Monthly Archives: April 2012

Daphnis Redux-when is it ME and when is it the instrument?

So I thought some of you migth be interested in more news about the picc part to Daphnis in case any of you ever have to confront it. And I mean confront it!

Progress had been really slow for me despite many many hours of practice… so I finally realized that maybe it wasn’t actually me who was at fault. I think most of us musicians always assume that if we don’t  make  progress on a passage in an orchestra ….or any other part/piece for that matter….. that it must be US who is at fault. And surely, in fact,  most of the time it really is our fault and NOT the instrument. However……. just  as I often  ask my students in a  lesson where they are stuggling with something week after week … “when have you last had your flute looked at by a repairman”?….. sometimes it really helps to have your instrument looked at if you simply cannot make progress after significant practice on something. For…..In some cases… it may not really be you afterall….

In fact… in one of my orchestral excerpt books…. (in regard to piccoli….as opposed to “piccolos” ….often players have not just more than one piccolo head joint… they also often have more than one piccolo……) it really states that if none of these fingerings works on your instrument…. TRY A DIFFERENT PICCOLO!

So…. dear readers…. that is precisely what I just did. I tried a new headjoint.

And happily   I can now  announce… as Robert Frost so elegantly says in his famous Poem” Stopping in the Woods”… etc…. “it has made all the difference!”

My piccolo original headjoint.. though it is lovely and very good and I still like it… just doesn’t respond quickly to fast high register articulation… and consequently the famous piccolo passage which ….btw is always on orchestral auditions for piccolo at m. 183 in the Daphnis picc part …..simply was not getting any better….. to my frustration and the  conductors’… off I went to the piccolo factory ( which I am fortunate to live near ….as one of my former teachers once famously told me….. that living in the Boston area was like living in the center of the flute universe!) and much to my husband’s frustration…. “Oh no!!! Not yet another piece of flute equipment”!!!!! Have procured myself a second piccolo headjoint…. which DOES allow me to play that passage much ,much better.

It is of course not just the piccolo… but of course  also  me… but to be fair… the former picc headjoint simply was not helping me achiveve my goal. Perhaps another better player might have been able to work with it and make it play … but the key point here is that FOR ME… it just wasn’t right …. and I finally realized that it  was just not  working.

I think the moral of this sotry is that as we get better, our equipment needs often change… and sometimes we literally outgrow our flutes/piccolos etc. And what worked before simply doesn’t  work any more.( or we are confronted with a more difficult piece?)

Tranlated to students and student  flutes….I think this means that  if you can’t make any progress on a difficult passage after a reasonable amount of time and serious hard work… it  may be  time to take your instrument to the repairman and have it checked out for leaks or any other malfunction. Sometimes it really is NOT you( or us) but it is the instrument.

And tranlated to us professionals…. the moral for me is that this is the first time I have been confronted with a piccolo part as hard as Daphnis since I first entered the profession many years ago and had to learn   the  famous opera piccolo part  to Verdi’s “Othello” in two weeks for a performance   with  the NJ State Opera Orchestra  at Symphony Hall in Newark NJ …and thus now it seems that  my current  piccolo headjoint…. which worked fine for Mahler’s “Das Lied” two years ago simply was…. and is  not up  to  playing Daphnis.

So….Sometimes it is us….. and sometimes it actually is not! At least… that is my conculsion at this point…. so stay tuned…. we shall see if in fact I can play it better at my next rehearsal and/or the actual concert……..I will let you all know soon enough.


How to line up you flute, how to hold it and whether to “press” or not!

There are different  schools of thought on how to align your flute…..  Especially  about how to line up your headjoint with the body of the instrument. Specifically….  somewhat like my last post on articulation ….there seems to  be an “American” and a “French” way to do this. And  again there  seems to be  no consensus on how to do this  and perhaps BOTH ways are right….maybe for different players?… and  I think that it is   interesting to  describe them both   so that  you can decide which i works best for you.

Also….. I think that to some degree these diferences have to do with the diferrent ways that every flute maker makes their lip plate shapes and embouchure cuts. Bodies also differ in the best and easiest way for players to hold them….. so these elements can also affect the optimum way to align your instrument up…… (just a cautionary word to begin with!)

1. So what I perceive is the “American” way…. is to line the center of your headjoint embouchure hole with the center of the first key on the body of the flute. The footjoint should also be put together with the rods on the footjoint dissecting the middle of the D key on the body of the flute. This is the classic way I was taught many years ago.

2. The other way is what I call the “French” way. The Suzuki Method has an illustration in the beginning of the Flute Book 1 of this method. Essentially it aligns the middle of the embouchure hole on the headjoint with the far edge of the first key on the body of the flute. This effectively turns the headjoint in more than the “American” manner of aligning  the body and the headjoint does.

Interesting,I think that  these two different methods actually end up producing different kinds of sounds.

The American way ends up with a more “open” sound, usually with less harmonic overtones….. think …if  any of you out there remember William Kincaid’s or Julius Baker’s sound and you will have the classic American tone color from this alignment. On the other hand, think Moyse and (WIBB) Bennett and you will get the basic sound of the French School of playing….. more overtones and a “sweeter” tone quality rather than  what I describe as the more “masculine” American school of sound.

Amother difference which helps produce these two different tone quality results (I believe )from  a  difference in the  location  of the headjoint on your lip/chin: i.e. where  you  place the flute on your face. The French tend to put the lip plate up rather high on the lower lip while the Americans tend to advocate placing the lip plate in the indentation below the bottom lip….i.e. quite a bit lower.

Now…. how to hold the flute also affects the resulting sound. The French School emphasizes “balance”. That is the flute is  supported in three place: the right hand thunb, the left hand pointer finger knuckle and the little pinkie of the right hand. This balance is practiced so that when the flute is held up on your face, the lips are free to vibrate even if the placement is rather high on the lips/chin compared to the  ideal American placement ….for  as Moyse states the lips should be like an oboe reed…. and according to him, they need to be free to vibrate in the same manner as this double reed does on an oboe. 

Amercians on the other hand tend to talk about “balance” in another way…. they speak of using the left hand to push in on the chin and the right hand to push out so that there is a sort of leveraging between the hands which in turn creates a stable position. However, this can cause the player to actually “press” the flute rather hard against the chin…. sometimes unfortunately resulting in too much  tension,  especially if the player is not careful to remember not to allow themselves to get tense.

This issue also can affect the resulting tone the player gets from his/her instrument. Again the American manner of holding the flute usually results in an open type of sound and the French manner a much more … perhaps almost “reedy” quality of sound.

Now there are caveats for these two methods of positioning the flute. Flutes made by different makers  not only sound different, (duh!) ,  but they also play differently, and most importantly for this discussion, seem to  have to  be held differently in order to get the most optimal results from them.

Having grown up on an old scale American Haynes flute( which  were  copies  of the Louis Lots by the way) I personally have had to radically change the way I align my newer flutes and hold them. Nowadays if I align either of my  two new instruments the way I did when I played my old Haynes they simply do not sound good.  So I have found that I now have to use the “French” Method of alignment or otherwise risk not being able to play with a very desirable tone. Yet when I get a chance to play some of my students’ old Hayneses(sp?) I can immediately revert to  my old   American style of alignment.

This makes an interesting stew of thought…. so to speak…… have I changed so much…. or have flutes changed so much …that this is the case?

No matter what the answer is….. I urge all of you to experiement with these two different alignment methods…. to see which works best for your flute, your headjoint, and your body( i.e. mouth, teeth ,lips etc) Truly…. in the end  whichever produces not only the  best sound  but the sounds that you  WANT … the way to decide the issue….not withstanding  not the  two methods/styles which I have  described here.

And btw…. to quote my favorite musician again…. Quantz…. he advocates what I have descibed as the “French” way!(But then again….. Traversi have to be played this way!!!!)




Some thoughts on Articulation

Many years ago when I was an undergraduate flute student at Ithaca College, I was asked by my teacher to purchase a copy of Marcel Moyse’s “De La Sonorite.” When I had worked through the first section my teacher then assigned the third section of the book to me. There Moyse had asked his readers to work on articulation studies specifically to be practiced “with the tongue out”. My teacher where upon proceeded to adamently corss out those very words. Interestingly, I had initially as a total beginner first gotten a sound “with my tongue out”, which my band director also proceeded to tell me “not to do!” Now for a second time I was being  told not to do that yet again.

Well….. I was a good little flute student and listened to both my band director and my flute teacher and learned to play my single tongue with my tongue inside my mouth— not even behind my upper teeth but intead on upper pallette.

Fast forward to 1994 when I went to a Trevor Wye Masterclass at Connecticut College and was just as adamently told by Trevor that my tonguing was all wrong! Voila… the two schools of thought on articulation! American and French.

So…. at a rather ripe old age I proceeded to re-learn what I had initially found by myself as a beginner flute student…. and subsequently have spent almost twenty years perfecting my “forward tongue technique”.

Now as a teacher I have had quite a bit of Suzuki flute training. The Suzuki people start all their students with spitting rice which gets the beginner student to tongue with the tip of the tongue outside of the lips. ! What to do???

American flute students of my generation who wre spefically taught to tongue with the syllable “too” behind our teeth or the syllable “doo” on our upper pallette were not tonguing this way at all!

To be up front about all this…. I now do not tongue ( at least unless I want to because of the music) with my tongue inside my mouth any more. And furthermore I do not teach any of my students to do it any more either.

This is most likely still heresy to many American flute teachers even today…. but after having re-learned what I intially found on my own to work for me…. and had to un-learn because my teachers told me it was wrong…..really DOES work!!!

Time after time I see and hear my students’ tone imporve instantly when they forward tongue. Time after time when I try to play softly and lightly both on my flute and on my piccolo with a forward (ok…. let’s call the  animal what it really also gets called in America….i.e. French tonguing) or French tongue stroke my  own sound also improves. So… what’s the deal?

It seems to me that flute pedagogy just isn’t the same everywhere nor is there any consensus on what is the right way or the wrong way to do many things when playing the flute. Time after time I have read so-called experts discuss something such as artuclation like this and read one expert say the total opposite of the other! So—How do we non-experts make any sense of  all this?It really seems confusing, doesn’t it,  to read one famous teacher say one thing and another famous teacher to say something quite the opposite.

Well, sorry to say… I don’t actually have an answer . Unfortunately. But regarding articulation  I do have anecdotal evidence to say that for me and my students that the French or forward tongue stroke usually sounds much better and that  I now definitely advocate that way of articulation.(Clearly there is nothing new in the flute world afterall Because…. this tonguing argument apparently goes way back….. even to Quantz… who states somewhere in his “Versuch” that advocates for the forward tongue stroke are wrong!)

SO if you would like to experiment with French tonguing and see if it works for you and/or your students….. I will outline some ways below to practice it.

1. Start with a “ha” sound on every note in  the Reichert Daily Excercise #2. Go all the way through the complete 24 keys this way. You will find that some keys are easier than others. No matter… just do it and do it every single day so that your abdominal muscles get used to supporting the sound….. without your tongue.

2. After a while when you have gotten the hang of this, try  single tonguing triplets on each note. This will take a good 15-20 minutes of your time every day. But it is the best way I know to make your tongue get independent enough to produce an absolutely clear tone at the very initial  beginning of the sound.

3. Then work on the Moyse 24 Little Studies. He has several short etudes in that classic book where you can try to forward tongue  clearly. The Boehm Exercises also have several wonderful excercises where you can practice this new technique as does the famous single and double tonguing excercise from the Andersen Etudes opus 15.

4. Don’t assume that learning this forward tongue technique  will be easy or quick. Initially your mouth will produce prodigious amounts of saliva…. your salvatory glands just don’t realize that you are not eating. But after a while, this will cease( and you will most likely actually be hungry anyway) and  your tongue eventually will get strong and your tone will amazingly improve in addtion to your tonguing because articulation studies are really a version of tone studies.

5. Aha!!! You didn’t know that did you? But as your tonguing gets clearer so will your tone.

6. Don’t give up on your old way of “too” and “doo”! Just intergrate this new French tongue into yout arsenal of tricks.!

Hope this all is helpful! Perhaps more on this in a future Blog entry……..





DAPHNIS Picc Practice #1

Ok. So Tonight I feel like I made one step forward and twenty steps backward practing the picc part of Daphnis.Posting this because it may help others out there understand this process  because somehow it never is easy.(Understatement of the night)

In a nutshell:Here is how it stands at the moment……

1. The first birdcall at  156 is going great ( at least something is)…. It sounds pretty bird-like and I am pretty confident that I know it. One small step forward……

2. the solo at 159 where I  forshadow the real big famous flute solo later on ( it…. the picc one … is supposed to be offstage but I am not being asked to  do that… and I take it most people  aren’t) I am working really hard to get nuances on the “A” resolving to the fourth beat F#…. and to be totally in control of the opening scales where I am trying to stess the first three notes( the A,B and C natural.) Also trying to have enough air left on the final E so that I  do  not cut it short. So far not too happy with this one…. on step backward!

3.Sort of have the twelves at 163 and 168 down … but only IF I practice them every day…. otherwise they disappear. I guess this goes neither forward nor backward…..

4. Getting to The Really hard Parts now….the  Big Picc Solo at 183 just defies me. I can play it a 132…. the speed it goes  at the start (it is supposed to get faster) BUT Making it SOFT as the conductor wants it is not always happening…VERY frustrating. Practicing double tonguing endlessly…. forward tonguing it and then trying softer tonguing in the back of my upper pallette. Nothing is helping… also practing Trevor’s picc practice book for soft high register picc …. excercises…. definitely one step backwards for this one.

5. All the Dance sixteenth note passages…. well some of them are improving…. some of them I can do at 120-132…. some of them I can do at 140-152. ALL OF THEM have to be  at 168 !!!!!! Take at least two steps backward!!!!!

I have  two  weeks off from NEP rehearsals to get this all down….. ( AND……There are other pieces also on this concert  that I have to practice too)and almost a full month before the actual concert….. stay tuned to see if I get ahead of it or not…….And if anyone out there in “FLUTELAND” has any good suggestions to help make this process less frustrating … don’t hesitate to email me. I am open to ANY help here…….



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