Thursday, June 21, 2012

Getting Back into Flute Shape

With a performance at the National Flute Association Convention looming on August 11, the need to be in performance flute shape has "sparked" a new desire and zeal for practice in me.  Always a practicer, I  am a real nerd when it comes to scales and long tones, and to prepare for this performance, out came my tried and true techniques.  They follow in a moment.

This routine was inspired by the ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.   She joined the Vic Wells Ballet Company in London in 1934.  She made quick progress and in 1939 she had already danced Giselle, Odette-Odile and Aurora. She became the world's greatest ballerina and could have retired as such when she was 40. But her meeting with Rudolf Nureyev in 1962 gave the world the magic of their great partnership and her career continued until she was 58.

Margot Fonteyn on DVD from Amazon

Fonteyn's autobiography made a great impression on me in my early 30's when I was trying to juggle two little children and a busy freelance life.  Her professionalism and dedication to technique and art inspired me to follow in her lead.   I made sure that EVERYDAY I would warm up all my techniques, much like a prima ballerina must-and especially when one considers a 40 year career at the top of the art form.

In recent times, I have not kept to that level of committiment, and have felt the result of sporatic practice, believe me.  Granted, starting a business 4 years ago, and doing it full time for 2 place a strain on available time.  But as I said, an NFA performance looms.  The time was found.

And I have learned a thing or two the last month:

1.  Accept how you sound today.

2.  It takes time to re-develop your breathing.

3.  Your progress will be uneven.  Don't worry, consistancy will happen in time.

4.  The hardest part is picking up the flute on the first day.

The routine:

1. Long tones.  Always starting in the low register, since that is the only fundamental register on the flute.  Slurring two chromatic tones, slowly, from C1 to middle C.  (C-B, B-Bb, Bb-A etc.)  Then return to C1 and repeat the exercise going UP to C2.  This gets the air going.

Next, either Tonic-Dominants, or Amy Porter's long tone exercise.  Here, work intonation, vibrato, and tapers.

2.  Chromatice Scales on all chromatic tones, 2 octaves.  3 octaves for B. C, C#, and D. Higher if you have tolerant neighbors/family or canines (my yellow lab Blitz howls after high F)  Moderate tempo, looking for finger control as well as sustaining the sound from Long Tones as the fingers move.

3.  Whole tone scales.

4.  Diatonic scales. All Major/minor scales, 2/3 octaves each.   For extra credit, start each scale on tonic, extend it to top C# or D, return to tonic, go down to C or B, and return to tonic.  Fun!

5.  Double tongue.  Taffanel-Gaubert no. 1 is perfect for this.  I try to get all the way through it without a break.  OK-I am a swimmer, I love pain.  

6.  Triple Tongue.  T-G No. 3: scales in triplets.  As much as necessary.

7.  Any T-G chord exercise:  Nos. 10, 12, 14.  However, when in the swimmer's personality: 11, or 13.  Check it out, you will see what I mean.

8.  Harmonics.  Starting on low C, find each partial up and down the series.  Avoid muscling through these: finnesse is the key.  Find the partials by manipulating the air column.  Want to have even more fun?  Dimminuendo as you ascend :)

There are some other fun add-ons to this routine, but I don't want to scare anyone off.

All of this is done in a very deliberate manner, constantly looking for control, beauty in sound, and maintiaing an even scale pitch-wise.

By the way, I use a Power Lung to keep my breathing in shape when I can't get to the pool.  Lyme disease kept me out of the water all winter and spring, so I have really learned the benefits of this fabulous device.  Plus I love the effect it has on my abs!

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