April ArtStart Reflection

A very belated ArtStart blog for April, as I have been off travelling then settling into my new place. That said, a lot has happened, and the next two months will tick a lot of things off the to-do list for this year. Here’s the digest:

I started my Practical Financial Management for Small Businesses course at City University London on April 28th, and have now completed two out of ten classes. Though not obviously the first thing I would spend arts development money on, I do think it’s probably one of the most important sets of skills I’ll be filing away from this year. A basic understanding of finance, I hope, will set me in good stead for managing chamber ensembles in the future, and presenting clear budgets for funding applications. That said, I’m definitely not the typical student in my class – most are starting out as small business entrepreneurs. So far we have covered double entry, income statements and balance sheets, The maths isn’t difficult, and I’m managing the concepts quite well. I’ve managed to get all my ‘homework’ done on the train home after class!

Now that I’m following my own plan with practice, I’ve had a bit more time to start working with the AirTurn foot pedal and my iPad. I’ve learned that I can’t just upload PDFs as they come because scrolling down a page with the foot pedal makes me loose my place. Instead, after reading this excellent blog by UK clarinetist Heather Roche on using an iPad in performance, I’ve been using MS powerpoint to do a bit of a cut and paste job. If possible, I’d still prefer to turn the page during rests, thought am finding that I’m getting used to the footpedal. Some scores are also really small, and so putting then into powerpoint allows me to blow them up a bit! The best thing I’m finding about this set-up is that I can change things quickly, and without having to worry about printing at all. However, it does mean that I need to make sure my iPad is charged before practice sessions!

This week I’m starting my lessons with UK alto and bass flautist extraordinaire Carla Rees, which I’m very excited about. Back in October I escaped up to Windsor for a day, and I’ve been revisiting the notes and advice from that lessons. We talked a lot about alto flute sound, and making sure that I was producing the biggest possible sound on the instrument. Carla suggested I play Bach, and so I’ve been playing quite a bit in the last week. Rather than return to flute music (I’m keen to play it, but with a little more distance from Trevor’s course), I found a transposed version of the 3rd violin partita for treble recorder, and have been particularly enjoying the Gavotte and Rondeau movement. The prelude is a great exercise for intervals, but not great for playing all the way through on flute – there really is nowhere to breathe!

In the coming lessons, I want to work both on alto flute fundamentals, and get my teeth into some good contemporary music. There is so much wonderful music out there that my wish list is probably already too long!

Things are also starting to look exciting for the SoundSCAPE Festival in July. As well as the commission pieces for ensembles that we work on there, I’m also working with some composers on solo flute pieces that I’m hoping to perform. Last year at the festival, I did some work on the method book The Vocalization of the Flute by US flautist Jane Rigler. It’s a good step-by-step guide to singing and playing, which gives lots of exercises and studies. Ordering it has been on my to-do list for the last nine months, and I’ve finally got round to that. I should have done it much earlier – in PDF form the book is only US$10! I’m hoping to prepare some of the trickier studies to work on at the festival.

As for my US trip…it’s still at the same stage it was last month, waiting on the results of things back in Australia. I’m trying not to get too frustrated by this, and rather to enjoy what I’m up to at the moment and get everything I can out of the experience!

Day 65 – December 4th – Mei

After gearing myself up for a tough day playing contemporary music for Trevor, I was pleasantly surprised how things turned out. I still didn’t fare too well in morning warm-ups – though my Reichert exercises were actually quite good, I wasn’t able to pick up on the pattern of a new scales exercise very well, nor play it at the speed Trevor was already setting! Looks like I’ll be adding that one to my practice list for the weekend.

To my surprise, Mei went quite well; Trevor could see that I mostly understood the music and had worked on it, and as a result I ended up having a really productive and rewarding lesson. There was one fundamental thing with the piece that I hadn’t thought about, and that’s the use of vibrato. We’ve been playing ‘standard’ repertoire for so long now that it didn’t even cross my mind to think about playing senza vibrato (and I had deliberately not listened to any recordings), which was a silly mistake. The piece mimics shakuhachi playing, and so “of course” should be played without vibrato, as in the Japanese musical culture it’s an ornament. Lesson duly learned.

From there, however, Trevor kept pushing me to play the music with sharper grace notes, more convincing pitch bends and a greater intensity of direction and dynamics. I enjoyed myself, and when his final comment was “some very good things happening there, but you need to do a lot of work playing without vibrato” I had to stop myself leaping for joy. His praise is so rare that it really means something when it does come!

We went to a nearby pub for dinner, and have just got back. It was a nice place – The Five Bells – and the food was yummy. Everything is starting to feel very Christmassy, especially since we head out into ‘civilisation’ so infrequently.

Day 56 – November 25th – Something old and something new

Rechiert exercises continue to be a pain, but I am slowly improving with both memory and speed. I can get through the whole cycle of Reichert No. 2 without looking at the book, though often loose confidence the first time through in a key. However the second (or third for harder keys) time through I can play it quite quickly, so I think part of it is now developing confidence in my memory rather than getting the notes in.

Today was a bit of a juxtaposition of musical styles. I started off the day with another good stint of traverso practice in preparation for playing in class tomorrow. The allegro movement of Telemann’s Fantasia No. 6 in D minor isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely sounding a lot better than a week ago. Some passages might almost come across as fluent. I think I unknowingly picked quite a tricky fantasia to learn; D minor has F naturals, B flats and quite often C naturals as well! Then there’s the odd G sharp thrown in for good measure whenever the music heads for the dominant! I’m looking at it as a good thing though – picking a piece in D or G major would have meant that I avoided most cross-fingerings. It shows how much I’ve learned that I could actually sightread the C major fantasia quite well this morning!

Later in the day, I Skyped a friend in Australia to put the finishing touches to an application for the New Music Miniseries (run by the New Music Network) next year. We’ve put together a concert of flute and bass trombone music, along with some potential new commissions to expand the currently rather slim repertoire. Who knows whether we’ll get the New Music Network’s support, but either way I really hope we can make the concert happen.

I then finished off the afternoon back in the Baroque, learning the minuets from J.S. Bach’s Sonata in C major BWV 1033 for class tomorrow. Trevor has assigned everyone different movements of the C and E major sonatas, with the aim to discuss Baroque style in general and get a good idea of how to play Bach. I’m quite happy to have fewer notes than usual to learn – more time on technique and studies!

I suppose my little gem of wisdom from today is that diversity is wonderful, and that it must be relished. I have the opportunity to engage with, play and dream about beautiful music from so many different eras, as well as (hopefully) to help in the creation of more. Vlve la différence, vive la musique!

SoundSCAPE Concert 3: Sudbury Guitar Trio

9pm, Sunday July 7th, Church of San Materno, Maccagno, Italy

Though almost flawless on both a technical and ensemble level, this concert of works for guitar trio failed for the most part to excite me. I’m not sure whether it’s because of the available contemporary repertoire for this ensemble, or rather because of the group’s personal musical preferences, but all the works in the first half sounded rather similar! At no clear point was there any texture other than three guitars playing together, which created a wash of colour where I was keen for a little more definition. Very few of the instrument’s extended techniques were properly explored, and though the musical language was undoubtedly contemporary, there seemed to be nothing about any one work or movement that made it stand out from the others.

Thank goodness, then, for the three SoundSCAPE commissions which concluded the concert! Each of the three composers had contemplated the capabilities of the ensemble, coming to a range of conclusions as to how to make it sparkle. It was here, I felt, that the ensemble was used to its greatest effect, with challenging use of extended techniques in Mutations by Devon Yasamune Toyotomi. However, the stand-out work of the concert was lace/leaf by Lydia Brindamour, using delicate, spacious gestures to great effect. After the deluge of notes and textural wash present in so many of the other works, this care for time and the minute came as a welcome, meditative repose.

SoundSCAPE Concert 2: Resound Duo

New music, soprano and percussion seem made to go together, and the Resound Duo of Jennifer and Tyson Voigt certainly didn’t disappoint. Then again, they are married!

The relatively short program featured two duos: selections from Alan Smith’s Songs of Wandering and Matthew Shaver’s Songs of Liberation, as well as a performance of the Berio Sequenza III (soprano) and Le Corps a Corps (percussion) by Georges Aperghis. It was a stunning selection, opened with Jennifer Voigt’s captivating rendition of the Sequenza. Bubbling and murmuring, Jennifer’s mark was made by her expressive eyes and thorough commitment to the musical line.

Le Corps a Corps, placed third on the program, was at once intriguing and utterly captivating. The piece calls for a combination of zarb (a small hand-held African drum) and voice to produce highly syntactical percussive lines that finally break into speech (in French) at the work’s climax. As with both the duo works, it was performed from memory, and Tyson Voigt’s engagement with the music and his audience was absolute.

The wonderful thing about this duo was their sense of dramatic persona. Complete musical understanding as much as their performance from memory let nothing get in the way of their communication of ideas to the audience. Both the Smith and the Shaver were executed with complete focus and admirable musical intent. Without the constraints of a score, Jennifer was free to walk around the stage, using this to great dramatic advantage in the narrative arc of Songs of Liberation in particular. Thought the concert was long enough to showcase the duo’s diverse colour palette and incredible energy, I could easily have listened to more!