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Summerflute Thoughts, Part Three

The Sensible Flutist: Summerflute Thoughts, Part Three

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summerflute Thoughts, Part Three

Masterclass with Liisa Ruoho (thanks to Meerenai Shim for taking this photo)
I continued through the week, enjoying the combination of Alexander Technique, Body Mapping and Feldenkrais while preparing for my next performance for Liisa Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, I rehearsed with collaborative pianist Yien Wang and WOW! I had chosen to play the 4th movement of the Reinecke Undine Sonata, and this sonata is a a beast for pianists; however, we ran the movement twice and I felt completely at ease with her by the end of the short rehearsal. She was a treat to work with, and I loved watching her perform during the classes and recitals as she has a wonderful ease in her playing.

The fourth movement is the climax of the Undine story. Hilary Bromeisl describes this movement as,

"The finale movement is the most dramatic and incorporates Hulbrand's scolding, Undine's vain pleading, and the anger and revenge of the water spirits. Despite her anguished appeals, Undine must herself be the instrument of Hulbrand's punishment. At the wedding of Hulbrand and Berthalda, Undine sadly appears and gives Hulbrand a kiss that kills him. At the knight's funeral, Undine secretly joins the mourners. She then vanishes and in her place appears a spring of water from which two small streams encircle the new grave. The return of the loving theme used for the love Undine first felt for Hulbrand creates a touching mood to end the sonata."

Having performed the sonata twice in its entirety recently, I felt that I was ready to take the piece to a new level and I was interested to get Liisa's feedback. When I learned this movement, I found the very dramatic nature of the movement caused old patterns of tension to return. My solution at the time was to find the point of least work at all dynamic levels, and play within certain volume ranges in order to approach this piece differently than I may have before. My goal was to find the "Goldilocks Effort" (Kay Hooper's Sensory Tune-ups) for this movement.

In fact, I had chosen not to really practice the movement at all. I wanted to see what emerged and in the rehearsal with Yien, I began experimenting with the sound to express the unfolding drama instead of only dynamics. Interestingly enough, Liisa's suggested the same path I was feeling.

In my second performance of the week, I noticed a new element. Where the Bach had felt small, I felt that I had a hard time trusting enough to give myself completely to the Reinecke. I desperately wanted to experiment, but my efforts fell flat because of a lack of confidence in myself. I was connected to the music and to the audience this time around, but I played it safe.

Liisa's direction was pretty simple. Give yourself completely to the music and all the emotions it expresses. For the fourth movement of the Reinecke, this is a big job and it meant playing a lot louder. If I had taken Liisa's suggestion at face value without any knowledge of my body, I would have simply proceeded to try harder which would have resulted in a lot of muscle tension. Instead, she had not only asked me to play and feel more emotion, but she was essentially having me translate her directions on the spot with her guidance.

Just like in my prior performance, I had changes in my sound happen immediately. I tried a few phrases and although I wasn't attempting to muscle my way through, I did notice a big difference in how I used my whole body.

One of the points Amy touched on through the week in What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body was the need for translation. When a teacher tells you something, it is your responsibility to translate it onto the instrument. This is where Body Mapping can come in handy, and this is how I was able to apply Liisa's suggestions right away on stage.

For example, say your flute teacher asks you to support the sound more. What does this mean? Traditional pedagogy can sometimes be very vague and when discussing internal aspects of flute playing, students are left to decipher what something like "support" means. This deciphering is otherwise known as translation, and if you can translate musical instruction through the lens of Body Mapping, the results can be very positive and can lead to more expansive, musical playing.

Trust and translation. Two huge lessons all in the span of 25 minutes.

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At July 12, 2012 at 7:46 AM , Blogger Olya said...

What a wonderful series of posts! It sounds like you really enjoyed your self and learned some important lessons. Always a great combination. I can really relate to a few things you touched on, like the need to translate instructions. As a former pianist a lot of things didn't make sense to me when I started learning the flute. Some of them still don't though I came a long way. It requires paying constant attention and a lot of thinking and experimenting to figure out things like support, changing angle/air speed, so on. I did stumble by accident on what you mentioned in your previous post, thinking about opening sinuses and directing the sound there while playing. Wonderful suggestion. Did you ever notice that putting too much effort makes a piece sound heavy and slower? It seems like if I use just enough effort, music sounds faster even if the tempo is unchanged. Which comes in really handy if something marked 'Allegro brilliante'. LOL.

At July 12, 2012 at 4:43 PM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Olya, thanks for commenting! Yes, I think that excess effort can lead to an internal slowing down of musical momentum. It's harder to push forward when there's a lot of tension involved.


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