Ron Evans and Musical Legacy

February 24th, 2014 § Leave a Comment

A good friend passed away last Saturday, 22 February. Truth be told, I think anyone who came in contact with him would consider him to be a “good friend.” He had that admirable quality of making everyone who he interacted with feel completely at ease. He was kind, generous of spirit, and a fine musician.

Ron Evans was the founder and conductor of the Northwinds Symphonic Band, which has existed in Gainesville, Georgia since 1984. He also was band director at several high schools in the Gainesville area before retiring in 1997 and served as a board member for music organizations in the north Georgia area.

I met Ron in 2005 after graduating from Indiana University and moving back to the north Georgia area. I was encouraged to join the Northwinds Symphonic Band, which primarily included band directors, music teachers, college music students, and professional musicians. My participation in this group was one of the best ensemble experiences I’ve ever had. He and the other directors were professional, detail-oriented, and insisted on quality performances. However, rehearsals and performances were fun, and I was always aware of how much the community appreciated our concerts.

The annual Memorial Day concert was always the highlight for me. Veterans were invited, of course, and would march around the venue during one particular piece on the program. All branches of the military were acknowledged, and it was quite moving to see service members of all ages making their way around the room. What a privilege to be able to honor them!

Another highlight during my time with Northwinds was when we toured south Georgia in 2011. We played a program that included marches and patriotic pieces. Ron dressed up as John Philip Sousa, and the crowds loved it. It was an experience like no other.

I moved to South Carolina for a short time before taking my current position in South Dakota. I continued to make the drive from South Carolina to north Georgia for Northwinds rehearsals because the experience was just that important and rewarding to me.

I have been reflecting over the past couple of days on the extent of Ron’s legacy. During his career, he must have taught thousands of students. I’m sure he taught the children (maybe grandchildren?) of his first batch of students. He established an organization where professional musicians could come together and have a fun, fulfilling experience. He was well-respected by others in his field but also by those in the greater community. How many lives did he impact? How many high school students’ souls did he shelter by providing a demanding yet supportive experience? How many adult lives (like mine) did he enrich through his hard work with Northwinds?

What a legacy! What will mine be?

Time to get back to work.

Life-Changing Lessons

December 27th, 2013 Comments Off

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A few days ago, I had a lesson with one of my teachers, Christina Smith. I half jokingly mentioned on Twitter later that afternoon that it had “changed my life.” But after some reflection, maybe it did in a small way…

Since I am no longer in school, I have to grab lessons whenever my schedule allows and when I can be where the teacher is. What a drastic contrast to the days of luxury when I had a lesson every single week! I loved school, which is one reason why I’m a prof now; I loved the academic music classes except sight singing, at which I am truly abysmal; Oliver Sacks could explain a few things about my sight singing abilities, but I digress. But my weekly lesson, regardless of what day it was scheduled, was the beginning and ending of each week for me.

This means that when I have the opportunity for a lesson now, I soak up as much of it as possible. I don’t come to lessons waiting to having things explained to me. I know where I am as a musician and I try to come prepared to ask the questions that will draw out information that will help me develop. What a huge difference from my student days!

In my recent lesson, we worked on sound. My sound is generally pretty solid but it can always be improved. My teacher shared with me new thoughts about sound production. It was really interesting to see how *her* ideas about sound have changed since I first studied with her almost 15 years ago. I have completely integrated the ideas I learned from her then; as her ideas change (and result in improved sounds), my approach must also change.

I have plenty to work on now; it’s good to know that there is always room for improvement as a student and as a teacher. I can now share those same ideas with my students and feel free to change my approach as I encounter ideas that work better. And hopefully I can impress upon my students that regular lessons are a luxury, coming to lessons with an open mind and plenty of questions results in better progress, and the study of the flute is a lifelong process that never really ends.

Shiny New Flutes

December 4th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

The holidays came early to the SDSU flute studio in November. Several of my students wanted to try out new flutes; most were ready to upgrade, and one wanted to get an idea of her options in anticipation of upgrading next year. We had seven brands of flute to try out over the course of about a week. Every flute was within my students’ budgets, so they knew that any flute they tried was a possible purchase. Included were well-known brands, and the majority of them (6 our of 7) were solid silver headjoints and bodies with plated mechanisms.

My students were quite excited, of course, and each approached the trial process in a different way. Some wanted to try all of them in a single session; others wanted to just try a few and come back later to try the others. One student knew immediately which brand she preferred and didn’t change her mind at all during the trial process. The others had a more difficult time and took longer to make a decision.

Each student played the flutes over several days. They played long tones as well as scales, etudes, and repertoire. They also tried the instruments in different spaces, including the flute studio as well as the recital hall. Other than the student who immediately knew which one she wanted, the other students’ opinions changed a bit over the course of the week. They slowly began eliminating choices based on “feel” (e.g., this mechanism just isn’t comfortable) and sound. Eventually, two more students decided on a new flute. I also enjoyed trying these flutes outside of the usual convention atmosphere. It was a luxury to have some time to really get to know some of these brands.

My goal was to guide them in this process. I carefully tried to not influence their decision, since I strongly believe that each person has to buy the brand that works best for him or her and not just buy the brand name alone based on its reputation. I also don’t have extensive playing experience with some of the brands they tried, so I didn’t feel it would be fair to push one brand over another. Since they were trying solid, high-quality instruments, I knew that there wasn’t really an issue with them choosing something that wasn’t going to hold up. I answered a lot of questions about mechanisms and structural aspects of the instruments but I really wanted them to have the experience of careful, critical listening to determine which flute was best for each of them. In the end, I think each student chose the instrument that was most comfortable and responsive and had the best sound. There is also a lot of room for each student to grow artistically with the new instruments.

They’re still in love with their new flutes and another student has a very good idea of which brand she prefers when she is ready to upgrade, so I think the entire process was a success.

 

Recent Collaborations

November 1st, 2013 § Leave a Comment

One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to collaborate with all types of musicians on different projects. Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to work with players here on my home campus, in the community, and in the region.

My first collaboration this academic year was with my dear friends from Western Kentucky University. Composer and bass singer Michael Kallstrom, flutist Heidi Alvarez, and pianist Don Speer visited South Dakota State University; I enjoyed performing and spending some time with them. We gave a recital of works by Michael for various combinations of flutes, piano, bass voice, and electronics. One of those works was a world premiere, which is always a fun experience. These are some of my favorite people to make music with, and I hope to work with them again very soon.

I performed in a faculty trio several times so far this semester, and it reminded me how fortunate I am to be here on the faculty of SDSU. Mike Walsh, Nate Jorgensen, and I worked on the Divertissement by Aubert Lemeland, and we presented it at an SDSU event and on both Mike’s and Nate’s faculty recitals. They are really sensitive musicians, and working with them is a treat.

In September, I gave a benefit recital for the South Dakota chapter of the March of Dimes. I worked with pianist Mary Walker, on faculty at SDSU, who is a talented collaborator. We were able to get off-campus and give a performance in the community, spread awareness of the mission of the March of Dimes, and raise a little bit of money for them. This is the second year I have been able to make some small contribution to the important work of this organization since the premature births and deaths of my niece and nephew, and it is my intention to regularly give recitals to benefit the March of Dimes.

I gave a couple of recitals and flute masterclasses to students at University of Wisconsin-Stout and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in October. I was able to reconnect with a classmate from my DMA studies at University of Georgia, Dr. Aaron Durst, who is Director of Instrumental Music at UW-Stout. I also had the good fortune of meeting the flute professor at UW-Eau Claire, Dr. Tim Lane. I had a great time working with high school and college students in Wisconsin and enjoyed presenting two different recital programs on that trip. I particularly enjoyed collaborating with Aaron Durst on a couple of works for flute and saxophone; one work was written by a professor at University of Georgia, Dr. Roger Vogel, which was a fun connection to make.

I performed with a student on his junior recital here at SDSU. I’m perfectly happy to work with students on their performances because I think it’s an important part of the learning process, and it’s an honor to be asked.

I’m looking forward to one more performance this semester. I’ll be performing at North Dakota State University with Jenny Poehls, who is the flute instructor there. We are working a program of flute duets and works for two flutes and piano. It includes some traditional flute repertoire as well as some contemporary pieces. It has been nice to work with a flutist who is relatively nearby on an ambitious program. I’m also looking forward to giving a flute masterclass while I’m there. We’ll be presenting the same recital here at SDSU at a later date.

December should be a nice break, and then I’m excited to start another series of performances starting in January. If you’re interested in collaborating, let’s talk!

 

Woodwind Pedagogy

October 9th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

One of the classes that I teach each fall is Woodwind Pedagogy. Most of the students who take this class are music education majors, and this specific class is one of their degree requirements. The goal is to have each student reasonably proficient on three different woodwind instruments by the end of the semester, which is quite a task. Obviously, the scope of this class must be limited so I’ve had to ask myself what the absolute essential information is that each student should be exposed to before the end of the semester.

I require that each student spend time with a single reed instrument, a double reed instrument, and flute. The only exception is if the student plays one of those already as his or her primary instrument. We cover various topics throughout the semester; some days the students play out of method books as a “beginner band,” other days we discuss articles on pedagogy. Later in the semester, as students gain confidence, they teach each other in the style of a private lesson or masterclass. The other students in the class offer suggestions on what went well during the lesson and what might be improved on. Students also offer advice on their primary instrument if that happens to be a woodwind.

So what do I want them to learn? I tend to think back to when I was a beginner on flute and recall the things that worked well for me as well as those that didn’t. For example, I played flute for an entire year before I realized that the tongue had anything to do with articulation. This type of mistake is something I hope my students are able to detect and correct before their students develop habits that are detrimental and quite difficult to change. I also think about the struggles my beginner flute students have had.

Here are some of the ideas I want to make sure these future band teachers have a good understanding of:
how to safely put the instruments together as well as take them apart.
the proper terminology associated with each of the woodwinds.
very basic maintenance.
healthy embouchure skills.
correct fingerings.
the general sound and feel of the different types of woodwinds.
cork grease doesn’t belong on a flute!

I also want them to know about resources that are available to them. When they inevitably are confronted with a situation they don’t immediately have an answer to, I want them to know where to find the answers.

As a flutist, teaching this class has been a learning experience for me, as well. I’d be remiss if I didn’t send a huge thanks to Dr. Bret Pimentel, who generously offered advice when I was putting together my woodwind pedagogy class last fall. He has fantastic blog posts about the work of a woodwind doubler/professor on his site, which have been excellent additions to my own class here at SDSU.

Woodwind pedagogy teachers and band directors: what other topics might be useful that I haven’t included above?

CD Review – Timeless by Kate Prestia-Schaub

September 18th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

Timeless
performed by Kate Prestia-Schaub, piccolo and Martin Kennedy, piano

Barry McKimm – “Air”

Daniel Dorff – “Flash!”

Frederick Lesemann – “Slow Music for Piccolo Alone

Michael Daugherty – “The High and the Mighty”

Daniel Kelley – “Passage”

Martin Kennedy – ”Desplazamiento”

Kenneth Benshoof – “Timeless”

Steve Kujala – “Eurythmionics”

Timeless is Kate Prestia-Schaub’s debut album for piccolo and piano. Overall, she exhibits masterful control, lyricism, and virtuosity. The piccolo, which is often seen as the flashy member of the band or orchestra, is seen here as a solo instrument that delivers flash but is also sensitive. Of particular interest is Prestia-Schaub’s low register, which is quite lush. In addition to her impressive playing, she is helping to add substantial new works to the piccolo repertoire; three of the works on this album (Dorff, Lesemann, and Kennedy) were written specifically for her.

The first work on this album is “Air” for piccolo and piano by Barry McKimm. “Air” is actually the second movement of McKimm’s Piccolo Concerto, written for Frederick Shade, principal piccolo with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. This is a lyrical, melodic work that serves as a solid opener to this album.

“Flash!” for piccolo and piano by Daniel Dorff lives up to its title, featuring lots of fast scales, a catchy melody, and frequent forays into the high register. Prestia-Schaub’s performance is convincing and makes the work sound easy.

The next work, “Slow Music for Piccolo Alone,” is indeed slow but intense.

“The High and Mighty” in two movements was inspired by air travel in the years after World War II. The first movement features a beautiful lyrical melody, which includes pitch bends and flutter tonguing. The second movement begins with a piccolo cadenza, which then turns into a bossa nova.

Passage” begins with a lyrical section, which is followed by a more active section. It’s an inviting work that draws in the listener.

Kennedy’s “Desplazamiento” features tango rhythms and motives. It is rhythmically complex and well-executed.

The title track of this album is introspective and lyrical. Quotes from the jazz standard “Embraceable You” give “Timeless” a jazzy feel.

Eurythmionics,” the last track on this album, is a technically challenging work that Prestia-Schaub manages to make sound easy. It ends the album with a positive flourish.

For more information and to buy the album, visit Kate Prestia-Schaub’s website at http://www.k8trills.com/.

National Flute Association Convention 2013

August 19th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

IMG_0282[1]It has been a while since I attended the annual National Flute Association convention, but I just returned from the one held in New Orleans from August 8 – 11. The convention is simultaneously overwhelming, exhausting, and inspirational. I performed and presented during this particular convention, saw a lot of friends and colleagues, attended as many recitals and workshops as possible, and enjoyed the city of New Orleans before retreating to South Dakota to prepare for the upcoming semester at South Dakota State University.

I arrived late on Wednesday evening to prepare for a Thursday performance. My performance on Thursday was shared with a flute quartet based in New York as well as several performers I know in person and those I have met online. Our portion of the program included works based on this internet connection; all performers and composers know each other online. I had met some of them in person before, but I met a few others in person for the first time at this event. Meerenai Shim and Erica Sipes gave a performance for contrabass flute and piano by Daniel Felsenfeld; I gave a performance of a new work called Dreams Grow Like Slow Ice for glissando headjoint and electronics by Jay Batzner; Alexis Del Palazzo and Erica Sipes gave the premiere of a work for flute and piano by Peter Amsel. We also performed a quartet by Nicole Chamberlain called Tamar; those performers included Kathy Farmer, Alexis Del Palazzo, Meerenai Shim, and me.

After my performances, I spent some time visiting the exhibits, which is quite an event. Vendors are there to sell everything from flutes to sheet music to accessories. I had a great time play testing dozens of flutes, which allows me to keep up with what’s available on the market for student, intermediate, and professional flutes.

Keith Underwood’s class was another worthwhile event that afternoon. He discussed breathing and how to use the breath builder to become more aware of what the air stream is doing. His teaching is remarkably effective even in short doses.

On Friday, I attended one of the early sessions on international career opportunities. The presenter, Alice Dade, performed in orchestras in Europe, and detailed her experiences in getting those jobs and working overseas. I saw a bit of the Atlanta Metro Youth Flute Choir concert before heading back to search for sheet music at the exhibits. Later, I went to a workshop on a new pedagogical method for flute by Patricia George and Phyllis Louke. Since I use their other books for my students and just bought this new one at the convention, it was helpful to attend this workshop.

It was great to attend the masterclass given by my former teacher, Angela Jones-Reus. She was my teacher during my doctoral studies at the University of Georgia, and I hadn’t seen her since my 2010 graduation.  I enjoyed watching her teach, and we had a chance to catch up. I ran into my former teacher Kate Lukas from Indiana University in the hallway; I hadn’t seen her since 2005. Being able to reconnect with friends and colleagues that you don’t often see is one of the very best things about the NFA convention.

Next on my schedule was to attend a recital of world premieres. I was able to reconnect again with colleagues, meet some in person who I had previously only known through mutual friends, and hear some really good new music.

On Saturday, I attended a panel discussion on flute ensemble programming. Since I have inherited a library of flute ensemble music and am not sure what else would be appropriate music for a university ensemble, this was helpful. The panelists shared a wealth of knowledge, and I’m looking forward to flute ensemble rehearsals this fall.

I then headed over to another recital of premieres. These were both NFA and world premieres and included works for electronics, piccolo, and flute. Following that was a recital of chamber music, including performances by several friends.

On Sunday I gave my presentation on three works involving flute by Joan Tower. Later, I attended a workshop on Katherine Hoover’s etudes, which are written in a contemporary style.

Of course, this is just a sampling of everything that goes on at the NFA convention. With multiple events (sometimes 11 or 12!) occurring simultaneously, it’s impossible to hear everything. This provides a lot of variety and ensures that there is always something interesting going on, but it also means that there is often something you have to miss. I hope to be able to attend next year’s convention in Chicago but for now, I’m still trying to process everything I heard this year. I’m inspired and looking forward to the upcoming school year of flute teaching, research, and performance. 

Circular Breathing Progress

June 28th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

A couple of years ago, I made an attempt to learn circular breathing. It was a frustrating process and I didn’t stick with it, so I didn’t become proficient at the technique. It was probably a decent introduction to the idea but I’m not sure how much benefit I got from that initial failed attempt.

As I focus more heavily on contemporary music, the likelihood that I will encounter the specific requirement to use circular breathing within a piece becomes more realistic. I recently started working on a piece that does require circular breathing. Obviously it’s time for me to figure this out.

I have Robert Dick’s Circular Breathing for the Flutist. I also ran across a helpful video by Helen Bledsoe, which can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQyAotWQjZQ. Reading descriptions of how to learn the technique is helpful, but sometimes it is necessary for me to see it being used to really understand what should be taking place.

At this point, I am able to inhale and exhale simultaneously for short bursts. I’m practicing this using a glass of water and a straw as well as just inhaling and exhaling without using the glass. When using the glass of water, you blow bubbles into the water through the straw while taking in a breath through your nose. Apparently it is rather common for people to accidentally inhale water while trying to coordinate these. Fortunately, I haven’t done that yet.

I haven’t been able to move past this stage at this point but I have been practicing it for only a week or so. I feel good about the consistency of my practice, even though I’ve been going a bit beyond the recommended 10 – 15 minutes a day. It takes me a while to get the hang of it each practice session, and once I do, I try to get as much as possible out of it. This has resulted in sore embouchure muscles after a couple of sessions, so I’m trying not to overdo it.

I hope to be able to start using this technique in an actual piece of music in a couple of months, while still keeping in mind that it can take years to be truly proficient.

I plan to keep track of my progress here, which will hopefully keep me accountable. If you are also in the process of learning how to use circular breathing, feel free to share your experiences.

Summer Schedule

June 9th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

During the summer, I usually focus on technique. Every day, I play through large portions of Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Daily Exercises and Moyse’s Daily Exercises. I also reacquaint myself with old etudes and learn new ones. This summer, I’m taking a different approach. I’m working mainly on repertoire because I’m optimistic that I will be performing frequently this coming academic year, and if I don’t start working on it now, I won’t have enough preparation time once the fall semester begins. Current repertoire on rotation this summer includes:

Solo Flute -
The Great Train Race – Ian Clarke

Two Flutes (with and without piano) -
Op. 80 – Friedrich Kuhlau
Duos for Flutes – Robert Muczynski
Au-Delà du Temps – Yuko Uebayashi

Flute and Piano -
Hypnosis – Ian Clarke
Pressing Forward, Pushing Back – Kirk O’Riordan
Sonata – Lowell Liebermann
Sonata – Rob Cronin
Sonata – Mel Bonis
Orange Dawn – Ian Clarke

Alto Flute and Piano -
Framed – Garrett Shatzer

Alto Flute -
Cello Suites – JS Bach (arranged by Carla Rees)

Once performance dates are solidified, I’ll start to organize my rehearsal timetable with a bit more precision. I’ll also be adding a few more pieces and perhaps taking a few off the list. For now, I’m just enjoying having long periods of uninterrupted practice time.

Other fun things so far this summer: I was very happy to give an Ignite talk about Hildegard of Bingen. It isn’t often that you get 5 minutes to tell a coffee house full of people as much interesting stuff as possible about a medieval nun.

I was also on staff for the All State Music Camp hosted by South Dakota State University this past week. It was a good week of teaching flute, hearing some great students, and meeting band directors. I enjoyed seeing colleagues as well as some of my SDSU students who were working at the camp as junior staff.

And today I performed on a Virtual Recital, which is a new series run by Hannah Kim, Alexis Del Palazzo, and Travis Johnson. These recitals are streamed online and allow musicians from all over the world to perform at the same event. Considering the amount of technology required, there didn’t seem to be any snags; it was very well-run, and I hope to be able to participate again in the future.

Today also marks the one year anniversary of my on-campus interview at South Dakota State University. Grateful.

The Glissando Headjoint

April 8th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

Dreary spring day at SDSU.

Dreary spring day at SDSU.

I recently purchased a Glissando headjoint, which is a relatively new piece of flute “gear” invented by Robert Dick. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s one of the preeminent performers of contemporary music. He’s active as a performer, a composer, and a teacher. This headjoint slides out from its home position to create a true glissando and can therefore make either subtle or extreme adjustments to pitch. It can also be played as a standard headjoint.

Here’s a fantastic demonstration of how it works:

Glissando Headjoint Demonstration (video)

My first performance on this headjoint will be this August at the National Flute Association Annual Convention in New Orleans, where I’ll be giving the premiere of a new work by Jay Batzner. The title of the work will be Dreams Grow Like Slow Ice for glissando headjoint and electronics, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what kinds of sounds can be coaxed out of this new setup.

If there are any flutists out there who own one of these and want to collaborate, or if there are any composers who are interested in writing for this headjoint, contact me!

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