Staying on this interdisciplinary (and Russian) track, we then talked about Constantin Stanislavski and his book An Actor Prepares. Robert said it’s the type of book you’ll want to own, and after looking at the table of contents, I can understand why. The chapter I’m most intrigued by is called “Faith and a Sense of Truth.” I suppose I’ve found reading material for my subway trips! Discussion of this book and the idea of method acting as translated to music boils down to one thing: be in the moment. And the best way to do that, Robert argues, is by singing the music in your head. This will then directly inform your throat tuning. It’s the ciiiiircle of liiiiiife!
One of the pieces we focused on in class was the first of Karg-Elert’s 30 Studies for Flute Op. 107. One idea concerning keeping a steady tempo in this piece (and all pieces, really) is to use a drumbeat as your metronome and to set it as something with a strong backbeat. There are various apps and YouTube playlists that cater to exactly this. Robert also suggested mouthing “higher” vowels, like “e”, for notes in the third and fourth octave. For example, in No. 2 there are some repeating Es in m. 27 You can also visualize music as being a distance in front of you to be traveled, rather than as flat notes on the page to help prepare for large intervals and to create more of a physical connection with the music.
The last technique we covered was whisper/whistle tones. (The terms are interchangeable, so use whichever brings you the most happiness; Robert prefers whisper). A whistle tone requires very little air and results in a very high-pitched and thin, soft sound. To find the right air speed, blow just enough on your hand that you feel warm air; if you blow too hard, the air will be cold. Flexibility with whistle tones will aid in traditional playing because it develops the control of your lips. Now, there are a few ways to practice whisper tones. You can start by fingering the lowest note on your flute (either C or B) and then explore the harmonic series with whistle tones. The way I learned was to use fourth octave fingerings; high B has a very easy response for the whisper tone. It’s possible to go even higher than the fourth-octave fingered note using whistle tones, too! Practicing whistling away from the flute will help as well. And anyone can whistle. The trick, according to Robert, is the shape of the mouth. Try to get as close to an “O” shape as possible with a fairly wide width. The tongue placement will contribute to the sound more so than your throat or chest shape (for both whistling and whisper tones) because the sound won’t be going as deep into the body.
- Adopt a structural approach to practicing, rather than additive. Robert gave the example of Michelangelo uncovering David from a block of stone; he didn’t start with nothing and hope things would grow and develop into a certain shape. Basically his point was that it’s easier to take away and refine something than to try to build on to something. This is a reason to encourage beginner flute students (or "flutelets" as Robert refers to them) play loud most of the time, because you can finesse that sound easier than you can bulk up a wimpy tone.
- Flying Lessons 2 was written with bigger holes in the open-hole keys of the flute, so modern flutes may create some tricky maneuvering in certain parts of the piece. The plan is to talk more about Flying Lessons 2 next class, so perhaps I shall have more info then.
- There are some great resources on YouTube regarding extended techniques: check out Robert’s videos "Your First Multiphonic", "The 3 Types of Multiphonics", and "Prepare to Breathe".
- We had the chance to play two vintage flutes: one was a French model from the 1800s with very small keys, and the other was a German wooden flute from the early 1900s. I felt fancy.
After class, I went to a free ICE concert in partnership with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The setup for the concert was a really great concept, and the pieces and talks were recorded for library archival purposes. Two pieces were played, both by composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir. The performer(s) played the piece, then talked about the piece and answered questions, and finally performed the piece again. And of course they rocked it. The first piece was Transitions for solo cello. The second was Sequences, a world premiere of a woodwind quintet, instrumentation of bass flute, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, and baritone saxophone. Both pieces juxtaposed long drones with air/scraping sounds and bouts of quick movement. And each piece was under 8 minutes long, so it was a great length for the audience. I was surprised that the majority of those in attendance were of the older generation, and not necessarily people with musical backgrounds. That really makes me hopeful. This week has had some rough moments, including
- a jank printer at Staples gave me roughly 100 copies of a document I only needed one copy of
- the same printer gave me 0 copies of a 22-page document I paid to print
- I got caught in a windy rainstorm (wearing a dress, of course) while walking to teach a lesson
Until next time!