Thursday, January 30, 2014

Doriot Dwyer Interview - Part II

In a previous post, last month, we shared the first segment of a three-part interview by ICA Classics on Powell player Doriot Anthony Dwyer, former Principal Flutist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra -- and the first female to hold a principal chair in a major symphony orchestra. Click here to view the first segment from our December 15th, 2013 post.

In the second segment of the interview, we learn more about Ms. Dwyer's upbringing.  She came from a very musical family, guided by her mother, who was also a flutist.  Her mother was one of four girls who each played a musical instrument, although their father was a businessman.  Her mother was raised to be very self-sufficient and self-disciplined due to the passing of her own mother at a very young age.  The discipline and self-control that her mother developed was certainly passed down to Ms. Dwyer, who recalls that she had to teach herself how to learn the music when she was in the Boston Symphony.  She recalls advice that her mother received from Dwyer's grandfather: "You have to learn to control yourself.  One day, you will have to have a job, and you will have to keep on playing, even if there are difficulties in your life."

When asked if she were scared when auditioning for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Dwyer said, "If I were scared, I wouldn't be trying out.  I couldn't be scared.  I knew I was never going to hear 'bravo' because I was a woman.  I hoped that if I did really well, the orchestra would cheer me on as they cheered their own."  She described conductors Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch as being very kind to her.  She mentioned that Mr. Munch was much more outward with his support, although she said, "He would never come up and give me a hug, and I wished he would -- because everything was so hard."  The gender discrepancies were quite evident, as she continued, "It was so hard for me to do all these things, and if I missed something, everybody knew it.  But, if someone else missed, everyone would say, 'This is really hard -- you see?  He made a mistake.  That shows how hard it was'."  But, Ms. Dwyer kept to herself and persevered despite the challenges of the time.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Audition Days

By Tammy Evans Yonce
Tammy Evans Yonce

It’s audition season! At my home institution, South Dakota State University, we are preparing for on-campus audition days as well as a couple of audition days at off-site locations as a convenience to students in the other parts of the state.

SDSU is a large state university that serves metropolitan as well as rural populations. Because of this, the backgrounds of auditioning students can vary widely. Some have had private lessons and other music-making opportunities outside of their high school music programs, while others have not played much outside the band room. When evaluating students who are auditioning within the music department, I look at several things. They are asked to prepare two contrasting works or movements. Do they have a characteristic tone? Are their tempos appropriate? Is their technique solid for the works they have chosen? In addition to these musical considerations, I am also interested in the attitude of the student. Are they enthusiastic about continuing with music in college? Do they have realistic expectations about the time commitment it requires, such as rehearsal time, practice time outside of lessons and rehearsals, and performances? Do they enjoy it, despite the hard work required? If a student has these traits and understands the time commitment involved, I am more than happy to teach him or her. It doesn’t matter if a student wants to become a band director, teach privately, play in a community group as a hobby, or has other musical goals, enthusiasm and realistic expectations go a long way in ensuring student success.

I strongly advise students to choose audition music that is well within their abilities. The college audition is not the time to choose a piece that is extremely difficult. Instead, audition committees are interested in how you play at this point in time, so choose music that will show the committee your best playing. It is also a good idea (and usually a requirement) to play contrasting pieces. This shows off your tone as well as your technical abilities and whether or not you have experience playing works from different style periods. Remember that you’re also auditioning the school. They want to get to know you but you also have to determine if the school is a good fit for you. Before your audition, ask if you can schedule a lesson with the flute teacher there, and talk to current students to find out what their experience has been. You also might want to sit in on a rehearsal or a class.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Focus! Making the Most out of Lessons

By Morgann Davis

Morgann Davis
Every year I find myself facing this time of year with an added sense of pressure to make lessons challenging, exciting, and fun. This year I tackled part of the issue head on by scheduling a recital at the end of February and assigning everyone new solos and duets to prepare. So, now we have a timestamp in place, a concert goal to focus toward. For many of my students this year, however, this is their first real recital. Expectations and preparation is different for these students as they don’t quite know what to expect.

Another way I try to build momentum and focus following the holidays is by creating structure and routine. I tackle lessons each week in the same order, meaning students know what to expect. Tuning, warm-ups and scales, etudes/technique, solos, duets. This is a serious time-saver in 30 minute lessons. Without having to discuss or decide what happens next there is less wasted time.

Ok, so we have two great steps to follow that will provide a great foundation for focus. Problem solved, right? Not quite. The real “meat” of the solution comes next. Now that there is structure and a performance date to aim for, I do my best to use the room made by lack of other projects to focus on each students’ weaknesses. I am very careful not to point out flaws from the start. Rather, I ask questions before each exercise to help the students open their ears, and provide very specific small goals for each as well. By working on a minuscule scale we are capitalizing on the lack of colossal goals like school concerts.

An example of this would be asking a student to listen to note lengths. What do they notice about the half notes in an exercise? (Perhaps they are too short, or they are inconsistent lengths). Let the student answer, even if it takes them some time - they might not be used to listening to themselves in this way! Acknowledge their answer, especially if it was difficult for them to discern, as noticing what they hear when they play can serve as an excellent diagnostic tool for the teacher. Then, ask them how they might remedy the issue, and have them play the same excerpt again.

I also provide small over-arching goals for each student. If a student struggles with keeping their headjoint rolled out, I will address this as our main goal at the beginning of the lesson, finding fun ways to provide gentle reminders throughout the lesson. I make sure this goal is written somewhere prominent in their lesson notebook or on a post-it before they leave their lesson.

By structuring lessons in this way, with one large goal (the recital), and more smaller, minute points of focus, I find it easier to build momentum for growth in the winter months. The added benefit is that with a disciplined approach to lessons and practice coming out of the beginning of the new year, it often feels like less work to students when they have to prepare for auditions and concerts in the spring!

*For more posts by Morgann Davis, visit her personal blog at

Friday, January 10, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Joshua Smith

Joshua Smith © Frank J. Lanza, 2013
Powell Artist Joshua Smith was appointed Principal Flute of The Cleveland Orchestra by Maestro Christoph von Dohnányi in 1990 -- when Smith was just 20 years old.  He has performed as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, and orchestral musician across the country and around the globe.  His commitment to chamber music -- and desire to engage new audiences -- led him to develop Ensemble HD along with five Cleveland Orchestra colleagues.  The group's first album, Live at the Happy Dog, was named Best Chamber Music Recording of 2013 by Voix des Arts.

Smith also has a terrific website and blog -- titled "Soloflute?Joshua Smith on playing with love."  Smith posted an interview with one of his former CIM (Cleveland Institute of Music) students, Madeline Lucas.  The interview is in three parts, and we were particularly inspired by one of his responses in Part Three: Teaching and Artistry:

ML: If a student isn't playing expressively, or doesn't seem to be really engaged, how do you motivate her?

JS: Well, you can't really make someone be more musical. But you can, I hope, encourage the possibility by demonstrating that it's possible to be interesting, possible to be committed, and that it's actually more fun to be so. What can irritate me the most when listening to musicians who are recognized for what they do is the realization that there is a lack of personal investment. What this whole thing is about is communication, communicating with passion and intensity, communicating creatively and beautifully. I mean beautifully in a broad sense, here, not that it always has to be pretty. That it certainly always has to be artistically driven. When I begin to sense that someone is not taking the risk to go for that kind of expression, I get frustrated. I share that with students. But, how to help them get better? Everyone is creative. Some people need to be invited to become vulnerable, encouraged to take risks, applauded when they say something in an interesting way. Sometimes, it's a matter of inviting someone to discover something he hadn't considered before, something that can open doors.

Click here to read the full interview on Joshua Smith's blog.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Andersen Etudes, Op.15, No.1

Powell artist Paul Edmund-Davies takes a closer look at the Andersen Studies, Op. 15, No.1 in a video lesson designed to help us play the etude with musicality and technical proficiency.  He discusses a few points to consider to ensure success with the studies in general.  First, Mr. Edmund-Davies tells us that each study has a specific technical challenge, so we must look at it to discover this -- asking ourselves, "why are we playing this?"  He says that it is always important to play an etude with a good tone and to play it musically.  He suggests visually inspecting the etude to uncover difficult passages ahead of time.  Finally, he recommends playing some warm-up exercises before tackling the Andersen studies.

With Etude No.1 of the Op.15 studies, Mr. Edmund-Davies mentions that the study falls mostly within the flute's low to middle range.  He suggests adding depth to the lower range and then working your way up.  You will find the complete lesson in the video clip below: