Thursday, February 21, 2013

Parents' Guide to Purchasing a Step-Up Flute

Linda Fisher
We featured Royalton Music Center in North Royalton, Ohio in one of our earlier posts, highlighting their music therapy program:  They also have a very busy lesson program for wind, string, and voice students.  Flute Instructor Linda Fisher recently shared her guide to purchasing step-up flutes with us.  Linda's guide was designed to answer some of the essential questions she receives from parents on the topic of step-up flutes.  We will share her guide in several posts, beginning with some of the essentials:

Question 1: Why does my child need a new flute?
That's usually the first question parents ask themselves when their child's teacher recommends a "step up or intermediate" flute.  Think of it this way, your budding musician has now reached the limitations of a student model -- that's great!  What limitations?  A flute is a flute, right?  Well, yes and no.  All flutes have three parts:

A headjoint – which is the part we blow across.

The body – where our fingers press the keys down (the middle section).  On an “open-holed” flute, the keys that our fingers press down actually have holes in them.  It’s hard to have bad hand position if you have to keep holes closed!

The foot – the bottom section of the flute.  On a step up flute, an additional key (B) is added – this gives the player access to notes that were not previously available on the student model.

Question 2: Why is the headjoint so important?
The part of the flute we blow across is the headjoint.  Eighty to ninety percent of our sound comes from this part.  One way to make the tone different is to make the headjoint out of a different material.  The first choice for step up flutes is to make the headjoint out of sterling silver.  Try this exercise, ring a silver plated bell.  Now ring a sterling silver bell.  Notice the tone on the sterling silver bell has a ring to it – almost a deeper, richer tone.  That’s the sound we are looking for in a flute.  But it doesn’t end there.  Some flutes have a higher content of silver than others.  Well, if it has more silver, then it’s better, right?  Not necessarily!  The best one is the one that sounds the best for YOUR flute player.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Trill Seekers

Helen Spielman
This article appears in Helen Spielman's upcoming book A Flute in My Refrigerator: Celebrating a Life in Music, which will be released in 2013. Helen is a performance anxiety coach who works with musicians around the world via phone or Skype, teaching them to perform consistently with focus, control, and freedom. You may visit her website at   This article was previously published in Music for the Love Of It, June 1995 and is used by permission.

The Trill Seekers
     Five years ago, I put an ad in the paper and posted flyers on bulletin boards, advertising my services as a flute teacher. I prayed that at least a few adults would find their way to my studio. Although I adore children, I wanted a varied student population so that my teaching day would be interesting and stimulating. God answered my prayers in a big way. Since that time, I have always had between 8 and 15 adults in my studio.
     The children I taught would sometimes say, “Do you teach a girl named Kathy? She’s in my class” or “in my Brownie troupe” or “on my soccer team.” I never heard comments like that from the grownups, and I began to realize how separate they were from each other. So I started an adult flute group, which began meeting three times a year. The group has been so popular that, by the students’ request, we now meet four times a year. We have an evening activity followed by time for refreshments and socializing. Becky came up with the name “The Trill Seekers,” and we’ve been seeking trills and thrills together ever since.
     My adult students were shy about playing their flutes in public, so for our initial session I invited Brooks de Wetter-Smith, the flute professor from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, to give a talk about flute repertoire and play for us. “I don’t know if I would have come that first time if I had to play in front of the others,” Jenifer told me. “It was much easier to be introduced to the group this way.”
     For the second session, we played Christmas music in three-part harmony, as an ensemble, and no one had to solo. The third session became Duet Night, with the students playing duets, either with each other or with me. Gradually I coaxed them toward the fourth session, where they played solos with a piano accompanist.
     Recently, when I asked the students how they have benefited from participating in our group, the theme of performance anxiety came up in everyone’s response. “At first I was very nervous,” said Jenifer, “but now it’s fun. It was helpful to learn that other people get as nervous as I do, those who started as adults like me and those who’ve played for a long time. Every time we play in front of each other, I get less nervous. It really helps.”
     Donna had a different perspective. “As an adult, it’s hard to be less than accomplished at something. Our group validates the whole experience of being a learner. It shows me the OK-ness of being a novice.”  
     “It’s nice to have the opportunity to play in front of people other than in a recital with a whole crowd listening,” Dianne explained. “This group has helped me build confidence and skill. And it’s nice to play and not be laughed at. At home, my cats laugh at me, and sometimes my children do, too!”
     Jill focused on the social aspect of the experience. “I like getting together with a bunch of flute players and sharing a common interest with other adults. It’s rare to find a group of adult amateur musicians; it wouldn’t happen by accident. It’s a real plus for me to have this in my life.”
     Robin had similar feelings. “I enjoy getting together with other people who like to play music, otherwise I’m doing it alone. In my community concert band, we work together as a group, but this setting allows me to play as an individual and yet have somebody else to share with. And we focus purely on flute music, so it’s a great medium in which to exchange information. I enjoy the talking and laughing and the fun of trying out new music.”
     “It’s good to do something that’s not work-related, something just for fun,” Dianne shared. “And besides, the food’s always good.”
     Jenifer said, “I’ve gotten to know the other folks in the group well. At recitals, there’s no time to get to know anyone. It’s so nice to have someone to talk to during the week, to go to the music store with, or to attend concerts together. Our paths wouldn’t cross without this group. The other people in my life don’t play the flute.”  
     Occasionally my students get together for non-flute-related activities. As with many friendships, a common interest can lead ultimately to a broader relationship.
     When I asked the group what their favorite or most memorable sessions have been, everyone said they liked the sessions we have once a year when the students get to play solos with a piano accompaniment. They enjoy hearing what the music sounds like in its entirety. “Hearing the other half of the music, instead of merely imagining it,” Robin said.
     “I not only like playing my own solos with a piano accompaniment,” Jill explained, “but I also love to see the progress others have made.”
     Comments such as these show me that energies have shifted, that my students have grown and changed. After all the focus on nerves about performing, they’re now telling me that their favorite sessions involve playing for others!
     “For me,” Jill continued, “the most memorable sessions are when Brooks gives a masterclass for us. I consider it a real opportunity to work with someone like him. What he can do with each individual student in fifteen minutes is amazing.”
     During one of Brooks’ masterclasses, Donna was pleased that she could adjust her embouchure the way he showed her to. “I could do it!” she exclaimed. “It was exciting to learn something I hadn’t thought about before.”
     For Dianne, the first time she heard Brooks play in my living room, where our group meets, was the most memorable moment. “I never knew a human being could make a sound as glorious as that. It was musical ecstasy.”
     I derive just as much benefit from these sessions as my students. My heart swells when I see my students play beautifully in a relaxed manner in front of others. I learn to be a better teacher by listening to the conversations we have during these evenings, or by watching a master teacher work with my students. My role as “the teacher” diminishes, and I become “one of the gang,” just another person who loves the flute and likes to interact with friends in a meaningful way. My soul is nourished by the laughter, friendship, acceptance, and support we extend to one another.
     I agree with Dianne, who said, “I like it all!” and with Donna, who said, “I appreciate the opportunity to create music for fun—to experience the simple, old-fashioned joy of making music.”
     When we first became “The Trill Seekers,” I had no idea that the thrills we would find together would be so far-reaching and life-enhancing. In seeking a deeper relationship with music and with our instruments, we’ve been led toward love and joy, as well as social, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment. In the process of becoming music makers together, we’re learning to express ourselves as beautiful, creative, wondrous beings.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Conversation with Emma Resmini

Our youngest Powell Sonaré artist, Emma Resmini, has graced stages as a soloist with the Dallas Symphony, National Symphony, and Pittsburgh Symphony – all before age 11.  She is a remarkable musician who shares the interests of her peers in many respects.  Having accomplished such notoriety at such a young age, we were anxious to chat with her about her experiences, favorite past-times, and advice for fellow flute students.

Emma attended a Kindermusic class when she was three years old.  She recollected that “at the end of class, the teacher would turn off all the lights and play the flute,” which is something Emma really enjoyed.  She said that at that age, she really “didn’t talk much but began going around the house pretending everything was a flute.”  Her parents purchased a flute for her, and she began taking Suzuki flute lessons with her mother.  She progressed through the Suzuki books rapidly and went on to other repertoire.  Emma then began studying with Judy Lapple, who was Professor of Flute at George Mason University.  According to Emma, Judy was a terrific teacher who helped her tremendously with tone and repertoire.  Emma then began studying with National Symphony Orchestra flautist Alice Weinreb.  Like many flautists several years her senior, Emma takes weekly lessons from Ms. Weinreb that are about two hours long.  Each lesson ends with a duet, which is one of Emma’s favorite parts of the lesson.

Emma is now in her second year of the National Symphony Orchestra Fellowship program.  The program is open to students in grades 9-12, yet special consideration may be made for those younger students such as Emma.  She especially enjoys the chamber music component, which was something new for Emma when she began the program.  In her first year, she was in a woodwind quintet and a harp and flute duo.  This year, she is in a woodwind quintet and a flute and percussion duo.  She enjoys performing on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage and collaborating with members of her chamber music ensembles.  Having performed as a soloist with several symphony orchestras, Emma is extremely comfortable on stage.  As part of the fellowship program, she also has the chance to sit in with the National Symphony Orchestra in regularly-scheduled rehearsals conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.  When we asked her what she likes most about the flute, she said that she really enjoys performing.  Curious as to whether she gets stage fright, she said it “was a bit scary at first,” but she has certainly overcome the challenge. 

When Emma is not playing the flute, she said she enjoys taking care of her dog, Maxi, who is a Maltese and poodle mix.  One of Emma’s other favorite activities is building model rockets with her father.  At the end of our chat, we asked Emma what she would say to a student younger than herself who is just starting the flute.  Emma said, “I would say, if you’re trying really hard, and you don’t think you’re getting anywhere, don’t give up – it takes time.”  We certainly agree and thank Emma for the time she spent speaking with us!

Emma had the chance to perform in the 2012 James Galway masterclass.
Close-up on Emma at the Galway masterclass.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Paul Edmund-Davies in Perth

By Paul Edmund-Davies
Paul Edmund-Davies

Apart from my orchestral and solo lives, I also enjoy aspects of educational work. After all, we all had to start somewhere, and as we get further on in our careers we have to think about the next generations. Because we are cheap to employ, most top end British musicians have played on Hollywood blockbuster films. I have two Star Wars and bits of the first two Harry Potter movies in my portfolio! Funnily enough, when I travel the world and am introduced as the principal flute of the London Symphony Orchestra for 20 years, there is polite acknowledgement. If however, I am announced as the flute player on two of the Star Wars movies there are huge smiles and great excitement! This is definitely something that connects more, in particular with younger people. So, it has made good sense to create a class that focuses on flute related problems, but linked into music from film sound tracks. In this way I have managed to attract people to come through the door to flute classes, who otherwise may well not have been interested.

A few years ago I was giving such a class at a school in Perth, Western Australia. There were
approximately 250 youngsters from the age of eight through to eighteen. In the front row there was a large group of eight to nine year old Australian boys, all from the same school. They all had very neat haircuts, kaki shirts and shorts, yellow ties and identical curved head flutes. If you were ever looking for a picture of innocence, this was it, in front of me! They were not only nauseatingly angelic, but they were also all incredibly well behaved.  The class was going according to plan and everyone seemed to be having a good time. We had worked on phrasing and articulation and now we were tackling top notes with a song, "Hedwig’s Theme," from Harry Potter. For those of you who don’t know, it is in g minor and at one stage goes up to a third octave ‘F’. As you can imagine, 250 youngsters with little flute ability playing a top F is what nightmares are made of. This group was no exception.

The top F arrived, was massively out of tune and caused everyone to stop in horror. I asked them, “What was wrong with that?”  Many hands went up and they all agreed that it was horribly out of tune.  “Any ideas as to how we can make the tuning better?”  There was a hushed silence as the class seriously thought about this, but no one had an answer. “Well”, I said, “we have to do a little flute trick here to help us and this involves making sure that the throat is nice and open. When I was your age, my flute teacher would tell me to make sure that my throat was open when playing and I would always nod my head in agreement, but in truth, I had no idea what he was talking about! So, when I say to you that we need a nice open throat, in particular in the top octave and for that top F, can anyone tell me how I am going to get a nice open throat?”  There was a short silence and then, very enthusiastically one of the little angels in the front row excitedly pushed his hand into the air. I was of course, thrilled to get a response, so I walked over to him and asked again: “OK. So, how do you think I am going to get a nice open throat?” “Oh, it’s simple, Sir. You just put a knife through it!” he said, not only with great relish but also with the visual addition of making a slicing action with his flute across his neck! For reasons that might be obvious to you, I haven’t been back to Perth since!