In response to Patricia George’s article on studying Andersen, Op. 30 (January 2018) Patrick Dillery adds the following observations and ideas to learning and performing etudes.
I still remember practicing Andersen Op. 30 in the kitchen while my mom graded papers after a long day of teaching. She would always remark how she liked what I was playing and often asked what the name of the piece was. I invariably answered, “Oh, that was number 4 in E minor or number 2 in A minor.” She was right. These etudes should have had names. If they had had a name, I would have quickly known what the character I was trying to convey to the listener. When assigning Andersen, Op. 30, No. 3, I often play the etude through for the student and ask, “Does it sound happy or sad, upbeat or sentimental, bright or cloudy?” Students are good artists, and they always correctly answer regarding the character.
Of course, before working on the character of a piece, flutists should solve the technical aspects of the etude. I discuss the tonality with the flutist. This helps us decide which key(s) to prepare for the technical demands of the etude. These theoretical materials might include scales, thirds, arpeggios, etc. Aside from the obvious scale patterns found in the method books, I encourage students to invent their own scale patterns based on the patterns found in the etude. The end result of this practice is that students learn creative ways to practice scales and begin to understand the compositional tools composers use.
Once the technical aspects are under control, students can begin to interpret the etude. If the melodic notes are imbedded in a mass of accompaniment notes, I have them circle the melodic notes or the notes they wish to bring out. The melody is sometimes more apparent and obvious than in others.
Andersen, Op. 15, No. 3 is an example where the melody is the first note of each group of the slurred notes. After playing this etude for students, they will say this is the character of a waltz. Sometimes I ask what scenario they could imagine to accompany the etude and the answer might be a country dance or a Parisian Café. At this point, I have them write a title for the etude at the top of the page. Each time when practicing, they see the title, and it helps them on the road to discovery and expression.
We also identify the sections or form of the etude and explore how this knowledge adds to the character of the piece. Sometimes I like to think that each new section is a new character in the story. I also have students practice the sections out of order. This helps organize the music in their mind. When performing, this exercise helps flutists tell the story more clearly. Other times I have students play a fast etude at a slower pace and vice versa.
If the etude has many trills, I have students play the etude without the trills to highlight the melody. Before adding the trills back in, we discuss the purpose of the trills – whether they are melodic or harmonic.
I also have flutists experiment with playing opposite dynamics and articulations. Creative students learn that dynamics are not just soft and loud but are also shifts in mood or changes of color. Playing passages in different rhythms is also helpful. The repetitive nature of many etudes offers a chance to practice rubato. This happens after they can play the etude strictly with the metronome. Then they take a section – stretching and bending the notes to explore what might be possible.
One last consideration is where to breathe. Some editions of Andersen etudes have breath marks, but many do not. The first step is learning where to breathe and then learning how to breathe. I have students practice playing past the breath mark to ensure good air usage. Employing these ideas leads to an artistic, individualized performance.
Patrick Dillery is an international concert artist and educator based in New York City. He has been to more than 25 countries to teach and play at festivals and concert series and to teach masterclasses.
A Fun Flute Studio Game
In our last studio class each term at Oakland University we play a game that we created based on the Family Feud television show. Our version is called Family Feud Flute Talk Challenge. The studio is divided into two teams. Each team selects a team name. One member from each team approaches the desk where one of the professors reads a question. The team representative who knows the answer taps an imaginary buzzer. If he wins the call, then he has one minute to confer with his other team mates. A typical question might be “What state did Jonathan Keeble grow up in?” The answer: “Washington.” A correct answer yields ten points.
Our students love the magazine, and now, as they read each issue, they try to absorb and retain all of the large and small details, filed away for this much-loved game, complete with fun prizes. We create twelve questions from four issues of Flute Talk and see which team can accumulate the most points by answering the questions correctly. If a team hits the buzzer first and either gives the wrong answer or no answer, the other team has a chance to steal the points by coming up with the correct response in one minute. Creating the questions is almost as fun as watching the students confer for the correct answer.
We try to include the most obvious facts as well as the more obscure information. Sometimes, the questions are even about the advertisements in the magazine. Many of the questions will include a bonus question, with a chance to earn additional points. For example, the bonus question for Jonathan Keeble’s question might be, “Describe the house he grew up in.” It is good fun as well as a useful learning and memorization tool for my students. Typical prizes include yo-yos and kazoos from the dollar store.
Sharon Sparrow is Professor of Flute at Oakland University along with Amanda Blaikie and Jeffery Zook. There are all members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra flute section.
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