Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité is the motto of the Republic of France, and Fraternité means brotherhood. But there are so many of female flutists, that for you I changed the motto to Liberté, Egalité, Sororité.
I am not mocking the motto of the République Française, but enjoying it because, with a fond irony, I have every reason to love and respect this old institution; and because, like all addicts, I relate everything to my mania – the flute.
Furthermore, I think that flute playing, here and elsewhere, could do with more Liberté as well as more discipline; more technical Egalité, as well as more brilliance; more Stabilité as well as more flexibility.
Freedom and Discipline
History shows that abuse of Liberty (freedom) leads to anarchy, which brings the worst tyranny.1 On the other hand, an exaggerated love of discipline quickly puts on the attributes of tyranny: uniforms, slogans and badges. How does this relate to the flute?
When you dominate your technique (which I call instrumental playing), encompassing every aspect of tone, vibrato, intonation, breath-control, articulation, dynamics, color, finger-speed, and control, you gain freedom as a musician. You are no longer a slave to your shortcomings on the flute. In other words, through Discipline comes Freedom.
When you practice, it is not for the sake of discipline, but to gain musical freedom and be competitive with your peers. Hone your instrumental tools, tune your own sensibility and reliability when you are alone with yourself. Work on scales and exercises, as well as slow intervals for tone refinement and control. Here in a comfortable setting, there is no excuse but to require perfection from yourself.
Improve your skills on simple patterns repeated patiently, but do not work on technique when you are playing repertoire. When you do that, you ruin the music without significantly improving your technique or posture. All the cosmetic movements and gyrations of performance actually jeopardize your Stability.
Many people will disagree, but I think the most important place to strive for perfection is in the practice room, not on the stage. Performance and the stage, even for rehearsals, should be the realm of Liberty! It’s too late to fix anything. Never mind the edition, the last final interpretation on CD, and the edited metronome markings; never mind labels and insignias (the French school, the American tone concept, the Moyse tradition, the Kincaid/Tabuteau concepts).
Once on stage, be yourself, use what you have learned about the flute, music, and yourself (which all comes to the same thing). Don’t worry about a wrong note, have fun, be emotional, and go for it. The stage is the place for Freedom. Chances are, if you have practiced well and thoughtfully, your music will be better.
Equality is the proof that your homework was well done. By Equality I mean that ability that daily practice and care should create, so that equality is only a means to an end – that being speed and virtuosity:
• Equality is an even quality of tone in all ranges. There just is no excuse for having a good sound in the middle of the flute (low G to D above the staff), and a hollow bottom fifth or a wheezy top octave. Work at this on the first exercise in Moyse’s De la Sonorité or on an exercise that you devise for yourself, as I have. If you have one good note, somewhere, congratulations; start your work from that note, gradually moving up a third, down a step, and so on; you can, through practice and thought, have the same quality throughout the range of your flute without gymnastics or jaw-boning. That is Equality.
• Equality is an even control of dynamics in all ranges. Learn how to play loud throughout, but be ready to control a pianissimo attack in the highest octave, or boom an accent in the lower right hand. Work at this with arpeggios in Taffanel-Gaubert’s Exercices Journaliers #10, played pianissimo but with a lot of energy, and supported with the feet, because a firm stance actually solicits the abdominal muscles, contributing to a natural support.
• Equality is an even control of articulation in all dynamics. Speed in staccato has a tendency to diminish the tone. In your practice, you should be able to play a passage loud (or soft), ff (or pp) regardless of the articulation. Play Taffanel/Gaubert Scales #4 slurred and loud, then loud and staccato, then with all possible articulations. Likewise for low register staccato. Work at this on scales, not on the Midsummer Night’s Dream! That is Equality.
• Equality is an even finger movement. Noisy fingers slapping about, even in slow movements, show a rough approach to instrumental playing that has not been well practiced. That is not Equality; it is slam-and-squeeze. It is not even a matter of speed: phrasing with the fingers smoothly in a slow tempo is the sign of a good player.
• Equality is conquered evenness, a domination of the natural roughness of instrumental playing, which does not imply that the interpretation of music should be always even: “Boredom was born one day of uniformity”.2
The control you have over your playing incites you to play with more Liberty, with a rubato that you can conduct and speak with.
Music is the art that speaks without words, changes one’s view of the world without graphic representation, moves without physical aggression, seduces without caresses, but, through immediate perception, is the symbol of evidence unspoken.
That is why its material expression, our playing, cannot stand mediocrity. That is why we must practice by ourselves before trying to ruin the music.
Stability is essential for good instrumental playing – stability on your feet (or on your chair) instead of moving about in all directions in an attempt for expressivity, stability of the lip plate on your chin, instead of all these lip and chin gymnastics that are so common and counterproductive, stability that is the opposite of stiffness, Stability that leads to Equality and Liberty.
1 “The worst enemy of liberty is not tyranny, but anarchy” Vladimir Lenin, the Soviet dictator, who did not practice what he preached. (1870-1924).
2 Antoine Houdar de la Motte (1672-1731)