Category: musician

Classically trained, Dawn is a concert-level flutist and pianist who now works exclusively with her musician-composer-arranger husband.


Fuss, Fume, Bother

Rage, castigation, derision: Not only do we have constant contention on the main streams of social media, but we’ve got it in the groups and communities, as well, including, I’m sorry to say, the main flute group on FB. Can we concentrate on playing our flutes and discussing (with civil tongues and benevolent perspectives) the nuances of effective performance? No. Can’t seem to.

I took to lurking, then left the main flute subreddit over on Reddit.com — too much cliquishness support for questionable, even erroneous ‘expert’ advice. Then, here on FB, after one of the skirmishes that blew up over much ado about nothing, I took to mostly lurking on Flute Forum, https://www.facebook.com/groups/fluteforum/ . This isn’t because I don’t enjoy a lot of the people there, but because, again, there’s this contentiousness that creeps into any discussion, and anyone is fair game for contemptuous, derogatory treatment by cliques of a different mindset.

Then, of course, there’s the ‘show and tell’ that really should be relegated to one’s own personal FB pages and the “buy lessons/master classes from me” posts. Oh, yeah, and the “buy tickets for my performance this weekend at JackAndApes” posts.  These things I can do without.

You know, I really am on social media to interact with people, not to look at advertisements and duns for attention. I want to be part of flute discussion groups because I wanted to interact with other flutists. It doesn’t work, though. It’s become just like the present political and socio-cultural landscape — in a roil, a CONSTANT roil. It’s all fuss, fume, and bother, so, honestly, why do I bother.

Dawn's Azumi flute


Knowing the Next Note, Not Just Reading Ahead — Flute Technique

Dawn's Azumi flute


I haven’t seen this particular and helpful flute technique mentioned. There’s discussion about embouchure, about fingers, about breathing, about tone, but not much about something so simple and easy to do that it should go into every flutist’s (maybe even every musician’s) knowledge base. It was taught to me, so I’ll pass it along. It’s ‘knowing the next note’.

I’m not talking about reading ahead, where we are reading one, two, or more measures ahead of what we’re actually playing.  No. This technique has nothing at all to do with whether you are playing something that you are reading off a score or something you are playing from memory.

‘Knowing the next note’ means: Have the next note you are going to play after the one you are presently playing already in your head. When you do this, your brain already has set up for the transition.

A lot of players play ‘in the moment’ only, note by note. They may know the piece inside and out, they may read ahead, but they’re concentrating solely upon the note they are playing — its intonation, its quality, its dynamics…a lot of things, including quality and type of vibrato. But. They fail to ‘know the next note’, much less the entire phrase, both of which are exceedingly helpful, giving your body, via your brain’s mental preparations, a head start in preparing for the fine motor skill changes that lead to smooth, clean transitions, note-to-note, regardless of difficult fingerings or of interval jumps. Here’s how:

When playing, simply ‘know the next note’. So, if I’m playing a first register A and the next note is a third register E, I already ‘know’ that, next, I will be playing that third register E, no matter how fast or slowly that E comes after the A. And as I’m playing that third register E, I ‘know’ that the next note I will play will be a second register D. Then, as I’m playing that second register D, I ‘know’ I will be playing a first register C# after that.

The ‘know’ is an active ‘knowing’, instant by instant, note by note.

If it’s a run that comes after, then, ‘know’ the run, and, especially, ‘know’ that run’s target note while playing the previous note.

In essence, you’re focused on the note you’re playing, but, underneath, are actively aware of the note you’re going to next. And it also helps to know the entire phrase in your head in the background, behind the active ‘playing this, knowing that next is this’ technique.

This is a ‘brain technique’ that, once mastered, effortlessly does magical things to performance for smoothing out transitions between even the most difficult fingering changes and intervals one must play.

Hope this helps you.

Azumi flute


For Each Note?! Really?!

Dawn's Azumi flute


I got a good chuckle yesterday. Somebody I know was working on intonation, clarity, and truing pitch, and, in frustration, turned around and asked, “Do you have to adjust your embouchure for each and every note on the flute?”

“Yes,” I answered, not bothering to clarify with specifics and cases of exception, because I know this individual doesn’t like the ‘if’s, ‘and’s, and ‘maybe’s.

“For each note?!”

“Set for each note, yes — each note and each type or quality of tone.”

“Really!” — snapped in disgust. “I should have taken up electronic keyboard. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about embouchure and I’d always be in tune!”

They turned around and stared at me, then. “For each and every note you play on the flute, you adjust your embouchure?!”

“Yes.” Now, I added in a small clarification, inaccurate at best in the interest of keeping my response brief and comfortable for them. “Unless it’s a speedy run where you start here on this note, then aim for the target note of that run. Then, it’s a sort of smooth transition through the embouchure adjustments.”

They sighed in disgust, rubbed their face, complained about muscle fatigue, and put their instrument in its stand.

“So every note you play, you set that note with your ear and with embouchure adjustments!” they stated.

“Yes.”

They shook their head. “I can’t even imagine how long that took you to get perfected.”

I didn’t respond. The truth is, it takes a long time to master a wind instrument, because of embouchure requirements. It’s taxing; it’s long, tedious, slow work, note by note up and down the chromatic scale, the major and minor scales…. It’s working slowly and methodically through all the intervals. It’s doing a lot of long tone work and even more harmonic work. It’s not something mastered in a year or two. Maybe four if you work really, really hard, but usually at least a decade. I didn’t mention that. I know that knowledge wouldn’t sit well, not with a beginning clarinetist.


Music as a Career – NO.

Learning an instrument is wonderful. Learning the written language of music does wonderful things in brain development — yes, really. Best, the experience of playing with others under a decent conductor is an exceptional experience, as I cover here in “On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra“. Learning to play an instrument with an eye to the skill and art of it as a career, however, is not a wise choice. Let’s put that notion to bed, right now.

At any given moment across the globe, there might be eleven (11) — count them — well-paid, not-so-well-paid, and unpaid openings for, for example, flutists, mostly in temp, part-time, or teaching positions. Same is true for performance artists of other instruments. The available openings probably won’t be something that’s your dream job. If one of them is, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t get it, because there’s a lot of “who knows who” involved in landing those positions, never mind that there’s usually a better player competing for that rare-as-hen’s-teeth (hens don’t have teeth) job.

Orchestras are vanishing — too expensive to maintain. Performance venues are more interested in contracting for sports events than for music events. The public is more interested in old, has-been rockers or in the latest young pop star who’s good at stirring their hormones or giving them a dopamine high than in a bunch of skilled musicians performing flawlessly. If it ain’t got glam and bling, if it ain’t got some schtick, forget it.

Want to teach music for a living? Really? Okay. But real teaching jobs are, again, rare. In the U.S., public school music departments are being slashed, as are art departments. In fact, all the creative arts are being reduced to unpaid extracurricular activities. The money is in sports, also an extracurricular activity, but usually quite well funded by local booster clubs. Music? Nah. Art? Nah. Drama? Nah. Go to an upper crust school, and, yes, music, art, drama, and all sorts of other things, like horsemanship and archery, are supported. But these are all activities to broaden scope, not taken as serious career pursuits.

There are, in fact, less and less opportunities in every type of career, but especially music, and more and more competitors for those fewer opportunities. So, unless you want to spend your life chasing after success in entrepreneurial endeavors, which means get a degree in marketing, not music, don’t focus on performing, or even teaching music as a career.

At best, you can look for a future to utilize your skills as a musician and a teacher as an avocation, something you do on the side to maybe generate some ‘pin money‘, but you’ll be hard-pressed unless you’re absolutely the hands down best in the world to expect to put bread on the table and money in the bank with a career in music. That’s the reality now and in the future. There are just too many people competing for dwindling opportunities and not enough public interest to sustain you as a musician.


Glass Curtain Shattered in Sandpoint Last Night

I met a cellist, Sam Minker, at Kathy’s veterinary hospital Wednesday last. I was staring at an unwanted Windows update that had interrupted my computer fix, chatting about our latest recording project with Georgette, the resident receptionist with whom I have a humor-filled rapport. This twenty-something guy leans in over the counter and says, “What did you say?”

I thought he was asking about my grumbling about Windows 10, but, no, he wanted to know about the music project …so I told him a bit about Zentao Music. He seemed genuinely excited to meet a working musician.

Outside, he mentioned that he was performing, and, after a harried day of interruptions, I changed clothes, ran a brush through my hair, and carted twenty bucks with me for a ticket. (Forrest opted to stay home, which was probably a good thing, though, originally, I’d arranged to go because I wanted Forrest to meet Sam.)

Anyway, I pulled in about quarter to seven, went in the main door — a mistake — then, with guidance, found the ticket person, got processed, and found a seat. The auditorium was about two-thirds filled.

Young dancers were first, and their pirouettes were quite good, and the last performer was graceful and elegant. Next came a has-been jazz pianist/vocal act. I won’t say anything more about it, thanks. Now came the trio I’d come to see. Comprising piano-forte, cello, and violin, the trio began with Brahms. It was going quite well, indeed. Then, the grand piano broke.

Really.

Literally.

The pianist, an old hand, got up and engaged the audience about the problem. Someone got up and, with the aid of a flashlight, began to address the problem — the whole upper end had gone dead silent. Somebody in the audience offered that they had jumper cables in their pick-up, which got delighted laughter from the audience — that’s my town, thanks. That broke the ice, the stiffness, the stiltedness of the evening that had been rather palpable. The glass curtain, I call it. Even when you all pretty much know each other, there’s the us and there’s the them on both sides, audience and performers. The gift is to be able to shatter that curtain and have the performance be a co-experience with performers and audience literally ‘in concert’ with one another. It happened here. Wonderfully. All thanks to the piano tuner having erred earlier in the day when reassembling the grand piano after tuning it up. It was a blessing, and everybody benefited, the performers keeping their aplomb, the audience rallied to their cause. Great stuff, that.


If You are a Flutist, Beginning or Advanced, I Suggest This Book

This is a very slim volume written by my teacher, the pre-eminent flutist, Professor Richard Hahn. It’s only $5, so it isn’t going cause you any pain and may, in fact, bring a good bit of ease and practical help.


On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra

Azumi flute

I found this quote a while back when following a conversation about the future of classical music and classical music performers.

…Orchestral players are trained to become highly-skilled performers who can turn little black dots and lines and all kinds of mysterious indications into a free-sounding musical experience. The exhilarating experience of playing in the middle of a group of some 90 musicians with an inner freedom and [at] the same time, perfect inter-relatedness with the others as if being a member of one large body, as a communal achievement, an experience where the dead letter of the text has been internalized so strongly that the music freely floats as one voice in a communal synthesis, is the freedom which has been struggled for by years and years of study and training, carried by love for the art form. It is difficult to explain this if you are not an orchestral musician of a (good) orchestra yourself….  — JOHN BORSTLAP July 28, 2017

Yet, in my opinion, Mr. Borstlap describes only the very surface reality of the experience that is playing in a good, even great, orchestra, conducted by a good, and better, great conductor. There is absolutely no experience that I know of, save maybe that of performing in a seriously superior choir, that comes even close to it, certainly not the common experiences most players have in their performance history. It’s an immersive experience that transports the performer to heights and breadths of humble — yes, humble — awe and ecstasy. One is humbled that one has been gifted this experience, that one is worthy of it and of contributing to it.  And when it happens again and again, time upon time, then the realization that what you have in that group of musicians, bonded together by a conductor and by the scores you play, is priceless beyond scope. Everything else musical pales by comparison.

If there were one wish I could have for anyone who plays or yearns to play an instrument, it would be this experience. Sadly, that’s not possible. I could plant people amidst such an orchestral experience, yet they’d never really feel it. Oh, sure. They’d feel themselves immersed in the power of that sea of sound, in the energy of the musicians creating that sound, but they would lack one critical element — contributing to the creating of that moving sea of symphony. There is, in fact, nothing like it, and the proof comes at the end.

In the silence that follows the last note of the last bar played, breathing as one, the orchestra stills. And the audience, enraptured, holds that silence, seemingly interminably, until, all at once, something breaks the spell and, as one, erupts into applause, whistles, and cheers, tears streaming from some, laughter from others, giddiness or radiance from yet still others.

Or sometimes the music hasn’t even stopped when the audience breaks to its feet in wild applause, overwhelmed with the emotions stirred in them.

When it happens in rehearsal, though, and it does quite often when playing with a good orchestra, we all just sit, stunned by what we’ve accomplished, in a long moment of shared and humbled awe at ourselves and each other — at the fact that we just created a ‘moment’ in sound …that what we did was magical.

This is why I played. Those days are long over for me, but this is, to me, the ultimate experience in playing. It surpasses anything else one can do as a classical performer, and I wish, I really do, that every player could experience this, even just once.

 


My Daily Flute Repertoire Go-Through List

One of the issues I face is TIME. It takes time to work up and then keep repertoire perform-able, and, never knowing what I’m going to be asked to play, I have to keep them all in the pipe (quite literally when one plays the flute). Added to that is all the foot switching required when you use electronic effects, and that’s the part that I usually skimp on — always a mistake. Invariably, it’s the stuff I skimp on that comes back to bite me, because that’s sure to be the piece or pieces that Forrest will decide he wants us to work on, or even record and video. And, of COURSE, if he wants to do a live recording session, it’s guaranteed that I’ll have neglected to cut my hair and look something of a disheveled urchin. (Of course.)

It takes a lot of time and meticulous attention to the electronics to set up for a live recording session. Because of Forrest’s driving schedule this winter, which has been as brutal, the roads having been the worst winter driving ever in Alberta and, especially, British Columbia, we just haven’t had the time to do any more live recording/video sessions. I know that it’s coming, though, so, below, I’ve pasted the list of my daily repertoire practice.

Some of these are really simple to play …until you add in messing about with the stomp boxes. Some of them, of course, are rhythmic nightmares for me, some just a torture of finger snarls. But all of it is tough when trying to keep my eyes on both music and the switches I have to hit just a millisecond before the effect(s) is or are is supposed to kick in.

In classical playing, one keeps a goodly amount of pieces worked up — about a hundred-and-fifty or so. With the stuff we play, though, I’m lucky it’s only about fifty-some, right now. Here’s my daily task: (And, yes, some of these are already recorded and videoed, but I didn’t feel like editing the list, because, honestly, I still have to keep up the ones we’ve already recorded.)

1. Alone Again Or
2. Another Brick in the Wall/Goodbye Blue Sky
3. Aqualung
4. Baby I Love Your Way
5. Beth
6. Black Hole Sun
7. Black Magic Woman
8. Bungle in the Jungle
9. Carry On Wayward Son
10. Cheap Sunglasses
11. Closer to the Heart
12. Cross-Eyed Mary
13. Dog Breath Variations
14. Duetto
15. Dust in the Wind
16. Eye of the Tiger
17. FM
18. Fooling Yourself
19. Hold Your Head Up
20. Hotel California
21. Icarus
22. Idiot Bastard Son
23. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
24. JS Tull Medley
25. Lazy
26. Let’s Make the Water Turn Black
27. Let’s Move to Cleveland
28. Light My Fire
29. Living in the Past
30. Locomotive Breah
31. Long Distance Run Around
32. Marqueson’s Chicken
33. Mission Impossible
34. Money
35. More Than a Feeling
36. My Favorite Things
37. Never Been Any Reason
38. Norwegian Wood
39. Nothing Else Matters
40. Oh No
41. Oye Como Va
42. Peaches in Regalia
43. Porgy & Bess
44. Roundabout
45. Roxanne
46. Scarborough Fair/Sounds of Silence
47. She’s Not There
48. Siciliano
49. Sing or the Day
50. Summertime
51. Time of the Season
52. Uncle Meat
53. Waltz in A Minor
54. Walking on the Moon
55. Watermelon in Easter Hay
56. What’s New in Baltimore
57. Woman in Love


A Followup on ‘Dawn’s Hands’

The responses have been interesting and mostly positive and supportive. It’s heart-warming when you find out that putting yourself on-the-line, front and center, for public response, nets you a crop of PMs via your website contact forms from people, young and adult, to whom your message holds significance to their own situations.

I think I really had no idea just how much ‘what you look like doing it’ would garner retaliatory remarks from the self-defined ‘beautiful people’ out there, not until we began posting our music videos. I really had no idea how many others had been negatively affected by people responding to their videos.  (People say I don’t get out much, in the real world and on the Net, and, yes, I guess they’re right. 😀 )   Since I posted the “Dawn’s Hands” video and “My Hands” blog post, though, I’ve got a better grasp, I think. These are just a sampling of the positive ones I’ve received via various contact vehicles.

“You answering that flute [expletive removed] has given my daughter new determination to start sharing her flute videos, again. Thank you.”

“I quit posting to [removed] and [removed] because people made fun of me. I still don’t think I will share anymore, but I like that you spoke up for us.”

“I uploaded a video of me playing and it was like I painted hit me on my face. It made me cry. Even my friends sided with them. You made it okay. Thanks for doing that.”

There are a bunch more, but the best, so far, I think, is this one:

“You made me brave again. Maybe it’s okay to be me.”

This comes all because I responded publicly to one of the critical private communications I’ve received about our music videos. I responded because I wanted to address the sheer mean-heartedness. I never wanted to do videos of us playing. That was my husband’s desire. I just enjoyed playing, again. But it all happened. And the Net being what it is, the negativity was bound to come, bringing the desire to retreat back to my safe, text-and-image-only world.

But, why should I be ashamed of me and the parts of me that has brought me success and joy in life? Why should anyone? So I responded, publicly. I wanted it known that, no matter the criticism, nobody, not me, nor anyone else, has to quit just because somebody’s mean. And, on the Net, you can very effectively respond in a way that calls the criticism out without getting into a private flame war and without publicly embarrassing the mean-spirited in front of others. Their anonymity is preserved, but their actions are front and center with public opinion, come what may, to the negative or positive, rendering judgement upon the situation.

I put myself on the line with my My Hands post and its corresponding video, and I’m happy to say that, yes, I think my goal is achieved. That these youngsters as well as the adults who have PM’d to say that my post and video has given them the reinforcement they need to be unashamed of themselves, despite negative feedback, makes it worthwhile.

And, to the person who said, “You’ve got a lot of chutzpah,” yes, I guess I do, and that’s a good thing, I think. 😀


Those Darned Holes!

Dawn's Azumi flute

Hover over the links to learn about them before clicking. The links are all set to open in a new tab or window if on a tablet or PC.

Both the flutes I play, my beloved new Haynes and my Azumi, are what we flutists call ‘open hole’.  Since suffering a broken elbow, one of my ring fingers doesn’t work quite how it used to.  So, for that particular key, I’ve had to resort to using a little silicon plug to fill the hole.  Plugging it brought about a discovery.  First some back history, though.

When I play, due to bad training at the onset of my learning way back when, I have ‘high fingers’.  A lot of flutists do, and it’s all from being started wrong.  I’ve got another problem that is compounded by my high fingers.  I’m indelicate, especially when playing intensely and with enthusiasm for a piece.  Happily immersed, I’m completely unconscious that I’m pounding down the keys with my fingers, fingers which are quite strong and ‘athletic’ from riding horses since before I could ride a tricycle, from mucking stalls, hefting heavy hay bales, and all the other associated physical labor that goes along with girls and horses, fences and barns.  That pounding of the keys wasn’t noticeable when I was playing classically, either solo or in an orchestra.  We never used microphones or amplification, so the sound didn’t carry out to the audience.

Enter husband Forrest who brings things like condenser microphones into my life.  Touchy, sensitive, can-hear-an-ant-walk-across-the-floor torture devices, condenser mics pick up everything(Please don’t sneeze, cough, or laugh, or you’ll blow the mic’s diaphragm, rendering this very expensive and intimidating piece of equipment to the trash bin.)  It didn’t matter if it was the huge monster mic that hangs suspended in its grotesque-looking mount or the tiny one on my headset hovering by my cheek.  Both picked up every touch of hand, breath, and finger on the flute, every shift of a sheet of music.  If I shifted my hand, it came through like a desperate grab for survival.  When I inhaled through my nose and my mouth, something we do to get as much air into our lungs as fast as possible, it sounded like a dragon sniffing out dinner, while inhaling just through my mouth produced a slightly better result — a gryphon readying to roar.  (We went with inhaling by mouth as preferable, though that significantly reduces the amount of air I can pull in the nanosecond usually allotted me by rock music.)  The fingers?  There seemed no hope for those, unless I really, really concentrated on finger technique instead of playing music, and, as any musician knows, no performance goes well if you’re not letting go every inhibition to ‘let it happen’.

But, listening, I noticed that one key wasn’t popping …or, should I say, wasn’t popping as much — the plugged hole.

Hmmm.  Time to experiment.

Plug the rest of the open holes.  …And, what do you know!  The popping was cut in half, a great improvement.

‘French’, or open holed, flutes have their advantages, especially up in the flute’s fourth register (piccolo territory).  It’s a register only used in obscure pieces that nobody much ever listens to or plays, unless in a flute competition or for a special performance featuring a composer’s works.  Of course, open holes do have other uses, as well.  They allow one to play a flutist’s version of chords, bend notes, and play quarter tones …among other abstract uses.  For standard playing, however, plateau flutes, that is, flutes which don’t have open hole keys, work just fine, and, despite opinion to the contrary, don’t negatively affect tone quality and resonance, at least not to any but the most infinitesimal degree, if that.  Plugging up the holes wouldn’t matter for most of what I’m asked to play now.

My experiment and opinion aside, the real test came when we had our next recording session.  And, sure enough, though my right hand’s index and, especially, my middle finger still smacked the keys with such vigor that, thanks to the condenser mic, you’d think somebody was popping bubble-wrap during the session, the sound was much, much quieter.  Darn.  If only I’d known before we started laying down tracks long months ago.


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