Monday, December 17, 2012

When Do Notes Become Music?

Sandra Kipp
By Sandra Kipp

I think it is very important to teach our students that simply playing the correct notes and rhythms with some emotion doesn’t create “music.” Music is an art, not ink dots on a page. Music existed for centuries before anyone decided to write it down. Music was passed on and taught from teacher to student, professional to apprentice, parent to child, by listening and playing, not by handing each other a piece of paper. I see too many flutists move from one solo to another as soon as they have what I call the first four levels of music: notes, rhythms, articulations, and dynamics. But until a student gets to the fifth level – musicality, interpretation, and phrasing – it isn’t music and it isn’t finished!

I have used many analogies to help my students understand the importance of getting passed the first four levels of music to the level of true art. A good analogy may help this concept be more thoroughly understood by students, rather than a teacher simply saying, “You are not finished with this piece.” Here are two of my favorite analogies:

A “Recipe” for Musicality
Written music is not unlike a recipe in the culinary arts. A recipe is a piece of paper; a recipe is not a plate of lasagna, a slice of cake, or a bowl of soup. A recipe contains a list of all the necessary ingredients and instructions on how to create the culinary delight. But until a cook (or in my case, a person with a microwave) buys and combines the ingredients and follows the instructions, it is just a piece of paper with ink on it. Sheet music is not music; it is a piece of paper with ink on it. It has instructions of what notes to play, how long to play them, how fast or slow, how loud or soft, how accented or smooth, but it doesn’t contain the character, the emotion, or the art until a musician learns and combines all of the necessary ingredients and breathes life into. To whet the appetite of your audience and feel personally satisfied, you must present an artistic performance with all the character and emotion the composer intended us to present. Remember, the composer first conceived of the work in his heart and mind before writing down a recipe on paper for musicians to interpret. Don’t settle for being a fast food cook, be a musical culinary gourmet chef!!!!!

“The Theatrical Side of Music”
Anyone can pick up a script or play and read the words aloud. But just reading the correct words doesn’t make a person an actor. I do a humorous demonstration of a bad actor reading her lines and having no ability to create a feeling or mood, or even worse, creating a completely different emotion than what the writer intended. And I ask my students, “Does reading these words make me an actor?” Of course, the answer is “No!” Actors will often ask their directors, “What is my motivation in this scene?” The actor needs to know what feelings or emotions are intended. She needs to know what type of effect her character is intended to have on the audience. Great musicians are actors. We need to know what emotions or character the composer intended and within this framework be able to also add our own character. Just reading the words does not make a performer an actor. Just playing the correct notes does not make a performer a musician. The great news is that when we truly reach an artistic level with a piece, there is nothing as wonderfully satisfying for us as performers or for our audience! Making music truly makes us artists!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interview with Leone Buyse

Leone Buyse
Who was your most influential teacher?  Why?
It's really impossible to say who my most influential teacher was because each of my major teachers (David Berman, Joseph Mariano, Michel Debost, and Jean-Pierre Rampal) encouraged my musical development in his own unique and very inspiring way.  My one summer master class with Marcel Moyse in Boswil, Switzerland, was also pivotal in my growth, even though it was only three weeks.

Do you have any “pre-concert” preparations or traditions that you follow?
On the day of a concert I follow a fairly careful dietary regimen, avoiding caffeine and sugar. If my performance is in the evening I'll eat a fairly substantial meal in the early afternoon and then have scrambled eggs a couple of hours before playing. I also try to do a few minutes of yoga, and (if I have the time) to power walk and take a refreshing shower in the late afternoon.

Is there a concert or teaching experience that most stands out to you in your career? 
Being summoned from a Symphony Hall audience and asked to sub on piccolo during a Boston Symphony concert in February of 1995 was an unexpected highlight of my professional life.  
At the time I was teaching at the University of Michigan and visiting Boston after having just performed a concert and master class at the Hartt School. Leon Fleisher was soloist in a new Lukas Foss concerto that evening, and remembered the location of my comp "retiree" seat so that an usher could contact me while Ozawa was conducting a work for string orchestra. The repertoire that night also included Dukas' "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe," and piccoloist Geralyn Coticone had been stricken with stomach flu at 7:20 PM.  Apparently every freelance flutist whom the personnel office contacted had declined the opportunity to perform those challenging works without rehearsal for a Symphony Hall audience, so I was the orchestra's last hope...

I had exactly 40 minutes to practice on a borrowed piccolo after changing from street clothes into the black suit Ozawa's personal assistant happened to be wearing.  (Fortunately we wore the same size!). When I arrived onstage during intermission Fenwick oriented me to various tempi and then Ozawa made his entrance. The concert ended with Daphnis, and I'm sure the audience wondered why Ozawa saved the final bow for the piccolo player, and also why the orchestra then began applauding wildly. I received a special review by Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe and a generous check from my former employer for helping out in an unexpected crisis. It was a delight to be back onstage with my friends playing such thrilling symphonic repertoire, and it was also proof that music learned really well can remain in one's fingers and retrieved at a moment's notice when necessary!

What piece of advice would you give flutists who are trying to establish a career in music?
Discover your own strengths and devise ways to share them and your passion for music. There is no one else with your unique contribution of attributes, and you must believe that that you can truly make a difference in our world.

What CD is in your CD player right now? (Or what playlist is your favorite on your iPod?)
This may sound strange, but I tend not to listen a lot to music on a regular basis.  Much of each day is spent hearing others play in lessons or masterclasses or listening to myself practice, and my ears need a break in order to stay fresh. I do listen to classical repertoire that I'm curious about, and my taste in music runs from classical to ethnic (Tuvan thorat singing, for example) to jazz and country (I live in Texas, after all!). I even enjoy some of my stepson's heavy metal and guitar virtuosos, such as Steve Vai.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Healing Powers with Royalton Music

Many local music retailers have had long-standing relationships with the school districts in their communities, but there is one particular retailer that has expanded its programs to fully serve the diversified populations in its community -- Royalton Music Center (RMC).  Located in North Royalton, Ohio, the store opened its doors 48 years ago and has remained a thriving, family-run business for three generations.  Owner and Chief Operating Officer, Lauren Haas Amanfoh, recalled that her grandfather, Richard Eleck, opened the store to serve the greater musical needs of the community.  Mr. Eleck was a band director at St. Albert’s Parish School and opened the store with the help of his wife, Ida.  Lauren is now the third-generation owner of the store and spoke to us in-depth about one program in particular that is very close to her personally – their music therapy program.

Lauren Haas Amanfoh at Royalton Music Center
Lauren’s mother, Sheri Eleck-Haas, began the music therapy program at RMC fifteen years ago.  At the time, Sheri was the second-generation owner of the family business and greatly believed in the value and proven benefits of music therapy programs.  She recognized that through music therapy and the application of musical methods, many clients with disabilities were able to achieve other life-changing goals as well.  For example, songs help Alzheimer’s patients recall memories.  Other participants who may have never spoken before utter their first words through singing.  Lauren emphasized that music therapy is so powerful because the goals are not just musical – the changes affect the lives of participants and their families – which Lauren witnessed first-hand recently.  In 2009, Lauren’s mother, Sheri, was fighting breast cancer and receiving inpatient treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, ultimately unable to sit-up or talk because of her condition.  She was in constant pain, for which she was connected to a pain pump machine to receive pain medication, and constant oxygen.  Lauren remembered coming into the room to visit her mother at the hospital one day, and she could not believe her eyes:  her mother was sitting with a music therapist – sitting up by herself in a chair – and singing Barbara Streisand songs.  Sheri always loved music, so music therapy was extremely beneficial to her personally, psychologically, and physically.  After this particular session, Lauren recalled that her mother was free of pain for 30 to 45 minutes.  Lauren said, “I always believed in music therapy, but seeing its effect with my own eyes, with my own mother, was unbelievable.”  She mentioned that she had seen the changes with other clients, but stated, “Seeing it work for my mother reaffirmed my beliefs and devotion to music therapy because it made a difference for my mother when nothing else did.  It really was life-changing.”

Sadly, Lauren’s mother passed away later that year on Christmas Day, but Lauren is grateful that her mother was able to personally benefit from a program that was so meaningful to her.  The music therapy program at Royalton Music began with one client, and the store’s program now serves about 35 to 40 clients per month.  RMC works with three music therapists: one for adults with brain trauma, and two for children with conditions such as Down Syndrome, Autism, and speech delay.  All three therapists are board certified and offer 30, 45, and 60-minute sessions.   Program sessions are offered on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and as Lauren shared, “the therapists get booked up pretty quickly!”  She says that the program is not heavily promoted, but rather has grown “organically” (by advertising on their website, in the store, and by word-of-mouth).  Participants also have the opportunity to cover costs through funding subsidized by the county – similar to flex spending offered by some medical insurance plans.

Participants in RMC’s music therapy program enjoy sessions in a dedicated music therapy room at the store.  This space is equipped with a piano and other traditional instruments as well as adaptive instruments (including guitars, keyboards, and percussion instruments).  Those in the program also have the opportunity to perform in recitals, much like students in Royalton’s private lesson program.  Recently, music therapy and private lesson students performed on integrated recitals, which Lauren said have been very well-received.  

Royalton Music Center’s music therapy program is one of several educational offerings at the store.  Lauren explained that there is “the educational side of the store and the retail side of the store.”  On the retail side, they have grown and expanded, offering sales, rentals, and displaying at trade shows throughout the country.  On the educational side, there are programs for everyone.  Royalton Music offers The Music Class for infants to 5-year-old children who attend with their parents.  This particular program is offered three times a week and is growing rapidly.  In addition to their private lesson program which is comprised of over 40 instructors who teach more than 500 students each week, Royalton Music also provides group lessons, summer music camps, and ensembles – including a jazz band, rock band, and a Montessori-based wind band.  We can only imagine how many lives have been enriched by their programs.  This remarkable family business will undoubtedly thrive as it continues to bring music into the lives of those who seek it – and those who may once have considered it only a dream, but never a reality.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tips on How to Tap into Your Musical Side While Performing!

By Dr. Naomi Seidman - Associate Professor of Flute, Penn State University

Naomi Seidman

I am listening to one of my online Pandora radio stations while I type this blog. I love the capability of music to color my perspective on the world when I listen with headphones. The mood of the music I select streaming through my headphones can make me bounce on my walk to work (which is incredibly useful when it is only 20 degrees outside!) Obviously I am not the only one who enjoys listening to music in this way. All you have to do to confirm this theory is to take a look out my office window and count the multitudes of students accompanying their walks with their own personal soundtracks on their wireless devices. As listening to music on headphones is so common, it’s surprising that it is often difficult to stress the importance of listening to my studio when they are putting the finishing touches on pieces they are getting ready to perform.  The common scenario that brings this topic up is after a student has played through their entire jury piece with piano. The performance may have gone technically well but the student does not seem satisfied with the performance. When I question the student on why they do not feel great about the performance, they usually dwell on minor technical issues. It is only after we examine the lack of musical elements that the student becomes aware of how important these elements are to feeling fulfilled about a performance. Whether you are getting ready for your end of the semester jury, college auditions, or All State audition, you have probably spent 99 percent of your practice time on learning the notes and rhythms, all the technical stuff, and only 1 percent on the musical side. 

Not to worry - you still have time to fix this! Luckily, there are some great ways to make you sound not only technically fabulous but also musical!! 

All performers struggle with the balance of execution and musicality. Some students are granted more musical talent than others, while others are better at technique. I remember my struggle to expose the musical side of my playing and how much more personal my playing became once I became more concerned with how my performances where making my audience feel, rather than whether or not I nailed a passage. Of course you want to find a balance between the technical and the musical - the music that really moves you (the stuff that you love to listen to) is a musical marriage between the two!

Here are ten tips that will help you to bring out your more musical side!!

1)    Sing through your phrases
Your inner voice is most exposed when you sing. In order to be more musical you must take a risk and expose it. For example, take the first phrase in the piece you are working on. Sing through the phrase, exaggerating the musical gestures you would like to bring out (add lyrics if you like). Does this experience make you aware of phrasing elements you were not including? Did you notice that you were chopping the first phrase up too much? After singing through the phrase a couple of times, play it on your flute. Notice any differences? Be sure to include the musical gestures from your singing in your flute playing!
2)    Dance to recordings of your piece
We all learn in different ways. Some of us are visual learners while others rely more on aural directions. A few of us are kinesthetic in our learning - what better way to explore this path than to dance to the piece you are working on.  I know you may feel silly at first, but it is very much worth the experiment. I bet you dance to music when you listen on your headphones!
3)    Supportive sound
How engaged are you physically when you are playing? A great way to test your physical engagement or support is to have a friend press against your left shoulder (pushing you backwards) while you play. If your friend can easily push you over while you are playing you need to engage more. Try the experiment again and this time, push back at your friend so you are meeting the resistance. Notice the difference in your tone! Now recreate this feeling when you are performing!
4)    Record yourself
If you love listening to music on your headphones, it’s time to start listening to your performances with headphones. Record yourself playing your prepared piece and then take the time to listen to it with headphones. Check and make sure your musicality is coming through. Most often I find that I have to exaggerate my musical gestures so much more than I originally thought (think stage makeup).
5)    Find colors and contrast
If you listened to yourself on your headphones and found that you did not sound as musical as you would like, it’s time to find parts of your piece where you could incorporate more colors and contrasts! Incorporating tone colors as well as dynamic contrasts frees up your interpretation ten-fold.
6)    Rubato if possible
Have you ever seen a person walking a dog where it clearly seems as if the dog is in control of the walk and not vice-versa. You want to be in control of your performance, and not the other way around. This type of control requires a lot of leading. In some pieces this leading requires rubato in order for the musical gestures to come alive.  A great piece for this type of rubato is the Charles Widor suite. However, in order for this type of rubato to come alive it must come from you, and your musical direction must be clear to your pianist in order for this to work.
7)    Memorize passages
My students often focus so much on this technique that they already have most of their jury pieces memorized by the second month of lessons. If this is also the case for you, take away the music when you practice. Keep the passages fresh and give yourself the freedom to explore what the musical passages are trying to say instead of reading the notes on the page (which you already know).
8)    Articulation
Good articulation is like good diction. I am sure you have heard many pop singers with bad diction and you end up singing the lyrics incorrectly for months before you realize it. If you are clear with your articulation you will leave no room for misinterpretations and your audience will be able to tune in 100 percent to your musical phrases!
9)    Find a story
I am sure you have heard this idea before, but not only should you find a story that you can tell in your performance, but try to make it a personal story. This is similar to actors who think of a specific moment that made them cry when they have to reproduce crying in a scene. If you are playing a movement of a work that is sad in tone then try and connect to that emotion with a personal story of your own while you play. Usually this works incredibly well.
10) Pick your musical idol and become them when you perform
I am sure you have a musical idol (if not 20) in your playlists. Pick one and become them when you play. This way you still have a little room to hide and yet you have the freedom of being this confident performer that you so admire while you perform.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Travel Stories - "Variations on a Theme by Mozart"

Sandra Kipp
I have played from memory many times in my career, but never felt completely comfortable. I have always preferred the comfort of having the music in front of me, even if I use it as one would use note cards in a well-prepared speech. But one hot day in a small town in Thailand, I truly regretted not having memorized more pieces!

I was on a two week tour of Thailand, traveling from Bancock south to Surit Thani. (Also spelled Suri Thani and Surithani) We had a very long drive in front of us, so half way through we stopped in a little town where some of the people I was traveling with knew some very welcoming and hospitable folk. They fed us, let us rest, gave us generous gifts, and well wishes for our travels. I was traveling with a pianist, a singer, and the organizer of the tour. Just before we were ready to leave, the organizer announced to our hosts that as a gift in return for their hospitality, we would perform music for them. The pianist looked around and said, “There is no piano, so I can’t perform.” The singer looked at us and said, “Without a pianist, I can’t perform.” So, all eyes turned to me. All of our sheet music and equipment had been transported to our next location in another vehicle, so I would have to play from memory. No problem, I have played countless unaccompanied works. This will be fun! Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had no idea what I should play. So I started the Andante in C Major by W. A. Mozart. No problem…how many times have we played this beautifully sublime work? I finish the opening phrases and thought this is sounding quite nice, as I see a supportive grin on my pianist’s face. Then as I continued, my mind went blank. I simply couldn’t remember the next phrase. So, I began to improvise, “variations on a theme by Mozart,” if you will. I see the look on my pianist’s face change from “How lovely” to “That’s not how I remember the piece going” to “What on earth is she playing????” I saw her starting to smirk and look down as I looked away myself. I knew if our eyes met, I might not be able to keep up this charade. She was doing everything she could not to laugh!

My improvisatory skills are quite lacking and I wish I had a recording of what came out of my flute!!! Thank goodness, this was before YouTube!!! Our hosts thought it was lovely and thanked me for my musical gift to them, as I walked away feeling so silly for having not been able to remember a piece I have played so many times. That was many years ago, but I remember it as if it was yesterday! If you see me traveling somewhere, ask me to play the Mozart! I can now! Anytime, anywhere!!!