Friday, August 30, 2013

Christina Jennings: Recording the Music of George Rochberg

Part I

Christina Jennings
I love my job teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder. This position allows me to work with outstanding young flutists from a wide range of backgrounds who are passionate about the community we have created at CU- a rich environment for learning, inspiration, and beautiful flute playing. I am so honored to be able to work in this setting! One of the truly incredible opportunities of university teaching is the sabbatical, granted every seven years after receiving tenure (which I did last year!). I will be on leave from CU this Fall semester and look forward to a bouquet of activities including: learning new repertoire, taking some intense yoga classes, rekindling my piano chops, and perfecting my strawberry rhubarb pie recipe! But my main focus will be recording a CD, the first volume of a recording of music for flute by the American composer, George Rochberg. I have been eager to make this recording for many years. I’ve known Mr. Rochberg’s music my entire life and feel a strong connection with his voice. He is not widely known among flutists but I think he should be, and I believe this project will expose flute players to some very beautiful and strong music.  Powell flutes asked me to report on this project as I go along, for which I am very grateful! Here are the details of the composer and the music I will record:

This CD will be the first of two volumes of a recording of music for flute by George Rochberg (1918-2005). Volume One will include three pieces: Caprice Variations, Between Two Worlds and Slow Fires of Autumn. Mr. Rochberg is one of the most important composers of the last century and as I will outline, I am especially qualified to undertake this project: the composer worked closely with my father and was a potent influence on my own musical development.

George Rochberg
George Rochberg was a product of the artistic turmoil of the mid-twentieth-century and he inherited the forbidding atonal aesthetic of the second-Viennese school of Berg and Schoenberg, composer. Soon after the death of his teenage son in 1964, Rochberg experienced a personal and artistic crisis, and he eventually abandoned serialism in favor of tonality, an aesthetic shift that provoked powerful reactions from audience and critics. At the 1971 premiere of his Third String Quartet at Lincoln Center, the final chords were greeted with a wild standing ovation, which was made up of nearly equal parts cheering and booing. In the article George Rochberg's Revolution (First Things June/July 1998), Michael Linton proposes that:
Some revolutions are noisy affairs from the start. The riot with which the Parisians greeted the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring comes immediately to mind. But other revolutions start quietly and get noisier only with time. Twenty years after the event, the first performances of George Rochberg’s Concord Quartets appear to have been the beginnings of that second kind of revolution.
Concord String Quartet (#6 movement 3)

This music was the soundtrack of my childhood, and I absorbed Rochberg’s distinctive musical vocabulary during my own development. The composer’s quartets 3-6, were written for the Concord String Quartet, in which my father, Andrew Jennings, was the second violinist. In his posthumously published memoirs (Illinois, 2009), Rochberg described the close collaboration with my father and his colleagues, as well as the special significance in his oeuvre of the monumental Caprice Variations, originally conceived for violin.

Link to my YouTube video of a few of the caprices:

My recording plan will allow me to work with 10-time Grammy award nominee recording engineer and producer Judith Sherman, and to collaborate with outstanding musicians for a September recording session at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. George Rochberg was a member of the distinguished Academy, and the performance hall in the Academy’s historic academy is widely considered one of the best acoustical spaces for classical music recording.

The Caprices Variations are my transcriptions from the original 1970 collection for solo violin. These movements are entirely based on a single theme of Nicolo Paganini and demonstrate the stylistic compositional variety that Mr. Rochberg was known for. My transcription of 20 of the original 50 caprices, employ a variety of techniques that use the flute to its fullest capacity. The other two works for flute and one instrument are substantial, beautiful compositions that are not yet widely known among flutists. Both Between Two World and Slow Fires of Autumn are subtitled Ukiyo-E which is translated “pictures of the floating world” and refers to a style of Japanese painting and woodblock making. These pieces weave into their language a Japanese sound, in particular Slow Fires uses a popular Japanese folksong in its final moments. Between Two Worlds is for flute and piano and I will collaborate with Lura Johnson of the Baltimore Symphony and the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Slow Fires of Autumn for flute and harp will be played with June Han of Yale University and The Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Both of these musicians are considered to be at the top of their field and have recorded and performed widely in the new music arena.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Timeless: Kate Prestia-Schaub

This week, we had a chance to chat with Powell player Kate Prestia-Schaub about her new CD, Timeless.  Kate collaborated with composer and pianist Martin Kennedy, who joined the recording project as Kate’s artistic partner.  Timeless is Kate’s debut CD recording, but it has been in the works for over 10 years.  We were able to find out more about the history behind the recording when we spoke with Kate…

In 2002, Kate was ready to record her first CD.  She had all the repertoire lined up and began rehearsing with pianist, composer, and recording engineer Steve Kaplan in Malibu, CA.  About two weeks before the recording was scheduled to commence, Steve was killed in a plane crash.   She was heartbroken, not just because of the musical partnership – but he was also a close family friend.  Feeling the need to have space from her loss, Kate discontinued the work on this recording.

Shortly after the project was discontinued, Frederick Lesemann wrote Slow Music for Piccolo Alone for Kate, much to her surprise.  Dr. Lesemann was Kate’s orchestration professor at USC, and she premiered this piece on her final Master’s recital at USC in Los Angeles in 2003.  Slow Music is also included on a recording of Dr. Lesemann's works to be released later this year.  After hearing Kate perform at a NFA convention in 2005, composer Daniel Dorff contacted Kate with an idea for a new piccolo and piano showpiece he had started for her.  In 2009 Flash! was completed and premiered at the International Piccolo Symposium.  Flash! also won the IPS composition competition for 2009.  Finally, in 2010, Martin Kennedy contacted her with yet another newly formed idea for a piece!  Once Martin’s Desplazamiento was completed, it was premiered at the Mid-Atlantic Flute Festival in 2013. 

Realizing that Kate had accumulated three incredible new pieces for piccolo, and that they would become “timeless standards” in the piccolo repertoire, she came back to the idea of recording.  She pulled out some of the repertoire from the 2002 project, and the new pieces that had been written for her fit perfectly in the mix; better even than the original plan!   Kate also realized that she had found a monstrous pianist and good friend in Martin, and asked if he would come out to California and record the album.

Martin Kennedy came out to California from St. Louis this summer to record the CD with Kate.   With only a one-week time span in which to work, Kate and Martin were able to complete the project on time, before Martin’s return.  Kate told us that they were able to do a little bit of rehearsing, recording, and mixing each day.  The CD was produced and recorded by the incredible Peter Sprague at his studio in Encinitas. 

Looking back on the process of recording the CD, we asked Kate about the most memorable elements.  She told us, 

Martin brought a ton of energy to the project, and he has had a lot of experience in recording.  Being a composer, Martin was able to give me a bigger perspective on all of the pieces, which helped me grow musically.  We were able to get his piece exactly the way he wanted it.  It was humbling to have the opportunity to speak with all the composers; I could attempt to make all their music the way they wanted it – not just the way I wanted it.  I could also bring the music to life a little better because I knew the people it came from!”

The recording process also had a strong impact on Kate in the sense that she was able to truly reflect on her own playing.  She elaborated on this particularly monumental element of the process:

You’re your own worst critic.  You want to fix everything.  During the editing process, I listened so carefully to every detail – each rhythm, every interval, runs, expression markings, balance; everything! There is an appropriate amount of criticism needed to create a good product, but at a certain point, you have to stop picking everything apart, and just enjoy the music.  I had to learn to let myself be human.  There’s definitely a huge learning curve in the process – learning how much to fix and how to simply let it be.  Now that I have given it some space, and don’t have to correct anything anymore, I’m really happy with how it turned out.

Timeless is available through Kate Prestia-Schaub’s website,  CD Baby,  iTunes,  and  Google Play.
Preview the tunes on Kate Prestia-Schaub’s facebook page.  For more information on Kate, visit her Powell Academy Page, where you can also schedule lessons with her.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Enhancing Private Lessons with Everyday Technology

By Morgann Davis

Morgann Davis
While it’s easy to view some of today’s amazing technology as a distraction, there are many ways we can easily use the devices and services that have become so commonplace to quickly improve and enhance the private lesson experience. Odds are good that you or your students own at least one of the following: smart phone, iPod, tablet (iPad, Nook, etc.), desktop computer or laptop with a camera and microphone, hand-held video camera, or a digital camera with video capabilities. The odds are also great that there are more ways to use these devices than you realize to help your students improve quickly!

Apps are perhaps the most obvious way we can utilize our smartphones, iPods and tablets. There are amazing music teaching tools available for private and classroom instruction that are very detailed, but there are also great, sometimes simple, freebies that are easy to incorporate. YouTube has a free app that easily allows you to search for videos you’d like to share with your students. Links can be emailed directly from the app, or cut and pasted directly into a text message to the student. There are also lots of excellent, free tuners and metronomes available. I particularly enjoy using insTuner with my students, as it gives them simple guidance on whether they are sharp or flat, and which way to tune their instrument. It is also gives a more stable reading of the pitch than some other free chromatic tuner apps, and will play pitches in different octaves if you want to tune to a drone. There are also great apps for learning or referencing scales, like Scales & Modes (although this one costs $1.99, it provides a wide variety of scale types). Many more apps are available beyond those listed above, including ones that help with ear training and theory (some of these are free as well!), but I find these to be particularly useful. Now, every student has access to things like a metronome or tuner, even if their parents forget to take them to the music store!

As a student, I was told to record myself more times than I can remember (and I hate to admit, more often than I actually found the time to do!). Now, there’s very little excuse for a student not to record audio or video of a portion of their practice time. Even without a smart device, anyone with a computer that has a video camera can record themselves. For example, if you have any type of apple computer, you have a camera and a program called Photo Booth. Although the quality is a bit crude, this free program that is included with the computer more that serves the purpose of providing an outside ear and eye during practice. Students are never far from their phones, so I frequently encourage mine to set their iPhones or iPods to video instead of camera and place it on the stand. If viewing themselves from this vantage point makes them feel nervous, they can face the camera toward the stand. They’ll get a decent quality audio from this to use in analyzing their playing.  My favorite way to use video in lessons, however, is to record a problem spot in a piece or exercise using my phone and then email it to the student and their parent, asking them to watch the video and make notes on what they noticed before their next lesson. I have also done this with recital performances. My students are often shocked by what they observe (both good and bad)! For those of us wishing to make higher quality recordings for ourselves or our students, there are microphones that can be attached to your smartphone from companies like TASCAM that come with apps to operate them and edit the audio you record.

There is also an amazing wealth of resources beyond YouTube that can aid with performance practice and preparation. As a young student, I had no access to music libraries or catalogues of recordings, but today’s students can hear almost any musician from the comfort of their own homes. Beyond tutorials that have been recorded by flutists such as James Galway and Emmanuel Pahud (many of which are available on YouTube), there are free “radio” resources that allow us to access countless recordings. Even iTunes provides free radio where we can listen to classical, jazz or world music. My current favorite program for listening in the context of lessons is Spotify. Unlike Pandora, which generates playlists based on the genre of music or type of artist you searched, you can search for a specific artist or piece in Spotify’s enormous data base, then create and save playlists, even in the free version! For a small monthly fee, you can access your playlists using any device that’s logged into your account. The feature I find most valuable, however, is the ability to share your playlists. Gone are the days of burning CDs for students and hoping they don’t get lost before they make it home. Instead, you can share playlists with a student (even via their parents, if you prefer) with specific recordings you want them to hear through email (once someone has an account they can also opt to follow or subscribe to your playlists). I’ve made an example playlist that I might give to a young student that displays a variety of flutists and styles so you can try it out here: Teach Flute.

Another favorite performance enhancement tool for my studio is Smart Music. For just $40/yr and the one time purchase of a microphone to go with the program, you have access to a wealth of accompaniments. Using the microphone, you can play along to a set tempo (which you can adjust to your liking), or set the program to follow you. While this is obviously no replacement for a real pianist, it has been a tremendous help preparing my students for the first rehearsal with their accompanist when the piece is too difficult for me to play along.

A fun website that my students access often is Just like the name implies, there’s lots of free sheet music on this site as well as scales, staff paper, a tuner, and a glossary of musical terms!

From a business perspective, there are a multitude of ways technology can easily and instantly upgrade your teaching experience. Social media used the right way can actually be very effective for networking with other musicians, and for staying connected to your students and their parents. I think most people have become aware that it’s best to keep your personal life and business separate, so if you go this route you may want to create a twitter handle or facebook page specifically for business purposes. I use a Facebook page for my studio (DavisFlute Studio) to post resources, information about recitals and auditions, and the dates of classes for my students. Programs like GoogleDocs or Doodle can be used to help ease scheduling events like classes and recitals. You can even allow tuition payments by credit card for a minimal fee using your smartphone and devices like Square. There are also amazing sites like Weebly where you can easily make a sharp looking website for free. I paid just $40 for a yearly subscription to Weebly Pro so that I can tailor and update my website, MorgannElyce Davis, flutist, however and whenever I like.

These ideas are truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how technology can enhance lessons for both you and your students. The key is to have fun discovering what’s available and to carry the creativity you use in your teaching into the way you use technology! 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Flute Scale and Intonation

By Paul Edmund-Davies

I am full of admiration for people who take a scientific approach to the whole process of putting a flute together. There are very logical and valid reasons for trying to make the instrument as close to perfection as possible, and the dedication shown by the few in attempting to evolve the flute further is to be applauded.

Paul Edmund-Davies
One could now have lengthy discussions about precise measurements and distances. However, like many, I am not a scientist, and as such not qualified to make absolute comment on the merits of one flute scale over another, other than through my observations of what I personally experience as a performer. It has also to be noted that advances in flute design and making over the past four decades or so has been significant to the extent that many flute makers across the globe are now making outstandingly good instruments.

However, it should be remembered that in the end, there is no such thing as an in tune flute. What finally comes out of the instrument is the responsibility of the performer, not the instrument itself. It is up to the musician to use his or her intelligence and ears to play the instrument that they have in their hands to the best of their ability. This includes having a precise concept of pitch and the relative distances between notes. Whilst the correct positioning and size of the holes on the flute are of obvious importance, there are many more factors beyond the construction of the instrument that need to be considered in the art of playing in tune.

A key area that seems to be ignored in this discussion is individual physiology. This has a colossal impact on the character and pitch of the sound that comes out of the flute/flute player. Fact: we are all constructed differently, therefore, we will blow flutes in very varying ways. What might well work for me is not necessarily going to work for someone else. Yes, there are starting blocks to work from, but these won’t always lead to the same conclusions.

 *Note -- This post is an excerpt from "In My Opinion," a post Mr. Edmund-Davies wrote for his own blog.  To read the full article, visit

*Photo courtesy of