John L. Downe, flutist and composer

Perhaps the earliest known professional flutist to have been active in the new American republic was John L. Downe. I have been able to determine his place of birth (or death), but the earliest notices of Downe (who is almost always referred to simply by his initials, J.L.) place him in Boston, Massachusetts. The first reference to Downe that I have located is the announcement for his music school, opened in collaboration with Edward “Ned” Kendall, who was known for his performances on both the Kent bugle[1] and the clarinet. Kendall’s work with band was notable enough to still be remembered almost a century later[2].

 

The Boston Post reports:

INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC ACADEMY. E. KENDALL & J. L. DOWNE most respectfully   inform their friends and the Musical public generally, that they intend immediately opening a School for the instruction, practice and |perfection of the following instruments, viz: Clarionet, Bugle, Violin, Flute, Violincello, and most other instruments now in use. They cannot but flatter themselves with the hope that from the approbation bestowed upon their several performances, and the high testimonials heretofore received, not only that such an institution will he well patronized, but that they will be enabled to give general satisfaction. Application made, and terms known at their Academy No. 190, Washington-Street, directly opposite the Marlboro Hotel[3].

 

The Post also provides the earliest concert notice for Downe, from October 1832 (since it is described as his annual concert, there may well have been prior iterations).

….. OF VOCAL AND INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC, At the Masonic Temple, this evening, Oct. 20th. MR. J. L. DOWNE has the honor most respectfully to announce, that his Annual Concert will take place THIS EVENING, at the Masonic Temple, when he will be accompanied by the eminent Orchestra of the Tremont Theatre[4], under the direction of Mr. Comer[5]—on which occasion MRS ADAMS has kindly consented to appear, and also several gentlemen of acknowledged vocal talent. Mr. Hansen has likewise generously volunteered to assist. Principal Vocalist, Miss Adams. Leader and Director, Mr. T. Comer.

PART I.

  1. Overture. – Auber
  2. Song—Deep deep Sea, Mrs. Adams. C. E. Hum
  3. Air, with new Variations—Flute. Mr. Downe. Bucher
  4. Solo—Bassoon. Mr. Pearce, first time in four years. Schaffer.
  5. Song and Trio; The Sicilian Boatman. Mozart.
  6. Song—Away my gallant page away. Mrs. Adams
  7. Mr. Gear will (by particular request) perform Handel’s celebrated piece of music, called, The Harmonious Blacksmith, with additional Variations for the Contra Basso and Full Orchestra, Gear.

PART II.

  1. Overture; Fra Diavolo. Auber.
  2. Solo—Flute. Master Pearce, 9 years of age, pupil of Mr. Downe.
  3. Glee—Three Voices.
  4. Song—Auld Joe Nicholson’s Nannie. Mrs. Adams. T. Comer[6] .

 

Downe performed at the concert of the Boston Academy of Music in early May of 1835, with Kendall once again present on bugle and clarinet, as well as participating in the American premiere of soprano Miss Estcourt Wells.

The Boston Academy of Music. —The choir of this institution gave a performance on the 13th of May, in the Bowdoin-Street church. A considerable portion of Neukomm’s new oratorio, David, was performed. Mr. E. Kendall gave a concert at the Boylston-hall, on Saturday, the 18th of April. Solos were performed on the Kent bugle by Mr. E. Kendall, flute by Mr. J. L. Downe, clarionet by Mr. Kendall, violin by J. Holloway, besides songs from the principal singers mentioned in the previous concert, and instrumental pieces by the Boston military brass band. Miss Watson gave a concert of sacred music on Tuesday, April the 14th at Amory-hall. On this occasion, Mrs. Watson (late Miss Wells) made her first appearance before an American audience. The principal vocal performers were Miss Watson, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Andrews, and Mr. Comer. Instrumental solo performers—flute, Mr. Downe; clarionet, Mr. Kendall; trumpet, Mr. Armore; piano-forte, Mr. Watson. Leader, Mr. Ostinelli. The selection of music embraced several favourite pieces from Handel, Haydn, Spohr, Webbe, Comer, &c[7].

Downe made his first appearance in New York City in 1835, at a grand concert for U.C. (Ureli Corelli) Hill. Hill had been the conductor of the New York Sacred Music Society, established in 1823, and would go on to be the first conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

GRAND FAREWELL CONCERT. Mr. U.C. HILL, has the honour to inform his friends and the public, that he will give a concert on Tuesday evening, May 26th, under the kind and fostering patronage of the New York Sacred Music and Musical Fund Societies, prior to his departure for Europe. Solely, the love of his art, and of the fine arts of his country, with the advice and concurrence of his musical acquaintance, induces him to run this hazard which he has anticipated for years. He trusts that on this occasion he may have a cheerful parting. He has the pleasure to announce the following Eminent Talent, which he hopes will fully meet the approbation of his friends, and merit public patronage.

VOCAL PERFORMERS. MISS WATSON, MRS. C. HORN. Jun. MR. C. HORN, Jun. INSTRUMENTAL SOLO PERFORMERS. MISS STERLING, MR. C.E.HORN, on the Piano forte. MR. J. L. DOWNE, Flute, (his first appearance in New York.) MR. HILL, on the Violin. Conductor, Mr. C. E. Horn, who will preside at the Piano forte. Leader of the Orchestra, Mr. U.C. Hill.

PART I.

  1. Overture,
  2. National Song ” The Fall of Niagara,” Mr. C. Horn, Jun. composed expressly for him. The Words by the late H. Clinch. Esq. C. E. Horn
  3. Air and Variation Violin Mr. U.C. Hill. C. De Beriot
  4. Ballad – Miss Watson “That Heavenly Voice.
  5. Robin Adair, with Variations for flute. John L. Downe.
  6. Song. Those Tinckling Bells, Mr. C. Horn, Winter Drouet A. Lee a. .
  7. 7 Overture, Rossini
  8. 8 Cavatina. Miss Watson Idole de ma vie, from Robert le Diable, Mayerbeer
  9. Grand Variations Piano Forte Miss Sterling “Ma Fanchette est Charmante.” First time in four years, H. Hertz
  10. Ballad, by desire Mr. C. Horn Nor all his pride of Kildare, Parry
  11. Duetto Mr. and Mrs. C. Horn – Loves sweetest flower, C. E. Horn
  12. Polonaise Violin Mr. Hill. P. Pechatscheck[8]
  13. Ballad (By particular desire) Miss Watson By the Margin of fair Zurich’s waters, arranged from a German melody, by Mr. Watson.
  14. Solo Octave Flute. The Nightingale J. L. Downe.

The only source I have found that verifies Downe’s first name is Stimpson’s Boston Directory, published in 1836, where he appears as John L. Downe, musician, Pleasant Street Court, on page 146. The address still exists in 2017, and is located in Charlestown, down the hill from the Bunker Hill Monument.  This allows us to locate him in the 1840 census in New York City.

Probably the most detailed descriptions of Downe’s performances are those found in the Musical Review (based in New York). A brief note from Jan. 1838 records that Downe performed “with skill” the variations by Drouet on Robin Adair at the annual concert of the Euterpeian Society[9].

May 1838 brings a lengthy review of a benefit concert for Downe.

Mr. Downe’s Concert. —First, let us express our sincere sorrow and regret, that the talents of so promising an artist, as the above-mentioned gentleman, should have met with, on Friday evening last, so paltry and pitiful reward. It is truly disheartening when we view efforts, the cost of which is years of laborious study, treated, we may say, so inhospitably, compared with the disgusting rubbish that is sometimes perpetrated within the walls of the City Hotel. The “bill of fare” prepared by Mr. Downe, was a rich and highly classical treat. It ought to have been better supported; but of this subject more anon. Mrs. Morley is a passable concert room vocalist—nothing more. Mrs. Watson cannot sing “Let the bright Seraphim:” Her John Anderson was pretty fair. Her best song, composed by Balfe, (which, by the by Malibran never sang,) was by far the best effort—it received an encore—though the composition in itself merits no favor. The words “Shall we go a sailing,” reminds us of an anecdote of poor Weber, who, on hearing Braham sing “The Bay of Biscay,” innocently inquired, at the close of the song, “What is dat Biscay Of”. Little Miss Taylor possesses a good voice for one so young, but her tutor, whoever he may be, should not thrust her into the actual torturing of such a Cavatina as Di Piacer. Morley’s voice was never in better order, or his intonation more pure than on the present occasion; he is evidently improving. Spohr’s magnificent Duet, from Faust, Callcott’s Tempest, and Dr. Arne’s “Now Phoebus setteth inthe west,” from Comus, were all admirably given. Of the last Duet, Con pazzienza, it is scarcely fair to speak, in consequence of Mrs. Morley having been encored in Rory O’More, the piece preceding: that lady seemed too much exhausted to do it justice. Mr. Munson’s song could easily have been dispensed with. How the instrumental performers managed to get through their portion of the night’s entertainment, we are at a loss to guess—the Piano being more than a quarter tone above pitch. Downe played beautifully, so did Christian; but both were evidently much distressed, owing to the above circumstance. The Grand Duet—concertante—Piano-forte and Violin, by Messrs. King and Hughes, composed by Herz and Lafont, was received with the greatest enthusiasm by the audience, more particularly the enchanting violin of Mr. Hughes. This Duet was one of the most agreeable pieces of the evening. Mr. Kendall, on the Harp—it would have been more edifying, had the Harp been on Mr. Kendall. King requires a little softening down; but he is a good player for all that. Mr. Mason’s Trumpet Obligato was too loud—for which, perhaps, we ought to blame the Piano. We can only once more express our chagrin, at the bad taste of the public, in not crowding the room, and conclude by wishing Mr. Downe at his next Concert, all the success he so richly deserves.

This concert was evidently a financial failure, for there is considerable discussion of the matter later in this journal, and Downe’s concert is included in a list of events that were losses for the producers[10].

The writer of a letter to the Musical Review describes a performance including Downe (date and place unclear):

….I now come to the solo of Mr. Downe, on the Flute, the Air “Le Petit Tambour,” with brilliant variations, which was played in a most masterly manner. This gentleman, with wonderful execution, combines a sweetness and expression which has never been equalled in this country. ….. Mr. Downe introduced a novelty in the Art of Flute Playing, being a Solo on the embouchure or top joint of his Flute, a performance never before attempted by anyone but himself; it was wonderful and at the same time very pleasing. The Waltz was composed by himself for this occasion.

The waltz described must certainly be among the waltzes by Downe for solo flute which were published by Firth and Hall in 1841, and are now in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Finally, the January 5 number of the Review describes the benefit for pianist William Scharfenberg (1819-1895), who had not yet turned twenty at the time, and was making his American debut.

MR. SCHARFENBERG’s CONCERT.

This concert, which took place at the “Apollo Saloon,” was highly creditable to the enterprise and taste of the young artiste who gave it. The corps consisted of Rappetti, Downe, Boucher, Scharfenberg, solo performers—Miss Alldridge, vocalist—and a select band. Such a combination of talent engaged in one concert, is, in this country, a rare thing. We were only in time to hear the last four pieces, – a solo on the flute by Mr. Downe, a song by Miss Alldridge, a violin solo by Signor Rappetti, and the finale on the piano-forte by Mr. Scharfenberg. Mr. Downe did not play well as we have before heard him. He is an exquisite performer—the best, we believe, in the country. He gave us on this occasion something quite new—a variation in harmonics; sounds that, for acuteness of pitch, would vie with those produced by Paganini on the 15th leger line. Mr. Downe can play the flute in its legitimate style, with great purity of tone, expression, and execution; he can also, if circumstances require it, equal any one in novelties to excite the astonishment of those whom genuine music fails to please. We perceive that he is to play at Mr. King’s concert with only the upper joint of his flute. We have been both astonished and pleased with a performance of this sort by him, yet we are more pleased when his instrument is complete.

Downe had evidently moved to New York at some point during the 1830s, since he is included among those enumerated in the 1840 census in New York (he is listed as being between thirty and forty years of age, as is his wife, and has no fewer than five children – four daughters, and one son)[11].

By the 1840s, Downe had published his set of waltzes (registered at the New York copyright office Downe is notable enough to undertake a voyage to England, where he played in a benefit for Madame Gradini on Dec. 17, 1844. The former Miss Margaretta Graddon had appeared in works by Weber in London in the 1820s.

Princess’s Concert Room. —A concert occurred here on Tuesday evening, the interest of which was the first public appearance of Mad. Gradini (late Miss Graddon) since her return from America, where she has resided eight years. As Miss Graddon, the lady enjoyed a high and deserved celebrity in England, and she appears to have met with universal success in the various parts of America which she has visited. Her voice has not in any way lost its volume or its beauty, and her style of singing is as energetic and graceful as of yore. Mad. Gradini indulged her audience with two Italian cavatinas, a ballad by John Barnett, and a Tyrolienne in which she accompanied herself on the guitar. In all of these her reception was most warm and gratifying, and must have pleased the fair vocalist, who, no doubt, will resume her ancient popularity with little diminution. There were many other attractions worth notice, but we have only space to mention a fantasia on the Nicholson flute, played with admirable neatness and great taste by Mr. Downe (also from America)—a charmingly graceful duet by H. Brinley Richards, delightfully sung by the Misses Williams—some excellent singing by Machin, two concertina fantasias well executed by young Blagrove —unmistakable encores for drolleries no less unmistakable by John Parry, and last, not least, a fantasia on the pianoforte by Mr. J. Cohan, which produced a great effect and was loud and generally applauded[12].

Downe is back in London once more by 1847, when he gave a concert under his own name at Blagrove’s Rooms. He is now identified at the first flute of the Italian Opera in New Orleans.

On the same evening, Mr. J. L. Downe, first flautist of the Italian Opera at New Orleans, gave a concert at Blagrove’s Rooms, in Mortimer-street, with Mrs. A. Gibbs, Mrs. J. Roe, Messrs. Allen and Collins, Mr. Weeks, and Signor Furtado, for singers. The instrumental soloists were Signor Casolani (contrabasso), Messrs. Hancock, W. F. Reed, and Guest (violoncelli), Mr. Dean (clarinet), Mr. Nicholson (oboe), and Mr. Downe (flute). Mr. C. Blagrove was the accompanist.


Surviving works:

A Set of Waltzes for the Flute Dedicated to the Amateurs of New York by J.L. Downe. New York: Firth and Hall.

Library of Congress.

Digitized:

https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1841.021200/

Copyright deposit, dated Feb. 19, 1841.

Ten individual works for unaccompanied flute. No. 6 is a Gallop.

Love’s Ritornella.

No place of publication or publisher. Theme with two variations, for unaccompanied flute.  Held in a bound collection at Oberlin.

 


Footnotes:

[1] A keyed bugle patented by Joseph Halliday in 1811.

[2] Chamber of Commerce Journal of Maine, Volume 22, p. 191 (1909):

In 1829, the Rifle Corps, then under the command of Captain Solomon H. Mudge, having procured a new and handsome uniform, and wanting extra music for their anniversary, sent to Boston and engaged four pieces, a part of Kendall’s Band. Ned Kendall, the famous bugler came himself, accompanied by a trombone, French horn and cornet and these with Poland, Johnson and Foye, gave the music for the occasion. No such stirring martial music had ever before been heard on the streets of Portland.

A year later, 1830, the New England Guards, the Crack Rifle Company of Boston, under the command of Jouathon G. Chapman, afterwards Mayor of that city, came here on a visit to the Rifle Corps, bringing with them the celebrated Brigade band of eighteen pieces, Edward Kendall, leader. This was a great occasion and excited much interest in regard to martial music and lead to the organization in 1832 of the Portland band.

[3] Boston Post, December 13, 1831 (the same announcement also published on Nov. 28, and on Dec. 27, 1831)

[4] The Tremont Theater had been built in 1827 at 88 Tremont Theater. It was purchased by Baptists in 1843, and became the Tremont Temple. After many fires, the original structure was replaced by the building that still stands at the stie.

[5] Tom Comer, 1790-1862. Born in England, he arrived in Boston in 1827.

[6] Boston Post, October 20, 1832

[7] The Musical Library, no. 21, December 1835, p. 23,

[8] The opus 18 by František Martin Pecháček, 1793-1840.

[9] The Musical Review, vol. 1-2, 1838-1839, p. 8,

[10] ibid, p. 293.

[11] https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.familysearch.org%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F3%3A1%3A33S7-9YT5-9HMV%3Fi%3D192%26cc%3D1786457&h=ATNx7F5GwZcxr1uQRuN5fvTCqQXAc01GRN2s_Zs9Re4v99bR7MMgEGIDfySUOFzWZkLkf9-FUTcOIZwmY84GYjrCHJwpAStgLtvRa-eSUeEeMRuTq2LyVuDJcFo0hS6kdyFR2rl55FvdyIY

[12] The Musical World, vol. 19, 1844, p. 415

 


Published on Flutation.com.au with permission from Prof. Dr. Tom Moore

About Prof. Dr. Tom Moore

Tom Moore holds degrees in music from Harvard and Stanford and studied traverso with Sandra Miller. From 2004 to 2007, he was visiting professor of music at the University of Rio de Janeiro (UniRio), where he co-directed the early music ensemble, Camerata Quantz. He has recorded with Kim Reighley and Mélomanie for Lyrichord (USA) and with Le Triomphe de l’Amour for Lyrichord and A Casa Discos (Brazil). Mr. Moore writes about music for BrazilMax.com, Musicabrasileira.org, 21st Century Music,  Opera Today, Flute Talk, Flutist Quarterly, and other journals. He has also sung professionally with the Symphonic Chorus of Rio de Janeiro and Concert Royal and Pomerium Musices of New York. He is presently head of the Sound and Image Department of the Green Library of Florida International University, Miami, FL. 

 

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Dr Christine Potter – An Interview

– Email Interview with Peter Sheridan –

Christine_potter

HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE LOW FLUTES?

Many years ago I decided to work on the JS Bach Allemande from the Solo Sonata on alto because it would be harder than on c flute. Since my school had only a straight tube alto and I have short arms, I never thought of pursuing the alto until I went to my first NFA convention and saw there were curved head altos. I feel in love with the sound. Once I was able to buy one, I then had to find out what I could play on my new alto. There was no available compilation of repertoire, so I spent hours in the back room of a music store making a list of pieces from publishers catalogues.

 

AS AN ACTIVE COMMISSIONER OF LOW FLUTES MUSIC, WHAT MOTIVATED THIS DESIRE?

I wanted more fun pieces to play and conduct!

 

YOU HAVE BEEN AN ACTIVE EDUCATOR OVER THE YEARS, WITH A SUBSTANTIAL BODY OF PUBLISHED PEDAGOGICAL BOOKS, REPERTOIRE LISTS AND ARTICLES.  WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS MEDIUM?

My first book was a scale book that can be played as a duet, trio or quartet. I wrote this when I scheduled myself to perform a duet with Carol Wincenc at a Festival I was organizing. I needed to find time to practice and scales were something I played with my students, so I turned scales into duets. That book was hugely successful at the NFA convention, and from there, I wrote books that filled other needs. I wanted to play Halloween Duets with my students at a Halloween studio recital, and nothing existed, so I arranged some. There needed to be a book teaching people about vibrato, so I spent three years writing one. It has definitely been a labor of love, I figure I have earned about .05 an hour with all the time I spend.

 

My need to make lists of

T

H

I

N

G

S

I attribute to a personality disorder!

 

YOU WERE INSTRUMENTAL IN STARTING THE INNOVATIVE NATIONAL FLUTE ASSOCIATION ‘LOW FLUTES’ COMMITTEE SOME FIVE YEARS AGO NOW.

PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THIS EXCITING OPPORTUNITY.

The NFA Board approached me with the idea, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it first. I made it my mission to spread the word about low flutes, to enrich the available repertoire and show that low flutes were not just for simple repetitive parts in a flute choir, but were capable of being expressive solo instruments. Many more events for low flutes are now programmed at conventions, and the music written for these events is blossoming, spreading out into the world and popping up in many wonderful places.

 

WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR ANNUAL ALTO/BASS FLUTE RETREAT IN THE USA?

My father died several years ago and it made me think about what I wanted to accomplish while I still could. The first Retreat in 2004 was actually in a masterclass format that did not work very well since most of the people who came were not solo performers. Now I focus on chamber music that makes everyone happy, and I include two workshops that change topics from year to year. This year I have two Retreats, one in Colorado and one in Asheville, NC.

 

WHOM ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE LOW FLUTE ARTISTS

Matthias Ziegler is terrific! Then there is this guy in Australia . . . . . .

 

 

COULD YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WORK FOR THE LOW FLUTES?

Katherine Hoover’s Two for Two, Daniel Rhone’s Bethlehem Pastorale, Matthias Ziegler’s Low Flutes at High Tides, Mike Mower’s Obstinato and Scareso.

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF LOW FLUTES?

 

I would like to see alto flute taught at the college level equal to the piccolo and included in undergraduate and graduate recitals. I would like to see an international competition for alto flute and bass flute soloist. We have the repertoire to make this a reality, but would need to find some funding sources for the prizes, plus a suitable venue. I hope it will become commonplace for world renowned artists to include alto or bass pieces in their programs.

 

How does being Flute Choir Coordinator and Low Flutes Choir Conductor at the Galway Festival fit into your dream of world domination?

 

When I was asked to perform Matthias Ziegler’s Low Flutes at High Tides at the Galway Festival in 2013, I was thrilled. I was given top students to work with and the Galway’s were so pleased, they created a job for me and asked me to return the following summer. I will be returning again this summer with permission to program even more low flutes pieces. By including these works in their Festival, the Galway’s are recognizing the value and quality of the repertoire that is being created for low flutes and sending that message to the rest of the flute world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Dr Christine Potter

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, 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). Chris spent five years as Chair of the National Flute Association’s Low Flutes Committee and developed the low flutes portion of the annual NFA conventions with numerous performances, world premiers and workshops. She directs a low flutes choir at the James Galway Festival in Weggis, Switzerland, where she is also the flute choir coordinator.

Her CD, Flute Menagerie, features solo works for alto and bass. Chris has commissioned and premiered many works for alto and bass, including Low Flutes at High Tides for low flutes choir and Voices for solo bass by Matthias Ziegler, Voices From the Deep and The Alchemy of Earth by Alexandra Molnar-Sujahda, Deep Space Heat Wave by Jonathan Cohen, Stone Suite by Sonny Burnette, Baikal Journey by Catherine McMichael, Obstinato and Scareso by Mike Mower, Two for Two by Katherine Hoover, and Ani Ma’Amin by Paul Schoenfeld.

Chris has appeared on the cover of Flute Talk magazine in with the 10-foot high sculpture of a bass flute in her front yard. She is a frequent contributor to Flute Talk as well as The Flute View and The Quarterly, the magazine of the National Flute Association.

Chris has been organizing and teaching Alto and Bass Flute Retreats since 2004. In 2015 there will be two Retreats, one in Asheville North Carolina, one in Boulder, Colorado. Both will be in June. Chamber music is the focus of each Retreat. Go to the “Retreat/Events” tab for information on the Retreats.

She has written and arranged fifteen books. Her latest contribution is Tres Ratoncitos Ciegos (Three Blind Mice) for flute choir premiered at the 2014 convention. Her books Halloween Duets and The Alto and Bass Flute Resource Book were both winners in the National Flute Association’s Newly Published Music Competition. Her best selling book is The Vibrato Workbook published by Falls House Press. All her books are available on this website.

Chris is known for her clever and innovative performances. She has organized concerts in planetariums, recorded a soundtrack in sea caves from a kayak for an improvised bass flute solo titled SplishSplash!, includes a movie in her performance of Lunar Mural 1, and organizes audience participation, including sing-a-longs.

 

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Carla Rees – An Interview

Happy NEW YEAR to all our readers out there!

I had the wonderful opportunity to have a brief chat to the outstanding British Low Flutes specialist, Carla Rees the other day. This extraordinary performer, arranger and improviser has contributed so much to promotion and enthusiasm of these instruments, that it is only fitting to have her intriguing story as our very first ‘featured artist.’ We hope you enjoy the story and performance links.

Carla Rees

HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE LOW FLUTES?

I first played an alto on a flute course as a teenager and fell in love with it. I lived in a rural area where there weren’t many flute teachers, and began teaching at the age of 14 after I did ABRSM Grade 8. I charged £3 a lesson, and saved up until I had enough to buy an alto flute. They were hard to find at that time, and I managed to get a second hand Monnig for £1000  – it changed my life! I loved the sound, and it opened up a lot of opportunities because I was the only one that had one. My first lessons on alto didn’t come until much later -when I was at the Royal College of Music, there was a masterclass once with Mary Karen Clardy, which helped me realise I was on the right track, and later Simon Channing joined the faculty. He ​did some orchestral alto playing and was kind enough to give me some lessons. By the end of my undergraduate I was convinced I wanted to specialise on alto – and later added bass (and now contrabass) to my low flutes collection.

 

HOW MANY COMPOSITIONS HAVE YOU COMMISSIONED FOR THESE UNIQUE INSTRUMENTS?

It’s hard to say exactly because my archives were lost in a house fire in 2011. I started working with composers around 15 years ago, and now I get sent a new piece through the call for scores nearly every week. I think it’s probably close to around 800 pieces that have​​ been written for me, but a smaller number (300 maybe) that have been written as part of a closer collaboration with composers.​ My ensemble, rarescale, premieres around 30 pieces a year, and I do more premieres with other projects too. I’ve also had nearly 100 works written specially for Kingma System low flutes.

 

AS AN ACTIVE COMMISSIONER OF LOW FLUTES MUSIC, WHAT MOTIVATED THIS JOURNEY?

​I started off wanting to specialise on chamber music repertoire for the alto flute in around 2000. At that time there were very few published pieces, and what I could find was either too musically bland or extreme contemporary repertoire, neither of which were particularly suitable for me at the time. So I set about to create the repertoire, and formed rarescale as a flexible chamber ensemble in 2003 to help promote the works through performance, and in 2012 I launched Tetractys Publishing to make some of the pieces available to the general public.​

 

YOUR WORK WITH ELECTRONICS HAS BEEN SUBSTANTIAL OVER THE YEARS. WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS MEDIUM?

​When I was at the RCM, I was lucky enough to come into contact with Michael Oliva, an electroacoustic composer. He has a particular interest in writing music for low woodwind instruments, so it was inevitable that we’d start a collaboration. We’ve been working together now for around 15 years, and his music incredibly idiomatic for low flutes. ​ He understands the instruments​ and his language combines the tradition of Debussy, Ravel and Scriabin with the spectral language of Murail. It’s music that has something expressive to say, and which is a real pleasure to play.

 

YOU ARE A CHAMPION ‘QUARTER-TONE’ PLAYER AS YOU WERE ONE OF THE PIONEERS OF THE EARLY ALTO FLUTE INSTRUMENT. YOUR GRADUATE WORK IS BASED ON THIS TOPIC. WHAT ARTIST OR WORK INSPIRED THIS EXPLORATION.

​My Masters research was on the history of the alto flute since Boehm. During that time (1999 ish) I heard about Eva Kingma’s development of a quartertone system flute. I was finding the closed holes of the alto flute a major obstacle in musical expression – I had studied a little bit with Robert Dick and extended techniques were (and still are) part of my musical language. I was a major frustration having to deal with the​ limitations of a closed hole alto – so I approached Eva about a Kingma system alto.  The system has developed and refined since then, ​and the ergonomics, as well as head joint design, have improved significantly. Now you can do more with a Kingma System alto than a standard C flute, and my doctoral research explores how the Kingma System can be used to develop repertoire on both alto and bass flute. As part of it I made websites about each instrument – www.altoflute.co.uk and www.bassflute.co.uk it’s an enormous privilege to be part of the dialogue between composers and makers, and the repertoire, and the instrument itself, develops as a result of this dialogue.

 

WHOM ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE LOW FLUTE ARTISTS?

​I love the diversity of my low flute playing colleagues, and it’s a real honour to be able to work with them. Each one of the world leading players has their own area of special interest, and a personal repertoire develops around them. Every time I get to work with them I learn more and more – and have a great time too!​

 

COULD YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WORK FOR THE LOW FLUTES?

​That’s a hard one – so many great pieces! Michael Oliva’s Apparition and Release has become something of a theme tune for me – we’ve performed it over 80 times now I think. But there are sooo many great pieces in different styles…I could give you a massive list!!​

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE (AND HEAR) FOR THE FUTURE OF LOW FLUTES?

​Low flutes are becoming increasingly important in the flute world. When I started out it was several years before I met anyone else with an alto flute – now everyone has them. It’s a very exciting time – the repertoire that has been developed over the last 15 years is now starting to be played by more people, and the instruments are improving all the time. ​

 

RECORDINGS (Sound files):

Michael’s Apparition and Release – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi5uf9CVQcg

Multitracked arrangement of Lotti – https://soundcloud.com/rarescale/lotti-arr-carla-rees-crucifixus-in-8-parts

And a bit of Bach – https://soundcloud.com/rarescale/js-bach-sarabande-from-cello

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HOW TO PLAY Greg Pattillo Style

 by Shaun Barlow

(Originally published by The NSW Flute Society Blog in September 2010 and published on Flute Tutor Australia at the request of the NSW Flute Society in February 2014)

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By now, almost every flute player has taken a look at a few of Greg Pattillo’s flute-beatbox YouTube clips – should you fall outside of this category, run immediately to the nearest computer and type that name into google! His arrangements of popular tunes, honed whilst busking on the streets and in the subways of New York City have led to an incredible following. Like many young flute players, I was blown away by Pattillo’s playing. I had to try and work out how to make all those crazy noises!

In August 2009 Angus McPherson and I took a trip to New York City for the 2009 National Flute Association Convention. Before this I’d been messing around with a few simple tunes, trying to get some basic beatbox sounds happening. The idea of contacting Greg Pattillo and asking for a lesson had been mentioned here and there for a while – everyone I spoke to, including my teacher Alexa Still, had expressed an enthusiasm.  So all of a sudden, sitting in the hotel room on West 51st, I took a look at Pattillo’s website, sent an email asking if he might have time to meet up whilst we were in town, et voilà – he replied! Gus and I had a lesson!

The lesson kicked off with Greg asking for a show of where each of us were at with beatbox-flute. My first attempt at a beatbox arrangement was upon the theme from Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor. Pattillo guided us through some of the basic beatbox sounds – /b/ kick or bass drum, /p/ snare, /k/ handclap or rim shot and /t/ hi-hat cymbal. We spent time refining each sound, plenty of spit flying, repeating /b/, /b/, /b/… against the metronome ticking at 60bpm, Greg encouraging and describing what needed to be tweaked to get the sounds sounding super.

We covered a bunch of techniques – inhaled /k/ and /p/, adding /s/, /f/ and /sh/ to the drum sounds, how to string sounds together into grooves and some pretty hip ways of vamping and arranging tunes.

 

Greg Patillo“We finished the two hour

session jamming on the Paganini theme

and a Piazzolla tune”

 

Needless to say, the rest of our stay in NYC was punctuated by beatbox practice whilst walking the streets and plenty of jamming back in the hotel room.

Back in Sydney, with little to do and little income over the summer break, the idea of taking Pattillo’s lead and heading out busking was way more favourable than waiting tables. I began pairing up with other musicians mainly playing jazz standards and improvising our own grooves. People reacted enthusia-stically to the music, often stopping to chat, or to sing along in the case of one homeless guy. The music was great but of course, the cash was pretty thin…

So, how do you get this beatbox thing happening for yourself? Easy!

1.  Go and grab your Moyse “Tone Development Through Interpretation” or any old beginner method. Pick out a simple tune, something consisting mostly of crotchets like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” – this works perfectly.

2.  Take a pencil and write a “b” under the first note in each bar and a “k” under each note that falls on the third beat.

3. Taking everything at a really, really slow tempo, play the tune on the flute, but replace each of the/b/ and /k/ notes with a really strong /b/ as in “boots” and an exaggerated /k/ as in “cats.” Sure, it might be tricky at first, but that’s nothing a bit of slow practice can’t fix.

So you’re thinking, “But my /b/ doesn’t sound like Pattillo’s. How do you get it to sound like a real bass drum?”

Like regular flute playing, beatboxing takes practice and instruction. Luckily, there’s a tonne of instructional material available for free on the internet. The “HumanBeatbox.com” website has a fantastic section called “Learn”, containing written tutorials and videos on almost every imaginable method of spitting and clicking like a drum machine. For a great step-by-step introduction to beatboxing aimed at the complete beginner, type “www.humanbeatbox.com/lessons” into your web browser.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, flute-beatboxing is an open door. There are a couple of really great performers putting their own spin on things. Greg Pattillo, alongside his prolific collection of YouTube videos, has released three albums with his group “Project Trio” (I got my copies from www.cdbaby.com).

Dirko Juchem, a German jazz musician, has produced an album of his solo beatbox-flute performances, it comes with an instructional booklet containing a great deal of info on how he makes it all happen. There’s even a few songsheets in there. For more info, see: www.myspace.com/flutelounge

A few other noteworthy players to check out on YouTube are Nathan “Flutebox” Lee and Tim Barsky. Watching some of the thousands of videos on YouTube of beatbox performances quickly broadens one’s conception of what might be possible on flute.

Guys like Rahzel and Roxorloops provide some pretty amazing examples of how to pack a lot of sounds into a bar, appearing to barely ever stop for breath!

Many beatbox websites feature free tutorial and “how to” articles. These provide a great way of expanding one’s vocabulary of beatbox sounds.  Some lend themselves really well to flute whilst others may not immediately appear to work at all. There’s always something to be learnt whilst undergoing a new bit of vocal gymnastics, though. For example, try the “click roll” technique described at humanbeatbox.com (typing “Click roll” into the search box on the humanbeatbox.com homepage should lead you there pretty swiftly). Whilst it doesn’t resonate as well as a good, loud /k/, if you cover the tone hole with your lips and perform a click roll into the flute there’s some interesting possibilities for resembling a creaky door or some weird creature from Jurassic Park.

It’s early days for beatbox-flute yet. Give it a go and see what crazy new sound you’ve got up your sleeve!

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About the author

Shaun BarlowShaun Barlow is a professional flute player based in Sydney. He specialises in contemporary music, flute beatboxing, collaborating with composers and exploring the vast cacophony of sounds available to the flute player. Shaun is studying with Dr Alexa Still at the Sydney Conservatorium, completing a Masters of Music (Performance). His current research is a study of the development, notation and practice of flute beatboxing.

For upcoming concerts, workshops and free music downloads, check out:

www.shaunbarlow.com

 

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