Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tips for band directors

I always encourage band directors to keep in touch and ask questions whenever they are struggling with their flute sections; I think that we, as flutists, can offer a crucial lifeline to our colleagues in the public schools and advocate for the best practices on our instrument.  I cannot imagine the pressure of standing in front of a band and having to make everyone sound great on all of their various instruments all by myself; no one person can be the expert on everything. That's where a cadre of instrumental experts helps everyone involved.

These are some materials I have shared with my colleagues in Wyoming and NoCo over the years and I hope it is helpful in some way; feel free to share this information with your own colleagues, wherever you happen to be as you read this.  And band directors, remember: we want to help you help your students to love the flute (and piccolo) the way we do.  We're all on the same team, so call us when we can help!

Equipment

Move to an open-hole flute as early as possible (if hands are large enough, it is possible to start on one).  Off-set G is preferred over inline for the health of the left hand.  Pitch is generally better on a B-foot, rather than a C-foot, flute.   Flute prices range wildly, but in general, you get what you pay for.  The following brands are recommended because they are built on good scales, construction is sturdy, and they tend to hold a repair for a long time.

Recommended Brands, in order of preference--flutes:
            1. Altus/ Azumi (Azumi is made by Altus)
            2. Muramatsu
            3. Trevor James
            4. Yamaha

Recommended Brands, in order of preference--concert piccolos
            1. Resona by Burkhart
            2. Pearl PFP105-E
            3. Yamaha YPC-62

Embouchure practice aid: Pneumo Pro Wind Director, www.blockiflute.com

Resources

Online:
Accurate fingering charts: www.wfg.woodwind.org
Breathing exercises: Breathing Gym Playlist on YouTube
Purchasing flute music, instruments, and accessories: www.fluteworld.com 
Flute repertoire guides, practice tips, and history: thepedagogyproject.pbworks.com
Information on summer festivals, competitions, and conferences: www.nfaonline.org
Overcoming performance anxiety, general inspiration: www.bulletproffmusician.com
UW Flute Studio, including information on Wyoming Flute Day and a Wyoming state flute teacher directory: sites.google.com/site/wyoflutes/home
Dr. Riner’s home page: www.nicoleriner.info

Highly Recommended Exercise Books:
Trevor Wye, Practice Book for Flute, Omnibus Edition (Published by Novello)
            °Includes sections on tone, technique, breathing, articulation, scales, and more

Tips for Great Flute Playing
A hand-out for high school flutists by Dr. Nicole Riner
Visiting Assistant Professor of Flute, University of Wyoming

1.  Try to stand whenever you practice the flute, and face your feet, hips, and knees 45º to the right.  Then swing the upper half of your body to face the music stand.  This prevents arm fatigue and makes it easier to fill up with air. 

2. To fill up with air, deliberately sense the temperature of the air in the back of the throat.  This triggers the lower half of the lungs and makes the lungs expand from the bottom first, where they are larger and more pear-shaped.  Notice that the three lowest ribs are “floating” and not attached in the front like the rest of the ribs.  Let the floating ribs go outward in a 360º circle. 

3.  When tonguing say “tu” or “du”, not “whoo” or “pu”.  The tip of the tongue should hit just behind your front top teeth to lightly interrupt a fast, constant stream of air.  After each “tu” the tongue tip should rest lightly behind the bottom teeth, ready to strike again.  Keep the mouth cavity open and relaxed with the tongue resting on the floor of the mouth when not in use. 

4. To sustain the tone with a rich, full sound, use the “belt trick”.  Fill up with air and pretend you have a belt around your middle that is WAY too big for you. Make the imaginary belt taut by pushing out all around in a circle, and keep the imaginary belt taught the whole time you exhale into the flute.  This engages extra abdominal muscles that help control the exhalation. 

5. Move the lip corners forward as you go higher on the flute so that the center of the lips moves gradually closer to the far side of the blowing edge.  To go lower, open your mouth by putting more space between your back teeth and pointing the air down into the hole, which will be les covered.  Keep your corners loose and relaxed at all times.  Don’t roll the flute inwards or outwards to achieve different octaves or pitches, but make your lips do it instead. 

6.  To tune, push the headjoint in to make the pitch higher (sharper), pull the headjoint out to make the pitch lower (flatter).  When you are in a good place and the majority of your notes are in tune, remember that spot and put your headjoint there every time you put it together.  Remember that cold flutes will always be flat until they warm up; you can speed up the process by blowing some hot air into the headjoint before checking your tuning. 

If you find that you go flat when playing softly or sharp when playing loudly, use your embouchure:
For forte: Put more space between your back teeth, pull the upper lip downward, and aim the air down into the flute.
For piano: Bring your lips forward into a pucker and blow more across the hole, still using fast air speed. 

7.  Always line up your headjoint so that when you play your flute, the tops of the keys face the ceiling.  The first key should be lined up with the embouchure hole in the headjoint. Your pinky keys should be easily reachable—adjust where you put your footjoint to fit your hand.  Your right hand thumb should act as a shelf to hold that side of the flute, while the left side is held in place by your chin (with only gentle pressure, no pushing!) and the lower part of your index finger of your left hand. 

8.  When assembling or disassembling your flute, don’t place your hands on the keys, rods, or levers.  Place your hands on the sturdy and smooth parts of the tube only.  It’s very easy to bend the thin keys and rods, which will keep your flute from working smoothly and accurately. 

9.  Always swab the flute out with a handkerchief or silk swab after playing. This dries the pads and protects them from wear.  Always gently wipe fingerprints off the body to preserve the finish of your flute; you can use a handkerchief or microfiber cloth.

10.  Practice things that are challenging, like octave slurs and fast, clean scales, every day!  Stay curious and seek good role models in professional flute players and recordings.  Take lessons from a reputable flute teacher in your area if possible, or email me for in-person or SKYPE lessons. 


Nicole Riner ©2016



Thursday, September 7, 2017

Announcing my Flutist's Expression Workbook!

...just in time to combat the back-to-school obsession over All-State auditions and marching band shows! This book has been a two-year labor of love and I will continue to update and improve it with your feedback. I've just released A Flutist’s Expression Workbook, appropriate for junior high through adult students. The Workbook utilizes exercises from 19th Century vocal method books as a vehicle for developing beautiful, flexible tone and more creative expression in playing. Vocalises are presented with two sets of expression markings followed by text meant to lead the student through the musical effect of the markings as well as specific instruction on how to perform those markings effectively. There is also an unadorned copy of each vocalise for students to mark for themselves as they explore their own musical creativity. Supplementary material includes four duets, arranged from their original operatic settings, for flutes and piano, and piano accompaniment to all vocalises. It's available in print edition (spiral-bound) or digital download, which also includes .mp3 files of select accompaniments to play along with and extra "blanks" of each vocalise for your musical marking pleasure!

You can read more about it, view sample pages, and order at this link. I'll be updating that page with supplementary videos of me teaching some of the vocalises throughout the fall. Please feel free to share this information with colleagues and students, and thanks for helping spreading the word!


Thursday, August 24, 2017

So You Want to Be a Freelance Musician

It's that time of year, when everyone who's not heading back to school is starting to look around and wonder, "what next?" I wrote this article back in 2014 and it has been published in a couple of places, but I don't think anything much has changed.  For further reading, however, the landscape is looking brighter all the time. Shout-out to Brandon Upshaw's Startup Musician blog and his downloadable book, This is How We Do It.


So You Want to Be a Freelance Musician

Nicole Riner

The musical community is becoming a more creative, dynamic place.  Never before have there been so many opportunities to develop your own path as a music entrepreneur.  You may decide this is the path you choose to take after school, rather than pursuing the more traditional graduate school-to-professorship trajectory or devoting yourself to orchestral auditions. This will often mean moving to a more urban environment with an arts scene after college. Moving to a new city is challenging if you do not have personal or musical connections there.  You will start out in the back of the line behind local professors and their graduate students, recent graduates who stayed in town, important people’s spouses, and those who have been a part of the local scene since you were a toddler!  But don’t lose heart--you will eventually be recognized for your reliability, talent, pleasant social skills, and humble, hard-working attitude as long as you consistently display those qualities whenever you have the opportunity.  Some tips:

Be ready to self-promote.  Get your one-page resume looking as good as it can, and make it easily available.  You can carry paper copies with you wherever you go, but paper is becoming a thing of the past.  It’s better to also have all the information you want to convey on a website (resume, bio, performance calendar, teaching philosophy, sound clips, etc.) and get some great-looking business cards made to share your information quickly and easily.   Study other websites from people in your field and copy the best.  Do some shopping for hosts--new companies are constantly forming to offer affordable package deals on the domain name alongside some pretty professional-looking design help. 

PS--a website filled with bravado and not much else is rather annoying (and ubiquitous, unfortunately); create a website that celebrates your victories while also allowing people to get to know you as a musician.  This is why I think a well-written teaching philosophy is so important: it allows potential students and their parents to make a connection to you and feel comfortable choosing you as their teacher. Share your particular interests, whether it’s classical-jazz crossover music or Latin American folk music.  Your website helps you get past the awkward stranger phase. 

Stay in shape.  The imposed down-time of having no gigs in a new place allows you to be in the best shape of your life.  Design an efficient regular practice routine so that you are always ready at a moment’s notice to fill in at a gig--these will most likely be your first calls.  Scales, long tones, orchestral excerpts, and sight reading practice should all be prioritized, as well as familiarizing yourself with any common chamber music literature you haven’t yet learned (woodwind quintets, flute trios, etc.). Your goal is to be able to say yes to anything that comes along and to play so well that you get called again.  No excuses.

When I was new to a previous city where I worked, I received a call at 8am asking me if I could step in for a sick piccolo player for a days’ worth of recording demonstration CDs for band programs.  The gig started at 9:30am, and with traffic, I had to leave my apartment as soon as I hung up.  While I don’t normally consider myself a piccolo player, I had been practicing it hoping it would increase my chances of getting called, and so I was ready to pound through Hal Leonard arrangements for four hours.  My paycheck that day was the largest I had received up to that point, I met several movers and shakers in the local gig scene who remembered me for future work, and I got credit with contractors for being willing to drop everything and save the day. 

Make calls.  Contact local band directors about coming in to teach pull-out or after-school lessons.  Call the personnel managers of local part-time orchestras and ask if you can audition for the sub list.  If there is a good college or full-time orchestra in your area, contact the flute professor/ principal player and take a lesson, expressing your interest in subbing and other side work if you hit it off (be prepared to pay a premium for these lessons, though).  Learn who the contractors in your area are and email them your press packet of headshot, resume, bio, and links to pertinent information on your website.  In short, make sure people know where to find you. 

Look for a faculty to join.  Any faculty, whether it’s a tiny private college or a community music school whose clientele are mostly fresh out of diapers, is a great place to meet other active freelancers.  By making friends with the other adjuncts, you can learn about gigs, create chamber music groups, and generally learn the lay of the land. Teach flute, music appreciation, aural skills—in short, teach whatever you responsibly can.

Create performance opportunities.  Give a recital at a local church, theater, or chamber music venue if it exists.  And be sure to promote that recital aggressively--contact local newspapers, classical radio stations, and arts bloggers to announce the program and offer yourself for an interview or review of the show.  If it goes well and you are meeting like-minded musicians at your part-time teaching job (see above), consider creating a chamber music series in your town. 

Say yes to everything.  Any work even marginally related to performing could lead to more performing.  Just do anything you feel capable of doing that will allow you to work with other musicians and let them see you shine.  Entry-level arts administration work, becoming a sub-contractor for gigs, or just teaching or playing in situations you didn’t imagine for yourself are all fair game.  I don’t spend a lot of time with small children, but I have played my well-worn Peter and the Wolf excerpts and Harry Potter themes for them a number of times in their elementary schools, and I am always playing with great musicians, some of whom have great gigs.  And eventually they mention my name to their contractors.  

Consider working for free.  It’s a painful concept after so many years of playing for free as a student, but I think you go back to square one whenever you move to a new place. You have decide if the situation is right for you.  If the unpaid gig will ingratiate you with a busy, overworked contractor or allow you to play for influential musicians in the area, you can consider it an extended audition.  However, if it’s playing for some out-of-towner’s outdoor wedding in January, skip it. 

What to do once you get a gig:  by the time you start getting calls, you will have gone through periods of frustration, mild depression, and panic at the thought of having wasted your college years practicing your instrument instead of doing something marketable.  Don’t let it show.  Whether you are playing beside brilliant musicians or people who seem ready to retire, address everyone as a respected colleague.  That means patting your thigh in appreciation after orchestra solos in rehearsal (good or bad) and thanking the regulars in the ensemble for letting you play with them.   And it most certainly includes good social skills in general: make direct eye contact, smile, offer your hand and introduce yourself.  Act happy to be there, even if it has been a difficult week filled with rejections.  There are far more good musicians than there are jobs, so no one has to suffer your inflated ego for the privilege of hearing you play.  They can just call someone else. 

And whatever you do, treat every rehearsal, no matter how mundane the music, as if it is the most important performance of your life.  You are being judged every time you make a sound as people decide where to put you on the sub list. 

It takes time to establish yourself, and that calendar can vary.  Every musical community is a small one, and every action and statement you make will follow you.  If you consistently--even when you think no one is looking--present yourself as willing to work, hold yourself to a high standard, and act generously and with kindness in the face of others’ struggles, people will want to work with you.  And the longer you remain that excellent colleague, the higher your name rises on the sub list.                                                                                                                          

Nicole Riner ©2016

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Creative Careers for Flutists

NFA is next week, and I hope to see many of you there! I am very excited to be participating in Flute New Music Consortium's round table discussion about commissioning new music, called "Keeping Score", Saturday at noon. And for anyone interested in learning more about FNMC or advocating for new music in general, you can join us Friday at 6pm for our annual meet-and-greet; just look for me at the registration table. Otherwise, I will be keeping a pretty low-key schedule this year, so there's plenty of time to visit and/or schedule lessons for any of you interested in either of those things...just message me here.

I am reminded of another inspiring and informative panel I participated in a few years back at the Las Vegas convention, and I think the information is just as timely today.  Here are the notes from that original hand-out (mine are a bit out of date, but it's funny to go back and read them now!), which I hope can be of supplementary use to you this season as you carve out your own niches.

NFA 2012: Creative Careers for Flutists
Panel contact information
Jan Boland: Red Cedar Chamber Music in Eastern Iowa
My career has been shaped by chamber music. What does a career in chamber music require? Persistence, relationship-building, persistence, creative solutions to obstacles, and persistence. Get on the “chamber music bus” and no matter where it goes, “don’t get off the bus.” For the first part of my career, I followed the typical independent artist path – balancing 5 part-time jobs in performance and teaching, determined that at the end of the year they would amount to a full-time income. About 15 years ago, I co founded Red Cedar Chamber Music – a not-for-profit arts organization designed to serve Eastern Iowa with quality chamber music while, at the same time, providing a living wage for its core ensemble (my guitar partner and myself). I serve as flutist and Executive Director – and play 80-100 concerts each season. Our venues are the concert hall, libraries, rural communities, schools and senior residential facilities. The beautiful part of this model is that I (with my guitarist partner) design the programs (3 annually) – the repertoire, the schedule, the composers we commission, and the artists with whom we work are our choices. The down side is, it is a lot of hard work. Non-musical skills required include fundraising, marketing, bookkeeping, database management, artist management, music arranging, board development, web-design, lots of people skills, and more – some I enjoy a great deal, and other parts, not so much. At the end of the day, I like what I am doing – playing lots of concerts, making an artistic impact on the people in my region and beyond. I’m happy to talk to you.
Check out Red Cedar Chamber Music online at www.redcedar.org
On Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RedCedarMusic


Stephanie Pedretti: freelance teacher/performer in Chicago, IL
Currently the main component of my career is teaching, although I am also active as a performer.
As I was going through undergraduate and graduate school, I thought of myself more as a
performer than a teacher - my major was “flute performance” after all! In spite of that, I was
lucky enough to have had some teaching opportunities, and after graduating, somehow ended up
with more students of all ages and levels than I knew what to do with. I became intrigued with
the art of teaching and discovered that it was something I really enjoyed. It helped me to analyze
my own playing and learn at the same time as I was teaching others. As I sought for creative
ways to engage the youngest students in my studio, I discovered the Suzuki method and began
taking teacher training courses. When I decided that I wanted to live in Chicago and see what
kind of musical life I could build for myself there, it was this combination of teaching experience
and Suzuki training that opened doors for me. The first step was casting a wide net -- I sent out
letters and resumes to every community music school and college in the Chicago area that I
could find. Out of approximately 40-50 letters, I received six responses -- one very positive letter
from a college that had no current opening, and five offers for interview/auditions at community
music schools. I started off in Chicago that fall teaching at three community music schools.
Over time I became involved in the Chicago Flute Club (a great way to meet other flutists),
and reached out to colleagues of different instruments to create opportunities to perform - the
beauty of this has been choosing our own repertoire and the challenging part is seeking out the
venues to perform in. I’ve found a good balance and enjoy the musical life that I’m still in the
process of developing. Please feel free to contact me:


Chris Potter: low flutes specialist in Boulder, CO
My love of the sound of low flutes started with the first Atlanta convention – 1976 I think it was. I had played a straight tube alto as an undergraduate, but the twist of the right wrist was too uncomfortable. When I discovered they could be made with a curved head as well, I started saving my pennies. In 1983 I was able to purchase an alto, and now almost 30 years later, there is an NFA Low Flutes Committee of which I am chair. I have performed at many NFA conventions and all over the U.S. and in England and France as an alto and bass flute soloist. I have commissioned and premiered many wonderful pieces and met many interesting people. Along the way, I have had several books published and been the guest artist with many flute associations, including the British Flute Society. I started an Alto and Bass Flute Retreat that just completed its 8th year. People contact me from all over the world for advice about altos and basses. If you would like some advice regarding low flutes, please contact me at
cpotter@altoflute.net

Nicole Riner: national freelance teacher/performer
I followed a very typical educational path, going all the way through to my doctorate, all degrees in flute performance, without ever taking a moment to stop and think about my goals.  As I neared completion of my doctorate, my husband, also a musician, won “The Golden Job” (full-time, tenure-track) at a small school in the Rocky Mountains.  There was not much freelance teaching to be had in our new town, and despite doing everything I had done in the Midwest to develop a studio, I had very few, irregular flute students coming to my house.   I finished my doctorate while remodeling our old Bungalow; I started to get occasional sub work with local part-time orchestras, but it wasn’t very fulfilling work, nor did it fill up my days.  I taught adjunct at a local college and did not feel like I fit in; I cared about playing and teaching, but not about the politics or the committee meetings that seemed to fill the full-timers’ schedules.   I was fortunate enough to win a new adjunct position at University of Wyoming, 90 miles northwest of my house in Colorado, where I have spent six blissful years doing nothing but making chamber music with great colleagues and teaching motivated students, but it is still only part-time work, and the weeks are long. 
So, in my early 30s, I finally figured out what it was I wanted to do: I wanted to perform in addition to teaching advanced students, and I also wanted to resume my love of writing, which I had shelved in college in order to be the best flutist I could be.  I did not feel like this is quite what I was groomed to do in graduate school, so I began to work piecemeal to create opportunities to practice my crafts.  I began to seek performances elsewhere, calling old contacts scattered across the Midwest and Pacific Northwest to see if someone would have me out for a recital.  To my great surprise, people often said yes, sometimes with offers of money to cover my travel expenses and beyond.  Slowly, I have built very satisfying relationships with other college flute teachers and freelance performers from across the country and have pieced together whole tours in which I actually get paid to give recitals and master classes.  In 2010 I released a CD with a colleague from UW which has further fueled invitations to perform.  Contact with contemporary composers through my school’s new music festival has led to commissions and world premieres, and I am currently in the throes of my first commission with one such composer from our festival.  I am a teacher and performer, but I am also a business manager, a talent agent, grant-writer, and a well-seasoned traveler who can cite most major airlines’ baggage fees.  I have also reached out of my isolated area to create a national network of flutists with a collaborative website called The Pedagogy Project.  On the side, I have published a book about my travels and maintain a blog.  By never winning that tenure-track job, I spend the time my colleagues are in meetings and sitting on committees doing things I care about: teaching, playing, writing, and dreaming of the Next Big Project. 
www.nicoleriner.info


Ruth Ann Ritchie: Astraios in Dallas area, Texas
After I finished grad school in Australia and moved back to the States, I started the usual round of orchestra auditions.  I was teaching a studio of about 55 students, but I wanted to play.  I made finals in my third audition, but knew that I wasn’t cut out to practice Daphnis for the rest of my life.  The teaching was a good income, but I needed a better artistic outlet. My friends from school were facing the same questions—they were finished with grad school, but the economy was shaky and orchestras everywhere were facing cuts.
As a teenager, I’d given many informal concerts where people would ask questions and want to look at my music, or touch the buttons on my flute. Now in my 20s, I began to realize that there was a huge need for this kind of concert.  There are many people out there who think classical music is something on a pedestal that can’t be reached without a secretive induction ceremony, and that asking questions is unacceptable.  So in 2007, I founded Astraios, a network of chamber musicians working to remove barriers between audiences and performers.  We provide various forms of interaction for the audiences in our concerts—clapping exercises to understand the rhythmic drive, voting for which instrument sounds better with a melody line, even dramatic readings of poems. We always provide lots of time to meet the musicians and ask all the questions you’d like.  We also run a monthly blog profiling our different musicians and giving updates on our rehearsal progress.  We hold our performances to the highest level, but we want to show that classical music is not terrifying. I know that classical music is worth saving, and this is what we’re doing to help.
Astraios now runs a summer chamber concert series in Colorado and is a frequent performer on Colorado Public Radio.  We also just received the go-ahead to start a fall-spring concert series in Dallas, Texas; are working with local directors to help gather interest in the school band and orchestra programs; and are raising money for our first commissioning project.  Please contact me if you’d like to know more!
https://www.facebook.com/AstraiosMusic
www.astraiosmusic.org


Nicole Riner ©2016

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Album review: The chamber music of Nino Rota


Still listening to this for fun, and this album just totally sounds like summer to me...

Rota: Chamber Music for Flute
with Mario Carbotta, flute
Dynamic©2012

Composer Nino Rota was born in Milan in 1911, studied in Milan under Gioseffo Zarlino and in Rome under Alfred Casella, all preceding World War II.  He was best known as a film composer, including many collaborations with Fellini until his death in 1979.  Despite this background, his harmonic language, at least on this album, is quite conservative  and traditional, favoring simple stepwise melodies and neo-Romantic chord progressions.  The repertoire included on this CD was all written between 1935 and 1972, and any sense of musical tension or strife in these works is quickly glossed over and replaced by pastoral scenes and light, French-influenced melodies. 

Three Duets for flute and oboe (1972) employs simple, clean lines with an equal interchange of ideas.  The flute stays mostly in the middle and beginning of the high register and the oboe is generally in the same range, creating a sparkling, playful sound.  Rhythmical integrity is key in the fast outer movements, when the flute and oboe rapidly exchange fragments and finish each others’ sentences.

Five Pieces for flute and piano (1972) is clearly influenced by Satie’s simplicity and diatonic language with perhaps a touch of Debussy’s sense of ambling, uneven phrases and cool, aloof chord structure.  Likewise, the Sonata for flute and harp (1937) evokes Ravel in its elegant simplicity.  The Quintet for flute, oboe, viola, cello, and harp (1935) also fits into this category, marked by gentle, undulating melodies.  The choice of instruments in this piece works very well, and voicing is well-written to highlight each instrument’s strengths. 

The Trio for flute, violin, and piano (1958) is a rousing, technical fanfare right out of the gate.  The playful exchange between voices reminds one of similar chamber works by Bohuslav Martinu, and there is a great energy present in all three parts.  The harmonic language is still very accessible, but it does wander a bit more into atonal territory than the aforementioned pieces, adding some welcome variety to the program and allowing listeners to enjoy flutist Mario Cabotta‘s excellent technique. 

The performance quality on this album is stellar; each musician plays incredibly well as individuals and as chamber musicians.  Ensemble is solid on each track.  Mario Carbotta plays beautifully in a rich, sonorous lyrical style.

Sound quality is just fine on the majority of the CD: the atmosphere is warm and intimate without sacrificing clarity of sound.  The Trio for flute, violin, and piano is an exception; the violin and piano often overbalance the flute, which suddenly sounds far away, unlike any of the other tracks. 

Nino Rota’s repertoire highlights the flute’s lyricism and clean simplicity of sound, and it is beautifully wrought by all of the musicians on this album.

Nicole Riner ©2016