Every day on social media platforms flutists are writing about how sad they are to not be performing in orchestras, bands, and in flute choirs. So far there is no safe way to return to the normal of last January and February before everything closed down. Several reputable organizations are conducting research about the safety of playing together again, but it will be months before the results are tallied.
In the meantime, programs like a cappella have provided amusement for some to put together tracks of multiple musicians playing different parts of the same composition. While the end product seems like an ensemble experience, basically each musician is still playing alone. Others have turned to playing small ensembles outside while socially distanced. This is less than ideal because playing chamber music is about sitting close together and sharing slight nuances or movement of facial cues with the other musicians. Another downside of this is the issue of playing an expensive instrument outside. The wind and the sun can do major damage to an instrument.
Flute teachers are looking for ways to bond a studio, and flute choir directors are trying to keep their groups together and practicing. When the first signs of covid-19 came to my attention around March 1, I consulted with the church where our flute choir rehearses. At that time, they had not considered shutting down the in-person services and move to an online format. I knew that my flute choir would need to take a break because of the ages and health issues of the group. When I wrote the members about taking a break, I sent along some practice ideas to keep them improving during the pause.
For the first 30 minutes of every 90-minute rehearsal, we practice in unison playing warmups, embouchure flexibility exercises, scales with lots of different articulations and rhythms, tone and articulation exercises plus etudes. This past fall we started Advanced Flute Studies: The Art of Chunking as a group. Each week we warmed up and then worked on one lesson. Since we were about 33% through the book, I suggested they continue working one lesson per week until we met again.
Since it looks like it may be another six to nine months before we can return to our in-person rehearsals. We need a plan to go into this next phase. We need a way to be connected and share our art.
Be People First
After staying in for such a while, we all long for the human connection. I am going to assign each member a studio/flute choir partner to contact each week. Contact could mean having a phone conversation, lunch on Skype or zoom, or socially distanced duets. Each week there will be a new partner assignment, so we get to know each other better. Already some of the younger members have volunteered to pick up groceries or prescriptions for older members. One even volunteered to help weed my garden.
For several years our flute choir has issued an open invitation for any flutist (whether in the flute choir or not) to join other flutists from the area Friday at noon for lunch at a local restaurant. Sometimes there may be only four or so, but other weeks maybe a dozen flutists. With the pandemic, our sandwich/ice cream shop closed, so the luncheons were cancelled. Now, we are going online with Zoom lunches. Having something to look forward to during the week keeps all of our spirits higher. Talking with other flutists inspires each of us to keep practicing until we can perform as a group again.
Like many groups, we take the summer off. In September it looks like flute choir rehearsals (and lessons) will not be in person; so, each Monday night at our regular rehearsal time, I am going to host an hourlong online Zoom masterclass. Attendance will be optional. As the class begins and ends, everyone’s mic will be unmuted, so members may easily share what they have been doing. During the instruction, all will be muted and will play along with me. Materials will come from The Flute Scale Book and The Art of Chunking plus free downloads from www.imslp.org
Flute studios could also use the Taffanel et Gaubert 17 Big Daily Exercises. No. 4 is especially good with Michel Debost’s Scale Game which goes through various articulation and rhythm patterns. Vocalise books like D.S. Wood (free on www.ismlp.org) are especially worthwhile in building technique in the top octave.
Check out Daily Exercises by Andre Maquarre, John Wummer, and Reichert (also free on www.ismlp.org) for working in all major and minor keys.
In the back of The Art of Chunking there are several solos (Telemann Fantasia in F# minor, J. S. Bach Partita and K. P. E. Bach Solo Sonata in A Minor). We will work on these compositions as a group. If flutists wants to share their playing, they can unmute and share with the group. We will also work on solos that are appropriate for church services, since many flutists are pre-recording performances that can be inserted into a church service. Being socially distanced from an organist is usually not an issue so many can play in person.
In using Zoom for a group meeting (rehearsal), each member needs to download the free app. Before the appointed rehearsal time, the host sends out an invitation to each member of the flute choir or flute studio. In this invitation is a link to click on. After clicking on the link, you are welcomed to the meeting. We will do practice sessions for Zoom before the first session to be sure all are comfortable with the medium. When playing unmuted, it is best to have the end of the flute pointed away from the mic and the camera. Sit with the left shoulder perpendicular to the camera, so the sound is better. There is a chat room where participants can write questions and make comments during a Zoom class.
1. Moving the Air
To warm the embouchure and move the air, place the right-hand on the barrel and play the following exercise with three vibrato cycles per note.
Placing the right hand on the barrel stabilizes the embouchure plate in the chin. This concept was advocated by long-time Flute Talk columnist and master teacher Michel Debost.
2. Moving the Fingers
Play eight-counts of trills on the following middle octave pitches:
D to E, E to F, F to G, G to A, A to B, B to C
Plus: D to D#, G to G# and B to C#
Play on one even blow of air. Move the fingers evenly. If eight counts is easy, try for 16 counts.
3. Top Octave
The notes below offer special fingering and intonation issues. The more these notes are practiced, the easier they become. All these notes require fast air and a smaller aperture. Some ideas:
Tongue each note 4 times, then 3 times, and 2 times.
Tongue using T for each note, then K, then HAH, and finally TK or TKT
Place 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 vibrato cycles for each note.
Slur by 2s, 3s, 4s, or 6s.
Play in dotted rhythms: long, short and short, long
Play each note with a fermata beginning at mf and tapering to pp.
The more you practice octaves, the better the pitch. Use a tuner. Create practice plans such as low, high, low, high, low using each of the following notes as the fundamental. Practice first tongued, then slurred.
5. Scales (All major and melodic minors, two-octaves slurred, up and down two times in one breath.)
See Patricia George’s Extras for a Scale template.
6. Scales in Thirds (All major and melodic minors slurred in one breath.)
7. Arpeggios (Major, minor, diminished, augmented)
See Patricia George’s Extras for Arpeggios 1 and 2. Slur and TK, both fast and slow.
8. Vibrato and Intervals
See Patricia George’s Extras for Michel Debost’s interval exercises. Eleven pages. Do one interval a week with counted or measured vibrato cycles with a tuner.
9. Melody Practice
Select a slow movement of a Bach Flute Sonata. (Free on www.imslp.org) Mark the phrases for breathing. Look at each phrase for contour or shape. Find the non-chord tones and label. The non-chord tones will be notes you wish to bring out or color. When playing, listen for seamless slurs and the ungluing of articulated notes. Record yourself. Listen and ask “What could I play better?” Other choices might be a slow etude, a movement of a Mozart Concerto, the second movement of the Poulenc Flute Sonata, the second movement of the Hindemith Flute Sonate or an expressive excerpt.
10. Etude Practice
Select an etude book on www.imslp.org for each member to download. Work through the book together with one or two etudes per week. Composers to check out are Andersen, Berbiguier, Kohler, Kummer, etc.
For this I will play the second part while each member plays the first part. Then we will switch. Or, someone in the flute choir or studio will record both parts separately and send the members an mp3 file for practice during the week. This will put each member in the spotlight for one session.
While Zoom masterclasses are not as good as being in person, they do offer a way for individual improvement. This gift of time can be used wisely.