This page has moved to a new address.

The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: August 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The energetic (and not so energetic) cycle of creativity

by Sean MacEntee
What drives you to create?

I think most of us artistic types find that our creativity is cyclical. Some days (or weeks), we feel "on" and nothing can stop us. At other times, we can only muster the bare minimum required. I think the first step to sustaining these bursts of creativity is to accept that we can't be on all the time. On top of struggling with self-doubt, I think a lot of us struggle with the low weeks when we're merely steeping. By acknowledging the cycle, we can adapt and manage the low points in more healthy ways.

Although my motivation hasn't been lagging this week, my energy certainly has. I'm not quite sure what the culprit is, but I suspect diet and sleep are two factors. Perhaps the stress of the move is finally releasing its hold on me and sucking the energy I have. Just thinking of practicing causes me to yawn profusely and feel about ten times more exhausted. By the time I feel awake enough to even pull my flute out, it's too late at night.

This is the type of cycle I can control. I can eat more cleanly, I can improve my pre-bed routine, I can begin taking supplements, I can sleep less (sleeping more is sometimes not the answer to energy loss). This is when I'm grateful for the mindfulness I've infused into my life through somatics. I can listen to my body and make appropriate changes. Instead of foundering and entering into a negative self-talk cycle, I can instead make mindful changes to see if any of them help my energy levels match my motivation and desire to create.

Accept and acknowledge, but don't surrender. Appreciate the cycle with mindful observation.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, August 27, 2012

Practice Essentials: Easing in after a break

I think the biggest question we all have when returning to the flute after a hiatus is, "What do I do to get started again?" For some, the fact that they aren't able to resume at their previous level is frustrating and overwhelming. Since this was something I had to do a few years ago, I know that there's plenty of good advice out there; however, I've noticed that very few encourage slowly building up the amount of time you practice.

If you are able to maintain a consistent practice routine, keep doing what you're doing! If life gets thrown at you more than you care to admit, then keep reading.

Even a temporary break of a week or two means you need to take it slow getting back into your regular routine. Here are a few of my tried and true tips to get back to practicing:

1) Be gentle. Don't pass judgment as you begin playing your first notes. Simply notice your physical state, your emotions and notice how you sound. Take lots of mini breaks with stretching. Every time you come back to your flute after a break, notice the same things again and if things seem to be flowing more easily. If not, continue this sequence until you find a place that you're happy. 

Being gentle with yourself and reserving your criticism for later will prevent excess tension from creeping in, and you'll be able to find the freedom in your playing that may be missing after a hiatus.

2) Set a time limit on how much you practice in any given day. In other words, don't try to practice for 3 hours when you haven't been playing at all. My goal for the fall is to consistently practice for at least 2 hours a day. Prior to my break, I was practicing my super efficient hour (see my post about that here). When I came back to the flute this week after taking about a 2 week break due to moving, I started with that hour with lots of extra breaks. I'm now up to practicing for 90 minutes, but with the same amount of breaks.

When setting time limits, the breaks give you time to listen to your body. Don't ignore it. I am still actively working away from the flute when I take my breaks. I stretch or I lie in constructive rest. These activities help me reinforce what I'm doing on the flute, and help me find the ease in my playing without gripping or tensing.

3) Choose materials that allow you to explore without pushing you to your limit. My first day back was spent on nothing but tone. I spent a lot of time in Fiona Wilkinson's The Physical Flute while applying it to Tone Development through Interpretation. Part of holistic practice is to cultivate the mind-body-instrument connection so that it's a free flowing cycle that's completely integrated. When this begins to happen in your practice session, amazing things begin to happen and your self and instrument begin to merge into one.

To choose appropriate practice material, ask yourself these questions: what were you working on prior to the break? What was most challenging? Leave that on the shelf for the time being and take a step or two back. Choose one thing to draw your awareness to. This is also a great way to minimize the destructive criticism that can make your practice session less effective.

The bottom line is this - ease in to your practice in order to cultivate the mind-body-instrument connection. Release any blocks in this cycle with gentle, focused and efficient practice. You'll find it doesn't take hours to get back to feeling like your old self again.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

NFA Recap: my 48 hours in Vegas!

It's hard to believe that less than two weeks ago, I gave my presentation at the NFA convention in Las Vegas. Since then, my days have been a whirlwind of travel and moving that has made it difficult to keep track. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at NFA. I wanted to meet so many people and attend as many events as I could while also making time for fun. Here's a brief recap of the events I attended:

I started the convention by briefly listening in on the High School Soloist Finals. I was able to listen outside the door to one finalist, and sat in the room to hear another. The level of playing was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the commissioned piece for the competition, The Black Swan by Leanna Primiani. This addition to the repertoire is very accessible while still including some extended techniques.

The other competition I was able to attend was the Piccolo Artist Competition semi-finals. I helped with this event, but I sat in long enough to watch eventual winner Zach Galatis perform. His first piece, the Allegro from Vivaldi's Concerto in C Major, was a delight to watch. Zach played with an ease that was very musical and inspiring.

I also attended the Graduate Research Competition winner Elizabeth Robinson's presentation on the solo flute works of Takemitsu. I have Itinerant and Voice in my library, but have not yet learned them. I was fascinated to hear Elizabeth break the pieces down based on theory and Takemitsu's own philosophy so that the pieces (at least, to me) are less intimidating.

The last presentation I attended on Thursday was Bonnie Blanchard's Jump-Start your Teaching and Get Paid What You're Worth! Blanchard has written two books that are excellent reference guides if you have a teaching studio. The presentation was intended to introduce people to the books so as someone looking for new nuggets of information, I was a little disappointed but given this was my first convention, this was a lesson learned for subsequent presentations.

I visited the exhibit hall for the first time on Thursday afternoon. My intent was to try a lot of flutes, but I only tried Mancke headjoints. My friend and fellow Andover Educator trainee Melanie Sever was helping at the booth, and she guided me through some choices to try. My favorite was a sterling silver head with a platinum riser and 14K gold crown. I tried the wooden headjoints as well as some of the metal ones and each one played well. My favorite one felt the most like my David Williams headjoint.

The Palazzo!
I tweeted up with a lot of people on Thursday. I met Cory Tiffin, Meerenai Shim, Megan Lanz, Jennifer Grim, Nicole Camacho, Fluter Scooter, Viviana Guzman and Daniel Dorff. These are all people I've interacted with regularly on social media, so meeting them in the flesh was quite exciting!

On Friday, I began the day with my presentation, Holistic Practice: Practicing for the Whole Musician. I had a full room which was awesome. It was the first time I had witnessed first hand how hungry flutists are for information about the body. Given how well the presentation went and the number of people that signed up for the slideshow and resource list, I felt like this was a confirmation that I am doing what I'm meant to and that was well worth the craziness to make it to the convention.
Fluter Scooter was my volunteer!

Later that morning, I attended Phyllis Louke's Begin with Excellence. I use the Flute 101, 102 method series that she co-wrote with Patricia George in my own teaching studio, so I was excited to meet Phyllis for the first time. I got some interesting tidbits in this presentation to try in my own teaching.

Continuing along a pedagogy focus, I attended part of FUNdamentals!, a participatory workshop led by Cassandra Rondinelli Eisenreich, Julie Hobbs and licensed Andover Educator Kelly Mollnow Wilson. The games and exercises presented were fun and interesting. I hope to be able to access the information on NFA's website when they post the handouts.

Jim Walker as Dean Martin with Marilyn Monroe
Cirque de la Flute was next on the agenda. This was an interesting networking idea that placed people in groups by interest and let people meet one another while being entertained with a variety of acts escorted by various NFA personalities in costume. The group that I chose included the "non-flutists" at the convention, and Nancy Toff's mother, Ruth, was in attendance. It was a delight to meet her and hear some stories about her daughter.

The next event I attended was the Open Amateur Masterclass led by Lisa Garner Santa who teaches at Texas Tech University. Lisa is very movement oriented, and I did a quick google search to see that she is a certified yoga teacher. When she incorporated movement into her instruction with the participants, their playing noticeably changed.

The final event I attended of the convention was a concert highlighting short pieces from a variety of performers. My sponsoring teacher for my Andover Educator training, Amy Likar, was on the program. Unfortunately, the program went longer than scheduled and I had to leave prior to seeing her perform. The program included two world premieres. Alba Potes' Evening Conversations for two bass flutes and Russel Scarbrough's Cylindrical Sea for flute and clarinet.

Since returning home and reflecting on my trip, I feel like I didn't particularly plan my convention experience well but I think that it's a result of the immense number of things on the schedule. There is something for everyone. The only thing I'll do differently next time is choose presentations on topics I'm not very familiar with since most seemed to be introductory in nature. It was disappointing to miss the last two days of the convention, but I did well for just 48 hours in Vegas!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Guest Post: Art in Life is Art

I love music for many reasons, and one of those reasons is the ability for it to inspire relationships.  Relationships among notes, among performers who may be strangers, and relationships among friends.  There are also relationships between the music and the performer.  By living your life, you provide a lens of interpretation that can have a dramatic effect on your music.

I want to talk about my awakening of this belief and how I've applied my life experiences to a specific piece of music.  And then I'll respond to one of Alexis' earlier postings on life experiences affecting performance. 

I need to take you to a spring day in Washington, where I was in a tiny room in an old building for a saxophone lesson.  I had practiced the Karg-Elert Caprice 'X. Cubana' and had just finished playing through the piece.

"Where's the passion?"  My professor, Bob Miller, looked at me with a discerning eye.  I asked,  "What are you talking about?  Do you want more vibrato?"  [Full-disclosure: I was a freshman at this time.]  My professor laughed, or maybe it was closer to a chuckle.  "When I'm playing passionate music, I think of my wife."

He begins to play the etude, but with a soul and feeling that doesn't sound as robotic and MIDI-fied as my rendition.   After a few lines of music, Bob turns to me.  "Playing music is like holding a pretty girl's hand."  And that's when it became one of those defining moments in my musical understanding.

See, in the especially troubling time of adjusting to college life, I hadn't thought about what I was trying to communicate through my music.  I was playing rote and inconsistent because my own thoughts were transitory.  Bob Miller had told me many times that music comes from your head, out of your horn, and back into your head.  It took me a few years to figure out what he was actually saying to me.

You see, I had not thought about art in the sense of a delivery system.  Music provides a tangible format to connect ideas through emotions and experiences we've had in our lives.  In effect, your life experience becomes the engine to the work's vessel.

And this whole concept of creating art as creating a vessel might visually resemble the circle of head-horn-head.  Within this vessel, you provide a means of emotional contextualization for the person experiencing this art.  So Bob wasn't necessarily talking about music ending up in the performer's head, but anyone who happens to be opening up themselves to hear the vessel in the sound is the end result of the circle.

Playing music like holding a pretty girl's hand means to have an intention to believe fully in the act that you're doing.  Our life experiences become powerful tools to invest belief in the music we create as well as the experiences we share with other people.  Sometimes that experience is shared with a particular pretty girl.

Whenever I play 'Cubana' these days, I think of my wonderful girlfriend and I on the streets of Barcelona and all of the smells.  Never before had I been to a country that smelled like Spain did; two parts perfume and flowers to one part food.  Images of the Placa d'Espanya and particularly the awesome Gaudi cathedral come into mind.  With a title like 'Cubana', I'm safe to assume that Karg-Elert wasn't thinking of Barcelona, but the association is so strong with me that it fills my mind whenever I play that piece.  For me, that experience becomes the piece whenever I hear it.


Now I'll respond to Alexis' post about enriching your art with your life.  Music takes many forms and shapes, and the uniqueness in which we express these forms is what makes our music making beautiful.  Beautiful in this case can mean haunting, exuberant, mystical, crushing, sublime, or any other adjective that could describe the mixture of emotions that we experience as humans.

It's the same concept that great novels employ: give enough detail to the reader to get a general sense contextualization, but leave the larger details up to the reader to fill in.  That ambiguity is powerful for making people connect and believe in the art.  But it starts with a seed based off an idea that the artist had in mind when creating.  As a performer, you're bound to the notes and inherent form of the piece, but you can provide the water that makes the seed of the music bloom to your idea of a plant.

This active enriching requires an awareness of your life and emotions.  The more you open your life to your contextualization of music, the more your music resonates with the experiences you want to share. You've taken the first step towards understanding.  Live your life and enjoy your music and both will be strengthened.


Jeff Tecca is a saxophonist who studied at Pacific Lutheran University and received a Bachelors of Music in Composition in 2010.  He currently writes for chamber ensembles and K-12 wind bands.  Jeff also plays guitar and bass in his pop band, Paraloco.  He runs a blog about his music at, his band's blog at, and can be reached by email at and on twitter at @jtecc.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Holistic Practice at NFA this Friday!

I will be presenting a workshop on "Holistic Practice" at the National Flute Association's convention in Las Vegas. If you're a flutist and will be attending the event, it will be at 8 AM, Friday, August 10 in Octavius 22 at Caesar's Palace.

Why did I choose this topic?

The content of my blog sums up my thoughts about practicing in this way. From my posts about Body Mapping, inclusive awareness, to performance psychology and practice strategies, this presentation has been in the making for several years.

I have found a way of practicing that works for me, which encompasses all my interests and all that I study and want to learn more about. Practicing my flute is a vehicle for me to make discoveries. When I returned from my hiatus in 2009, I noticed such ease with other players but I didn't feel that ease in myself. Emulating that ease without really knowing the internal processes that occur for that ease to happen led to injury in my case.

Holistic practice is about using time effectively, while also providing strategies to explore movement with various modalities, all of which I've written about at some point on this blog. More than anything else though, the presentation is really grounded in Alexander Technique and Body Mapping. I will provide a somatics overview, and my goal with this presentation is to plant the seed of curiosity in others who may not know about these valuable tools, or maybe they do know but don't know how to integrate these things into their practice time.

In addition to presenting, I'll also be volunteering my time to help out with the Piccolo Artist Competition. I'm really looking forward to hearing some great piccolo playing. I'm hoping it'll inspire me to return home and resume a consistent piccolo practice routine. I will also be helping out on Thursday and Friday at the Flute Pro Shop booth (Booth 227).

I look forward to connecting with old friends, teachers and colleagues while also tweeting up with several great musicians and meeting new people.

See you in Vegas!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Free the arms, free the sound

I began making some discoveries and in turn, deepening my experiential understanding of my arms while at Summerflute. The beauty of Body Mapping is that as you study and integrate the information, you begin to realize how interconnected all the parts of the body are, and inclusive awareness becomes easier and you really begin to understand the concept of gestalt as Barbara Conable calls it in the first hour of What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body.

I've been thinking a lot about how my tendency to thrust my hips and pelvis forward ("hip magnet") when I bring my flute up is related to my head (A-O joint balance), neck and arms. Earlier this week, while I was letting curiosity guide me, I stumbled upon a discovery about my arm structure that has helped me feel this relationship on a deeper level. For information on the arm structure before you continue reading, read Lea Pearson's Flute Focus article on safeguarding the hands.

I hadn't practiced for a few days, so I came to the flute with low expectations. I wanted to be kind to myself. I played through some warm-ups in The Physical Flute and a few Tone Development through Interpretation melodies, and that was it. I wasn't particularly pleased with my sound, but my goal in the practice session was to find ease. If I didn't sound the way I wanted, what was interfering with my ease? My practice session ended as an open ended question, but I was happy that I let myself accept that time and I was excited to return.

The next day, I came back to the flute with the same patient curiosity. Since I'm in the middle of moving, I had finally moved my large pool noodle up to my music room to pack it with the rest of my gear. I was playing, glanced at it and decided to put it under my left arm and continue playing. There is a lot of space between the upper arm and the rib cage, but often times we flutists minimize the space we have by squeezing the arm into the body.

I chose to explore with the pool noodle to find a place of no work for my arms. The flute weighs so little, yet I struggle to find the place where I can find the greatest freedom. The noodle lets the muscles relax while it takes on the work, and thus helps the muscles of the upper arm relax and open. What happened after this experience was an instant change in my sound. Right away, the sound felt easier when I removed the noodle.

This was a huge discovery for me because I've been having tendinitis symptoms resurface in my right arm. Since I haven't been practicing large amounts recently, I know that stress and excess computer time is playing a large role in the painful inflammation in my right arm; however, since I've been using the noodle, the pain has subsided. Discovering the place of no work in my arms with the pool noodles gives me a method of self care away from the instrument so that I can reprogram the muscles so that they don't engage and overwork as I hold the flute.

The September issue of Yoga Journal also included an article on Down Dog. The article covers the subtle aspects of the pose, and I noted with interest that it began with Child's Pose so that one could first draw awareness to the shoulders. I read the article and decided, "Why not go into child's pose before I begin playing?" Another aspect that resonated with me at Summerflute was the idea of expanding across the back, but it didn't click for me in a way that I could feel. I got into child's pose, and yes, the muscles were tight; however, I held the pose for a few breaths, came up and then played and I had even more freedom in my sound!

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you begin your practicing and warm up mind, body and instrument:

  • Do you find you have a stuffy sound today?
  • Have you noticed your arms?
  • Are you working too much to hold the flute up?
  • Do you feel expansiveness in your back, or does that part of your body feel closed off?
  • When you try to picture a part of your body, does it feel blurry or can you clearly define the area?

Here are additional resources to help free your arms:

Lea Pearson's Hooking it Up: Getting Arms Connected
Lea Pearson's Noodle Notes

Free arms are one of the keys to effortless playing, and one of our places of balance is the arm structure suspended over the ribs. I read a lot of material about the body. I know the information intellectually, and I can explain it to others; however, integrating the information into a internal experience is a lifelong process. My account above is a description of a single discovery. As with music, changing my body map is a process grounded in consistency and repeated exposure to the information.

I love being able to reinforce the change with my instrument. If I feel at ease playing, then I know I've just done something right. My body has become my teacher.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,