Friday, March 28, 2014

Purchasing a New Instrument

Cindy Ellis

By Cindy Ellis

Congratulations! You have made the decision to invest in your future as a musician and upgrade your current instrument…and now you have a bewildering array of products to choose from so more decisions need to be made. How to make sense of it all? Here are a few tips!

1.     Decide on a Budget: I always wish that there was a fairy godmother who could wave her wand and grant us the instrument of our dreams…since our dreams know no boundaries, the budget would not be of any consequence! However, back to reality: most of us do have to work within a budget, so realistically decide how much money you have to spend. You will be able to upgrade within your economic means as there are so many instruments to choose from today. It also helps to consider where you are in your musical growth: is this a step up instrument for a high school student? (in other words, are you moving up from your first student flute)? Are you upgrading because you are serious about your studies and need an instrument that can take you into the college audition phase? Are you in college and buying your first professional flute? Are you an amateur buying your first ‘grown up’ flute now that the kids are out of college? Each scenario is different so the process of purchasing an instrument will be different.

2.     Prioritize: it’s not just about options! Getting an instrument that is fully made of precious metals is perhaps the most important thing you can do to improve the quality of your tone. If that is not in your budget, then at LEAST get a solid silver head joint. A fully handmade flute is usually higher priced due to the labor involved, but it is usually a higher quality instrument. Once you make these decisions (which will be determining the instruments prices) there are some options to consider on the body: Open hole (French model), B foot, Offset G key (especially if you have smaller hands), C# trill key (I LOVE this feature as the high G-A trill is superb as a result of this key), and D# roller key.  An open hole flute is really the standard of most professionals today: in fact many contemporary effects require open holes.

The low B foot adds not only the ability to play one note below middle C, it adds the ‘gizmo’ key or high C facilitator, automatically, and the added 1.5 inches of silver give the flute a warmer sound in general. The offset (as opposed to inline) G key is ergonomically helpful and a wonderful option for all to consider: it just feels better to me. IF you have money in the budget for the C# trill, then by all means go for it, and the D# roller is absolutely wonderful to have: I never knew what I was missing before I tried it!

3.     More about Metals: Why the difference? Silver is the most common metal for flutes, but gold, platinum and combinations of metals are available. Some manufactures offer just the riser (the back wall of the embouchure hole) in different metals: it is amazing the difference a platinum riser can make, without the price of an entirely platinum head joint. Gold is lovely to look at but make sure that you are able to handle a heavier metal: it takes more air pressure to make this vibrate. If you are a more experienced player, try a gold headjoint on a silver body: this combination brings you the best of both metals. Some manufacturers layer the metals to get a similar effect.

4.     Keep an open mind: Don’t get ‘tunnel vision’ to a particular brand of flute. Have a trusted friend or your teacher listen to you across the room, and evaluate the flutes without knowing the brand: the results may surprise you. Also, try used flutes: a fine used instrument is less expensive and although maybe not as shiny as a new one, can be a terrific way to find a great flute or piccolo at a reasonable price.

Happy Instrument Shopping!

* To learn more about Cindy, click here to visit her website and here to visit her Powell profile page.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Eyal Ein-Habar on Overcoming Nerves

Many of us have experienced "stage fright" and searched for solutions to overcome this fear.  It can be quite the challenge to perform and not let our nerves get the best of us.  In a recent lesson at the Boston Flute Academy, Powell artist Eyal Ein-Habar, Principal Flute of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, explained his thoughts on the topic.  Although he said there is no secret, his discussion of performing comfortably and with confidence truly inspired us.  We are fortunate and grateful to Mr. Ein-Habar for welcoming us into this lesson so that we, too, may experience and share his advice for successful performances...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Doriot Swyer Interview - Part III

We have come to the third and final segment of the ICA Classics interview with 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 and here to see the second segment.

In this clip, we learn much more about Ms. Dwyer's lesson experiences and how she addressed challenges as an orchestral player in the day and age of being in the minority as a female player.  She briefly discussed one of her sisters, who was a very talented pianist, but who Doriot recalled used to break down and cry quite often.  Ms. Dwyer felt that that was definitely not a route she would take as a musician, stating that she would tell herself, "I can be brave.  I'm not going to try to get anything with tears -- I'm just not going to do that."  She continued, "And it was difficult with conductors, because in some ways they are so gentlemanly to women, and in other ways they are so awful -- for the very same reason -- they don't know what to do about these women."  Of course, "these women" are the female orchestral players.

As the interview progresses, Ms. Dwyer touches on her strategies for working through difficult tempi and the fear of making mistakes.  She discusses having one teacher who told her, "You don't know how to play fast.  You don't know how to control yourself when you play fast."  She said at that point she decided, "I was going to practice them until I got them right!"  She then offers more stories from her high school days and lessons in Evanston, Illinois with Ernest Liegl, former Principal Flutist with the Chicago Symphony.  Recalling their lessons, she remembered him saying, "Let's hear how you play it, and don't worry about mistakes.  Just don't worry about it.  Maybe we don't have to do anything about it.  So, do the best that you can, and let's see what you did with it."  She continues with a discussion of how important it is to practice difficult repertoire with fast tempi slowly, stating, "It doesn't stay difficult if you stay slow and get everything just right, and then take it a little bit faster, and a little bit faster, until you go, 'I never had any difficulty with any technical thing'."

Toward the end of the interview, it is quite clear that Ms. Dwyer built herself a strong foundation for becoming a professional orchestral musician through perseverance, courage, and a level-headed approach to the meeting any musical challenge.  She concludes with a final note on Mr. Liegel's teaching style, which she appreciated for its objectivity.  She says, "He never said anything just to cheer me up.  He would say 'fine' and 'very fine' -- and that was about it!"

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tone Development and Ear Training through Transposition

Susan Levitin
By Susan Levitin
So many students have a disconnect between learning basic technical exercises and integrating them into their playing and musicality.  I have found that using transposition for the intermediate and advanced student has multiple benefits. 

I have also used this technique in teaching beginning theory with instruments only to a group of mixed instruments. In that instance we work with "Happy Birthday" in all keys and use no music.

After the student is reasonably comfortable with all the major scales and arpeggios and understands that scales have set patterns, I choose a simple melody that has no additional accidentals to be transposed into all the keys.  We look at how it is put together, and whether it starts on the tonic or dominant or on another scale degree. 

The first transposition is just changing the key signature to 1/2 step above or below the original note.  The letter names of the notes remain the same. So we might go from C Major to C# major. 

The next transposition goes to a letter name above or below the original key.  If the original key is F, then we go to G. I use a visual approach with the transposition going either up or down to the very next line or space. A note on a line will then go to the space above or below and the note on the space will go to the line above or below. (ex. F-G)

The appropriate key signature needs to be applied.  We review the scale of the key and the tonic and dominant chords in the new key.  

After that we transpose further away from the original key using the visual context of two lines or two spaces up for transposition of a fifth above or one line and a space up for transposition to a fourth above. 

The visual reference gives the students a clear tool to use while developing their sense of pitch using cerebral knowledge as well as auditory.  

Transposition works with tone development and intonation because the student tries to make the melody sound the same in all keys.

After the initial transposition we go to more complicated melodies with additional accidentals and then analyze those patterns.

I use the "Tone Development Through Interpretation" by Moyse as the source for the transposed melodies. Many of them are in the "belle canto" style which encourages the student to play with an expressive tone.  Then I work with the advanced student using the tuner to compare pitch tendencies in the various keys.

Transposition is an additional tool to bring variety and added interest to your teaching as well as help your students to sharpen their skills.