PIFR Blog: Day 4 – it got emotional

29th  June 2016

 Today was the longest day of the retreat so far. So many wonderful things happened today which made it pretty draining, but everything was just so fantastic that we pushed through.  

Heather’s workshop – compassion

Heather set up activities where we led our partner in a task, blindfolded! This involved trust, empathy and compassion.  We learnt that practising empathy strengthens compassion, which is having the desire to alleviate the suffering of another.  I took away various things from this. In music, as teachers, we need to have compassion for our students and let them know we are there to help.

Wibb- Moyse 24 Studies

Today,  2 more “victims” took on the task of the 24 studies, continuing from where we left off yesterday.  Colleen and Jenny got through numbers 3, 4 and 5.  Wibb worked with Colleen on various “attacks” (soft, clear etc), making number 3 sound happy and dance-like.  


With number 4, Wibb worked on getting a good bell tone in the low register. 

Like the great bell in a church (Marcel Moyse on no.4)

The variation brought up sensitive fingerings to help the octaves sound in tune when soft.  “Dream out the top note”

Number 5 required a naughty, indelicate sound.  “Keep it rude!”

Wibb repertoire class


We heard performances of Gaubert Sonatine– a piece most of us hadn’t heard of, but that we all loved! Colleen worked with Wibb on putting words to the phrase to make sense of it and was reminded not to do “Dutch bulges”!!  It was beautifully played.

Jenny worked on Airs Valaques by Doppler.  Wibb gave many humorous stories of vampires, bogey-men and Count Dracula! 

You are Dracula wanting some blood!

Mona played the second movement of the Reinecke Concerto, which Geoffrey Gilbert apparently called it “the most passionate  piece in the flute repertoire”.  

We learnt about 10 different fingerings for B above the stave! Useful for getting one out of scrapes!

Lastly, August played Corrente from Bach’s Partita.  Wibb demonstrated at the piano the harmonies and harmonic rhythm of this movement and encourages August to make great phrasing and shape.  We also learnt about “hemorrhoids”! (Hemiolas in our language!)

Mindful Musician – creativity and play

This was led by Wayne McNab.  We learnt about many things from this knowledgable man! Firstly we worked on centering our Qi- which gave us strength without excess muscle tension, something very useful for flute playing.

He talked about what blocks our creativity, drawing on points such as 

  • Only wanting to give one answer
  • Being confined by rules, assumptions and regulations 
  • Not wanting to make mistakes 
  • Having pre-conceptions 
  • Being too serious and forgetting to play

Lorna and Gaby’s class


This was perhaps one of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced in music.  Lorna and Gaby worked together with a common goal of making magic happen, by simply allowing it to happen.  I played the Taktakishvili 2nd movement and Lorna took my playing to a level I never knew I could play at.  It was so emotional for me (and others also cried!) – we all felt something special in the room after the class.  Lorna and Gaby just have such a great commitment to making beautiful music that everybody’s playing transformed.  

Lorna worked with Marie on finding a big sound that can be menacing without an excessive air supply.  They worked on vowel sounds and resonance to achieve something truly wonderful.

Peter played Taktakishvili 1st movement and found ease in tricky passages using reverse psychology and finding an element of play.  

Alex ended the class with Marin Marais Folies d’Espagne.  Lorna made connections to ballet and the Polonaise by Bach to create an excitement and great style in Alex’s playing.

Today was over by 9pm.  Every hour was well spent.

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

PIFR Blog: Day 3 -“Flute is like a fish – it gets away!”

28th  June 2016 

#pifr2016 Day 3

Lorna McGhee’s Technique class and repertoire class with Gabriella-Minnes Brandes, Wibb’s 24 Studies workshop and repertoire class and Heather Campbell’s workshop on empathy – a wonderful day of inspiring classes.

Empathy workshop with Heather Campbell

To start the day, we had a workshop given by Heather Campbell, the self-healing facilitator.  Today’s class centered around empathy and how to interact in a situation that makes you uncomfortable.  Heather talked about each of us having our own frequency or energy that we present to others.  She mentioned how the most powerful state is one that is neutral- since it is a place from where we can step into another emotional state or frequency.  We learnt through asking our partner a series of questions how to empathize with them, by extending our frequency to another and inviting them to return that.    This drew parallels with rehearsals and differing points of view with another musician.  We can accept and appreciate another’s point of view without allowing ourselves to get into a heightened state.  If we keep in a neutral state by working on grounding ourselves, we can empathize with that person and find common ground  (not the same as compromising).

Wibb’s 24 Studies class and repertoire class

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Alex and I played no.s 1 and 2 from Moyse’s 24 Studies.  Wibb’s knowledge and first-hand experience of learning these with Moyse, as well as his own unique ideas led to a fascinating class – something I never get bored of hearing.  Wibb is full of stories and it was particularly interesting to contrast the first two studies.  We worked on colours (“happy tone”), repeated notes  (“You’re drunk again!”), appogiaturas (“I love you”, legato  (“Put your fingers down slowly!”), character (“Take me to Heav-en”..”but don’t be religious about it!”), expressive articulation (“When I do something in my body- the flute- it reacts! (Moyse)”).    He also taught about soft attack and finding the sound and how Moyse said how easy it is for a sound to disappear or appear-  “The flute is like a fish- it gets away!”.

Take me to Heav-en …  but don’t be religious about it!

In the repertoire class, Wibb focused on the importance of stress and rhythm.  The two pieces were the Schulhoff Sonata played by Chris, who was told to “put some sparkle dust on it” and the 1st movement from Bach’s B minor sonata played by Peter (“I’m Pe-ter, terribly Pe-ter”- the opening theme!).  We learnt to find how our bodies resonate by singing an arpeggio and feeling how the resonance point moves up as we sing higher.   In the Bach, Wibb taught how we can use Moyse Sonority (triplet exercise) to get an expressive soft high register.

Lorna’s technique class

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This class was not your usual technique class.  One might expect an hour of Taffanel & Gaubert exercises or Moyse scales, but Lorna explained how “technique”was artistry.  It takes a great deal of generosity of spirit to take the trouble of getting a good technique that you share with the audience.  Technique is not simply finger co-ordination, it involves taking care of your body, listening, refusing to compromise and being self-reliant, among other things.

We worked on the technique of sound and used Alexander Technique procedures to help.  We did some work lying on the floor in semi-supine, humming to find resonance (much like Wibb did in his class with singing an arpeggio).  We learnt about opposing forces in our bodies- one pulling us up and the other yielding our feet into the ground (vertical), as well as how our chest and hips can expand horizontally to create space and build resonance.    We also did long tones and pitch bends to find a sound that sat right in the middle of our resonance and focus.

Lorna and Gaby’s class – repertoire 

Strictly, this wasn’t a repertoire class- it was more of a “how to improve your sound dramatically” class!  Gaby and Lorna worked together in a very unique approach, drawing from Alexander Technique and Lorna’s own approach to flute sound.  It was quite astonishing how everyone improved in just 30 minutes.  This was probably the most inspiring part of the day and reminded me of my amazing studies with Lorna a few years ago and why I decided to come to this flute retreat.

Some quotes from the class:

“Play like your life depended on it!”

“Breathe as if forte, even in piano“.

“Find where the note resonates and make friends with it!”

“Keep the bow moving.”

“In a diminuendo, come to rest, but don’t drop the ball!”

“Trust you have enough breath.  Don’t live in poverty, but in abundance!”

Lorna demonstrated beautifully how a sound can be so enjoyable to listen to when our bodies are free from undue tension, which “puts a lid on the piano” or “puts a mute on the sound”.

I really can’t put into words how inspiring this class and day was.  You need to experience it for yourself!   So, see you next year everyone!

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

PIFR Blog: Day 2 – “The flute is made of plastic”

#pifr2016

27th  June 2016

Today was the first full day and we experienced a wide variety of classes and workshops.  I will talk about each of the classes below.

Heather Campbell’s class – Awareness.  9-11am

This was a very interesting workshop which focused on identifying and validating the self.  We each picked an item of nature from outside and described what we saw, felt and smelt.  It was working on sensory awareness.  Heather made everybody simplify their statements and make sure we all started with “I feel/  I see” etc  (not  “it is”).  This made our thoughts more vivid and succinct.  We were able to draw parallels to music and teaching.  Making one’s thoughts and directions clear is very important for one’s interpretative idea.  Often simplicity is better.  In conflict of opinion, it is essential that you each value your own opinion and truth first and then try to find common ground in each other’s view.  This was easier when the objects were the same. For example, two people picked pine cones and it was easy to find common ground-  both had a similar smell or texture.   When the objects were different, it was harder to find a truth in both, but surprisingly there was something that linked each object and that was true for both of them.  One could see this as a metaphor for playing with others in chamber music.  Playing with other flute players and matching their sound is easier than playing with a group of other instruments, yet there is still something that connects each instrument to make music together.

Alexander Tecnhnique class with Gabriella-Minnes Brandes 11-12pm.

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This was a great introduction to the Alexander Technique and how it can relate to music-making.  We started with a walking exercise and making ourselves aware of our movement.  We directed our bodies to release any undue tension and to notice our breath.  Following that, there was a ball game.  Many balls were thrown and we were to notice how we responded to incoming throws.  Was there tension in our responses?  Did we tighten any muscles?    We then moved on to using wooden sticks in pairs and trios to work on leading and following.  The best movement came about when we were not actively leading and following, but allowing the movement to happen.  Often it was a thought that created tension, but just by allowing things to happen our bodies were more free and less constricted in movement.    This is true of flute playing.  Gripping the flute too tightly sets up a series of bad habits which constrict our sound.

Lunch

Wibb’s masterclass  1-4pm

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I was up first (fair enough- I didn’t have jet lag to contend with!).   I played Bach’s G minor sonata.  Wibb was concerned with making the first movement’s character virile and avoiding edited articulations which did not match the piano.  A lot of the time, Wibb posed the question, “How do you sing it?”.  From that, I could feel which articulation was natural and suited the character of the music.  Wibb’s famous use of words like “elephant” and “taxi” were present, but the main thing I got from the class was delivering an emotion.  The first movement of the G minor has a certain strength, which is why short note values and echo effects were not suitable.

Next was Faure Fantaisie (first section) played by John.  Wibb worked on getting a good soft attack for the opening B2.  He used harmonic fingerings and the word “wa” to invoke the character of “a sexy South American singer”!  He improvised a Latin accompaniment to the opening, which gave the music a whole new dimension.  Wibb’s famous colourful playing was evident – depending on the harmony, the colour should be different.  For example, some interrupted cadence points required a gassy sound, where as some passages needed a more nasal colour.    Rubato was also discussed using imagery of a bicycle going down a hill and then making your sweetheart wait for you.

Language and its inflections were discussed in Schubert’s Trockne Blumen, played by Alex.  He worked quite hard on getting the theme sounding like a singer.  Lengths of notes were dictated by the text-  no short Mickey Mouse notes!  “Dot means long!”  Some other  good quotes include:  “It’s a gloomy piece, but you’re not allowed to be flat”.    About breathing between phrases:  “I’m going to die.  I’m already dead” –  you have to breathe in between!  He then suggested we all listen to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s recording.  Here’s a link to the recording with the text.  Schubert

Last was Gaubert’s Madrigal, played by Courtenay.  Wibb talked about how Gaubert did a lot of rubato in this piece, even though nothing is marked.  He found a recording at a Paris flea market which influenced his interpretation.  Gaubert apparently breathed in between slurs and pushed the tempo on in more excited passages.  Alternative fingerings for the last two notes were suggested  (these will be in my book).    The colour of C sharp was discussed-  Wibb said this note needs more “bite” – intensify the air column and lip it down, or put “chicken shit” in the C sharp hole!  Another great quote:  “The flute is made of plastic -it will bend anywhere!”

Mindful Musician 5-6pm

This workshop, led by Gwen Klassen, was essentially about flow  – that unique feeling one experiences when “in the zone”.  We did the 8 Silken Movements of Qi Gong- which rejuvenated us and helped with the connection of breath and flow.  Gwen then moved on to discuss how to achieve flow in performance and how we can use Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence to reach that state.  This led on to talking about thoughtful practice.

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Gwen’s evening class  7pm to 8.30pm

Gwen worked with students on topics such as their practising process, using tools to help train our ears better, finding the story in the music and injecting that into our performance, increasing energy levels, problem-solving and more.  It was a good way to end the day, drawing on different topics from all the classes.

Tomorrow is Day 3, including classes by Lorna McGhee and Wibb’s 24 studies workshop.  Can’t wait!

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

 

 


 

PIFR Blog: Day 1

26th June 2016 – Welcome to Pender Island! 

#pifr2016

It’s day one of the Pender Island Flute Retreat (“PIFR”).  We have all been promised a week of beautiful weather on one of the most beautiful islands in British Columbia.  So, not a bad start to the week!

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After a day of ferry crossings, everyone congregated at Mark’s House for dinner and the evening workshop.  Including faculty there are 25 of us.  We were greeted by a very friendly Gwen Klassen and assistant Emma Shubin in the most wonderful setting.  It was 7pm by the time we started the opening workshop.  It was a good chance to introduce ourselves and participants from previous years let us know why they decided to come back.  Everyone then gave an example of something that they feel joyful about and something they grieve (or feel regretful about) in their flute playing life.  There was a wide spectrum of answers and it really helped people open up.  There will be more self-exploration and development throughout the week in addition to learning about flute, music and much more, which we are all excited about.

Tomorrow is the first day of classes with Wibb, as well as workshops with Heather Campbell and Gabriella Minnes-Brandes.

Check back for Day 2 tomorrow!  There will be some interviews with participants to enjoy as well.

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

 

Coming soon: Pender Island Flute Retreat Daily Blogs

From the 26th June to 3rd July, I will writing a daily blog series at the Pender Island Flute Retreat 2016  (look for “PIFR Blog”).   This is a summer course organised by Canadian flautist Gwen Klassen with an impressive international faculty.  There will be flute master classes given by  William Bennett, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year and 60 years of the finest flute playing.    Lorna McGhee, principal flute of the Pittsburgh Symphony and faculty at Carnegie Mellon, will give technique classes and masterclasses.   A series of   workshops entitled “Mindful Musician” will be given by Gwen and Wayne McNab, a Reiki master.   Heather Campbell, a facilitator of self-healing and human development will give a series of workshops  throughout the week.  There will be Alexander Technique workshops with Gabriella Minnes-Brandes, who will also assist Lorna McGhee’s masterclasses, giving a unique approach to the study of our instrument.

The retreat ends with a faculty recital on Saturday 2nd July at 1pm, held at the Pender Island Community Hall.

July 2, 2016 concert flyer

 

I will be writing about the classes as well as interviewing various participants and faculty.

If you want to get the latest information, pictures and videos from the retreat, look for the hashtag #pifr2016 and please make sure to follow, like and share PIFR at the following places:

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/PenderIslandFluteRetreat/

INSTAGRAM

@pifr10

https://www.instagram.com/pifr10/

TWITTER

@pifr10 

WEBSITE

www.fluteretreat.com 

CDs and the 3738go merchandise that celebrates Wibb’s 80th birthday will be on sale.  If you use coupon code “rodfluteblog”, you can get 10 % off all products, subject to availability.  http://www.roderickseedflute.com/#!shop/cxst

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

 

Something borrowed: transcriptions

borrowpants

This blog is dedicated to the topic of transcriptions.  To transcribe or not to transcribe?   Which pieces work well for flute?  How does one write a good transcription?

To transcribe or not to transcribe?

Personally, I think transcriptions are a great idea.  There are some people, however, who are very purist and consider that there are so many good flute pieces that we don’t need to play repertoire written for other instruments.    I have often played violin sonatas and someone has come up to me after a concert and said something like:  “It was interesting that you chose to play that violin sonata.  But why didn’t you just play his flute sonata?”  Usually, it’s because the violin sonatas are so much more interesting.   There is also the added benefit of understanding the composer’s style.  Playing transcriptions of Bach’s cello suites or violin sonatas gave me a much deeper understanding of his style than just by playing the flute sonatas.    They also make one think.  By making a piece work for flute, adjustments and modifications might be needed and this involves skills like analysing, octavising, research etc.   These skills are essential for a well-rounded musician.

So, assuming that transcribing is a good idea, here are my tips for writing a good transcription for flute.  Many instrumental pieces can work very well, especially those written for violin, cello, oboe and clarinet, as well as songs and vocalises.

1. Respect the composer.

Start out by copying the music note for note.  Include all markings, dynamics, articulations etc.  Try to use an original manuscript or Barenreiter – steer clear of badly made editions.  Be careful when transposing music written for instruments in Bb (clarinet, trumpet etc) or similar.

2. Transposition

Personally, I try to keep the music in the original key.  This isn’t always practical if there are, for example, a lot of low Bbs or As, which could be resolved by just transposing the music up a semitone or two.  However, I believe each key has its own particular colour and changing the key can often lose something.  Not to mention the purists or people with perfect pitch who will persecute you after your performance!   Transposing violin pieces up a perfect 4th to make the lowest note C instead of G is an easy solution, but not always the best.

3. Double stops

If you encounter double stops, you have a few choices:

a)  Use grace notes for the lower voice (or upper voice depending on where the melodic line is).   This can give the listener an idea of the harmony.  This method works pretty well in solo baroque repertoire  (cello suites, partitas/sonatas for violin etc).

b) Simply cut out one voice and either leave it or put it in the piano part if you feel something is missing. It depends how much the piano is doing at that time.  If they already have a lot to do at that time, don’t stress them out with a crazy right hand part!

c) Use multiphonics.   I’ve never done this, because multiphonics never really sound that good.  But it might work well for some contemporary pieces.

d)  Just don’t transcibe this particular piece if there are a lot of double stops!   If the music sounds bare without the lower/upper voice and grace notes sound a bit ridiculous compared to the original, then just find another piece.  Some pieces are especially written for violin and all their techniques which don’t always translate to flute playing.

4.  Octavisation.  This is where your compositional brain needs to kick in.  I have often heard really terrible transcriptions where the music is just shoved up a couple of octaves and loses the warmth of colour/depth or completely goes against the piano part- giving a very open texture.   The Khachaturian violin concerto springs to mind!    By following the shape of the melody, one work out which notes work an octave higher and that don’t disrupt melodic line.  This can be tricky in violin pieces that go down to G below middle C.  Some people put notes octaves higher because they worry their low register is not loud enough.  This means you just need to practice fullness of tone in the low register a bit more!

5.  Flutey effects

Putting in your own effects such as singing and playing, whistle tones, key slaps or beat-boxing –  just don’t!  It can make a beautiful piece sound a bit tacky and gimmicky.  Again, respect the composer!

Pieces that work well for flute


Here are some ideas of pieces that I’ve either played or heard that are a good place to start.

Violin

Bach, JS – Sonatas for violin and keyboard , violin concerti, solo partitas and sonatas for violin.  Not all of them work, but quite a lot do.

Mozart-  violin sonatas.  These give you a great insight into Mozart’s style in a way that the original early flute sonatas do not.

Beethoven – “Spring” sonata, Sonata no.8 in G, Romances for violin and orchestra, Concerto for violin  (William Bennett made this famous).

Saint-Saens – Rondo Capriccioso.

Dvorak – Romance for violin and orchestra

Mendelssohn – Sonata in F minor

Kreisler-  various pieces (good for encores)

Elgar- Chanson de Matin, Chanson de Nuit, Salut d’amour, La Capricieuse  etc.

Cello

Mendelssohn – Song without Words in D major

Bach – cello suites

Clarinet

Brahms-  sonatas

Poulenc- sonata

Oboe

Poulenc and Saint-Saens sonatas

Albinoni – concerti

Voice

Debussy-  songs

Poulenc- vocalise, songs

Mendelssohn – songs without words

Faure – songs

I hope this gives you some ideas and food for thought.   Try them out- if they don’t work out in performance, at least you learnt some useful skills and more about a certain composer.  Of course don’t neglect the original flute repertoire- we have some gems for sure!

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Breathing Practice Tools for Flute players

I would like to introduce a new aspect to my blogs: a review of anything flute-related.  This may be of flutes themselves, concerts, recordings or other products.  Today, I will be looking at some products that can help in your daily practice and give my opinion on their usefulness.

1.  The Pneumo Pro  by Blocki Flute Metho

Rating:  🙌 🙌 🙌 🙌 🙌

Available in Canada:  Tapestry Music 

USA:  Blocki Flute website

UK:  Just FlutesBlockiThis is an excellent little device that can be inserted into any flute.  Great for visualizing the air column.  There are four little fans positioned at different heights.  By aiming your air to each of the small fans, you can learn how to change the direction of the air stream, which is essential for intonation control and flexibility of intervals (small and large).

It can also be used to improve one’s tonguing  (you can see if your air stream is constant and consistent in tongued passages).   The great thing about it is that you can slot it into your flute and play anything that you are working on and because it is silent, you can even do this at midnight!     Straight after using it, I could hear a difference in tone-  it’s like an excellent warm up device.

It is inexpensive and a great tool for teaching students about air direction and speed.

 

2.  Air Bag for flute players  by Rusch

I was first introduced to these when I first attended William Bennett’s Summer School .  Michie Bennett taught me how to use it in a private lesson and it was completely eye-opening.    She heard about them from Keith Underwood, who uses them in his teaching.

Breathing bag

Available from most flute shops in the UK  (Just Flutes, Topwind etc)

In USA:  Hickey’s Music

Rating:  🙌 🙌 🙌 🙌

This device is a great way to gauge how much air you are using.  It helps build breathing capacity and control of how much air you let out.  It comes in 5L and 6L sizes.  It helped me a lot when I was younger to make phrases last longer.  You can breathe into it as if you are playing a phrase or exercise.  You will notice how quickly or slowly the air bag inflates, which will give you an idea of the amount of air you might be wasting.  It also helps with conditioning the respiratory muscles.

Make sure to clean it out after use.  Warm air is a great place for bacteria to grow!

3.  Flow Ball 

Available at Just Flutes

Another breathing device!  This one is especially good for younger children, since there is a game-element to it.  By keeping the ball afloat, you are working on keeping a constant air supply and conditioning the respiratory muscles.   Take a look at the above video with the cheesy background music for a visual guide.    A fun and easy device, but perhaps not as useful as the Pneumo Pro.

Rating:  🙌 🙌 🙌

 

Please feel free to comment below on any similar products that have benefited your flute playing or that you would like me to review next time.    Likewise, if you have any ideas or suggestions for products/CDs etc that you would like me to review, please comment below!

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!