Organizing Recital Preparations

March 11th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

Trying to prepare for a recital can be an overwhelming process. Whether you are a student planning a junior or senior recital or a professional who is trying to balance recital preparation with other duties, careful planning will ensure that the event goes smoothly.

First, it’s important to choose your program carefully. I usually have a backlog of music I would like to perform. I try to come up with a program that is balanced and includes a lot of variety. Even though I primarily focus on new music lately, I am aware of my audience and also include some of the older standard works. I also try not to neglect works written for interesting instrumental combinations when the players are available. For the recital I most recently presented, I included J.S. Bach, a French work, and a lot of new music. Of the new works, there is still considerable variety. One is for solo flute, two include digital audio sounds, one is for flute and clarinet, and another is for alto flute.

Some music has been on my stand for many months because I knew I would plan to program it on my next recital. Some of it is newly chosen, and I haven’t been working on it as long. As my recital approaches, I begin to keep a list of the entire program and put each work into one of these categories: almost performance ready but just needs polishing, really needs technical work, and ready to go. Then I determine a practice schedule based on that list. I continue to work on the pieces that are nearly ready but I spend much less time on them. The other works get more focused, intense practice like I describe here.

Lately, I have preferred to have most of my music learned and some kind of idea of how I want it to sound before I start collaborating with chamber music partners. While I keep an open mind, it seems to result in a stronger performance if we aren’t trying to make every musical decision as we go.

For students, I help them come up with a similar schedule to that outlined above, but we are more specific as to when and how often the student should practice each work and even each section of each work. Based on where they are with the music, we might come up with a schedule that includes the best-prepared works being heard in lessons every 2 or 3 weeks. The works that are nearly ready but need polishing might be heard every week but only those specific spots. The music that requires the most technical work will definitely get the most focus, including more intense lesson time. And as we approach the recital date, students will begin to play entire works in lessons, so they get the feel of what it’s like to play the entire program at one time. By making a specific schedule, this helps the student feel like there is a manageable plan between preparation and performance.

Teaching musical style can be tricky and obviously is a much longer process. I try to expose the student to various styles through demonstration and quality recordings; this is ongoing work, regardless of whether or not there is a recital on the horizon. Then when the student approaches a piece, we will have spent a little time with that particular style and it won’t be a brand new concept.

As with most things, careful preparation is important. Instead of forging ahead with no clear plan, a detailed approach will more likely result in a successful, confident performance.

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.

 

 

Kentucky Flute Festival recap

January 20th, 2012 § Leave a Comment

I recently returned from the Flute Society of Kentucky‘s 2012 Festival, which as held at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. It was really a top-notch event with interesting workshops and performances. It was very well-organized by the Festival chair, Dr. Heidi Alvarez, who is the flute professor at WKU. What a class act, and one of the most hospitable flutists I’ve ever had the privilege to meet.

While it was impossible to attend every single event at the Festival, I thought it would be worthwhile to give a summary of what I did see there and perhaps introduce you to some new ideas.

On Friday, 13 January, I caught the end of a workshop on intonation by Dr. Elizabeth Goode, professor of flute at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA. This presentation was based on an article she has published in Flute Talk entitled “Good Vibrations: A Practical Approach to Intonation.” It was nice to see a compilation of flute intonation tendencies in one place, and I also enjoyed hearing about the intonation tendencies of other instruments. (Yes, I guess we have to play with instruments other than flute, right?) She also reminded me of the value of incorporating resultant tones into my practice and teaching.

I gave a lecture about ways to make practicing more effective and efficient. The basics can be found here: Practicing Difficult Sections and here: Practice Tips.

I then heard a presentation about performance injuries. The presenter, Adam Pettry, has been through several injuries which required him to take a long break from performance. He went over specific products that can be used to help alleviate symptoms and hopefully prevent injury. I find this to be an interesting topic because my background includes influential teachers who do not play with extra “gadgets,” and I fear that adding things to the instrument might affect resonance and overall tone quality. I posed the question on Twitter and received a variety of responses, but I think it boiled down to “do what you have to do.” Not sure about this one.

I then enjoyed a lecture from Atlanta’s own Tony Watson, who has recently relocated to Louisville, Kentucky and is establishing a Suzuki program at the University of Louisville. It was great to spend some time with someone from my neck of the woods, and I enjoyed learning about the Suzuki method of instruction. The most striking was the realization that I (and many others, I suspect) incorporate Suzuki ideas into my teaching, even though I don’t have any background in the method. As Tony explained, “Good teaching is just good teaching,” and ideas can freely flow between different methods of instruction.

The next presentation I saw was given by Melissa Keeling, who is a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University. She demonstrated how to incorporate microphones, amplification, and effects to the regular ol’ flute. She uses it to write her own music (even though she shies away from calling herself a “composer”) and says that she hasn’t found music that incorporates this technology. I wonder if there is any out there. It’s a really neat idea and something I can see myself embracing but I have little interest in writing the music myself.

I then gave a lecture on my dissertation stuff: several works involving flute by the Grammy-winning Joan Tower.

That evening, we were treated to a recital by the Guest Artist, Mr. Walfrid Kujala. He performed a movement from JS Bach’s F Major Organ Sonata, the Beethoven Serenade in D arranged for flute and piano, Katherine Hoover’s Three Sketches for Piccolo and Piano, and Otar Gordeli’s Flute Concerto, Op. 8. I particularly enjoyed the piccolo piece. (Am I really saying I enjoyed piccolo? Why, yes!)

That ended day one of the Festival. I wasn’t prepared for how cold it was there even though I brought a good coat. The thermometer in the rental car read 25 degrees F. I was also slightly jet-lagged, so I called it a night.

Saturday, 14 January was another jam-packed day of flute goodness. I spent a lot of time at the exhibits that morning. Even though I’m not officially in the market for a flute, I like to see what’s available. I especially like to try as many intermediate-level models and brands as possible, so I can better help my students when they’re ready to buy step-up instruments. I spent a lot of time with Flute Specialists (Clawson, MI) and Carolyn Nussbaum Music Company (Plano, TX) and had lovely chats. I also bought a stack of music I was needing (no pesky shipping charges!). A couple of notable instruments/gear: I found a delicious vintage Powell piccolo, which is currently out of my price range, and I tried a Robert Dick glissando headjoint. (More about that later.)

My attention naturally gravitated towards the recital of chamber music of the 20th and 21st centuries, since that’s primarily what I focus on. I had some Twitter folks ask me specifically what was on the program, so let me list it here:

The Piper Calls for Flute and Guitar by Frederick Speck
In the Clear Blue for Two Flutes and Piano (World Premiere) by Michael Kallstrom
Spindrift for Piccolo and Piano by Ken Benshoof
Mountain Songs for Flute and Guitar by Robert Beaser
Interior States for Flute and Cello by Jonathan McNair
Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp by Claude Debussy

It was really a varied program, and I found several works that I would like to incorporate into my repertoire. Surprisingly, one of them was the piccolo piece. (I’m not usually a piccolo gal; can you tell?) This recital ran a bit long, so I was late to the beatbox workshop but caught enough of it to learn the basics. This was presented by Denis Santos, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky. In case you haven’t heard of beatboxing flute yet, check this out: http://www.pattillostyle.com/Beatbox_Flute/Home.html

The next recital was given by the interdisciplinary group The Fourth Wall, which incorporates dance and acting into their musical performances. They were quite good at engaging the audience, and it was an unusual experience.

The closing concert of the festival also featured a lot of new music, which made it really interesting to me. In case you’re wondering, it included:

The Falling Cinders of Time for Solo Flute by Michael Kallstrom
Reflections by Maggi Payne
Three Beats for Beatbox Flute by Greg Pattillo

and a recital by Michele Gori, an Italian flutist who plays all the flute family and mixes them up with a looper and electronics. Some of the works he played were from our standard repertoire, such as Honegger’s Danse de la chevre. Others were his own compositions. It was really interesting to hear the standards in such a new context.

All in all, what a full event! I especially liked the emphasis on the new – new technology, new trends, new music. Maybe these trends will stick, and maybe they won’t but showing what is at the forefront of the flute community is a great way to inspire people and keep these festivals fresh.

If next year’s Festival of the Flute Society of Kentucky is anything like this year’s, I’ll plan to be there. I recommend that you do the same!

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!

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