist Zangari’s fascination and Masters research.  The first movement’s challenging technical passages for both flutist and guitarist were presented here with both control and wit – but the true artistry was evident in the second movement.  Walker’s flute sang like a great Bel Canto soprano with a tone and legato so transparent and intimate yet full of colour with a wonderfully complementing accompaniment by Zangari.

Pujol’s Viene y Va  (Comes and Goes) was next on the program. The outer first and third movements were full of excitement, joy and fire – a perfect complement to the stunning beach sun of Newcastle’s iconic Nobby’s Beach one sees on approach to the concert venue.   The second movement, a melancholic aria, was performed with absolute artistry of colour, dynamics and sentiment.  The next work Suite Buenos Aires (also by Pujol) included an impressive introduction for solo guitar, displaying Zangari’s technical facility and command of extended techniques.

The last work of the program was by Australian composer and guitarist Philip Houghton.  From the Dreaming has become quite popular amongst flutists with frequent performances around Australia and internationally in numerous arrangements including for flute and orchestra; flute and string quartet and in its original here presented on flute and guitar. In an impressionistic style Houghton illustrates images and scenes of the Australian outback and wildlife, with movement names including ‘Cave Painting’, ‘Wild Flower’ and ‘Gecko’.

This was truly an inspired performance featuring musicianship and artistry of the highest calibre, leaving this listener completely musically satisfied and with goosebumps.  After two rounds of applause the audience got their wish of an encore in Cambereri’s Capricciosa, a light and fiery Tarantella in a minor key full of technical bravura and character.  Walker and Zangari will tour Sweden in early 2014 upon invitation from Swedish ensemble Haga Duo.

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

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Memorising a work…

Once one takes the step of deciding to pursue music at a tertiary level, and then moving into the professional world, the expectations for assessment, competitions, eistedfodds and performances change.  One expectation, which can often be a very daunting and scary experience, is being asked to memorise a work.  If I were to ask you, no matter what instrument you played, to perform something like: Mary Had a Little Lamb; or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star; from memory, you probably wouldn’t have a problem!  But it’s when we start getting into longer works, such as concertos or sonatas, the whole process can sometimes seem impossible, let alone actually performing the work for a concert in front of people!

Throughout my Undergraduate Degree, I didn’t memorise anything.  There was no requirement in my recitals, I was comfortable with my music in front of me, and so I didn’t push myself to do it.  There were parts of my pieces that I could in fact play from memory, but that’s a very different thing from actually memorising an entire work and performing it.  When moving into my Honours degree, memorisation (for at least some works in the performance) was suddenly a requirement.  I remember reading through my subject guidelines, and thinking – memorising a 20 minute work and performing it – not possible!  The first piece I memorised was the Mozart Flute Concerto in G Major.  Personally, I think works that are well structured (Exposition, Development and recapitulation, or Rondo forms), like many works by Mozart, are the easiest type of music to begin with when first memorising.

I think that the actual process when memorising is different for each person.  We all have different strengths with memory – some of us have a strong ‘eye’ memory or photographic memory, some of us have a strong aural memory and others strengths lie in our finger memory or muscle memory.  No matter which of these is your strength, we use a combination of these types of memory when memorising a work.

When I’m memorising a piece, my first step is to listen to it – A LOT!   Initially, I listen without the score to become familiar with the work aurally – this is where I learn about the shapes and contours of the melodies, the tempos and characteristics of sections, and how the piece flows together, and fits together as a whole work.  Once I’m satisfied with my aural familiarity, I then listen with the score in front of me – all before I even play through the work.  This gives me a visual idea of what is happening throughout the work, and in my opinion, starts to shape my photographic memory.

The piece I have been learning over the past few months is Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major – a wonderful piece, and thankfully, a very logically structured (for my brain!) work.  I had played this concerto before in second year university, so I had a basic understanding of its melody already, so I was already off to a good start aurally.

I remember at the beginning of this memory journey, I was feeling pretty stressed about memorising the entire concerto, and even though I knew logically how to go about it, it still seemed like such a huge amount of work! Once I felt I was familiar enough with the work as a whole aurally (combining my ‘ear’ and ‘eye’ memory), I broke each movement into their respective sections (Theme A, Theme B, Section A, Section B, etc), and then broke those sections into smaller bar groups. I was generally focussing on between 4-16 bars depending on the difficulty of the passage.  Some passages I was able to learn more quickly – generally anything that was slower and very melodic, while others required a little more work.  My process of physically learning those small sections, involved spending roughly 5 minutes on the passage, and then going away to a separate piece for another 5 minutes, before returning to my concerto and attempting to play that small section from memory.  This was my process throughout the entire concerto.  I would also always go back to the previous section and add on my new section several times, as well as starting from the beginning of the movement until I could play smoothly from the beginning to my memorised point.  I also made a point not to continue on in the piece, until I could play up to that point correctly – otherwise, I think it’s very possible to get lost or confused as to what material happens next.

I find that my visual and aural memory is mostly used within the slower sections and/or movements, and that my finger and aural memory are my strengths in more technical sections. Having said this, I can visualise how each section of the work starts – for the Reinecke Concerto, it opens the first movement on an F#, the first theme comes in on an A, the second theme a C# etc.  It’s also very important for me as a player, and I think anyone who is memorising a work, to feel comfortable starting from just about anywhere in the piece – if you can do this, you should feel pretty confident in how well you’ve memorised the work.

In many ways, memorising is not much different from learning to play a piece – a lot of it is practice, practice, practice – breaking the piece up into smaller sections, playing each section until you really know it, and then putting it all together, with some extra practice on the tricky bits.  Memorising is the same thing – starting with a small section and continuing adding sections until you reach the end.  Obviously, some people are faster than others at memorising – just as some people are faster at learning.  I think as long as you work through a piece slowly, understand it aurally, and are willing to put in the time and effort to really learn it, you’ll find memorising a work can be quite a rewarding experience.  And like many things, the more you do it, the less daunting it becomes!  Make sure to play it for family members, friends, peers, colleagues, and teachers in preparation for a performance so that you can become as comfortable as possible before performing it live.  Play along with as many different recordings as possible so that you are prepared for a number of tempos.  Don’t always start with the first movement of a work, or the beginning of piece, start with the second or third movement, or somewhere in the middle of a work – doing all of these things, should help you to feel as confident as possible.  Taking away that barrier of a music stand and connecting even more with your audience and your accompanist (orchestral, pianist or chamber) can be an exhilarating experience, so take the leap!

 

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.

 

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
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Flute Lessons via Skype

Having recently received some questions and comments regarding teaching private instrumental lessons via Skype, we decided that further discussion may help teachers and students to achieve a successful lesson while using this program.

What equipment do you need for a Skype Lesson?

This is a checklist for both the student and teacher, in addition to your usual face-to-face teaching tools.

1. Computer

2. Reliable Internet connection

3. Webcam

4. Microphone

5. Speakers

6. A Printer/Scanner for sending notes, sight-reading or any exercises you may have written

7. Skype program or similar (eg. video call through Google Chat)

8. An agreed form of payment (Note: Bank transfers and cheques are not a good option for overseas students due to international account fees. A better option may be setting up a Paypal account, so the student can pay by credit card).

A lesson in this format can only be successful when both parties are organised. Anything that the teacher would usually show their student needs to be planned in advance. If this requires scanning or printing, the student needs to have their copy before the lesson begins.

Most computers now come with a built-in microphone, webcam and speakers. External, purpose-built devices can be used to achieve better quality. I have recently been using a Blue Snowball Microphone and have found the sound quality to be much better than my built-in microphone. The Snowball is a USB condenser microphone which plugs straight into your computer without the need for an additional power source.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Skype Lessons:

Advantages:

– You can teach or have a lesson with a teacher who is not based in your local area.

– Skype can work as a back-up when a face-to-face lesson is not possible (transport not running, snowed in etc.)

Disadvantages:

– Some teachers and students have reported that they feel disconnected from each other. There will always be a human element missing from a Skype lesson, as opposed to teaching face-to-face, but as long as the student and teacher are comfortable communicating with each other, successful lessons can still be achieved.

– Technical problems may interfere with teaching – power black-outs, internet connection problems, the teacher or student’s hardware and software not working.

– Even with a great computer and webcam, it is harder to see what the student is doing in this situation than in person. Teachers may need to ask the student to move or adjust the webcam from time to time.

– Some teachers have reported to us that they have experienced difficulties while teaching aural skills via Skype. This may have been due to the delay experienced while communicating over the internet, or due to the quality of the microphones and speakers. Jacinta Mikus came up with the following solution:

I have a few students in regional areas. We Skype once a week and try to meet up at least once (if not two or three times) a term in person. Have had great success with students doing well with exams and one way I got around the aural aspect was to record my own exercises…emailing them to the student and them recording themselves via voice memo on their phones and sending it to me.”

My personal opinion is that if this technology allows us to do something which would not otherwise be possible, we should use it! Skype teaching does require hardware, software and planning, but offers many more opportunities to teachers and students.

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.

 

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Developing Tone on the Alto Flute

Tone is an aspect of flute playing that takes many hours of critical listening and experimentation. The alto flute can produce a tone that is richer, deeper and warmer than the c flute, but it does not leap out of the alto as soon as we start playing. Like the c flute, the alto will sound best if you take full, deep breaths, create a large open space inside your mouth, have a relaxed and open throat and are covering just 20% or so of the flute’s embouchure opening. I cannot emphasize enough that a deep and full breath is critical to getting a big sound. Your body is an amplifier for the flute sound, and the more space you create inside your body, the deeper and richer your tone will be. A flute breath involves the entire torso, it is very similar to yawning. Think “Ah.” Work with a teacher to help discover how to make this kind of breath a default breath when playing the flute. Here is the link to my video on breathing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcB9PSgsDkc

To find your clearest tone possible, focus on the lips. Most people’s lips have an opening that is much too large. The target area for the air inside the flute is similar in shape to a thin ribbon. The opening in the lips should be comparable to avoid wasting air; it is basically a small and somewhat flattened oval. If you can see the opening in your lips in a mirror, it is too big. The best aid I have found to work with students on the lip opening size is a straw used to stir coffee. Get a mirror and one of these straws. Put the straw between your lips and blow through it strongly enough that you can hear the air hissing out: keep blowing and remove the straw. Observe how small the opening is and what muscles are involved in maintaining that small opening. Then get your flute and play any note. Observe the opening in the lips. We are trying to get as close as we can to the opening size of the straw because this will result in two wonderful things; you will use less air so you can play longer phrases and, you will produce a solid and clearer tone. I deal with this topic in my YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaeHSbGyGWM

Some people aim the air a little too high into the headjoint, resulting in a loud, hissing, unfocused tone. Some people cover too much of the flute mouthpiece opening, resulting in a clear but soft smothered tone with no dynamic range. A teacher can help you find the middle ground.

The lip position for alto is very similar to the lip position of the c flute, it is only slightly more relaxed. If I had to put a number on it, I would say 15% more relaxed. If your lips on c flute are already too relaxed, you may actually need to firm up your lips more than they are. This will help your tone on both instruments. If you like your tone on c flute, just keep the corners of the lips soft when playing alto. Usually we are playing alto because we like the less edgy and warmer, rounder sound. On alto, play with a sound less like an arrow and more like a warm cinnamon roll.

Spend time playing slow, simple melodies on alto so you can think about your tone and what you would like to improve about it. I have a collection of favorite pieces I use for this purpose. If you want to improve your tone, you must spend time listening to it without the distraction of too many notes. If you don’t like what you hear, you have taken the first step. Take step two and decide to do something about it.

Copyright Mar. 2013, Chris Potter

 

About the author:

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). She is the artistic director of an International Low Flutes Festival to take place in Florida in March 2014.

 

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

 

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Alto Flute: choosing a curved or straight head-joint

People who are interested in purchasing an alto flute must make a decision whether to get a curved or a straight head joint. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and people should try each design before deciding. Most entry-level altos can be purchased with either head joint or both head joints.

If you are a flute choir director purchasing an instrument that several people will use, I suggest getting an alto with both head joints. You will have short people and tall people, people who just can’t balance the curved head well, and people whose hands hurt if they play a straight head.

The primary advantage of a straight head joint alto is that the intonation is better in the third octave. It is not as good as a c flute’s intonation in this octave and you will still make some adjustments, but it is better than the curved head. The reason the intonation is better with a straight head is that makers are able to make a continuous taper from the crown end of the head joint to where it joins the body of the flute. If you look at your c flute head joint, you will see that the crown end of the head joint is smaller than where it goes into the body. This was one of the design features found to be necessary to improve overall flute intonation.

Some people prefer the more flute-like physical relationship of the straight head alto, it feels very similar to what you already know and there is just the one adjustment needed to line up the mouthpiece with the body, just like the flute.

The big disadvantage to the straight tube is that if your arms are short, the right hand has to twist to the left when you reach for the keys. This is painful for many people, and the foot joint notes are even more difficult to reach and are more awkward to play. The right hand thumb is put under even more stress as it tries to keep the flute from rolling backwards while having an even heavier instrument to support that is farther from the player’s body. The tube is larger in diameter than c flute, so it makes balancing the alto on the left index finger joint also difficult. This was my situation when I was looking for an alto many years ago, and I found a curved head instrument with a stunning sound that I have had ever since.

The big advantage of the curved head joint is that your right arm and hand are a comfortable distance away and there is no twisting of the right wrist. The little finger is perfectly positioned to play the foot joint keys with ease. The lowest notes are easy to play and access.

A second advantage of the curved head joint is that with a little experimentation, one finds a spot to set the position of the head joint so that it leans slightly back against the chin and prevents the flute from rolling backwards. The curved head joint actually allows a more stable position for the instrument than the straight head.

The big disadvantage is the intonation of the notes in the third octave. Starting with the C above the staff is almost all ¼ step sharp. It is not yet possible to make a continuous taper from the crown end of head-joint, through the curve and into the flute. Makers are using a graduated cylinder approach, where each section is slightly larger than the one before. This helps, but not enough. Look for improvements in this design in the future.

Choosing a curved head joint means you will need to develop alternate fingerings for the third octave when you have notes up there. You will need to become fluent with these fingerings, and you will find that more than one will be necessary depending on dynamics and surrounding notes.

A second disadvantage of the curved head joint is the challenge of finding the best possible position of the two independent parts of the head joint in relation to the flute body. The head joint does not go directly over the flute body or directly between the flute and the player. Start from a position on top of the flute and then tip the curved part about ½ an inch towards you, then adjust the short straight part of the head joint where you need it to be. Experiment with these angles until you find what works best for you. Once you find the correct relationship of these two parts, you will find that the balance is even easier than on the c flute.

If you are thinking you will do most of your practicing on the curved head to save your right wrist and then switch to the straight tube as you get closer to the performance, it’s a good thought but doesn’t work in reality. You will have to spend plenty of time on the straight tube to work out intonation and tone issues, and your wrist will still hurt. Go for the curve.

Copyright Nov. 2011, Chris Potter

 

About the author:

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). She is the artistic director of an International Low Flutes Festival to take place in Florida in March 2014.

 

 

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
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