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.

 

2013 Kentucky Flute Festival recap

January 25th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Kentucky Flute Festival for the second year in a row. This year included very different events compared to last year, so it was nice to be able to attend and participate in such a different festival. It was also great to catch up with a lot of flute friends who I haven’t seen in a while. I also enjoyed Chick-Fil-A for lunch, which is a southern staple and something I haven’t had in months.

The festival was held at Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky (population 9000).

Friday, 18 January featured “Flute Society of Kentucky Flute Olympics,” which is geared towards younger students. I think this is a great way to get beginners involved in the organization and really work on establishing good players early in their musical experience. It included such workshops as “Fun with Scales,” “Name That Tune,” and flute choir reading sessions. The flute choir performed on the last concert of the weekend, so that was a nice way for the students to have some immediate performance experience. I attended a workshop that morning about flute upgrades. It was good to hear what kind of flutes some of the younger elementary, middle, and high school players are using these days. The market has changed very, very quickly, and flutes that wouldn’t have been given a second look years ago are now much more reliable. I don’t teach as many very young students at this point, but I felt it was important to know what kinds of experiences private teachers are having with various flute brands.

On Friday I also judged the final rounds of the Flute Society of Kentucky’s competitions. This was approximately 5.5 hours of flute-playing goodness and included the Junior Soloist, High School Soloist, Collegiate Artist, Young Artist, and Chamber Ensemble competitions. There was a lot of fantastic playing, and I was happy to see that the FSK was able to attract participants from around the country. I had a great time listening to the players and spending some time with my colleagues.

The opening concert that evening featured some very nice works. I was particularly interested in Danza de la Mariposa by Valerie Coleman (of the Imani Winds), as one of my students is currently working on it. There was also a very cool piece called Kembang Suling by Gareth Farr for flute and marimba. Keeping things in mind for future recitals…

Last on the agenda for the evening was a flute choir rehearsal. My friend and colleague Heidi Álvarez (Western Kentucky University) put together a flute choir of applied flute instructors from various institutions. It included Jana Flygstad Pope (Georgetown College), Julie Hobbs (University of Kentucky), Heidi Álvarez (Western Kentucky University), Jennifer Brimson Cooper (Morehead State University), Jessica Dunnavant (Middle Tennessee State University), Kristen Kean (Eastern Kentucky University), and me (South Dakota State University). Dr. Becky Weidman-Winter, from the Little Rock, Arkansas area, filled in for another player who was not able to attend. We performed flute choir music by Kentucky composers Michael Kallstrom and Sonny Burnette, including a world premiere.

Saturday, 19 January started early with another flute choir rehearsal. Then I caught a bit of the master class with the guest artist, Molly Barth. The mid-day concert followed. I particularly enjoyed the Tailleferre Suite performed by flutist Jessica Dunnavant, saxophonist Paula Van Goes, and pianist William Coleman. There was also a very interesting work called Arcana by Elizabeth Brown, performed by Kristen Kean.

Guest artist Molly Barth’s recital was inspiring. As a performer who specializes in new music (and one of the founding members of the chamber ensemble eighth blackbird), she introduced me to many works that were completely new to me, even though I primarily play modern music at this point in my career. I think the biggest lesson I took away from this recital was to be fearless in performance. I might make technical mistakes in a performance (which is not to insinuate that Ms. Barth did!), but if I play without fear, it will be much more powerful. I have this realization every once in a while and then tend to get bogged down in technical passages or mired in the trees, instead of seeing the forest. I’ve had my reminder to really increase the energy of a performance, though, and just in time for my faculty recital on February 25.

Our flute choir performance followed Ms. Barth’s recital, and it went very well.

A second master class with Ms. Barth followed, and featured a very high level of playing across the board. It was a lot of fun to hear students from various universities in the south. Overall, quite a variety of works were included. This was the last event of the festival and was a great way to finish things up.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch the last flight back to South Dakota on Saturday, so I caught the first one out on Sunday morning, which required me to leave my Campbellsville hotel at 4am. The crazy things we do as travelling musicians…

I look forward to next year’s event, which will take place January 2014 at Western Kentucky University.

 

 

2011 in Review

January 2nd, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s been a busy, full year. Usually, I assess what I’ve done (and haven’t managed to get done) at the end of the academic year; as a college professor, my concept of a “year” goes from August to May. However, it probably isn’t a bad idea to perform a mid-year check-up. While it’s easy to become frustrated as an ambitious, adjunct professor/classical musician, I think I’ve done a pretty decent job this year. I have several big projects in the works and will continue building on my experience, which will hopefully lead to a full-time professor gig in 2012.

Personally, there have been some tragic bumps in the road. My brother and sister-in-law had their first baby, Austin, in December 2010; she was premature. Baby number two, Cash, was born even more prematurely in September 2011. Both babies passed away this year. The March of Dimes has become my charity of choice, and I hope to be able to do some fundraising for them this year through music performance.

Professionally, things have been busy and varied. I spent a lot of time developing an online presence, finally biting the bullet and joining Twitter (@TammyEvansYonce) over the summer. I was reluctant to do so because I thought I was busy enough. However, I’ve met an entirely different group of people than I would ever meet through other avenues, and I’m able to interact with them regularly. It has definitely been worth it. I also redesigned my website this year, which I think makes it clearer and easier to navigate. I’ve also started adding blog posts to my site, with a primary focus on how to make practicing more effective and efficient. I’ve also written posts about teaching: my B-flat fingering rant is now in print, and there are posts about choosing a new instrument, how to prepare for a recital, and performance anxiety. I also started a new blogging site with the purpose of covering a wide variety of topics relating to a musician’s life: performance, music business, music education, and so forth. It has been growing by leaps and bounds, and we continue to add contributors. I’m really excited about this particular project and invite you to take a look at what we’ve done so far.

As far as performance, I’ve done less of this than I would have liked. I continued to perform as principal flute with the Ludwig Symphony Orchestra, which is based in the Atlanta area. That has been a great opportunity to play some of the real orchestral standards. I also continued playing in the Northwinds Symphonic Band, also based in the Atlanta area. I truly enjoy playing the band literature, and this is a fine group of colleagues. We also took a mini-tour through Georgia over the summer. When you play in south Georgia, they reward you with syrup! I had the opportunity to perform at Flute Festival Mid-South this spring, which was the perfect reason to take a little trip to Nashville. (Needed a new pair of boots, anyway…) Rhonda Larson was the guest artist, and I enjoyed taking part in the masterclass she led. I also participated in a concert of American music at University of South Carolina Aiken, where I’m on faculty. I never turn down an opportunity to play Charles Ives. My biggest performance was my Newberry College faculty recital at the end of the year, which included works by CPE Bach, Roussel, Jennifer Higdon, Muczynski, Enesco, and Jay Batzner. It was a heavy program but I prefer to go all out in solo recitals.

I was happy to return to my alma mater, the University of Georgia, to present at their Women’s Studies Research Symposium early in the year. I presented my dissertation research on the flute works of Joan Tower. I was also scheduled to present a workshop on effective practicing at the Carolina Flute Summit; however, the event was rescheduled for a date I was unavailable. Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate with the South Carolina Flute Society in the very near future.

I’ve continued researching the flute music of Joan Tower, and I’ve added the flute music of Jennifer Higdon as a primary research topic.

I increased my involvement with the Atlanta Flute Club when I was elected President in February. This group is a well-oiled machine, and I’m happy to be able to jump in and help brainstorm some new ideas within an already-successful group. Some of my specific goals are to increase our membership to include members of various ages and levels and to sponsor even more high-quality programs that give flutists in the Atlanta area access to teachers, performers, and information they otherwise wouldn’t have. This year we’ve instituted the brand new Junior Artist Competition for students through the 10th grade, which complements our well-established Young Artist Competition. We have several great events planned for 2012, so stay tuned!

Having an article published in the Journal of the British Flute Society was a particular highlight of the year. I was thrilled to have my research on Joan Tower, an American composer, published across the pond. It also gave me the chance, through this and Twitter, to meet some great British flutists.

My teaching responsibilities have increased this year, and I have eagerly embraced the opportunity. Being on faculty at two different colleges gives me the chance to perhaps teach a wider variety of courses than if I just taught at one place. (Of course, there are considerable pitfalls to being part-time at two colleges, but let’s focus on the positive.) This year, new teaching included: assisting with marching band, establishing a flute studio class, starting a flute ensemble, and an introduction to music literature class. I’ve also been busy preparing to fill in for the theory professor when he goes on sabbatical in January; I’ll be teaching two courses from the undergraduate theory sequence as well as form and analysis. I’m really looking forward to teaching these classes.

I’ve also done some of the other college stuff besides teaching classes. I’ve been doing quite a bit of recruiting for one college, which has included a lot of travelling and coordination with the admissions department. I’ve also been designated the chamber music coordinator, which means I schedule student performances throughout the community. Now that the big recruiting event for the year is finished, I’ll be focusing on this more in the first semester of 2012.

And the miscellaneous: I’ve got several big projects in the works for 2012. They’ve taken quite a bit of work this year and will be ready to go very soon. I was very excited to be able to judge the Newly Published Music competition of the National Flute Association. I’ve also started taking occasional lessons again with Christina Smith, principal flute of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I can’t say enough good stuff about her – what a fantastic musician!

So what’s in store for 2012? As a musician, who knows. I’ve learned that it’s an unpredictable gig, and you just have to do the best you can. Hopefully 2012 brings a full-time job as a music professor. Regardless, I’m going to introduce three big projects and continue writing blog posts. I’m also looking for a new flute – technically, a new “old” flute – a vintage Powell. I’ll be presenting at the Kentucky Flute Convention in January and the British Flute Convention in August; I’m also organizing the Atlanta Flute Club Flute Fair along with the rest of the board. I’m going to submit proposals to perform and present at as many flute conventions as possible, and I hope to also present at several universities over the course of 2012. I also have an article under consideration that I hope is published this year. My biggest plan for 2012 is to focus on musical collaboration. Several recitals are already in the works, but I want to be able to look back on 2012 and see that performing with other musicians has been my primary focus. It took me a while to learn but the collaborative aspect of music performance is really one of the best things about this profession.

What a year! What are your goals? Want to collaborate? Follow me here or on Twitter @TammyEvansYonce.

 

Samuel Baron

December 24th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

I recently ran across this great little interview with the well-known flutist Samuel Baron (1925 – 1997). He was very active in New York as a performer, teacher, and conductor. He served as President of the National Flute Association from 1977 – 1978. He left behind a very long, impressive list of students; he studied with Georges Barrère, whose pedagogical lineage goes back to Paul Taffanel and Joseph Henri Altès. Baron also was involved with the Bach Aria Group, an ensemble made up of vocalists and instrumentalists who came together to perform the music of J.S. Bach. He first was associated with the group as a performer and later took over leadership after the original founder stepped down.

The entire interview is absolutely worth reading, but here are a few specific highlights that really spoke to me:

- The differences between playing in the orchestra (“You’re playing, really, the heart of classical music, and you must be, from the technical point of view, absolutely impeccable…”), as a soloist (“To be a soloist is really to be up there on a mountain peak…”), and in chamber groups (“The chamber music player lies between these two poles of the orchestra player and soloist… deeply involved in the study of the whole work, in the interpretation.”).

- “[J.S. Bach] sets very, very high goals, and we have to achieve them.”

- Bruce Duffie: “There seems to be a strange connection between Bach and contemporary music, leaving a big hole in the middle.”
Samuel Baron: “That’s correct. All flute players recognize that… Bach is always contemporary.”

- “… I have always been interested in new music… I have found that it’s the most vital and exciting part of being a musician.”

Check out the entire interview between Samuel Baron and broadcaster Bruce Duffie here: 

http://www.bruceduffie.com/baron2.html

 

Enjoy!

Recital Preparation

November 14th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

 

Preparing for a recital can be a daunting process. If you’ve ever given a recital before, you’ve discovered that there’s more to the process than just learning the music. You often collaborate with a pianist or other chamber music partners. You perform in a space that might differ significantly from your usual practice room, acoustically speaking. You perform in formal attire as opposed to your usual clothes. And let’s not underestimate the effect that nerves and adrenaline have on a performance. So what do you do? Here are some ideas.

-          Technical work. As you get closer to the date and the music starts coming together, there might still be some technical spots that continue to give you trouble. As reassuring as it is to keep practicing the music that you *can* play, it’s a smarter idea to focus most of your available practice time on working out the tricky spots.

-          Recordings. Listening to recordings is incredibly helpful. They can quickly clarify questions that you might have about interpretation or ensemble. On the other hand, they might also be a good indication of what you *don’t* want to do. Either way, listening to a variety of recordings is a valuable investment of time when preparing for a recital.

-          The importance of rehearsals can’t be overstated. No matter how easy the coordination between the different parts of a work may seem, there are always those quirky mistakes that can spring up unexpectedly. If you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in rehearsal, you should be able to minimize those unfortunate mistakes. Write in cues for music in the other parts that you seem to always notice. Even if the performance is going perfectly well, those aural reassurances might be just what you need to set your mind at ease.

-          Try to practice in the recital hall as much as possible. In larger venues, this isn’t always possible since they tend to be booked up all the time. You can still talk to people who have played in the space before. Is it a live space? Muffled? Hard to hear your chamber music partners? Do there always seem to be balance problems? Get as much information as possible before your dress rehearsal and performance.

-          Do some practice run-throughs in your formal clothing. For guys, this probably isn’t such a huge change, but for ladies, this can be a major adjustment. Think about the temperature in the hall. Do you want to wear something sleeveless, or will you be shivering? If you’re wearing a dress, make sure it isn’t too long; you don’t want to trip over the hem on your way across the stage. And don’t forget to think about your shoes! If you tend to stick to flats most of the time, this might not be the time to try out those 4-inch stilettos, no matter how good they look. It’s a good idea to practice in the shoes you intend to wear for the performance itself.

-          I’m a big believer in practicing in small sections. As far as learning technical material, it’s really the most efficient way, even though it requires more focused practice. However, the experience of giving a performance is completely different from working in these small chunks. As your recital date approaches, it’s a really good idea to start playing through your entire program. A couple of weeks before is usually a good time to try this because your technique should be solid and you should be quite familiar with the music. If you can’t make it all the way through, that’s ok. You still have a couple of weeks to build up endurance. Keep trying to make run-throughs of your recital program and try to get a little further in it each time.

-          Basically, preparation is the key to a successful performance. Trying to visualize all aspects of the performance from the actual music to the performance space to your clothing will help you pull off a polished, solid recital.

Lately

September 18th, 2011 § 1 Comment

 

For me, number 1 is the most difficult to manage. Which give you the most trouble?

Image found at http://www.kerismith.com.

 

 

 

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