Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Greetings from Whispering Lane, Wells, Maine


And for my husband and I, that means the farm in Wells, Maine.  We load up the Labradors, the humans, all sorts of beach stuff, and head north.  In about 7.5 hours, we are in a little piece of heaven, here in southeast Maine.

Here the sounds of traffic are rare, the bird calls frequent, the wild turkeys abundant, and where the Labradors can run free through the hay fields.

Some years ago, some of the land around this property was sold to create a country club and golf course.  Then the  recsession hit and the project was abandoned.  How quickly the forest took over what had been cleared!  There is a mountain of top soil that is now covered with trees and underbrush.  We counted 15 abandoned earth movers, tractor trailers, trailers, paving machines, a steam roller, all scattered in the field across Burnt Mill Road.  What an eyesore and waste this all is.

But back here at the farm, we don't see much of that at all.  We are shielded by the remnants of an apple orchard, rolling hills, and a white clapboard house about 1/4 mile away.

The activities are honed by years of visiting here with our dear friends.  Early on, it was just the 4 of us, sometimes accompanied by friends.  Then the babies came, and we had quite a group.  There was the annual play the kids put on, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, trips to Dad's Ice cream, Boogie Boarding, canoe trips, and more.

Beach time is a big deal around here.  It is hard to think that there is another beach more beautiful than Drakes Island Beach.  When the tide goes out, there is a broad beach of hard sand, making it perfect for bocce ball, a fiercely competitive game in which we use a tape measure to assure accuracy!  Long walks down the beach are a must.  Early in the AM, the Labradors enjoy a swim and a fetch at the beach, where it is a canine play ground.

Then there are the great towns of Kennebunkport and Ogunquit, where the food and shopping are excellent.

Today, since it is raining and cool, we will go to Freeport, ME, and make the annual visit to L. L. Bean and begin holiday shopping.

The great fun of this is that we have shared this vacation time with dear friends for decades.  It is wonderful to spend time with a friend who knows you so well, who understands the non-verbal communications, who respects your space, and can tell when it is time for me to go to the Laundromat (when the kids were with us it was  how I got a little solidtude)  This is the only friend I have like this, and I treasure this precious  time with her.

We can go other places for summer vacation, and for some years we did, but a week each summer in Maine remains a tradition that we cherish.

Just a little breather before NFA....Oh no!  Now I have to practice....

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Planning for the Flute Spa

What a fun way to spend a Tuesday morning!  My friend Mindy came to the shop and we spent an hour doing flute technique!  Not sure if we laughed or played more, but we did make it through Taffanel-Gaubert No. 10 and 11 unscathed, as well as a fun pitch exercise that tunes one and two octaves, fifths, and major and minor thirds.  This is a lot like going to the gym with a friend: I can do almost anything with a pleasant companion...

Since we had so much fun, we decided to meet every week with a goal in mind.  That goal: going through the entire Taffanel-Gaubert in one day!

Who needs Mt. Everest?

For the accomplishment of this feat, we must train.

In true athletic form, we will "work harden".

Each week, our sessions will become longer by 10 minutes.  For instance, next week we will do all of No. 1, followed by Nos. 12 and 13, and the pitch exercise. 

As the weeks pass, our sessions will become longer, and more strenuous.

By the end of August we will be in true concert shape.

And, ready for the Flute Spa.

After a hearty breakfast, we will warm up our sounds, and then....play all of the Taffanel-Gaubert in the one day.

Each daily exercise will be followed by a brief break. Early in the day, we will pause for coffee or tea.  When we finish No. 8 we will have lunch, for which we will be famished.

Then for the afternoon, Nos. 9 - 17.

And our reward?  A chair massage by Ginny!  The rest of the shop crew will be enjoying their chair massages as Mindy and I finish our grueling technical work out.

Maybe we can set up a virtual Flute Spa!

Monday, June 3, 2013

What's on YOUR music stand???

Summer!  Yay!  My favorite time of the year!  Greenery, warmth, swimming outdoors, barbecues, outdoor concerts....

....And!!  Time to repair and renew my flute technique.

Technique gets a beating during the concert season.  Everything from having to play when not really warmed up, to matching pitch to another's uneven scale, to playing in hot, humid air that does not want to move.

So I have a summer practicing routine I like to do every year, and thought I'd share it with you all.

First, if I haven't swum in the day, I use the Power Lung.  PL lets me start playing and feel as if I have already done 20 minutes.  It opens the throat, warms up the lips and the cheeks, and oxygenates the blood.  Poof!  You are ready to go.

Then, my favorite part: Long Tones, or LT's for short.  For me, these function like a picture frame: they separate my practicing from the rest of life.  I can put down all the things that are getting me down, causing pressure, or just plain yucky stuff, and settle into my little world of moving air and making sound.  I layer in vibrato exercise, dynamic changes, and breath control.

Next: chromatic scales.  I play these very slowly, feeling for a smoothness in the fingers, again challenging breath control, going for a nice tonal match low to high.

Then: Diatonic scales.  Major, harmonic and melodic scales, the entire range of the instrument.  Passing tonic on the way up and going to C# or D; passing tonic on the way down and going to C or B.  Picking up speed as the fingers wake up.

Reichert Exercises come next.  I focus on one each week.  These I break down into different rhythmic patterns and articulations, depending on my mood, the weather, and my relative creativity for the day.

And then, the faithful Taffanel-Gaubert.  No. 1 or 2 double tongued is first, followed by 10/11; 12/13;

The final finger work is No.17, which is counted, of course!

Warming down, I do harmonics. the twist is: Diminuendo as the partials ascend.  Fun!  Crescendo as they come back to the fundamental note.

Now: I am ready for ANYTHING.  Well, maybe not a 400 IM, but almost anything musical. On the flute.

What's on YOUR music stand???

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Show Must Go On

I stood there, on the small dais in the church, just into the last piece of a long concert which contained two new works for me. It was the second page of the Rodrigo "Fantasia para un gentilhombre".  Looking at the number of the bars rest I was about to count; the number was not there.  Just a small blind spot.

And then I understood why my hands had been "off" for the previous hour of the concert, why I felt a little dizzy, why my eyes were not taking in the music as they normally do.

It was a "no caffeine" migraine.

I hadn't had my usual 2 to 3 cups of coffee last Sunday morning... In fact, all I'd had was white tea.  And now, at about 4:10 PM the migraine struck.

My migraines are not the normal ones.  I don't have much of a headache, but I feel like I am wrapped in cotton, off-center, dizzy and often have pins and needles in my hands.  I am photo-sensitive, and definitely not at my best.

But, there was no turning back at the moment of realization.  Turning my head slowly, I saw that the number was a 3, lifted my flute quickly and just barely made the entrance.

I actually played almost all of the notes in the rest of the piece (which has 2 high D's on the last page) and my husband didn't notice anything was amiss.

It led me to think about one bond all of we musicians have in common: we must play on time, in tune, expressively when called upon to do so, regardless of how we feel.  No matter if we have had an upset in the day, are hungry, thirsty, tired, and so on.  The musical imperative calls us to overcome any of those discomforts and give the best we can.

This certainly lends drama to the situation.  The audience does not want to see us sweat.  They want to be transported for just those few minutes, and leave daily concerns behind.  For we who are performers, it makes us hardy, and proud when we are called a trouper.  It means we can overcome whatever ails us and get the job done.

When Anne Sullivan and I toured frequently, I had a special bag I called "the pharmacy" which included all the remedies that we should need were an emergency on the road come up.  Among all the medicinal supplies, I learned to pack duct tape (essential for hems, rips, electrical cords)safety pins, needle and thread, extra bottled water, nail files, and more.  These essentials came in handy when needed.

So, keep this in mind the next time you see a performer, no matter the genre, stand up and deliver a fine performance night after night.  Everyone of them has a story like this one.  Probably several.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Concerts

This past weekend was one of  two great concerts, and about as contrasting as you can get.

Friday Night: My Christmas present to my husband were tickets to the great Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, at Madison Square Gardens, NYC.

Sunday afternoon: Anna Meyer's wonderful solo flute concert entitled: "Accompanied by Silence", at St. Martins in the Fields, in Chestnut Hill, PA.

Friday: Started with an incredible acoustic set with Eric Clapton, Earl Klugh, BB King, and Vince Gill.  The remarkable thing was the intimacy the audience felt in that set; 20,000 people in MSC and it felt like Clapton was singing to you.  Here is the rest of the roster for the festival.

Every single guitarist was phenomenal, often the most famous were sidemen for lesser known incredible players.  The respect shown for the elder statesmen of the guitar was truly touching.  As BB King was assisted across the stage, the audience clapped him all the way on.  The passion shown by the audience was amazing.  Some people were on their feet for 4 hours.  I didn't make it that long.  The wall of sound was too much for my ears, and so I spent the last 1/3 of the concert listening from the hall way, the sound still disturbingly loud.  As Tim in the shop said, "You didn't wear ear plugs?"  Ooops...

Then it was Sunday, and I found myself in the hushed atmosphere of St. Martin's in the Fields.  The soft colors of light streamed through the amazing stained glass windows, the birds singing in the spring air.  Anna's beautiful sound ringing in the rafters of this Gothic style church as she warmed up. 

I was there to accompany Anna in the premiere performance of "Newtown Variations" by Bruce Roter.  My part was an 8-bar ground, repeated 22 times, over which Anna played 20 variations that represented the 20 children killed in Newtown, CT late last year.  While we played, the 20 lit candles in a circle were put out, one-by-one, at the end of each variation.  It took all my concentration to count each beat, and to not look at those candles.  The audience was stunned at the simple, moving, brilliant music, and then the fade to silence, and darkness.

Other composers represented on this concert were Debussy, Higdon, Piazzolla, Loeb, and Eric Meyer (Anna's husband and organist at St. Martin's.)  This was first rate flute playing. No technique was left out.  The power, beauty, emotion, and technical fluency were dazzling.  Just one player.  No amplification other than what the room naturally supplied. 

And now, as I reflect on the weekend, and the events in Boston two days ago, we witness the horror of more senseless deaths, and I think of the inherent danger of any large gathering.  The MSG concert, with 20,000 could have been a dangerous place to be.  Or, how about the concourse at Penn Station Saturday afternoon, where 10 police and two canines patrolled.  Or what about the train itself? 

Maybe we will all value the smaller venues, the intimate gatherings, events that are moving in other ways than overwhelming.  And maybe one day those who are so ill, angry, desolate, fanatical, will get the help they need before the commit a heinous act of terrible violence.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Protecting your flute from tragedy!


 It happens once or twice a year.  A customer calls with the terrible news that their flute has been lost or stolen.

Each one of us who plays the flute has a very personal relationship with our instrument.  It becomes our voice;  the embodiment of our unique concept of beauty of sound.

Having a flute stolen is a very real violation of our personhood.

When we at the shop recieve these calls, we feel the pain on the other end of the line. 

And then we ask, "How did this happen?"

Always, the incident could have been prevented had some simple steps been taken.  To follow, my talk to young flute players who are in possesion of their first very valuable instrument:

1.  Only you, or your teacher my play your flute.  No exceptions.  

2.  Leave your good flute at home.

3.  If you take your flute to school, it must stay with you at all times.  Never lock it in a locker, or worse yet, leave it in the band room.

4.  Never reveal the $$ value of your flute to anyone, even in confidence.  That news will travel like wildfire and your flute will become a target.

5.  Never reveal the metal content of your flute.  Frequently, when I travel with flutes, an enthusiastic TSA agent will say, "Are these real gold?"  And I say, "No. They are brass."  All anyone needs is for a security line of several hundred people to hear you are carrying precious metal in a carry-on bag!

6.  Never check your fine flute in your luggage while flying.  The temperature is unregulated in the cargo bay of the plane, not to mention that not every baggage handler is honest.

7.  Carry your flute in a larger gig bag.  I HATE shoulder straps! They scream: "Take me!  I'm a flute!" Leather or woven nylon shoulder straps are no match for box cutters.  Nor do I llike the gig bags with the flute compartment on the outside, looking just like, well, a flute!

Here's why I always carry a gig bag:  

It was a dark and stormy night.  Really.  

Anne Sullivan and I had just finished a flute and harp concert at Clarion University and were packing up and heading to Pittsburgh for the night.  Deciding that we didn't want to stay in our good black velvet concert shoes, we changed into less formal shoes in the parking lot.  

We get to Pittsburgh, unload, exhausted.  Then the shock of all shocks!  No flute anywhere to be found.  Several searches of the car prove fruitless.  It was then, when I recreated the scene back at the Clarion University parking lot, that I recalled putting the flute in its black case cover on the black tarmack on that dark and stormy night.

As you can imagine, there was no sleeping that night.

The next morning first thing, the call was made to the Clarion University security department, music school, and theater manager.  No flute.

In the days before cell phones, the only option was to stop at each service plaza along the PA Turnpike.  Call Clarion.  Next plaza, next call.  At Breezewood, good news!  The biology professor had seen the case on the tarmack, knew it was valuable, and took it to security.  By that time, security and I had become great friends, espeically after I had offered a generous reward for the flute. So he was almost as excited as I was when he told me the news.

The back story: my teacher, Murray Panitz had passed away the previous week.  I was asked to play during his memorial service on Saturday, and wanted to do it on my best flute, of course.  (The hardest performance of my career to date).  Thanks to my new BFF in security at Clarion, the flute was delivered by Fed Ex the day before the performance at the memorial service.  

Lessons learned:

1.  Always put the flute in a large gig bag that will not go unnoticed anywhere.

2.  Change your shoes in the dressing room.

3.  Make a check list of all the contents of a car when travelling to multiple venues on tour.  

4.  Be very nice to security at any venue when you travel.  Well, actually to anyone, anywhere, because you never know.

5.  Insure your flute and keep appraisals handy.

6.  Never, never say "yes" when someone asks you, as they gesture toward the harp, "Aren't you glad you play a small instrument?"

Finally, heed this advice from Clarion Insurance (no relation to Clarion University):



This is just a friendly reminder that in order to have a smooth claim process-we strongly recommend having an appraisal on file for all of your instruments. (Even those under the standard $5,000 requirement*.)

*We do "require" an appraisal or bill of sale from a bonifide store for any single item valued at $5,000 or more. We cannot add any single item over $4,999 without an appraisal or bill of sale.

Clarion Associates Inc | 35 Arkay Drive | Suite 400 | Hauppauge | NY | 11788***800-VIVALDI


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Meet the Flute Pro Shop Team!

All of us here at Flute Pro Shop are preparing to be without Dave as he heads to Japan for the next two weeks.   The purpose of the trip is the highest level of repair technician certification from the Muramatsu Company.  While there, Dave will work in the factory finishing flutes, and familiarize himself with the Muramatsu manufacturing process.

 We will miss him while he is away, to be sure.

It's so interesting how a group like this can become like a family, united around a set of principles and values that drive the business and forge relationships that are now moving outside of the shop into social connections.

Let me introduce you to our crew here at FPS.

Me: Joan Sparks, President and Director of Sales and Marketing.  If you have been reading these posts you know just about everything about me.  Actually, maybe more than you want to....

David Kee, Vice President of FPS and Chief Repair Technician.  Dave is the steadying force here.  I tend to react to situations in a manner that is not always calm and contained.  Dave, on the other hand, is a calm and circumspect presence.  He has a wonderful capability to see situations from all sides, weigh them, and then react. Dave has a wry sense of humor, and can turn a phrase that makes us all double over in laughter. His integrity when it comes to the quality of his work is unparalleled.

Cara, Business Manager.  Cara has the most amazing phone voice and manners.  She is often the friendly person on the line when people call in.  She is all business, efficient, and brilliant when it comes to strategics.  She also reigns me in.  I have two tendencies: I'd like to give away the shop, and I really want to acquire inventory.  Lots of inventory.  So, when Cara gets that light in her eyes, and the laser like intensity is directed at me, well, I make a more prudent choice.  Cara is the cheif party organizer too, and often supplies home baked goodies to our celebrations.

Kristen: SEO Specialist, Sales Assistant.  Like what FPS does on FaceBook, Twitter, and more?  It's all Kristen.  With one of the best set of ears in the business, she fills her roles here with incredible skill, creativity, and artistic savvy.  Kristen is the inspiration of so many of the FPS innovations, stylish ads, the new logo, and more.  She is beloved by us all, and is herself quite a wit.  We are all on our toes what here is here!

Tim, Sales Specialist, Shipping Manager, Product Manager.  Tim  is a meticulous person who packs and ships for FPS, manages the music and accessories, and takes your online orders and fulfills them.  He is developing a very fine teaching studio of flute and sax players, and this year had several students place in the Delaware All State Band.  Tim is also training in the repair department, showing patience and the same meticulous attention to detail he shows in the shipping of themany valuable instruments entrusted to us here at FPS.

Denise: Business Assistant, Travel Manager.  I have known Denise forever!  When we needed this role to be filled, I knew she would be the very best person to come in, get the job done, and be a great fit to our convivial group, and so she has.  Denise is amazing at finding travel deals that are both economical and comfortable, which yours truly needs on the road.  She also is calm and deals with our customers in a truly professional manner.  Denise is also the one who keeps us decorated each season, manages the flow of repairs in and out of the shop, and follows up with phone calls.

This crew makes it a real pleasure to come to work each day, and are why our shop is continuing to grow and prosper.  Life at Flute Pro Shop is good.

Next up: The Pets of Flute Pro Shop!