Happy 80th birthday, William Bennett!

This year, William Bennett is 80 years old!  To celebrate, there will be a concert in London this August Click here for details.

William Bennett is one of the most influential flute playing musicians in history – his numerous recordings as a soloist and orchestral player show just how wonderful and versatile a musician he is.  Not only that, he has worked tirelessly on the flute’s scale with various flute makers and flute players to help improve its intonation.  On top of that, he is an extremely passionate, dedicated and inspiring teacher – at the Royal Academy of Music and in masterclasses all around the world.  As a previous student of Wibb, I can testify to one of the most enriching and enjoyable periods of my life.  I also remember the first time I heard Wibb – it was on my father’s car cassette player one day about 20 years ago when he picked me up from school.  It was a compilation of different flute concerti and I remember that my favourite recordings were a Bach concerto and the two Mozart concerti.  I looked on the cassette liner notes and all of them were played by William Bennett!

 

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To celebrate this extraordinary man, 3738go  (a company based in Japan) have made some wonderful merchandise, some of which uses artwork by William Bennett himself.  If you wish to buy any of this, it is available on my website:  www.roderickseedflute.com

AND, if you use the code:  rodfluteblog  you can get a further 10% OFF!

All proceeds go towards funding William Bennett’s 80th birthday tour of Japan.

Also available are CDs by Lorna McGhee and Denis Bouriakov.    Prices are in Canadian dollars.   Shipping costs apply.   Shipped from Canada.

This is one of my favourite recordings of Wibb.  Enjoy!   Happy Birthday Wibb!

 

William Bennett plays Handel

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Andersen études op.15 – no.8

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This etude is one of my favourites – it is very expressive especially when broken down to its melodic core.    If you have read my previous blogs on Andersen etudes, you will notice that I often find the “skeleton” and practise that first.  This is something I learnt from William Bennett, who in turn learnt it from Marcel Moyse, who presumably learnt it from Taffanel.  Indeed, Andersen dedicated many works to Taffanel and the etudes were used in his classes in Paris.  Taffanel referred to Andersen as “the Chopin of the flute”.   Like Chopin’s many etudes for piano, the op.15 etudes by Andersen are firstly very musical and melodic, well-written for the instrument, but not unnecessarily showy.   (For more about Taffanel and his correspondence with Andersen, check out Edward Blakeman’s book, “Taffanel: Genius of the Flute”.   Edward Blakeman gave a very interesting lecture recital on Taffanel at RAM with examples played by Wibb- it was one of my favourite classes!)

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So, here is my approach to practising this etude.

The Skeleton

This melody, as the marking suggests, is quite agitated and unsettled.  F sharp minor brings to mind pieces like Faure’s Pavane, but this melody is a little darker and more haunting.  There is also more Romanticism to it, with the long phrases and unresolved tension.

 

Andersen Skeleton

I have added suggested phrase markings to shape the melody.  Remember that this is in 3/4, so we don’t want a strong 2nd or 3rd beat.

Play this skeleton as if it were a melody in its own right.  Notice how the sequence beginning in bar 9 gets interrupted in bar 14, which hastens the harmonic rhythm and adds to the increasing tension, reaching its peak at bar 16.     Much like a stretto in a fugue, it is an extremely effective compositional technique.

Also notice the intervals.  There is a great deal of chromaticism and plenty of diminshed 5ths (tritone/”the devil’s interval”!).  This gives us an idea of the colour we need to use-  it should be suitably dark and mysterious.

After practising the skeleton, let’s look at the technical aspect of this etude.  Andersen consistently writes with the following articulation pattern:

andersen articulation

I have added micro-phrase markings, so that the slurs have more weight at the beginning and then diminish  and the tongued notes (which shouldn’t be short, but expressive and melodic) have a forward direction.  If you play the notes very staccato and dry, you lose the character and they don’t have any direction.  Use the tongued notes to carry the phrase forwards.      The diminunedos on the slurs will help to show the skeleton.

Often players see a staccato marking and play very dry and short, which can be effective in the right context.  Here, it is not, so one needs to find a more louré style of articulation.  This doesn’t mean make it heavy – think of an up bow on a violin.

Work your way through the etude using these ideas and be careful of the accidentals!  Andersen likes to throw one off with his modulations!

I hope this gives you some ideas.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andersen etudes op.15 – no.7

andersen 7 a

This etude is great for developing a smooth even sound across a wide range.

The first step is to work out the skeleton and phrase structure:

andersen 7  annotated

Skeleton

To practise this, we can take out all the unnecessary notes and leave the skeleton:

andersen outline

This gives us the macro phrasing.  Phrase towards the second bar to the really expressive appoggiatura on E sharp, resolving on F sharp.    In bar 3 and bar 4, phrase towards the middle of each bar.    The repeated F sharps and repeated G sharps in bars 9 and 10 sound very expressive when you phrase to the middle of the bar.

 

Adding the notes back in

For a true legato, we need to do some micro phrasing using our embouchure so that large intervals and weak beats  do not pop out.  Here is how I would practise it:

andersen prac

This phrasing here reinforces the main notes of the melody which I marked on the annotated score at the top.    As you phrase away, lift the airstream with the lower lip so the notes don’t become flat.  As you phrase forwards to the next beat (the lower example), lower the airstream slightly so the main notes don’t sound sharp.

Where you see phrases like:

 

andersen 7 interval

Make sure you lift the airstream and do a small diminuendo for each beat so the high notes don’t stick out.

 

Subtlety

Apply this technique to the whole etude.  Once you have mastered it, the repetitious nature of the etude gives you a chance to put it into practice over and over again!    Try to put the micro phrasings into context of the large phrases so that all you can hear is a completely smooth line with a beautiful shape.   At first it might sound overdone, so after practise, you can make it more subtle and fluid.

 

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Getting a place at music college

 

cartoon-small-music-examinations-page  It’s a new year – the holidays are over as are the parties and festivities.  Hopefully you are well-rested and ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Now is a good time to start thinking about where you might audition and what you need to prepare.  Yes, it seems a way off yet, but you will be surprised how quickly these things come around and there is a lot to prepare to ensure that you make the right impression and decision.

Having been through the audition circuit myself, I would like to give some advice to those who are auditioning soon.

  1. Find a teacher you want to study with

This might seem easy enough.  You pick a teacher that you admire, right?  But remember you will be with this teacher for anything between 1 and 4 years. Therefore, you need to be a good fit.  The only way to know this is to get some lessons with different teachers (“consultation lessons”).   I always knew that I wanted to study with William Bennett since I was about 15.  I went to his summer school for a few years before I auditioned at the Royal Academy of Music.  He got to know my playing and noticed how I improved each year.   So when it came to the actual audition, he was almost rooting for me to play well and that is never a bad thing!

Nowadays, not many teachers give summer schools by themselves, but may be at other festivals or schools with other teachers.  For example, The Oxford Flute Summer School has an impressive line up of teachers who teach at various music colleges.

Alternatively, get a teacher’s contact information from the music college or their website and contact them directly.  I started taking lessons with Sebastian Bell (who was then the Head of Woodwind  at RAM) when I was 15 years old after writing a letter to him.  I was rather naive back then, but luckily he invited me up to London for a consultation lesson.  I had lessons regularly with him until I went to RAM.

2.  Know what you need to prepare and … prepare it!

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Most music colleges ask for 2 contrasting pieces, sight-reading and possibly scales and arpeggios.    Be prepared to also do transposition and improvisation.

Pick pieces that show you at your best.  Don’t try to second guess what the panel will want to hear, but instead pick pieces that you know well and that you love.  This will come across in the audition.    Make sure they are contrasting in period, style, tempo etc. ánd are of sufficient technical difficulty.  In other words, don’t play Faure Fantasie and Gaubert Nocturne and Allegro Scherzando.    Contemporary music is not often a great idea unless this is something you really love and the professors take a big interest in personally.    Remember that you will be playing with a staff accompanist (unless you bring your own, which is even better), so pick pieces that you can rehearse easily in 5-10 minutes.    Pianists hate Ibert concerto and Chant de Linos, just saying.    If you have more than a few months to prepare your repertoire, take some time away from the music and come back with fresh ears and eyes a couple of months before the audition.

3.  Visit the colleges

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Go to some masterclasses and concerts at the music colleges you are interested in so you get a feel for the place.  Ask students what it is like to study there – they are usually happy to help since they were in a similar situation as you.

4.  Be prepared to play early

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If you are not a morning person, then you need to change your ways!  Start waking up and practising early to get used to playing well in the morning.  Auditions will sometimes have 2 rounds – one in the morning and the other a bit later on.  Both rounds need you at your best- no compromises.

5.  Have a back-up plan

Sometimes, things don’t pan out the way you would like, so it’s important that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Make sure you audition at more than just one school and have a plan B should you not get in to your school of choice.   Similarly, don’t spread yourself out too much-  I wouldn’t recommend auditioning for more than 4 or 5 colleges- it can be a big strain emotionally and physically and you want to give your best.

6.  Be yourself

Like I mentioned before, don’t try to second-guess the panel.  It may even turn out that the professors you thought would be on the panel might be away that day.  Play your best and just know that you can’t please everyone.  Some people do get places in every college they apply to, but that is a happy coincidence.   Be open-minded and show that you are a great student that will be enjoyable to teach every week.  In other words, smile and show enthusiasm.

7.  Practise playing under pressure

Do as much performing of your repertoire as you can, whether in masterclasses, concerts, exams or just in front of friends.  This will prepare you for the hardest aspect of auditions-  nerves!  Nerves can be turned into a strength- they show you care about the music and playing well.  But don’t let them control you.  Breathing is key and learning how to keep a steady airstream is important.  I might talk about nerves more in a future blog, but putting yourself under pressure is a good place to start.

 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or message me.    This guide will not guarantee you a place at music college,  but I hope it will prove to be useful in your preparations.

 

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!