Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Help writing that all-important first email to a prospective teacher

If you're going into your senior year of high school in the fall (or starting to consider graduate programs!), summer is a popular time for visiting universities and scheduling lessons with prospective flute teachers. [Read my advice for picking the right college program here.] I know this because I am inundated with emails from prospective students every June through early August.  I greatly appreciate hearing from students this early and being given the opportunity to get to know them ahead of an all-too-rushed audition in February, but students should know that our acquaintance begins with the very first email. I often receive lovely, well-spoken,thoughtful emails, which always impresses me.  But when I receive an email that is casual to the point of sounding rude and vague enough to convince me the writer didn't spend any time at all researching me or my school, I feel like my time is being wasted.  I answer all the same, but those students have already raised a little red flag with me regarding maturity and interest in my program. And that's probably not even a fair assumption, but it's all I have to go on. So, to help you avoid inadvertently misrepresent yourselves, some tips from the past decade of reading prospectives' emails at University of Wyoming:

Email is the new snail-mail.  Texts are supposed to be abbreviated and to-the-point, but they're for someone you already know, and should never be used as a first contact with a teacher. "Business" emails of this nature should include a formal salutation and closing, and the body of your text should employ proper spelling and grammar. Use formal language like you (hopefully) plan to use when you see me in person at your audition. And please, no Facebook Messenger.  Oh, how I wish no one would mistake that for business use (colleagues included)!

Do your research.  Please don't ask me to recite policies that are clearly stated on the music department's website or tell you what the band director's email address is.  It's all online.  Scour over the school's website, the music department's site in particular, and my website/You Tube videos/ blog (ahem) etc. and see how much of your curiosity is satisfied there.  Then, and only then, should you ask questions (see below) that you don't get answered online.

Formulate clear questions. Ask about the size of the studio, what financial aid is available to you, who you'd study with (all of my students study with me, but at some schools, freshmen all study with a graduate assistant, for instance), and other pertinent information about the program that will greatly impact your decision. Anything you can't find an answer to online (see above) is fair game. When you ask in general what the studio "feels" like, I don't know what you mean and therefore may or may not answer the question you really want to ask.

Customize your letter.  I don't expect a student to write a completely original letter for each prospective teacher--that would be wasting your time. Just include some personalize references, like naming my school (not someone else's!) and typing my name correctly so that I know you really meant to send the email to me. That little show of effort goes a long way.

Here is an example of a well-written email from a prospective student:

"Dear Dr. Riner:

I am writing to request information about the University of Wyoming's undergraduate program in flute performance. I am currently in high school at XXXXXX, and will graduate in 2017. My flute teacher is currently XXXXX. I have also studied with XXXXXX and XXXXXX. 

I have looked online and was able to find information about applications, auditions, and a schedule of courses. I’d also appreciate any information you can provide about:

·       Opportunities I would have as an undergrad
·       Grants and scholarships you offer for flute performance majors
·       Requirements you have for students entering your program

If there is anything else that would help me to better prepare myself for your program please let me know.
Would it be possible for me to schedule an introductory lesson so that I can learn more about your program and see if it's a good fit for me?

Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to receiving this information.

Sincerely, 
A flute student with excellent communication skills"

And here's one that could use a little work:

"Hey Nicole, I am interested in getting information about your school's music program. I will graduate in 2016 and I really want to be a band director could you please tell me where to find: application, audition requirements, band director's email, and anything else you can think of I should know. I was in XXXX Allstate Band last year and have played in solo and ensemble contest for four years. I'd like to know what the feel of your flute studio is, too." 



Don't be intimidated by the task--if you are contacting a teacher you are truly interested in and have done some minimal research on the school before typing your email, it's going to be great!  Reaching out to a prospective teacher ahead of time allows you both to see if you might be a good "fit" for each other, which is crucial to your success. Just keep in mind that you are formally introducing yourself in that first email and give it some real thought before hitting "send".  Good luck, and happy hunting!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Summer 2017 Articulation Challenge!

Coming off of an incredibly fun week of teaching at the Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive and then UW's Summer Music Camp, I couldn't help but notice how many eager, hard-working students lack guidance in the area of articulation.  We're all guilty of letting that ball drop at times when we think we've gotten it all figured out, but attention can be paid every day to either strengthening and varying your articulations or, if you truly are a master of them all (what's your secret?!), maintaining what you have already developed. And summer is such a great time to dig in to a project like this. So, this week begins the Wyoming Summer Articulation Challenge; to participate, join our private Facebook group here, and you can send me one video per week for individual comments and suggestions.  You'll have to join to see all of the videos, but here's the first one to give you an idea:


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Introducing the Wyoming Flute Sessions!

I am very fortunate to teach at a school with a beautiful, and incredibly flattering, recital hall. So, I thought I'd take advantage of it by recording run-throughs of some new pieces I've been learning. It's great fun to play at University of Wyoming, and I find these little-known works by emergent composers so good, and I hope you will, too!

Toys by Jean Ahn: I was introduced to this charming piece when I judged a new music competition last fall.  It didn't win, but I was so intrigued by the colors Jean got by combining flute and piano with wind-up toy, and when I asked, she was generous enough to gift me a copy of the parts. As she says in the score,

"Toys that sing, toys that sing like your mommy...Not the electronically synthesized sound, but a sound that is only tailored for you.  Breathe, laugh, cry, cuddle, and hug...That is the imaginary toy that we as musical moms want to leave when we can't be there with our babies. This piece explores eight nursery songs, from 'Farmer in the Dell' to 'ABC' song, sometimes explicitly and sometimes ambiguously."

The pianist in this recording, Theresa Bogard, and I gave the Wyoming premiere of this back in March in Rock Springs, and played it again in April at UW for a faculty recital.





Gocce by Emanuela Ballio: Italian for "drops", this solo work was a finalist in the Flute New Music Consortium composition contest last summer. It is great fun to play. and Emanuela has been such a kind and supportive cheerleader!  I gave the world premiere of this piece in April at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and plan to program it many more times.




Look for more installments throughout the summer; I next plan to explore the sound board with some electro-acoustic pieces by Nico Muhly, Kay He, and who knows?....

: )

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Exploring the whole musical package at the Rhode Island Flute Extravaganza

I am super excited to see a new (to me) state as an Altus Handmade Flutes-sponsored guest artist of the Rhode Island Flute Extravaganza June 3, joining Andrea Fischer (Fluter Scooter) and Katy Dorrien in a day of workshops and performances in Cumberland. I've been charged with the duty of talking for one tiny hour about tone, breathing, and expression, which seemed an impossible task at first! But when you think about the linear development of any piece of music, from the basics of sound production to the final musical product, it makes sense.  Here's what I'll be presenting, and if you're local, I hope to see you there! (PS--you're always welcome to use and adapt the materials I share here for your own purposes, and I appreciate your crediting me on any original material you reproduce of mine.)

Spoiler alert: there is a book coming. As soon as I can rub two minutes together to get something more accomplished on it!

Breathing, Tone, and Musicality: Developing the Whole Package!
Dr. Nicole Riner
Visiting Assistant Professor of Flute, University of Wyoming
Altus Performing Artist
www.nicoleriner.info

1. Breathing: You should fill up from the bottom, all the way up until you can’t find any more space to store air. Utilize those little pockets of space in your sides and back, too. Practice isolating different zones to ensure you are completely filling up. Online exercises: search “Breathing Gym” on You Tube.

2. Tone: Move the center of the lips forward as you go higher on the flute or to get quieter, while forming the syllable “ooooo” in your mouth. To go lower and/or get louder, open your mouth by putting more space between your back teeth and pointing the air, with the center of the lips, down into the hole, forming an “oh” or “ah” syllable in the mouth. Keep your corners flexible at all times. Don’t roll the flute inwards or outwards to achieve different octaves or pitches, but make your lips do it instead. Practice octave slurs, “diamonds”, and harmonics every day for maximum flexibility in addition to chromatic long tones.

3. Expression: A clear idea of where each phrase begins and ends, with one goal note per phrase in mind, is a good starting point. Then, let your dynamics, tone color, depth/speed of vibrato, etc. communicate that phrase shape. For example, by itself, this is a pretty boring passage:


But with some help from you, it can become quite meaningful:


Notice how the crescendos give a sense of climbing to these ascending arpeggios. Put a (*) over one goal note per phrase, indicated by a complete set of < >. Make sure that note is your sonic peak, in color, dynamic, and depth of vibrato. And what about?...


Accented phrases have a muscular feel, while staccato (and later slurred) phrases create a more playful counterpart, as if the soloist is alternating between a march and a light waltz. Be very thoughtful to consistently perform the dynamic and articulation that’s written.
Now it’s your turn: go back up to the first example and pencil in some of your own original markings. How will you clearly communicate them to your audience?

The following material is excerpted from my forthcoming Book, The Flutist’s Expression Workbook. Please contact me at nicole [dot] riner [at] gmail [dot] com to purchase a copy. All material on this hand-out is ©2017, Nicole Riner.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

lessons from Robert Dick

World-renowned new music specialist and all-around genius Robert Dick did a three-day residency at University of Wyoming last month, and he was inspiring on so many levels.  As the host, I got to spend the most time with him drinking wine and driving between Denver and Laramie (not at the same time), so what he said in front of the students and what he said to me has gotten all mixed up in my brain.  But it was all a consistent message, and I will just leave a few of the most precious bits here for you to do with what you wish...

*Playing the flute and making music are not necessarily the same thing. There is a level at which you are merely a technician, and then there's the level beyond that, in which you use your technical skills to actually say something with the sounds you are making.  You must always strive to be at this level. 

*We are all actors on the stage (and I would add, to some extent, in the studio).

*Listen, listen, listen.  Not just to that one piece you are learning, but to all things related to it, however tangentially.  Listen for pleasure, but with awareness.  Listen because this is your art.

*Learn who you are and what you want from your musical life and make it happen; don't just force yourself to fit into a ready-made, imposed formula.

Also, please listen to his latest CD, The Galilean Moons.  It is amazing. Can you wear out a CD?  I might be halfway there. 


Thanks for everything, Robert!!

Robert performing Flames Must Not Encircle Sides at University of Wyoming, April 23, 2017.