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Q and A with Jennifer Gunn

Flute Talk Editors | February 2016

    Jennifer M. Gunn joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2005 under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. Since joining the CSO, she has also performed with their MusicNow Series soloing on both flute and piccolo. She also performs as a chamber musician with the Rembrandt Chamber Players, Chicago Chamber Musician’s, The Bach Festival, and Music of the Baroque. She was recently a guest artist on both flute and piccolo at the Sunflower Music Festival, St. Bart’s Music Festival, and the Steamboat Strings Festival. She also gives masterclasses around the country and teaches both flute and piccolo at the Orford Arts Center. A native of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, Gunn is a graduate of Duquesne University  where she studied with Robert Langevin and Rhian Kenny. She is married to Jonathan Gunn, principal clarinet of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the couple splits their time between Cincinnati and Chicago. 

How do you align the piccolo headjoint with the body?
    I align the center of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys. I do the same on the flute. I believe this is a personal decision as the alignment of the headjoint depends on the comfort of the hand position and freedom of the embouchure hole.

How do you care for your wood piccolos?
    I try to have my piccolos worked on twice a year, if possible. The CSO schedule is very busy, so I try to have two piccolos in good shape at all times.

What alternate fingerings do you use on a regular basis?
    I do not use that many alternate fingerings. I use a sharp high C# fingering and take my right hand pinky off for the high F# in the slow solo in Shostakovich Symphony No. 6.
Left hand – Middle finger and Ring finger
Right hand – Middle finger, Ring Finger and pinky
No thumb.

How do you warmup on the flute and piccolo?
    I practice long tones with my tuner on both flute and piccolo as I often play both instruments in the orchestra. What I have to play determines which instrument gets priority. My favorite piccolo book is The Piccolo Study Book by Patricia Morris. This is a book of etudes that Morris has compiled for effective practicing. I have just started using Nicola Mazzanti’s The Mazzanti Method, Daily Exercises for Piccolo in my practicing and teaching and am enjoying it too.

Do you have any tuning tricks when playing in orchestra?
    I practice quite a bit with my tuner. I work on basic long tones with the tuner and then also practice playing with a drone on the tuner. With a steady pitch being held by the tuner, I practice intervals as well as just one note at a time. When tuning with the orchestra, I first tune my A with my woodwind colleagues. Then when the oboist gives the third A for the strings, I tune quietly again. Most of the music I play is either with the high woodwinds or with the higher violins. Sometimes the piccolo part is independent from the other woodwinds, and I play alone with the strings.

What are your thoughts about playing with vibrato?
    I believe that both the flute and the piccolo are primarily melodic instruments, and it is natural to use vibrato. Whatever instrument you are playing, the vibrato should fit inside of the tone of the dynamic being played. Generally, the listener should hear the tone of the sound and not necessarily notice the vibrato.

Do you primarily single or double tongue?
    Since I started playing piccolo full time, I do find that I single tongue more often and faster than before. I tend to use single tonguing more than other articulation choices when playing the piccolo. I do practice single, double, and triple tonguing both on the piccolo and the flute.

What at the top five or ten orchestral excerpts for piccolo?
    There are so many choices. Some of my favorites are Bartok Concerto for Orchestra (movement 3), Stravinsky Firebird, and Shostakovich Symphonies Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10…(well all of them), and anything by Ravel. This is harder question than I thought. I really love playing the piccolo and although some piccolo solos are more challenging than others, I enjoy every one of them. If anyone out there really wants to be a piccolo player in a major orchestra, start by learning every excerpt in Jack Wellbaum’s Orchestral Excerpts for Piccolo with piano accompaniment. When you feel in control of those excerpts, turn to Piccolo Practice Book by Trevor Wye and Patricia Norris and learn it cover to cover.

Any advice for the novice?  
  I believe that anyone can enjoy playing the piccolo. The piccolo is just a tiny flute, and you should be able to sing through it like the flute. If you can keep that in mind, just start enjoying it as much as you enjoy your flute. Just remember to keep the tuner close by.