Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Great advice from around the web

I have been so gratified to read excellent blogs written by flutists (and the occasional non-flutist) from all over the country sharing their valuable insights, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you. Some are clearly timely as we brace ourselves for the start of audition season, but I think any of these can inspire you to learn a new skill or develop a new project as part of your new year's resolutions.  Read on, and happy 2018!

Demystifying the audition process, by woodwinds professor at Delta State University Bret Pimentel:

What I listen for in scholarship auditions

A lovingly written meditation on being compassionate with yourself by Nashville flutist Jessica Dunnavant:

Surviving Your Life as a Musician

Chicago hornist Kelly Langenberg gives gentle but firm advice on how to be a good colleague:


A comprehensive guide to kicking off your new career as an electro-acoustic performer by flute guru Lindsey Goodman:

The Flutist’s Electroacoustic Primer

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Creating an artist retreat in your own home

Several years ago, my chamber ensemble was selected for a residency at Brush Creek Arts. Our plan was to finally hunker down to select and learn the music for our album.  I knew that being in the same place together for two uninterrupted weeks would make this task much easier than in real life, but I could not have anticipated just how much more productive, and satisfied, I would be as an individual through this process.  It sounded silly to me to say even back then, but I was shocked by how much I got done. 

For those of you who haven't experienced an artist residency (highly recommend), at Brush Creek, we were given free housing and three square meals a day along with appropriate work spaces, and then we were just left to our own devices to do what we wanted to do.  My typical day looked something like this:


  • exercise (I could go to the state-of-the-art workout facilities or, my choice most days, go on a run or hike on one of the amazing trails in the woods surrounding our cabins)
  • breakfast on my own
  • individual practice time: 2-3 hours with short breaks
  • rehearse a new duo with the saxophonist in my trio: 1 hour
  • lunch
  • trio rehearsal (3 hours, broken up with a break or two)
  • go on a long walk with the pianist in my trio and usually a visual artist or two
  • dinner
  • hike up a steep hill to the main cabin, the only place with WiFi, to check email and call home
  • drink wine and talk about the future
  • sleep like a log
Seriously, this was my schedule for two whole weeks.  It was ridiculously luxurious.  The food just magically appeared in the kitchen for us to eat when we wanted. That's something I can't very easily recreate at home.  I live 2 hours away from my other trio members, so it's harder to get together without a lot of advanced planning. But honestly, everything that was most important to my success those two weeks I can recreate, and I continually struggle to keep this in mind. Because what I got from Brush Creek, first and foremost, was the imposition of focus and discipline.  I wasn't checking my email while doing one-handed long tones, or watching the news with the subtitles on while I played scales. I could write on my computer (and I did--8 album or music reviews in 2 weeks!), but without WiFi, I couldn't keep checking Facebook or messing around on Pinterest. And so I was not only working for longer periods of time, I was much more present in every task I completed. I became accustomed to completing tasks in silence instead of having Pandora cranked in the background, and when I took a break from practicing, it really was just a couple of minutes of stretching while still thinking about what I was going to work on next, rather than unraveling a complicated series of emails that all needed "immediate attention" and kept opening the next can of worms to address, and the next and the next. 

When I returned from Brush Creek, these solitary, single-focus habits were easy to maintain for a while--it was June, and I had nowhere to be but home. But as school resumed in the fall, I lost some discipline, and however many years on (?), I have become the stereotype of the keyboard-clicking, smart phone-checking, totally distracted conversationalist I hate being around.  The other day, I honestly got through all of my tone exercise while writing donor letters in my head, and I was totally shocked to land on fourth register D (the end of my exercise) without having any idea how I got there. That was a total waste of my time, and I might as well have put my flute down and just made a to-do list instead.  So, as I settle into this deliciously long winter break and think ahead to new habits I want to create for 2018, I'm resolving to recreate as much of my Brush Creek residency as I can. Here's what I'm going to do:

  • Structure my schedule more specifically; block off practice times rather than squeezing it in between appointments; similarly schedule "office work" (business emails, grant applications, etc.)
  • When practicing, laptop is closed and phone is put away and switched to "silent"
  • Short practice breaks every 45 minutes: no electronics! I can water plants, stretch, look out the window, pet my cats...that's it. 
  • Social media diet: Instagram for entertainment once/day (I love looking at the cat memes and National Geographic photos during my post-breakfast cup of coffee; Facebook news feed once/week (yes. I will do this); Pinterest Saturday afternoon only. 
  • When I have to work on the computer and it involves some promotion on Facebook, I'm now using this app to hide my newsfeed so I don't get sucked in.
  • Closing tabs whenever I can and not opening any for distraction/entertainment until a task is completed (even when grading Intro to Music, my most squirm-inducing computer task)
  • Getting outside for fresh air every day to clear my head

How would you structure your day to be saner, happier, and more productive?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New music review: Breath of Souls: Five Waiata for Solo Flute

Breath of Souls: Five Waiata for Solo Flute (2010-2014)
Peter Adams
©2015 Promethean Editions Limited

Native New Zealand composer Peter Adams studied with Peter Maxwell Davies, and he also cites the serial work of Anton Webern as an influence. Breath of Souls is clearly very carefully crafted with regards to structure, and it favors both symmetrical shapes and the loose employment of 12-tone rows, but the effect is nonetheless truly captivating.

The composer’s notes which precede this edition comprise a brief master class in the tonal form of the piece, which is interesting in itself--the intricate detail of this work is admirable.  But what is even more fascinating is how something that can be described in such mechanical terms can become something else entirely, as if each “breath” was improvised, growing organically from first note to last. The piece began as a set of three movements for treble recorder and was only completed last year with the addition of the second and fourth movements. The entire piece is inspired by the poem Mercy by Greek-Armenian poet Olga Broumas, which describes breaths of “sea smoke” rising from the waters of a harbor and compares this natural phenomenon to a more spiritual “breaths of souls”.

The first and fifth movements, both called “Pounamu”, serve as prologue and epilogue in this setting, and they are both constructed of identical pitch content. The first serves as a contemplative idea which develops slowly and incompletely, while the second (the last movement), has been drastically altered in rhythm to reflect the rhythmical development of the middle movements, ending in a more restless, but still incomplete thought. Movements two and four, “Waiata Aroha” and “Waiata Tangi”, are the newly added movements, and they are meant to explore themes of love and loss, respectively. “Aroha” (love) leaps and soars gracefully with a nimbleness expressed through rhythms that develop in density throughout.  A general sense of upward motion at the end of many phrases lends an optimism which is later crushed in the slow and meandering “Tangi” (loss).  “Moeraki (Jewel of the Sea)”, depicts transcendence in the form of the poet’s rising “sea smoke”.  It is organized in a simple A-B-A arch.  The A theme is a light 3+3+2 dance, interrupted in the middle of the movement by a B theme which suddenly slows, employing pitch bends and wiggling sixteenth notes meant to be played unevenly, with a sense of rising up into the atmosphere.

Breath of Souls: Five Waiata for Solo Flute in its current, fully developed incarnation is a set of meditations which build upon and inform each other; each one is pure magic. And while the composer suggests that these brief ideas may be performed individually, I would urge the performer to commit to this eight-and-a-half minute suite in its entirety, for a result that is pure sonic poetry and a refreshing new addition to our contemporary solo literature.

Nicole Riner ©2016

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Field Guide to Extended Techniques for Beginners

As we near the deadline for Flute New Music Consortium's Flute Artist Competition, I am thinking about all of you out there who are currently making friends with some new techniques for flute, as well as those of us who advocate strongly for new music and work to incorporate extended techniques into all of our teaching. I hope you'll all be won over in the end! 

Flutter Tongue: Rolling the ‘r’ to produce a fluttering, “frrrr” sound through notes.
A few occurrences in the literature*: Ulrich Gasser, Papierblüten (Paper Blossoms); André Jolivet, Cinq Incantations
Notes on practice: Even people who can roll their r’s (if you can’t, blame genetics!) sometimes prefer to switch to the uvula in the low register.  Use your uvula the same way you would gargle and bring that motion as far forward on the uvula as possible.  It can sustain a smoother sound by not interrupting the air as much as the tongue.  And of course, open up, blow down, and use plenty of air! Flutter tongue, by the way, is a great exercise for practicing moving fast air; just add it to slurred scales or long tones, then play without and notice a more resonant, open sound!

Harmonics: Producing multiple notes from one fingering, namely the tones from the harmonic series based off that note you are fingering. 
A few occurrences in the literature: Anne LaBerge, revamper; Elizabeth Brown, Trillium
Notes on practice: Practicing harmonics regularly also leads to more accurate control of sound production by improving accuracy on the head joint.  The exercises on the first page of Trevor Wye’s Tone book from his Practice Book for the Flute series provides a great guide to practicing harmonics for the sake of improving tone, and can be transposed to start on notes from B to F in the lowest register.

Jet Whistle: Covering the entire embouchure hole with your mouth and blowing very hard to produce a whistling sound. 
A few occurrences in the literature: Villa-Lobos Assobio a Jato (The Jet Whistle) for flute and cello: first occurrence; Ian Clarke, Zoom Tube; Robert Dick, Afterlight
Notes on practice: If you aim forward slightly and try to blow your air against the far side of the tube inside the head joint, you will get a sharper sound and create some resistance, thereby allowing you to go longer on the breath.

Key Clicks: Slapping one or more keys with or without blowing into the flute, creating a light percussive sound. Composers will sometimes ask for the note to be played while performing a key click; without this specification, the key click should not be accompanied by a tone.
A few occurrences in the literature: Phyllis Avidan Louke,  Extended Techniques - Double the Fun and Extended Techniques - Solos for Fun! ; Edgard Varèse, Density 21.5: first occurrence; Lowell Liebermann, Eight Pieces
Notes on practice: For more projection, experiment with leaving your mouth open slightly to act as a resonating chamber.  You can also produce the pitch a seventh below what is written by covering the embouchure hole completely with your mouth, which will be notated in a variety of ways by the composer.

Multiphonics: Playing two or more pitches at once; these tones will not sound as clean and pure as normal flute playing, but will tend to create a hollow, train whistle kind of effect. Most multiphonics require special fingerings which will be glossed either in the performer’s notes or within the context of the piece.
A few occurrences in the literature: Trevor Wye,  A Very Easy 20th Century Album; Michael Colqhoun, Charanga; Luciano Berio, Sequenza
Notes on practice: To practice finding them in a piece, isolate each individual pitch with the fingering given by the composer. Then find the place on the head joint where both will speak, aiming in between the two spots on the head joint for the individual pitches.  It may be necessary to favor one pitch over the other(s) if it is weaker in resonance or harder to maintain. Experiment with changing your air speed or vowel shape in the mouth to make it easier to get both to speak.

Pitch Bends: Smooth glissandos performed by either rolling the head joint in and out or sliding fingers off the keys of an open-hole flute (or both).
A few occurrences in the literature: Ian Clarke, Orange Dawn , Kazuo Fukushima, Mei; Robert Dick, Fish are Jumping
Notes on practice:  Experiment and let your ear be your guide--more stable notes (middle register D) will require some finger sliding, while very bendable notes like middle register C or C# can be done entirely by rolling in and out without completely losing the sound.  Besides rolling the flute, collapsing the embouchure and/ or slowing the air can help make a pitch go flatter, and pulling the corners of the embouchure (usually a mortal sin!) may help raise pitch.

Pizzicato: Short bursts of air across the embouchure hole combined with heavy (“spit”) articulation to create an airy, ghost-like staccato, played on any note fingering.  Do not blow directly into the flute like you would for a normal pitch; these should sound closer to key clicks than actual notes.
A few occurrences in the literature: Shulamit Ran, East Wind; Jason Barabba, A Sign in Space
Notes on practice: Blow further across the flute than you normally would to avoid playing  clean tone. Pizzicato notes can also be used in place of unpitched key clicks if you are playing in a very large and/or noisy room where you fear the key clicks will not be heard by the audience.

Sing + Play: Humming a pitch while playing a note on the flute. 
A few occurrences in the literature: Wil Offermans, Honami; Robert Dick, Lookout
Notes on practice: Sing and play is a great way to ensure that air flow is relaxed and open and that air speed is fast--practice doing it in unison, octaves, and polyphony in scales. It’s also a nice review of our aural  training! If you have difficulty starting both sounds right away, practice singing and then adding the note, and keep working to make the two gradually coincide.

Tongue Ram / Tongue Stop: Performed by hitting the embouchure hole with the tip of your tongue, like saying “hut” or “hoot” (a kind of reverse articulation).  The lips should totally encircle the embouchure hole.
A few occurrences in the literature: Victor Fontin, No Problem (Pub.: Doblinger), Jos Zwannenberg, Solo for Prepared Flute
Notes on practice: Be extremely forceful with the air and tighten the mouth for a good seal over the tone hole in order to efficiently produce audible sound on these.

Whistle Tones: Using slow but extremely focused air across the embouchure hole, you can produce notes that sound like you are whistling; multiple notes from the harmonic series can also be “whistled” off of low notes.  The lips should be further forward than normal playing when executing whistle tones.
A few occurrences in the literature: Wil Offermans, For the Younger Flutist - etudes, Toru Takemitsu, Itinerant
Notes on practice: Whistle tones are commonly used as an exercise to improve accuracy on the headjoint, much like harmonics. A simple exercise could involve finding the whistle tone of a note, then playing the regular note, and going back and forth to compare clarity of sound and pitch.  They are easier to produce in the high register, so start there (on or near high A) and gradually work your way down.  Strive to improve projection and steadiness of sound.

* Literature examples listed from easiest to most difficult

Artaud, Pierre-Yves. The Mutliphonic Flute and Present-Day Flutes (Pub.: Billaudot)
Dehnhard, Tilmann.  The New Flute - Workbook & DVD (Pub.: Universal)
Dick, Robert.  The Other Flute and Tone Development Through Extended Techniques (Pub.: Robert Dick)
Holland, Linda.  Easing Into Extended Techniques (5 volumes) (Pub.: Con Brio)
Koizumi, Hiroshi.  Technique for Contemporary Flute Music (Pub.: Schott)
Offermans, Wil.  For the Younger Flutist - etudes (Pub.: Zimmerman)

General definitions/demonstrations:

Detailed Repertoire lists:

Nicole Riner ©2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Keep track of your goals for better performances!

It's important all times of the year to continually reevaluate and remember what goals you are striving to accomplish; I am surprised by how often my students lose track of this precisely when they are getting close to performances.  As we pass the midterm mark here at University of Wyoming, I encourage my students to resist the temptation to put the blinders on and just obsessively perform their jury and recital pieces for the rest of the term. Remember every exercise that helps you make those pieces sound great, and maintain your workout routine in the face of chaos to feel completely in control.

This goes double for chamber groups, who can be slow to start and quick to fall into a slump as solo projects call. But if your required woodwind quintet has an end-of-semester performance, it's critical that you spend this time to build a strong sense of musical community and trust in each other.

Here are a two of simple hand-outs you can copy many times and add to your flute notebook to help.
Click on the icon for the .pdf.

Weekly Practice Sheets for all age levels:

Chamber Music rehearsal logs: