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The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Daily Practice Management Strategy

Since my post on efficient practice (, I've been exploring Burt Kaplan's strategies in his book, "Practicing for Artistic Success."

I have just completed Day 2 of his 3 day prescribed practice management strategy. The theory is that by pre-planning your practice and coming into your daily session with a schedule, a strategy, and a kitchen timer, you will be better able to realistically guess how much time you need to reach your goals. Included in the book is a nifty Daily Practice Organizer that you can copy and use for this exercise.

Managing your practice time effectively and efficiently is a little like how you shop at the mall. Some of us are very focused with a mental shopping list. We do well managing our time (for the most part) so that we don't waste time; however, we sometimes get unfocused and distracted especially when we just can't seem to find the item we want. Others just spend a lot of time and money on impulsive purchases with no evident goal. Our shopping personalities give us a glimpse into our practice personalities, and taking three days to create a daily practice schedule will help you better manage your time and focus.

Kaplan's ideas of practice management are similar to what I have developed and use in my own practicing. The intent of his exercise is to easily plan out your available time in a way so that you're not creating a regimented practice schedule, but building a schedule that has "free" time incorporated for when we want to just play for fun or we want to work further on something we left earlier.

But what about those days when we plan for that extra 20 percent, but other things are getting in the way? Creating a schedule with twenty percent less time than what we think we may have on any particular day safeguards us from unexpected life crises that require our attention but take away those precious minutes. Practicing in less time than what we have also shows that with a focused plan, we can get our work done in less time than we think we need in order to achieve our goals. The actual and expected times will begin to mesh much more easily, and the stress that usually accompanies thinking about everything we must prepare will begin to dissipate.

After two days of regimenting my practice a la Kaplan, I realize that my own problem doesn't lie in an inability to plan but my inability to effectively strategize how I'm going to work on my priorities. My personal goal in this exploration is to transform my practicing into a super efficient vehicle through which I can achieve my short term and long term goals while having time for other pursuits.

Stay tuned for more self-discovery.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute by Ann McCutchan

I just finished reading Ann McCutchan's bio of Marcel Moyse, one of the foremost members of the French flute school. I bought this book when I found it on Jen Cluff's suggested reading list (, and it's been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I felt inspired to begin reading it upon my return from the Ithaca Flute Institute, and I learned a few things about Moyse that shores up why I feel so deeply connected with him. This book deepened my understanding of Moyse the man versus the legend that lives on in flutists' hearts all over the world.

1. He taught musicality, and how to make the flute sing and deepen its expressive qualities. In his later years in Vermont, Moyse was a teacher you sent students to for "finishing." The beauty of Moyse's teaching was how accessible it was to other instrumentalists. As Raymond Benner stated, "He was a teacher for everybody. The instrument didn't matter. He was a teacher of music."

Many flute students who were not ready for his instruction picked up bad habits as a result of their trying to emulate what they heard. This is an important difference to keep in mind, especially as you look for a teacher. Some teachers are better for technical proficiency on the instrument. For some world class American flutists today (Leone Buyse, Carol Wincenc, and Paula Robison to name a few) who studied with Moyse, he was not their primary teacher. Instead, they came to him for polishing and refining and in turn, Moyse influenced a whole generation of American flutists who each in their own way are spreading Moyse's teachings. I myself teach with many of Moyse's ideas in mind. Perhaps I wasn't sure who to credit them to (even though I use many of his books in my own practice), but this biography solidified Moyse's influence in my playing.

2. Moyse as the man and Moyse as the musician were not one and the same. I am interested in reading a few more sources on Moyse to corroborate the personal stories included in McCutchan's book. After World War II and Mr. Moyse's subsequent move to America, he was very bitter at how his Paris career ended. Many times, Moyse's misfortunes struck me as a matter of miscommunication. During WWII and his exile to St. Amour, Moyse assumed that his position at the Paris Conservatoire would be held for him without any real assurance that this was in fact the case. Upon his return to Paris after the war, he found that Gaston Crunelle (a former student) was teaching the flute classes. There is also an earlier story of Moyse who as a young man accompanied a singer on an American tour and while in Minnesota, had a job in the Minneapolis Symphony verbally offered to him. Once his touring obligation was done, he went back to Minnesota intrigued by the prospect of a job there and found that there was nothing.

Many times we musicians have conversations with people with the promise of something more. I think the lesson here is to always keep the channels of communication open with whomever you're working. In our generation, we have the internet as a wonderful resource to minimize our chances of assuming wrongly about opportunities. Moyse's ability to support his family through teaching and performing shows the amount of talent he had regardless of the failures that were pointed out throughout this biography. Regardless of these communication breakdowns, Moyse's adventurous spirit certainly contributed to his ability to take risks in developing a pedagogy all his own.

3. Moyse's wonderful teachings stemmed from an interest he had in string and vocal music early in his career. He studied how vocalists and string players expressed musical ideas, and he worked to include the same qualities in his flute playing. This way of flute playing expanded the instrument's possibilities in the solo realm. Ibert and Bozza were two contemporaries who wrote several unaccompanied pieces for flute specifically for Moyse, no doubt intended to display his abilities. On a pedagogical level, I use De la Sonorite, Tone Development through Interpretation, his Daily Exercises, and several other books in my practice rotation. The most beneficial aspect to reading about Moyse's early life was the ability to gain some clarity about the inspiration behind these books which are still so important to today's flutists. The book also provides excellent information about the repertoire written for him during the Paris years.

4. The great respect his students had for him aside from his quirks. Moyse was apparently jealous of his female students' time. Because he was such a legend to Americans and the French alike by the time he came to America, many students were willing to overlook his strange personality traits to continue studying with the teacher. We have all had a teacher at some point in our lives that has done so much for us musically, but they puzzle us on a personal level. This part of the biography shed light more on Marcel Moyse, the man which is important for contextualizing his important contributions to flutists and to the music world.

I recommend this biography to anyone who has a deep interest in the teachings of Marcel Moyse, and would like to learn more about him. This book provided insights into the French school of playing that I will continue reading about. This biography is a great read for any instrumentalist, especially woodwind players, since it goes beyond the flute and into the musical world that Moyse worked so hard to create and expand throughout the world. The book largely dealt with Moyse's Paris career in the pre-World War II years and his time in Vermont post-war up until his death. I was disappointed that little attention was spent in regards to his time with Takahashi, the Japanese flutist that adapted the Suzuki method to flute. If you are a flutist, the primary benefit of owning this biography is it has a publication listing with dates, and a full discography.

I'll leave you now with a quote from Aurele Nicolet recalling Moyse's energetic teaching:

Moyse "was like an actor in the French theatre. His magic was in his power of suggestion, through physical gestures, descriptions of pictures, and of course, singing." (McCutchan, 165)

If you are a non-flutist and do not know who Marcel Moyse is, please take a moment to find out. He is one of my inspirations, and his teaching and "eye-ear-heart" teachings will help you find the beauty in all music.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A glimpse into the future of classical music as seen during Alexa Still's Summer Flute School

I attended Alexa Still's Summer Flute School over the past weekend. I jumped on the opportunity while looking for other classes to attend when I was applying for the Ithaca Flute Institute.

While the Ithaca class I attended was comprised of serious students, the competition was fierce. I wanted that type of environment to reacclimate even though I don't entirely agree with it. That type of competition was the primary reason I ventured out into the real world. I didn't want to feel pressure to practice anymore. I wanted to practice because I love playing the flute. It took about 2 years, but that passion has returned with full force.

For me, Alexa's class was like coming home and I was completely taken with the concept of the masterclass. I teach all my students with the same kind of honest supportiveness. Alexa accepts performers for the Summer School on a first come, first serve basis with an application process intended to screen and select only those enthusiastic about the flute and a kind, supportive attitude. She does a fantastic job selecting the performers for such an intimate class setting.

Everything about the class was exactly as I expected it to be. We ate lunch and dinner with Alexa, and she was always around and always willing to answer questions after the class was done for the day. This type of class and how it was such a unique experience for me brings me to my point for this post - musicians that give their time to professionals and amateurs alike says so much about who they are personally and professionally. This is the way of the future. Musicians must be approachable and must engage their audience. Alexa embodied these two principles during the class, and setting a great example for all of us.

Alexa treated us all with respect, and provided insightful comments during each performers' session that could benefit the entire class. All of us came into the class knowing the ground rules. We all respected those rules, and as a result, there was some really great discussion about the flute all while being supportive of one another. I am interested in seeing if there are other flute masterclasses, or even masterclasses for other instruments, that approach learning in this way. To think of all the implications stemming from such a unique masterclass experience is exciting. I hope that I can make my own small contribution in passing along the knowledge and perspective I gained from attending a intense 2 day class.

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