Robert Willoughby 95 Lessons

Compiled by Leela Breithaupt and Katherine Borst Jones | September 2016

    On June 5th, the day before Robert Willoughby’s 95 birthday, family and former students gathered to celebrate his life at the Wentworth Marriott Hotel and Spa on the island of New Castle, NH, just across the island from Bob’s home. This is the hotel where Bob had performed several summers in his youth and where he and his wife, Mac, spent many happy times through the years. A few days before the event, former students – many of whom have successful careers as orchestral players, university teachers, chamber musicians and soloists throughout this country and abroad – were solicited to share a favorite memory or saying from lessons with Mr. Willoughby. At the celebration each person in turn shared one of these 95 lessons, as well as other favorite stories and memories. With his usual good humor and enthusiasm, Bob added to and corrected as appropriate, asking for some of his own favorite stories from those gathered.
    The following reworking of the submissions are a tribute to Robert Willoughby on his 95th birthday. They are tangible evidence of a lifetime of extraordinary teaching and are presented with admiration, respect, and gratitude from his students and colleagues including Francesca Arnone, Angela Blueskies, Mary Boodell, Sarah Brady, Leela Breithaupt, Joy Cline (Phinney), Trisha Craig, Tim Day, Philip Dikeman, Judy Dines, Marisa D’Silva, Aralee Dorough, Greer Ellison, Mary Kay Fink, Leonard Garrison, Susan (Hahn) Graham, Adrianne Greenbaum, Eileen Grycky, Vanessa Holroyd, Danielle Hundley, Katherine Borst Jones, Jim Lyman, Michael Lynn, Robin McKee, Vanessa Mulvey, Linda Pereksta, Juliana Perez, Diana Powers Rettie, Wendy Rolfe, Jennifer (Clarkston) Rundlett, Peggy Russell, Emma Shubin, Pat Spencer, Nancy Stagnitta, Sarah Swersey, Elizabeth West, Courtney Westcott, and Lisa Wienhold.

1. I think the best lesson from Bob has been the enthusiastic and unflagging support he has offered decades after my graduation. He is the model of a perfect gentleman and mentor.

2. Integrity and intelligence, always learning.

3. He gave his most to each of us in every lesson. We were all students with great potential in Bob’s eyes.

4. His teaching was so fine and he treated everyone with such respect.

5. Vibrato, Legato, Rubato. Always!

6. Lum—-pa, Tee——ta! (How to think of appoggiaturas)

7. Musical solutions resolve technical demands.

8. I don’t care what you do with the phrase, just do something.

9. Make me love it, make me hate it, but don’t bore me!

10. Okay, Ella Fitzgerald, how about starting the vibrato at the beginning of the note?

11. Play the structural melody only, one note per bar.

12. Move down with the strong beats, up with the weak beats.

13. 99% of the time, the peak of a phrase is on beat one or three.

14. Practice musically with no vibrato for a week – or more.

15. Once we have heard it once, we don’t care anymore. This simple concept can really solve lots of phrasing challenges, especially in Bach.

16. Rubato in the Allemande of the J.S. Bach Partita. Steal time to set up the breaths. Then give back time in an organic way. Pacing makes it all make sense.

17. Pendulum image for timing and feeling of heaviness and lightness in the phrase.

18. You have a beautiful sound, but you sound like a pop singer. (Vibrato too slow and wide)

19. Keep the vibrato going from note to note through the phrase. When I could finally do it, my flute felt more connected to my inner voice.

20. Say something convincing. The instrument is the least important part. The best players can make the worst flute sound terrific.

21. Use a wider vibrato to project in a big hall. (Brahms Symphony No. 1 solo)

22. While playing in the orchestra, if you are already playing your loudest and the conductor tells you to play louder, just move energetically, and the conductor will be satisfied.

23. Read favorite passages from the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame aloud to demonstrate nuance and phrasing.

24. Think analytically about playing the flute.

25. Any fingering that works is ok. Pick up your pinkie on high E, it is easier and it sounds better.

26. Use the Kincaid vocalise exercise to warm up – for sound and phrasing.

27. Practice purposely, never mindlessly.

28. Always consider the natural balance issues of the flute and compensate for them. (Long notes are louder than short notes. High notes are louder than low notes. Slurred notes are louder than tongued notes)

29. Breath and melody. Ride the flow of air.

30. If you’ve said the chord the first time, don’t emphasize it the second time! (Bach Sonata in E Minor, BWV, second movement)
31. You are too good for this kind of playing. Show me something better next week.

32. Know the piano part for any piece played. Pay attention to the bass line in Baroque music.

33. Everyone is treated with equal respect.

34. Intensity, imagination, decision making and how to practice.

35. 8:00 am lesson! Insatiable cheerfulness.

36. Have a good sense of humor, especially during less than ideal situations.

37. Let me tell you that you are doing too much with regards to dynamics and phrasing. I have never told anyone they are doing too much!

38. Expression shouldn’t always be with time; it can be with dynamics, articulation, vibrato, and shape.

39. His belief in teaching the great repertoire rather than glitzy show pieces. Every piece has his words of wisdom imbedded in every measure. (Prokofiev Sonata, Messaien Merle Noir, all the Bach Sonatas and Partita, CPE Bach Partita, Roussel’s Joueurs de Flute, Density 21.5 and many more.)

40. Learn modern flute and Baroque flute. Explore historical context and challenge yourself.

41. Why are you phrasing that way? You have to have a good reason. Be a thinking musician, not just a flute player.
42. Start with the skeleton of the piece finding the basic phrase structure – then add the other notes. Breathing and phrasing will fall into place, making more sense.

43. Rubato and timing: the train slows down and picks up speed but never stops at the station.
44. Practice the siren exercise,  pitch bending for control.

45. Vibrato is an expressive tool. Practice different widths and speeds and changing intensity. Vibrate on appoggiaturas and not on resolutions.

46. Don’t step too loudly on the resolution note and don’t play it too long, lest it sound loud by default.

47. Music is not static. Phrases are going to or from somewhere.

48. Use silence/pauses for increased expression. Hardly anyone ever waits too long.

49. Recognize and show off hemiolas in Baroque music.

50. Crescendo into a weak note to provide a smooth, legato transition between intervals.

51. Explore whistle tones, but don’t overdo them. They can be surprisingly tiring. Warm up with note bending and harmonics – and scales in groups of 6s.

52. Listen to cellists and singers and musicians other than flute players to learn about phrasing and color. (The three tenors)

53. Use the air to resonate the sound of 16th passages – especially going down. Blow through the lines.

54. Search out unusual composers – play contemporary music and find hidden or neglected pieces.

55. The dynamic level before the breath should equal the dynamic level after the breath.

56. Imitate the look of the bulldog to find the relaxed embou-chure. (To drop the jaw)

57. Use puffs, i.e. tongue-less attacks, to begin the day for relaxation of the embouchure.

58. The unevenness of the scale, (strong and weak notes) on the Baroque flute is the beauty of the instrument. Beauty comes in all forms even if it does not fit the usual expectations.

59. Notes of the same rhythm within a beat or longer, may be played unevenly. This makes all the difference for expressive playing.

60. Do you want to borrow my arm? (After student plays Brahms 4 conducted by RW)

61. I thought I might look like one of those cartoon characters with eyeballs spinning hopelessly as I worked to process information, make solid choices, and defend them eloquently, both verbally and musically.

62. Find the internal structural notes of the phrase and base your interpretation on this musical foundation.

63. Keep air pressure up even as you get softer.

64. Don’t shoot your wad all at once!

65. You’re a budding genius.

66. Why are you playing it that way?

67. How about some sightreading? (to an unprepared student)

68. To counter one’s desire to physically move vertically on every beat, move in a horizontal line.

69. Sing everything out loud, with your voice to find natural legato and phrasing.

70. Music first. Tension and release. Merely having musical intention is not enough for creating an expressive performance.

71. Large intervals invite time. Practice playing between the notes by filling in the intervals chromatically, then with a scale, etc.

72. Lean on the first note of a slur.

73. Practice starting a note with a soft attack, like a singer.

74. The importance of mastering fundamentals: the art of cheek puffing, legato line, tonal flexibility, shaping notes and expressive phrasing.

75. Strive for a first class musical performance without the listener being aware of the mechanical/technical aspects.

76. He is an expert at timing, in life and music, always with humor.

77. How many ways can this phrase be played?

78. Always so many questions. Why are you phrasing to this note? Why not that one? Where is this line going, is it here? Are you sure it is not here?

79. I find I never run out of air if I’m always breathing.

80. He has patience, beyond measure, no matter the level of the student.

81. Always be sure to have a beautiful first and last note, no matter what happens in between.

82. Release your note the way a singer would so that the air can replace itself.

83. Lead. Don’t shy away from the goal of the phrase – go courageously forward.

84. Start at the end of the phrase to find the last possible sub-phrase that makes sense, then find the next sub-phrase. Find the structure, skeleton, the focal point of each phrase.

85. Less tongue, more sound.

86. Be your own best teacher, an artistic architect.

87. In a class or a lesson, always say something positive before giving a criticism.

88. Follow your heart when making life decisions, as well as when playing the flute.

89. Explore and perform music of our time. Commissions. Com-posers: Heiss, Martin, Musgrave, etc.

90. You know where I will be sitting. Just look at me. (To calm student recital nerves)

91. Give ‘em hell! (Advice before a recital to inspire courage.)

92. His goal is for students to become thinking, self-sufficient musicians.

93. Uncompromising intonation. Your C# is sharp! Don’t play sharp. Go work with the tuner. The end!

94. Inspire students to rise to a new level. Always have a smile and a gentle manner.

95. It seems impossible to single out one thing that we learned from you, when we feel like every professional success we have ever had was made possible by your teaching. We think of you every day and strive to emulate your incredible model to our students and our own lives. You are an incredible musician and an extraordinary human being.