Webster’s Dictionary defines an artist as “one who professes and practices an art in which conception and execution are governed by imagination and taste.” Creativity is a treasured product of artistry… a birth, if you will, of insight into musical expression.
We live in a world that is getting more competitive, more stressful and more fast-paced. This setting fosters unwarranted comparisons and quick judgments that can inhibit one of life’s most fulfilling and precious gifts, that of creativity. To play what is "generally accepted" would, indeed, render an inbred musical world of one voice. More specifically flute-related, that leads to flutists trying to sound "like" someone else. Rather than trying to fit into the status quo, I propose that musicians use their innate creative process and let their inner voice be heard. Look inward to ones' soul, heart and mind for inspiration and creativity. And then, share your discoveries! Here are some of mine…
Conceptualize the music you play as a composition that connects the souls of the composer, your own soul, and the souls of all the listeners. Understand the basic idea of a piece, and support that idea throughout by utilizing your array of tone colors, articulation, vibrato and various implementations of the rhythms. Always respect the main idea, but allow yourself to dig deep within you soul to convey the idea to it’s fullest.
MICRO and MACRO INTERPRETATION
As a classical musician one is a messenger. One must play the notes, the rhythms, the dynamics, the accents, the style, the nuances, and the emotions of a piece.
The most important thing to remember is that the power of the overall structure of a phrase, a section, or the piece, is inherently dependent on the effect of the smallest elements.
Keep in mind the magnitude of the POWER of ONE NOTE and the POWER of SILENCE.
At the Core of Interpretation
In April 1998 at The Juilliard School, I attended a master class of Jean-Pierre Rampal. He verbalized what I have learned by listening to so many masters - that respecting rhythm is one of the most important keys to understanding how to express music. In other words, if you have good rhythm, the natural implication of the music is felt and the door opens up to logical and effective musical interpretation and communication. In one of my lessons at Juilliard, Julius Baker said, "You have been listening to Heifetz, haven't you!" He was commenting on my use of rhythm as an interpretational tool. I used to listen over and over to Heifitz' recording of Tchaikovksy’s Concerto. His absolute precision of rhythm created such a musical force that it drove the phrases to their natural fruition and, at the same time, gave the performance a sense of musical freedom. His interpretations were so clear and convincing.
A minute change in tempo can make a huge difference in interpretation.
Louisa Tetrazzini, great Italian soprano. When asked how does one breathe properly for singing. She said, “Just Breathe!”
UNDERSTAND YOUR PHYSIQUE:
Lungs, Diaphragm and Muscles
Lungs are three-dimensional. So, expand the back, not just the front and sides! By standing (or sitting) properly, back muscles are free to allow the lungs to expand. Through simple breathing exercises, the thousands of tiny intercostal muscles that surround the lungs can be stretched and strengthened to increase inhalation capacity. Teach the abdominal area muscles to pull the diaphragm down in order to fill the lungs from the bottom. When a full tank of air is needed, fill up the lungs to the top clavicle area.
Tone must have clarity of presence, whether it has many colors or one, whether it is small or large. A focused center in the sound will guarantee the presence.
My opinion is that all notes on the flute are built on the lowest register. All other notes are harmonics of the fundamental, using a change of air intensity or alternate fingerings to lock in the higher notes. Learn to play higher notes with more depth and create a more consistent sound throughout the full range of the instrument.
Find Your Voice:
The Marriage Of You and Your Flute
Learn the intricacies of every note: How is a note similar to others and how is it unique? Learn by playing notes in their barest form, no vibrato. Then create your own vocabulary of sounds by adding vibrato, various harmonic overtones and varied levels of intensity and focus.
Assess Your Tonal Limitations:
Then Expand Your Horizons
Create a large focus on every note. Once mastered, learn to manipulate the size of the focus while maintaining intensity for proper projection. Keep depth in the sound... even In the softness passages.
Articulation is the first call to the listener. It can instantly create moods such as intrigue, shock, sparkle, and even fear. The flute masters with whom I studied all sounded very different. But they all had clear, distinct and expressive articulation.
The tongue defines the release of the air, which has been defined by the spin of the air, which has been defined by the oral cavity and the breath support, which has been defined by proper inhalation. Although each step must occur very quickly in a specific order, they are inherently dependent on each other to optimally work.
Vibrato must have a purpose other than to solely create beauty of sound. It should reflect the intended energy of a note, not dictate it. In order to help support the rise and fall of a phrase, it must be flexible in speed and amplitude. Shape the vibrato; don’t let it dictate your sound.
One usually has a natural tendency to play vibrato fast or slow. Therfore, one should focus practicing the speed that is less natural.
Take the responsibility of playing in tune, whether playing solo or in an ensemble. Flutes are one of the easiest instruments to adjust pitch.
First, learn to play in tune with yourself. Practice tuning intervals with a drone. Singing and playing at the same time can heighten the ear's awareness of intervallic intonation.
Adjust the pitch of a note according to its function within the chord that is played.
Flute playing is very similar to singing. The use of vowel shapes in the oral cavity can add flexibility and vocal-like expression. A savvy metamorphosis between two vowels can smoothly carry the sound through an interval, no matter how large.
Pose For Optimum Relaxation And Flexibility
Ground yourself by imagining that your feet have roots going into the ground. Study the most ergonomic way to utilize your body through the study of Alexander Technique, Body Mapping and the human anatomy.
Face the Audience and Dance!
When standing or sitting, the body's trunk is angled to the right while the head faces the audience. Create three points of an "open" triangle with the embouchure, right hand and right elbow. Knees should be bent so that the spine is lengthened and the back muscles are free. This also frees you to move forward and back by shifting weight from one leg to the other. Never completely straighten the legs.
Converse with Your Audience!
Look at the audience from time to time, Keep the flute and head up as if you are talking directly to the audience, because you are... musically!
Videos of Concert with Julius Baker, Jan Vinci and pianist Judith Avitabile
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY on November 11, 1995.
Andante and Rondo, Opus 25
Trio in G Major, Opus 119
Skidmore College Flute Interviews: Jan Vinci and students Michelle Kurz and Kelsea Schimmel," The Flute View: February 1, 2017, online journal.
Jicha, Victoria. "The Joy of Music: A Talk with Jan Vinci," Flute Talk: April 2009, Vol 28, No 8. pp. 8-11, 25.
Victoria Jicha interviewed me at a National Flute Association convention, which resulted in this article.
Vinci, Jan. "Letters from the President," The New York Flute Club Newsletters, September 2001- May 2002.
As president of the NYFC 2001-2002 I wrote and published a series of "Letters from the President."
Baker, Julius and Ruth, and Jan VInci. "Conversation with Julius Baker." Video of Jan interviewing Juilus and Ruth Baker.
This took place during a Skidmore Flute Festival at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York in 2001.
Cecil-Sterman, Ann. "Julius Baker Remembered," The Flutist Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, Spring 2004, pp. 28-43.
Ann Cecil-Sterman wrote an extensive and noteworthy tribute to Julius Baker. In this article, Ann often refers to my interview "Conversations with Juilus and Ruth Baker," listed above.
Vinci, Jan Flickinger. "The Flute Concerto in D major of Peter Ritter: Discussion and Edition," (D.M.A. document, The Juilliard School, March 1986; New York, N.Y.).
Vinci, Jan. “Using Extended Techniques in Fukushima’s Mei,” ed. K. Goll-Wilson, Flute Talk XVIII/3 (November 1998), 14-15.