Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Make this your summer of piccolo!

Looking for a summer project to keep you motivated over the next few months? Might I suggest piccolo?  This oft-unloved tiny flute has a sweet sound and some awesome repertoire (more all the time!), and I truly believe that it's only due to lack of instruction and practice time that it strikes fear in the hearts of so many. If you learn it in a hurry because your band director shoves it at you, you're starting out behind and will constantly be in a position of jury trying to survive each rehearsal. So, get a great book, snuggle up with some inspiring recordings, visit my friend Dr. Christine Beard's amazing piccolo website, and get to work!

Here are some tips I share every year with my Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive participants in our optional :Learning to Love Piccolo" workshop!:

1. Play a little bit higher on the lip (especially if you have no lip plate).

The blow hole is smaller, so it stands to reason that your normal flute-playing position will have you covering too much of it with your bottom lip. Experiment by placing the headjoint on your bottom lip, rather than under it, in different positions until you feel that you have control over all registers without making big adjustments.

2. Learn your pitch tendencies.

Get out the tuner and play every single note individually. What does the tuner tell you—how many cents flat or sharp are you? Write it down, as well as taking notes on what you have ot do to eventually get each note in tune (change vowel shape, air directions, etc.)

3. Practice all the same tone you do on flute, from D1-B3.

Long tones, harmonics, “diamonds”, and everything else you do on flute are equally valuable on piccolo.

4. Get used to practicing with ear plugs.

Piccolo really does cause nerve damage when played in the upper register. If you hate the muffled sound of cheap foam ear plugs, you can invest in more expensive, equally attenuating plugs like Earasers, Ear Peace, or MusicSafe by Alpine. Or you can learn to translate the sound you’re hearing with the foam plugs from the drugstore. All will protect your ears and should be worn every time you play.

5. Learn alternate fingerings.

The piccolo tends to get flatter, not sharper, in the third register, so for some instruments, alternate fingerings are the best way to control pitch and volume. This fingering chart from John Krell's notes is a great start.

6. Buy a good instrument.

Not all piccolos are created equally, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive one in the store. Like flute, stick with trusted brands from trustworthy merchants: Burkhart, Emerson, Pearl, Powell, Yamaha are good to try. A wood or plastic piccolo without a lip plate will be easier to blend in a concert band situation, while hybrids like Yamaha’s YPC-32, which has a plastic body and metal head joint with a lip plate, will work equally well in marching band and concert band. Always try before you buy!

7. Know your place.

The piccolo is not a shrinking violet, and you can’t be, either! Play in tune, with a beautiful sound, and know that you are serving as a special color in the ensemble. If you try to hide by playing ppp, you’ll only be flat, airy, and paranoid. Love your piccolo and know it well, and you will be rewarded.

8. Reward yourself with a great solo! (These are appropriate for junior high through high school)

I (easiest)
Barone Learning the Piccolo (Little Piper)
Trott Bird Fanciers Delight (Alry)

Laufer Scars and Scrapes (Laufer Jazzical)
Michal Four Dances (Alry)
Tchiakovsky/Kennedy March Miniature (Alry)

III (hardest)
Jacob March to the River Weser from The Pied Piper (Oxford)
Liebermann Concerto (Theodor Presser)
Persichetti Parable (Elkan Vogel)
Vivaldi Concerto in C Major, P. 79 and Concerto in A minor, P. 83 (International)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Join me at Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive this June!



Noon: Check in and registration begins
1pm: Welcome, Establishing a Breathing and Stretching Routine
2pm: Building a Better Tone 3pm: Conquering Performance Anxiety 4pm: Flute choir sight-reading
5:30pm: Dinner
7:30pm: Faculty Recital


8am: Breakfast
9am: Stretches/breathing/tone
10:30pm: Option: Piccolo Basics OR supervised practice 
12pm: Lunch
1:30: How to Practice
2pm: Articulation Class
3pm: Master Class
5:30pm: Dinner
7pm: Open Mic Night: everyone plays!


8am: Breakfast
9am: Stretches/breathing/tone
10:30pm: Supervised practice
12pm: Lunch
1pm: Summer Music Camp registration opens

Register here through May 30, or contact me with questions.  I hope to see you this summer in beautiful Laramie, Wyoming! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Springtime means sexism in the band room! (it's doesn't have to, though...)

Now is the time when young, hopeful future musicians are trying out wind instruments in the public schools and signing up for what they'll start playing in band this summer, and it seems apt that I should share my doctoral research about how we guide those young students towards the right instruments. Mercifully, we as a society are becoming more flexible about gender stereotypes, even since this research in the early 00s, but it's not time to relax our mindfulness yet!...I think you can still order this labor of love through inter-library loan from my good old alma mater, Indiana University, or contact me for a copy...

The Girls in the Band: Women’s Perspectives on Gender Stereotyping in the Music Classroom
Nicole Riner, 2004

Introduction.  Since the early 1970s with the advent of Title IX, gender bias has been explored, applied to various academic subjects, and equality advocates have installed programs to eradicate gender bias from curricula.  In the area of social sciences, this technique has been applied with varying levels of success.  The world of classical and academic music seems to have largely missed out on this process from the 1970s and 1980s, and it wasn’t until scholars like Susan McClary and Marcia Citron in the mid-1990s that a similar discussion began on college campuses.  These discussions generally involved surveying the bulk of famous classical composers (white, hetero, male) and famous performers (the same, unless in “feminized” areas like woodwinds or voice) and pointing out missing demographics (women, minorities...)

Independent of this activity and occurring largely in obscurity to the rest of the academic music world, studies were being developed by music educators to explore this phenomenon from a different angle.  High levels of gender segregation were demonstrable in most band programs in the country: why do male and female children tend to play different instruments in their public school band programs?  Do they choose these instruments for themselves, or are they chosen for them?  

Conclusions and Suggestions for Addressing Gender Stereotypes in the Bandroom

Seek role models of both genders on all instruments.
            Studies (Tarnowski 1993, O’Neill and Boulton 1996, Sinsel 1997) show that children of both genders choose from a wider variety of instruments when they see both men and women playing those instruments.  When Susan Tarnowski used equal numbers of men and women modeling band instruments to small children, those children rated all instruments as “gender neutral” rather than identifying them with one gender or the other.

Allow students to choose instruments whenever practical.
            Obviously, physical limitations come into play; some students, both male and female, are too small to play the trombone, for instance.  The flute also requires more air than some children can produce.  But there is no reason why children of either gender should be excluded from certain instruments if they are physically capable of handling them.

Encourage students equally and make equally strenuous demands.
            Green and Hanley (1993 & 1997) found that teachers often inadvertently expect different things from their male and female students, assuming that boys are “naturally more talented” or that girls are “more diligent workers”.  Be aware of these possible assumptions and be sure you are dealing with each student’s personality on an individual and realistic basis. 

Learn music outside of the canon: women, minorities, other cultures.
            Play music from other places and written by “other” people. The more diversity we can introduce into the curriculum, the more diversity we may be able to reflect in the classroom.  This has the added benefit of satisfying “world culture” and other multiethnic requirements in general school curricula.

Avoid gender-specific language in addressing students.
            Encourage an atmosphere of cooperation by not pitting male and female students against each other for the sake of competition or using gender-specific language in chastising groups of students.  This will keep them focused on individual, rather than stereotyped, relationships amongst students.

Collaborate with other teachers tackling gender issues in the classroom.

            Gender equity has been a strong part of English, social studies, and other social science curricula for decades.  Put on an operetta or musical with the theater department that has feminist or civil rights undertones.  Stage a poetry reading with incidental music or an open mike cafĂ© at the school after hours in which social issues can be addressed in an unstructured atmosphere.  This has the added benefit of integrating music more fully into the genera curriculum, which is a constant struggle we face in defending our positions in the public schools.  

Nicole Riner ©2016

Friday, March 23, 2018

Freelancer's Corner: taking the plunge

From recording and part-time orchestra gigs to adjunct academic work, chamber and solo tours, and appearances as a sponsored artist, I have functioned as a freelancer my entire adult life. I absolutely LOVE the fact that we are now having a national discussion about how to do this, often falling under the broad categories of "music business" or "music entrepreneurship".  (Kudos to my alma mater, the once entirely stodgy Indiana University / Jacobs School of Music for getting so totally with the program!) As a freelancer of a certain (ahem) age, I find myself not only asking lots of questions and gobbling up fantastic advice from those around me, but doling out a fair amount of it, as well. It's true that, on a certain level, you have to find your way yourself; the point is to figure out who you are and what unique services/products/experiences you can create for people.  But there's also a lot that's the same for all of us, and I've been collecting some favorite links for a while now that I hope you'll find useful, too.  These authors (many of them not musicians) from all over the web are giving great advice in a truly open, generous spirit and deserve your attention. We have so much to learn from each other--here's to finally sharing!

These posts really deal with the first step--inspiration.

"If You're Experiencing Impostor Syndrome..." by freelance writer Kristin Wong

"...Developing a Successful, Dream-Chasing Mindset" by photographer and online business woman Allison Marshall (Wonderlass)

And here's a bevvy of articles handing out specific advice for musicians from Dave Ruch

I also love keeping up with inspiring podcasts on my many long drives to gigs:
  • Crushing Classical
  • iCadenza's Creative Careers
  • The Entrepreneurial Musician

If you happen to subscribe to Coro by iCadenza, check out the new micro-course I developed for them about how to get started as a freelance studio teacher, "Developing a Thriving Music Studio".

And I suppose this is as good a time as any to announce that, after serving as an unofficial career coach to numerous students, colleagues, and friends of friends over the years, I've decided to take the business public! Check out the new coaching page on my website to see what services I offer, all at very affordable prices for working musicians at every stage of their careers. You can also subscribe to my free newsletter serving up monthly career advice there. I'm excited to start this new phase in my life and hope I can be of some help to you!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

New music review: Marine for flute orchestra

Sophie Dufeutrelle
Marine for flute orchestra
© 2016 Alphonse Leduc

Marine is a new, nine-minute piece for flute choir from piccolo to contrabass flute by French composer and flutist Sophie Dufeutrelle. She dedicated it to Dale and David Straubinger, “for whose friendship and unconditional support I am very grateful.” And now I will list all the ways in which I adore this composition.

Marine utilizes easily executed extended techniques like breath attacks, pizzicato tongue, and whistle tones, to be “improvised” on a loop. In fact, the first four short sections, meant to create a seaside atmosphere with fog, wind, seagulls, and fishing boats, rely entirely upon these sounds. Then the piece abruptly locks into a “Chanson et Danse”, in which melodies are evenly passed through the parts, and harmonies are reminiscent of common practice tonality, but at times appropriately crunchy and dense to evoke a moody day at sea. The resultant performance is absolutely charming and beautifully painted in sound.

The difficulty level of this piece is listed in the score as “mainly intermediate and advanced”. In fact, when I first received the score, I thought it would only be playable by adults because of the extended techniques, but there is a very well done live video on You Tube, at the time of this writing, in which middle school and early high school students perform under the direction of the composer. Although the low flute parts are rather challenging for players new to these instruments, there is even a special (C flute) part included for beginners, so that mixed age and ability groups can perform together.  The composer also makes a note that, if low flutes are missing from the ensemble, they can be replaced by other instruments (cello, bassoon, double bass, etc.). In this way, what could have been a very impractical piece is actually quite adjustable if one is flexible in thinking.

The score and parts are beautiful to read, with whimsical drawings to inspire each short improvisatory section. Dufeutrelle even includes enough parts for the entire orchestra (multiple copies of the C flute parts, etc.), so that there is no need to feverishly photocopy minutes before the first rehearsal. I am touched by the thoughtfulness she has put into preparing this publication, from its inception to its final printing.

Marine is a truly interesting contemporary piece for flute orchestra, and it can be used with a wide range of abilities and ages, making it a piece that will always be useful in your library.  It has wonderful pedagogical potential, looks like great fun to play, and it is a sheer delight to experience as a listener.

Nicole Riner ©2016