Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Album review: Formisano plays the classics

Davide Formisano, flute and Phillip Moll, piano
© 2015 Deutsche Grammophon

Italian flutist Davide Formisano’s latest collaboration with renowned pianist Phillip Moll, Portrait, is painted with very traditional strokes, indeed. But it is nevertheless a wonderful record of the flute’s history as a soloistic instrument.

The repertoire on Portrait is probably already all in your library: Taffanel’s Mignon Fantasie, Roussel’s Joueurs de Flûte, Gaubert’s Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando, Dutilleux Sonatine, La Merle Noir by Messiaen, and even the Romance by Saint-Saëns makes an appearance. Karl Lenski’s arrangement of Prélude à l’apres-midi d’un faun showcases some subtle variations to the way we often hear the piece, and Formisano’s own transcription of a Carmen fantasie by Pablo de Sarasate is a clever little surprise at the end. The entire album is like a Romantic-lover’s candy shop—all of your favorites are here, and they are all beautifully rendered.

And now here is my real point: after letting out a little sigh of boredom upon reading the playlist, I was utterly entranced from the first to the last note of this album. Formisano swoons and sways just the right amount—so much you begin to wonder what is coming next in Mignon, but much more introspectively in Debussy. His colors change with every need, from brilliant to cool and shimmering. His technique is, of course, impeccable—that’s the easiest thing to accomplish on a recording. But more impressively, each note has a place and a function, making every single phrase meaningful in every single piece. He and Moll move at all times as such as tight team, it is as if they share one musical brain. New colors are brought to life in the piano parts, particularly in Roussel and Debussy. Portrait is elegant music making at its best, and it could make a believer of even the most jaded new music aficionado.

Nicole Riner ©2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book review: Tim Lane's Art of Doing Less

Holiday gift alert for the uber-flute geek in your life!

Tim Lane
Flute Playing and the Arts of Doing Less, Volumes 1 & 2
Paper Route Press ©2016

Dr. Time Lane has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1989. In addition to his classical music education, he has pursued additional studies in Alexander Technique and yoga. These influences, as well as his academically rigorous understanding of musical acoustics and the mechanics of the flute, are all on clear display in his incredibly thorough, illuminating two-volume series, Flute Playing and the Arts of Doing Less.

These slender (57 and 58 pages, respectively), spiral-bound publications may resemble homemade workbooks upon first glance, but they are actually densely-written, intellectually challenging tomes for even the best-trained veteran flutist. His philosophy, alluded to in the title, is that a thorough understanding of the construction of the flute and how it functions acoustically can lead to the most efficient, logical approach to playing. To this end, Dr. Lane includes a compact but rather complete explanation of how the flute makes a sound (from the vortices created inside and outside the flute with the application of air to the venting system that creates our fingerings) and a useful review of the overtone series, partials, and wavelengths that make up the sounds we perceive. 

In volume 1, Lane’s body work in Alexander Technique and yoga really shows. His introductory chapters (repeated at the front of volume 2) espouse a Zen-like approach to learning, emphasizing patience and thoughtful, deliberate practice as the student develops (or restructures) every small physical habit required to make playing the flute as efficient and physically healthy as possible. Stability and flexibility are stressed here, and he creates exercises to isolate all the working parts of the embouchure and oral cavity. He is also focused at every step on deconstructing tension by heightening physical awareness of over-worked muscle groups. For instance, one exercise has the student “blowing the candle out” (in this case, the tip of a finger placed in front of the face) while experimenting with different shapes in the mouth—open, with a closed throat, and with a raised tongue—to compare methods of moving air. Obviously, the goal is to release the throat and tongue for best use of air speed. Other exercises take a similar approach, comparing ideal to less ideal physical conditions in order to learn how to make a conscious decision about best practice habits. The book has students isolating muscles in order to control the corners of the mouth (which should be firm but flexible), move the middle of the upper lip while keeping the rest of the lips free and relaxed, and moving the jaw without engaging the tongue, among others.  The entire book is done largely without the flute, and even professional flutists might find some of it challenging to perform!

In volume 2, acoustical information becomes the basis of his instruction on how to manipulate the tube in various ways to alter pitch, find and utilize harmonics to strengthen sound and alter color, and play in tune with others. Particularly remarkable is his painstaking exploration of all possible colors on any given note, requiring the student to make minute physical adjustments to affect the overtones with a scientific explanation of what happens in each adjustment. His mathematically based chart for identifying the fundamental difference tones between intervals, which is then applied to a score of a Corrette duet, is also indicative of his extremely thorough approach to understanding the flute.  And I love his explanation of how venting in combination with harmonics works to create pitches, which he then applies to devising alternate fingerings for better pitch in the third octave, etc. Nothing is left a mystery; every aspect of playing is explained intelligently.

Dr. Lane’s approach to teaching the flute is one of the most thoughtful, wholistic, and thoroughly researched I have ever seen. Not only that, it’s good; every exercise truly contributes to better control over the flute, with no unnecessary words or ideas merely taking up space on paper. His stated desire with these volumes is that learners will develop an efficient way of playing, but I would add that his teaching style also helps students move towards self-sufficiency by teaching universal concepts of how to manipulate the instrument based on understanding how it is constructed and how sound is made. With all of the knowledge acquired and skills developed in these books, a player should be able to solve any sound production problem, whether it has to do with tone quality, pitch, or air capacity. It is a brilliant collection which can only come from a professional lifetime of examining every little detail of what the flutist does.

While the introduction claims that these books can be used by flutists of all ages, I do not think all ages can read at this level.  However, I certainly agree that these ideas would be very beneficial to young students as they develop good habits in their playing.  It is therefore an important addition to teachers’ libraries, who then must take responsibility for accurately translating these concepts and faithfully recreating these lessons in a thorough manner. As a college teacher, I will definitely add Flute Playing and the Arts of Doing Less to my list of required reading in pedagogy class, and I look forward to incorporating some of Dr. Lane’s approach into my own teaching at every level.

Nicole Riner ©2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

Get organized!

Life is so busy and stressful this time of year, with all the added Nutcracker performances, papers to grade or write, make-up lessons that have built up throughout the term, and final performances of the term. Oh, what am I saying? Life is always busy and stressful as a musician, and if you don't learn to control your schedule and compartmentalize your thinking, you will always feel like you're drowning. But if you create good habits that you can stick to and maybe take advantage of technology to help you, things can always be manageable.

Control the minutiae of your schedule
There are so many brilliant apps to make getting organized a fun game!

  • Remember the Milk emails and texts reminders attached to to-do lists and other thoughts you enter in 
  • Focus Booster uses the Pomodoro Technique to help you work more productively
  • Google Keep has app and desktop function, and allows you to make sticky notes of reminders and to-do lists, set timers for each, and share
  • Studious has campus maps, planners, and timetables to help you keep track of assignments, complete them on time, and find where you need to go
Write things down

  • Evernote allows you to create lists, take snapshots, record audio and set reminders all in one place and across all your devices. It's cross-platform and shareable, too. 
  • Google Docs is great for group projects and working from various technology (including the business center at the Holiday Inn) on the go. It allows you to create Word documents, spreadsheets, surveys and other forms, and slide shows, share with collaborators or as read-only links, and download in multiple formats.
Plan ahead
Google calendar/Microsoft calendar/Apple calendar allow you to add links, maps, detailed notes, reminders, and share. There are dozens of other calendars, too, and here they all are separated by their best features.

Create rituals

  • Regiment your schedule (see above)
  • Create habits for immediately filing, entering data, etc. so you don't lose things or forget information. For instance, add repertoire to your repertoire list and accomplishments to your resume as soon as they are completed so you don't get behind.
  • Organize materials by subject and/or musical "job" in separate binders, folders, or something easy to file. You can keep a binder with orchestral parts for auditions, another one with supplementary scales and other technical patterns, etc. Label each clearly on the spine so you can quickly grab what you need on your way out the door. 
Be Your Own Secretary
Set aside time every week to do administrative tasks that have built up--answer emails and voice mails, write your blog post, send in your conference proposal, etc. Don't let your inbox sit cluttered for too long, or it will be stressful every time you open it. Consider this hour or so a week your time to complete relatively mindless tasks and avoid the albatross of procrastination.

Whether your trips involve plane rides, last-minute overnight stays, or just a swap from book bag to gig bag for orchestra rehearsal, you are far less likely to forget the things you can't live without if they're already semi-packed.

  • Keep a "grab bag" with all the stuff you might need in a hurry; a gig bag might have music, instrument, accessories, etc., which you always replace to that bag as soon as you're done using them at home. An overnight bag will have things like trials sizes of essential toiletries, a spare set of pjs, and packets of oatmeal and coffee if you're on the road a lot (don't forget a spoon).
  • For out of town trips, I usually find that my Google calendar with details filled in is all I need (and it's already on my phone), but many people like Trip It, which allows you to organize the details of your itinerary and share with others. 
Make time to regenerate

  • Manage your money with Mint 
  • Meditate. Quieting the mind is a crucial skill, but it takes a lot of practice (kind of like Chant de Linos) Aro Meditation is a great free, secular meditation course that sends you an email every week with a subject and guide for your meditation.  
  • Counseling. If you can't get control of your insecure, negative, or angry thoughts, get some help. You cannot do this (or anything else) happily and successfully until you take care of your baggage. And if you feel shame at the thought of seeing a counselor, get over it. Everyone struggles at times. 
  • Take a yoga, zumba, or other exercise class (there are many free YouTube classes for the solitary, and almost every school, park district, or public library offers fitness classes if you also benefit from some non-competitive social interaction)
  • Stretch before practice and periodically throughout the day 
  • Check out the best fitness apps of 2016 
  • Don't forget to eat (pack healthy snacks when you know you won't make a meal), sleep, and drink plenty of water throughout the day

Friday, November 11, 2016

Writing your college essay, and other insider information from the audition seat

This late in the fall, high school seniors have hopefully already narrowed down their top choices for college and, ideally, visited the campuses, at least for a cursory glance at life in each setting. But the heavy lifting isn't over until you have signed an acceptance letter in the spring! Here are some thoughts, based on my own 12 years of college teaching, that can help you put your best foot forward as you proceed though the application and audition process.

Be real in your entrance essay.

I don't know if everyone reads the entrance essays that you write for college, but I certainly do, and I'm looking for clues about your personality, mindset, motivation, and work ethic.

If you are writing for a specific set of questions, answer them. The college entrance essay is not a creative writing exercise--we really want to know what we are asking you to tell us. Be genuine and straightforward in your answers, and avoid passive voice (always in life), flowery prose, and vague allusions when you can be specific.

If the essay itself is vaguely introduced ("tell us about yourself and why you should come to _____"), then give yourself an assignment that is more specific. Be careful not to clearly recreate an essay for another school, as that can look like you haven't given this particular school your careful consideration.  But if the assignment is not specific, make is specifically about you: why do you want to major in music, why do you want to come here, and what do you wish to accomplish as a professional musician? This will give the acceptance committee, and your prospective studio teacher, a clear sense of your sense of  purpose and specific professional goals.

I strongly recommend communicating with professors before the audition.

I appreciate when a prospective student emails me during the early stages of considering colleges, because it gives me an opportunity to better represent my school while getting to know that student. I also think it's an excellent way for the student to get a sense of my personality, which will be an important factor in deciding who s/he wants to study so closely with for an entire degree! So, I encourage you to reach out before applying, with these caveats:

Be sure to read all available online material (university website, music department website, flute studio website, professor's individual website) before emailing. Then when asking questions, you won't make the mistake of asking something that is already answered in the aforementioned material online, making it look like you either really don't care about the program or are not a very thorough student.

Also avoid incredibly vague questions like "what kind of feel is your flute studio"? That is a real question I got one year, and I had no idea how to respond. What do you really want to know? Ask that.

It is entirely acceptable to inquire about financial assistance opportunities (read everything on the websites first), numbers of students in the studio and numbers in each major, and performing and teaching opportunities off-campus and on. I often provide the names and emails of some of my current students for prospective students to contact them about their perspective, but if it isn't offered, I think it's acceptable to ask for that, as well.

I also like giving a sample lesson to a prospective student who is seriously considering coming to UW, for the aforementioned reasons: we can both get a better sense of what it would be like to work together. Some teachers will charge for this (I do not), so don't assume it's free. Because Laramie is so far from other towns, I often do a Skype lesson for people who are trying to decide if they want to spend all the money to fly out and audition. Conversely, I will also do a lesson the day before a live audition if that works out best. So ask, as it behooves you to know what style of teaching you are possibly signing on for, but do it respectfully and inquire about a fee.

I also invite prospective students to sit in on studio class if they are in town when it's happening.  You are about to join a community of flutists with whom you will work very closely for several years, and you will be happier (and perhaps more successful!) if you feel comfortable inthis new adopted family.  Is the environment in a particular studio class warm and welcoming? Intense and focused?  And how do the other students sound?  How does the teacher work with current students--respectfully? It's not always possible to observe a studio class (in which case, get some emails of current students!), but it's a great bonus when gathering information about where you want to be.

Showcase your best self in your auditions.

You will most likely be required to learn specific literature for some of your auditions, and other schools will keep things more flexible; double up as much as possible to avoid learning an impractical number of new pieces for each school. When given a choice between specific pieces, choose what you can play best, not what you think might be the most impressive.  The most impressive audition is one that is well-prepared. This goes for tempos, too. If your Chaminade is a little sloppy at your ideal tempo, but well-controlled and musical two clicks slower, perform it two clicks slower, and with great style.

Advice on appropriate audition pieces can also be asked in your initial contact with prospective flute teachers, but be sure it isn't already explained somewhere online or in written materials from the school, of course!

From the time you first make contact with a potential college teacher to the time you are accepted, you are both auditioning for each other, in a way. Your communication, preparation of application materials, and of course your demeanor and playing ability as demonstrated in your live audition all help a teacher determine whether you will be a good "fit" in the studio and likely to meet with success in that program.  Similarly, you are gleaning clues about the flute community at any given school and the relationship you will be able to develop with your flute teacher every time you interact with the teacher and the students at that school. No decision has to be permanent (there is always the option of transferring schools if you really feel you're in the wrong place), and there is no one perfect place for you, but rather several very good places to be; a situation is what you make of it once you commit to it. But taking this decision seriously now, and communicating who you are and what you need as a student clearly and honestly, will set you up for the best experience possible when you get to college.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Album reviews: Bledsoe, Borkowski, Charke,

As my bio and recording credits will reveal, I am a bit of a "new music" junkie, and I love the thrill of stumbling upon a new album that not only reveals gorgeous playing, but introduces me to entirely new pieces I never knew existed.  As a reviewer for Flutist Quarterly, I am lucky enough to have those gems fall in my lap at times, and over the past couple of years, I think these three have been my favorite.  They are definitely all in regular rotation on my long drives from my house in Northern Colorado to my job at University of Wyoming, but I haven't heard too much about them in the outside world, so if you haven't already encountered these excellent projects, go find them (and pay for them, for heaven's sake)!  What follows are excerpts from my FQ reviews.

Ghost Icebreaker
Helen Bledsoe, flute; Alexey Lapin, piano
Leo Records, ©2014

It’s hard to believe that in all her years serving as an unofficial guide through the world of avant-garde flute performance, this is actually Ms. Bledsoe’s first solo CD. Together with pianist Alexey Lapin, she shares this collection of wonderfully dense, widely varied improvisations on simple themes: “Snow”, “White Oranges”, etc., as well as the eponymous “Ghost Icebreaker”.  Each piece is so tight between players, and so organic in development, that I actually had no idea these were improvisations until I read about the album on her blog.

Each tune is wonderfully evocative, transporting the listener to a new state of mind with each new track.  Bledsoe’s use of extended techniques is integrated so thoroughly with the music that nothing ever sounds like a parlor trick or a cheap stunt; every color and texture is necessary and meaningful.  And she uses a broad pallet, as one would expect from a flutist whose illustrious career has focused so dedicatedly to new music. Ghost Icebreaker displays Helen Bledsoe’s full range as a sound artist, and it is an impressive range indeed.

Jennifer Borkowski, flute and electronics
© 2015 Ravello Records

This album is a mix of original compositions, contemporary classics, and a couple of traditional works for solo flute. The inspiration for Borkowski’s original compositions was a change in scenery.  After living long-term in Vienna, she spent four years living along the shore in New England. The sounds of the ocean and the sense of wide-open space are clearly present in both pieces.  “The Calm Yet Constant Change Along the Shoreline”, for flute and electronics, is on a layered loop and delay electric guitar pedal. The acoustic flute line weaves in and out of this ambient atmosphere like the ebb and flow of the shoreline. “Still”, also for flute and electronics, evokes a similar style, with the electronic background on a six-second delay. 

Two pieces by Shirish Korde are also presented here.  Borkowski adapts his “Anusvara”, originally for bass and alto flute and electronics, to be played entirely on C flute. It is rendered beautifully and Borkowski’s version is a pleasure to hear. She also performs his classic “Tenderness of Cranes”, a tour de force for solo flute which employs a number of extended techniques to simulate the sound of the Japanese shakuhachi. 

It may seem strange to see Debussy’s “Syrinx” and Marais’ “Les Folies d’Espagne” existing side-by-side on the album with these particularly modern pieces, but it works.  Borkowski says of “Folies”: “…[it] is a moment when we climb out of the sea and sit solidly on a rock”. Similarly, “Syrinx” is reimagined as a watercolor painting in progress. So, these two staples for solo flute have now been incorporated neatly into the themes of space and water. 

Borkowski is a very thoughtful, deliberate performer on this album.  Even her programming is at once unique and very carefully considered. She displays grace, a beautiful sense of line, and utter control throughout this fascinating collection of pieces, and she most certainly achieves her stated aim to provide a “breath of fresh air”.

Kitchen Party
Derek Charke (flute) & Mark Adam (percussion)
©2014 Centrediscs

Flutist/composer Derek Charke and percussionist Mark Adam live in Nova Scotia.  The idea behind this “kitchen party”, as they explain it, is to create a version of the classic rural social event from this region, replacing a traditional folk music jam among friends with seven world premieres by local composers.  This recording is the result of that kitchen party, with 70 people gathered in a private home, enjoying food, wine, and an incredibly sophisticated three-hour concert. And the result is fantastic.

“Reel” Variations on a Jig, composed by Charke, starts out sounding a little like Jethro Tull, but quickly opens to a cornucopia of fantastic extended techniques, expertly performed and beautifully employed to expand the musician’s color palette, not just as circus tricks unto themselves.  The percussionist also joins in the fun, singing, whistling, and bringing the theme home as it metamorphosizes into a slightly funked-out version of the original. The other track written by Charke and Adam is a live improvisation off a simple melodic gesture that is masterful, free, and intoxicating.

Anthony Gege’s Third Duo for flute and marimba is based on an ostinato pattern in marimba with interjections from the flute, which then evolves into a fusion of the two parts and eventually a parting of ways again as the second half of the piece presents variations on the opening material.  Jeff Hennessy’s Balor’s Flute for bass flute and drum set has the duo playing in rhythmic unison for most of the piece, thereby offering up two pieces in a row in a quasi-minimalistic style.  Music for Amplified Bass Flute and Drum Set by Jim O’Leary has an improvisatory feel, as the bass flute explores a wide range of extended techniques and the drum set seems to follow the rise and fall of the flute’s line.

The remainder of the album includes a “textless poem” for flute and marimba, a digitally processed set of variations to create a dream-like effect, an homage to the old-school coffee percolator, and sample sounds from the audience for a true sense of atmosphere. If this sounds like a cerebral experiment more interesting to talk about then to listen to, it is not.  Within these very clever intellectual experiments, there lie truly creative, wonderful sounds played expertly by Charke and Adam. With so many unique compositional styles and some instrument changes, they are able to explore a very wide range of colors, textures, and expressions on Kitchen Party.

Nicole Riner ©2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wyoming All Staters, here is your video!

Holy cow, do I always look so awkward when I am giving workshops?  If you are a high school student lucky enough to live in the state of Wyoming, and if you are a bold, brave flutist looking for a new challenge, your All-State audition awaits.

Here is the music, including scales.

And here is a short video of me performing the etudes and talking briefly about areas to focus on in your practice:

Not long ago, I posted some tips for keeping things efficient and engaging in the practice room which could really come in handy.  Read them here

And remember, an audition is a snapshot in time, and it only captures how you are doing at that particular moment, the sum total of how well you prepared, as well as how you are feeling mentally and physically. Play to win, but know that if you don't get in this year, you stretched yourself as a musician by preparing as well as you could, and you will give a better audition every year if you maintain that mindset and work ethic. 

Now get out there, Cowboys!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tips for creative practice

I spent last week travelling around the state of Montana giving master classes, generously sponsored by Altus flutes and the Montana Flute Association, then went home for long enough to swap dirty for clean clothes before hitting the road again to run University of Wyoming's 6th annual flute festival. One of the most salient features of my classes in every location was the need for more specific and varied practice techniques. In fact, with all-state and all-Northwest auditions coming up, I even gave a 45-minute class on the subject at a couple of schools! It's what we spend the majority of our practice time doing: learning to control the instrument and make technique easy and predictable on stage. The poetry only comes after we have mastered our vocabulary words--in this case, correct notes, rhythms, dynamics, etc., all done with beautiful tone. I still feel like I'm improving upon this, and I still enjoy swapping practice room pointers with colleagues and students. Here are some of my indispensable habits; readers, I encourage you to add to this list in the comment section below!

For the class on how to practice creatively for efficiency and to alleviate boredom, and I used a scale as a model for applying each practice technique so that the whole group could play it together. I wrote a B-flat major scale in 16th notes on the board as a reference, and then we talked about (and play together) all of the following:

1. super slow, with big, fat sound and a thick air column, keeping track of keeping fingers close to keys, etc. Play it like a super-Romantic,sappy love song.

2. Metronome on quarter note downbeat, 8th note downbeat, and then moving each of those two pulses to the upbeat. This keeps forcing us to prioritize different notes within beamed groups. Great for correcting the tendency to rush between downbeats.

3. Practice rhythms (the usual dotting, but also re-beaming to make sixteenths into triplets, etc.)

4. Change articulations (including taking it out)

5. Identifying the note that first makes you stumble in a technical passage, make what I call a "problem note sandwich": practice a small chunk of notes repetitively starting from the problem note with only one preceding and following note on either side, then add one more note from the pattern on either side, etc.

Then we talk about how many reps to do (10 perfect repetitions without errors or loop with the stopwatch for 1 minute daily) and wrap it up with a discussion about recording yourself regularly to "check in" and stress test application and concentration skills.

Here are a few other tricks I like to use:

For rhythm/articulation problems: play the entire passage on one note

For technique: rough analysis of the composition (identify scales, arpeggios, etc.)

For tone: cracking--slurred breath attacks; freeze on problematic note; for a tight high register,play down an octave; to alleviate tight throat or lack of air flow due to any other reason, sing and play

General note familiarity: play backwards, find the skeletal line

Sing a phrase: notice how you use your air to push through to the goal note, how relaxed you are internally, what the resonance feels like on each pitch in your throat, how you use your vibrato and where you are producing it.  Now copy that sound (when you like it) onto your flute.

Making phrases musical: Choose one goal note per phrase, put a * over it, and make everything go towards are away from that. sing as described above.

Side view of part of the mass flute choir at flute day

At University of Montana

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Back to School Inspiration

I'm a few weeks late, but I hope this can still provide some inspiration for my students and others! 

Welcome back: you career starts now!

As a music major in college, you’re not just a student trying to better yourself-- you have embarked upon a rigorous program of professional training. And we keep you very busy during those college years, prescribing intense course loads and applying high expectations to your musical development.  It’s easy to momentarily lose sight of the reason you chose to study music in the first place, but you can take charge of your own direction (and happiness)! Just remember these things...

PRACTICE FLEXIBLE THINKING EVERY DAY Your new flute teacher just told you to do something completely different from what you learned in high school? Dedicate yourself to this new idea wholeheartedly and with faith in your teacher. If it doesn’t work for you, you’ll both know it and can make adjustments, but you’ll never really know if you don’t thoroughly test the new technique. You were first chair in all-state band four years in a row and now you’re at the bottom of the heap in your studio? Embrace the opportunity to learn from your older, more experienced peers and be inspired by all that the people in your studio have accomplished--you will become a leader, too, in time. Be always open to new ideas and ready to learn from other people.  Not just now, but forever. 

DEVELOP MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS Let your teachers get to know you so that they can be the best mentors possible. Your relationship with your mentors can (and should!) last a lifetime. Be a good colleague to your classmates. Seek out classmates who inspire you and cultivate musical friendships. Your classmates today will be your colleagues in the future.

LEARN THE ART OF TIME MANAGEMENT When I was a student, I thought that my schedule was artificially crazy.  I was sure that when I graduated and was more “in charge” of my own schedule, life would be much more manageable. I was so wrong. The the lost time that goes into attending classes and doing homework as a student has merely been replaced by other things, like emergency coachings of student ensembles at 10pm, long drives to gigs, developing and updating self-promotional materials and acting as my own business manager, and much more.  It’s all stimulating work and keeps life exciting, but you can easily lose track of the hours and neglect certain responsibilities, like (ahem) practicing.  Learn now to account for your time down to the last minute so that you can practice sufficiently every day, even if it’s broken up into lots of small units of time, and don’t forget to

TAKE YOUR CLASSES SERIOUSLY  Your music theory and history classes are making you a better, smarter musician and teacher. Take general-credit classes (those much-bemoaned “gen eds”) that interest you and might feed into your career goals. And even when you can’t see the point in a class, take it seriously and get an A. If you’re planning on going to graduate school, that high GPA will put you at the top of the list for scholarships and assistantship consideration.

TACKLE CHALLENGES HEAD-ON If you know that you suffer from performance anxiety, make sure you are forcing yourself to perform regularly to become more comfortable on stage. When you’re in the practice room, don’t waste time playing the things you already know; tackle the tough passages systematically and thoroughly so that you have conquered the piece entirely.  Making yourself uncomfortable leads to incredible growth; avoiding challenges leads to absolutely nothing.

FIND YOURSELF 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. Explore every opportunity you are offered and get to know the different paths you could take (or create for yourself!) as a musician. By the time you’re looking at graduate schools, you should have an idea of your particular strengths and special interests as a musician to help guide you in the next steps. If you go on to teach in the public schools, your diverse experiences will give you a wealth of ideas and techniques for keeping your students engaged and in love with music.

STAY POSITIVE  It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day assignments, lectures, and all of the less inspiring requirements of the degree. Don’t let it take all of your energy--it kills morale and creative thinking. Make time to dream about your future, and practice creative thinking every day; try to think of a problem or flaw in some part of your life and imagine all the different ways in which you could fix it.  You’ll train yourself to see the world this way, and you’ll never run out of inspiring ideas to fuel your career.

SEEK INSPIRATION Surround yourself by positive, talented people who are doing exciting things. Listen to great players and attend guest lectures and master classes given by people who amaze you. Be aware of how you fill your free time and assess what it’s doing for you. For instance, I have found that browsing Facebook seems to sap my energy and deplete ambition. Conversely, checking to see the latest projects my musical heroes are posting on YouTube or their personal websites makes me want to do something great. Be honest with yourself: what makes you excited to be alive? Keep doing that. You are in charge of your own motivation to create, practice, and keep getting better.

SAY YES Beyond the incredible flute studio that you have chosen to be a part of, your school will offer you a wealth of opportunities to enrich yourself. Hear the lecture given by that Nobel Prize-winning scientist across campus this semester. Go to any and all faculty and guest recitals, regardless of instrument. Make a habit of attending the local art museum regularly, and see your classmates’ art shows. And when you’re invited to participate as a flutist in some weird and wacky way as part of another’s creative endeavor, do it! Allow your university and its surrounding community to amaze you every day.

A good student diligently completes every assignment with purpose and clarity; an inspiring artist also looks to wring every last drop of life from his or her surroundings. Make the most of your time in college by thinking creatively and fully exploring your opportunities. Not just now, but for the rest of your life.

Nicole Riner ©2016

Sunday, September 4, 2016


Hello friends! Over the years I have shared my thoughts in scattered ways across the internet and print media; I thought it was time to collect everything that might prove useful in one place for ease of use.  I look forward to creating a dialogue with you all about topics relevant to flutists of all ages (practice tips, pedagogical topics, literature and recording reviews, etc.) and sharing news about upcoming performances and publications. You can plan on posts once or twice a month, and I welcome your suggestions on topics you'd like to see covered here.

I am currently preparing for a short tour of Montana with performances September 19-21.  My schedule is here; I am grateful for the invitation by the Montana Flute Association and generous sponsorship from Altus Flutes. It will be my first time in the state and I cannot wait for all the photo ops!  You can check back at the end of the month to review my shaky, inept instagram shots.

Please visit my website for full bio, recording samples, and other projects I currently have going.

Thanks for reading!

: )