Summer in the Back Seat

This summer has been wild. I’ve had no proper vacation, yet have had a lot of quality family time. Musically it’s been rich, but as far as teaching, I have given up my job at the Conservatory of Bremen. Although it is not a financial blow, it will make my musical life poorer indeed.

I imagine I would have time to devote to students and to build up a good studio when I reach my 60′s. However, 65 is the age of compulsory retirement in Germany (and many other countries). It’s just not fair. If I live out my given life-span, I would have about 20 good years to give and devote to my students. Although I will continue to teach privately, coach and give masterclasses, regular teaching will have to take a back seat, for now at least.

This summer has also been filled with large theater projects, where music may often take a back seat. Seen in a positive light, music becomes just one facet that makes up theatrical life. But it is astonishing how one has to often struggle in order to give the musical facet any substance. I sometimes believe that being a dead composer is the most difficult job in the world. Heaven forbid if you have taken the trouble to print specific directions for staging, costume and lighting. They will be ignored and trampled upon by future generations.

It doesn’t do to be critical though, poor J.S. Bach would likely cringe at my interpretation of his Sonatas. Life goes on.

I will finish with a contradictory thought I can’t get rid of. It seems to me that Contemporary Music is undergoing an institutionalization and a marginalization at the same time. (This is in spite of the critical acclaim that followed Stockhausen’s works at Lincoln Center and the Munich Biennale this summer. However, I stress, it wasn’t the music that drew such media attention.)

Institutionalization is likely a natural progression, it has happened to some extent with “regular” Classical Music and Jazz. By institutionalization of Contemporary Music, I refer to the number of Ensembles and Ensemble Academies that have sprung up, and the specialized Masters Degrees that are available. These are wonderful things!

just what are we broadcasting to the universe?

Marginalization is relative and less easy to define, but I can name a few trends. One is less air-time on radio. Another is academic. It is astonishing how few top contemporary players have top teaching jobs, and I mean full professorships and not just adjunct, assistant, whatever. Sophie Cherrier and Mario Caroli are wonderful exceptions. But what about Robert Dick, who is an amazing teacher? And if the trend continues, I believe that upon retirement, Harrie Starreveld will be replaced in Amsterdam with an orchestral player, not with a premiere contemporary ensemble player and soloist as he is.

Feel free to argue with me on these points, they reflect my rather limited experiences.



Tongue Trippin’ in Munich 3 – a Quetzalcoatlus Dances

Rehearsal photo of Zungenspitzentanz from Luzifers Tanz. Photo A. Ackermann

When you perform a theatrical piece like Stockhausen’s Zungenspitzentanz for the first time, you may have that need of, just, please, one more rehearsal, one more run-through, just so I don’t mess this up!  Immediately after that first performance you may still want to ask: Could I just try that again? Now?

At least that was how it was with me. I have performed this piece before, but this was the first time with orchestra and conductor – an entirely different animal, I can assure you. The afternoon before the first performance I lay in my hotel room in complete disbelief and denial that tonight was the night. Perhaps because it took so much force to pull myself together, I managed to keep myself together.

I want to mention a few things that helped me to manage and keep my nerve during this project.

One was filming myself daily. This may sound strange, but watching myself helped me get used to the idea that this is what people see when they look at me. It doesn’t mean that I liked what I saw, I am super critical when it comes to myself. However, watching seemed to de-mystify things. I know my brow-ridge looks too harsh and Neanderthal-like from a certain angle, I know that this move shows the tendons in my neck like a turkey, and so on. For me it was less about accepting and loving yourself, as the self-help books say, and more about getting used to yourself and getting over yourself. I seem to remember a Zen saying that goes something like: “To know yourself is to forget yourself”.

Something else that helped was balance exercises. Several years ago I discovered this while taking a yoga class. If I can do balance poses, in a class or at home, and really focus on them, I find I am less distracted by nerves. Good balance gives you physical confidence. There is probably some scientific literature out there on the subject, someday I will research it. This leads me to my next item:

The Quetzalcoatlus effect. My musical preparations have been accompanied by intensive research into Mesozoic reptiles and dinosaurs. My son demands a story about them daily, and the more he learns, the more he wants to hear about them. So after watching this 10 minute video about Pterosaurs and their incredible brains wired for flight, quick maneuvering and, again, balance, I faced my relatively meager human abilities. But we have better instincts that we realize, if we can get out of their way. When I started to feel uptight during this project, I would think of the Quetzalcoatlus, ungainly on the ground, huge as a giraffe, weighing hundreds of pounds. Yet that sucker could fly!

With flutist Natalie Schwaabe after the concert.

So to recap the two performances in Munich: During the first one, it took me about three minutes to settle in, but I think considering my mental state it went very well. For the second one, I was much more relaxed and focused, but the conductor went much faster! Nontuplets at a quarter-note = 80 are challenging enough, but it felt like he was approaching 90 that evening, so there was less accuracy to be sure.  The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra was great! To top that off, they were all so nice! Nor was I the only soloist that evening: Michael Leibundgut sang Luzifer and Marco Blaauw rocked on the trumpet. Both were an inspiration and a pleasure to hear.


Tongue Trippen’ in Munich 2

If I were to write my memoirs,  I would refer to this summer as the Siberian Summer. It is astonishingly cold here in Munich; however, our tiny hotel room accommodates us well, and we keep each other warm. On stage, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra,  the spotlights blaze and the astonishing playing,  especially from the brass section, generates its own heat.

My first rehearsal was a sectional with groups 9 and 10 from Stockhausen’s Luzifers Tanz – piccolo, euphoniums, tubas, synthesizer and percussion. I had expected it to be a disaster as far as playing together goes, and so it was. We had no staging rehearsals, nor purely musical ones, so everything had to be put together on the spot. How was I to turn around in circles and stay with the conductor, especially in the sections with ritardandi and fermati? Monitors were also not realistic. I made some comprimises by not going full circle for at least one of the sections. We also spent a bit of time puzzling over a tempo discrepency in bar 933 between the full score and the solo and chamber music versions. Along with Kathinka, we decided that the solo version of the tempo was correct.

The next rehearsal was with full brass and percussion. When I say full, I do mean full! I never thought I would need amplification while playing piccolo,  but I am now very grateful.

The first tutti rehearsal went better than I expected.  I have come to terms with the fact that we will not achieve 100 % ensemble togetherness (that would require an additional rehearsal phase), so I focus on sounding as good as possible and making the movements as well as possible.

Will write more,  probably when I have my laptop again.  This thumb typing drives me nuts!

Brass and percussion for Zungenzpspitzentanz


Tongue Trippin’ in Munich

This is the first of what I hope to be a series of entries about my preparation for Zungenspitzentanz in the Munich Biennale with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra . Bear with me, I am typing with my thumbs, a technique I have yet to master.

My biggest help has been this Smart phone, which has many hours of video saved of my attempts to move gracefully and play murderous pasages while kneeling on the ground.

Some other things that have helped my preparation:
Le Freq (will insert link later). These little pieces of brass help the response of my piccolo’s low D, a crucial note in this piece.

The articulation exercises from Paul Edmund-Davies’ Warm up book (link to follow), and Moyse’s exercises “pour les sons graves”.

Of course, Kathinka Pasveer, and colleagues and students who have been willing to listen.

My next entry may be bizarre, I have had some unlikely and exotic sources of inspiration that I want to share.

Reheasal reports to follow as well.


Bass and Alto Flute Resource – a gold mine

I want to share with you two websites by Carla Reese that just about say it all when it comes to composing for alto or bass flute.

Alto Flute

Bass Flute

What I appreciate are her explanations about the dynamic capabilities and limitations of these flutes. I am often frustrated by composers who write ensemble works and choose these flutes for their range only, rather than for their timbral capabilities. Often, I am expected to match the dynamic environment of my colleagues playing trumpet, (bass) clarinet, bassoon, and English horn – instruments that more or less match the range of these flutes. When frustrated, I have been known to peevishly remark to the composer, “a saxophone would have served your purpose better.” The inevitable response is:”but I love the color of these flutes.” “Well then write so that you can actually hear the color of these flutes”, is my usual unspoken response.

As Carla explains on her site, “Dynamic range, and projection, on the bass [and alto] flute[s] is controlled predominantly by tone colour rather than actual dynamic”. She further provides a spectral analysis that compares the sound of the C, alto and bass flutes.

If you are considering writing for bass or alto flute, especially in an ensemble situation, please read her pages!




Should I Study Flute with Karl Marx?

The short answer is no. Dialectical materialism* has no place in the music room.

Although his beard may have been bushier than Monsieur Taffanel’s.

The long answer is more complicated. I am no expert on the works of Marx, and realize I am using his image for exaggerated effect. My real argument is anti-materialist and I could have just as easily picked on the Bourgeoisie. Read the comments below for quotes on Marx’s ideas on creativity. At the end of the day, we may have a lot in common.

I approach the subject of materialism and economics with some humility and trepidation.  For many of my colleagues in the Netherlands and the USA, economic determinism has reared its ugly head. Many orchestral musicians have lost their source of income and teaching staff have been severely reduced in many music schools and conservatories. The latter has hit me as well. This has made me think more than ever about my teaching responsibilities and, as usual when I have conflicting emotions, spurred a belated adolescent rebelliousness.

Rebelliousness against whom? Against those who teach the lie: “there is a right way and a wrong way to play”, “play it my way because I have a job and a house (or a yacht or whatever), “work hard and you will be rewarded with_____”.

Materialistic success is dangled before the student like a carrot before a donkey. Even worse, the materialistic success of the teacher creates in some cases an arrogant sort of authority. Granted, this may do the trick for some students. A clever teacher will latch on to whatever motivates the student and use it accordingly.

Yet doesn’t it make more sense to train whole musicians? Performers who improvise and compose. Composers who perform (rather than sit at the computer or synthesizer, which then spits out the parts).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the opposite of what seems to be the majority opinion. Despite the dwindling opportunities for orchestra work and reduced funding for the arts, this is as good a time as ever for young musicians who have something unique to say. With the internet, the world is your oyster. With the big institutions dying out, this is the time for small enterprises to fill the niches. Finding an orchestra job may be a quicker way to material success, but it is not a given these days. Nor does an orchestra job (or any material success) necessarily equal musical satisfaction or personal happiness. Having a job is hard work. I can vouch for that as a former orchestral player and as a full-time ensemble player. If finances are the only thing keeping you at your job, that is the quickest way to burn-out and bitterness. When things are getting grim for me, I can turn my attention to improvisation, or listen with knowledge and pleasure to Jazz or Carnatic music. Then I thank my former teachers who exposed me to these wonderful things!

This is why I think it is important for students to be exposed to as many ways of making music as possible. How else can you find out what it is you want to express and the best medium for expressing it?

Human beings are not going to stop listening to music entirely. Music will always be there in some form or another, in the background, in the foreground, live in concert or through ear buds. Take heart that you can make music, and get paid for it, if you are courageous, persistent, and seek inspiration. The path may be long or it may be short, but if you want to be heard, you will be! There is no excuse not to be heard, these days.

*Footnote: From my reading I gather that Marx did not coin or make particular use of the term dialectical materialism. It was popularized in a Marxist context  by Stalin in his 1938 paper Dialectical and Historical Materialism. I definitely would not have wanted to study with Stalin.


Some thoughts on composing jet whistles

Jet Whistles on the flute can be amazingly effective, but one has to compose them with care. You can hear a sound file here on Mats Möller’s website. He calls it “Strong air stream without tone”. Two composers who use jet whistles effectively in ensemble situations are Helmut Lachenmann (Mouvement, Zwei Gefühle) and Bernhard Lang ( DW 9 Puppe/Tulpe) -  you might want to check out their notation and usage.

A few basic pointers:

  • Jet whistles need time to set up. The flutist has to go from normal playing position to inserting the entire lip plate into his or her mouth.. (insert dirty joke here…) You can sorta, kinda do it with the lips just covering the hole, but it doesn’t have the impact. To be on the safe side, make sure there is a rest before and after the jet whistle.
  • A jet whistle is a quick blast of air that can begin with an ascending pitch or a descending pitch. Graphically they can be /, \, /\, or even \/, although you need a lot of air for that one (at least I do).
  • Quick is the operative word here, especially if you want something that will carry in an ensemble situation. I have been asked to do slow ones, which are possible if you don’t need a high pitch and if you don’t need to project the sound. In other words, it has to be a quiet environment. I would even go so far as to argue that what I would be doing in this situation is colored air noise, and not a proper jet whistle.
  • It is not possible, in my experience, to notate the exact resultant pitches. A graphic representation is the nicest way to go about it.
  • Jet whistles only really work on the C flute, not on piccolo, alto or bass. One can make whooshing sounds and all kinds of colored air noises in these flutes, but for whatever acoustical reasons, a true and dirty jet whistle just doesn’t work on these flutes. A recent informal survey among flutists of my acquaintance confirms this.

Any flutists out there with any thing to add?




Robert Winn: Musical Exercises to Develop the Technique of the Tongue

In many ways this is a book after my own heart. My years as an undergraduate with Bernard Goldberg were fraught with the re-working of my articulation. It would have been very useful to have such a book as this, with its written explanations (provided in English and German), numerous excerpts (some not found in other compilations), and standard as well as original studies.

When one takes on the task of trying to describe the mechanics of articulation and relating it to one’s native language, there is a risk of getting bogged down in linguistic terminology. For the general flute-playing public I think this book walks the line very well between Too Much Information and the vague “finger-pointing-at-the -moon” sort of stuff you find elsewhere.

Once you do mention linguistics though, pedants like me crawl out of the woodwork with fingers and tongues wagging. There are several things I would like to wag on. Mind you, I am a pedant, not an expert, so my comments are below in the “Pedant’s Corner”.

It was very enlightening to read about some of Winn’s key concepts. He points out that some articulation difficulties are linked to the fingers in a way I hadn’t thought about, and going through some of the studies helped me sort that out. The position of the teeth, in front and in back, was something I had also not considered before.

All in all I enjoyed reading this book as well as playing the studies, although the text could have used a good editor for English punctuation and clarity. (I can’t comment on the German). I do hope that future editions will see to this.

Pedants Corner:

1. One basic aspect is ignored, that of aspiration in English and German consonants. If you are an English speaker, you will say the “T” in the name “Todd” differently from the “T” in “stick”. Todd’s “T” is aspirated. The tendency to puff air rather than release it from the mouth can pose a problem for beginning flute students of languages that do this.

2. In mentioning the tendencies for Russian and Bulgarian, Winn is correct that there is a large build-up of physical tension for the consonant “T”. One reason for that is it is produced with the tongue much further back than in English, touching the alveolar ridge. And it is never aspirated. However, that is only half of the picture. I don’t know about Bulgarian, but each Russian consonant is paired with its palatalized twin, a much softer version. A crude way of explaining this is to imagine the consonant followed by a “Y” (as in “you”) “TY” is very soft, produced very forward in the mouth and is more of a release than an attack. I spoke to someone who believes this linguistic ability is responsible for Denis Bouriakov’s amazing articulation.




A Slap in the Face of Public Taste: Russian Futurist Manifesto of 1912

Arthur Lourié, one of the leading Futurist composers.

On December 29, 2012, the Pushkinskaya 10 GEZ 21 in St. Petersburg celebrated 100 years of Russian Futurism.The concert, featuring Sergei Oskolkov performing piano works by Arthur Lourié, piqued my interest in this movement. Since I didn’t find an online translation of this movement’s 1912 manifesto that convinced me, here is my own. Many, many thanks to my husband, who helped me. How this all relates to my own experiences will be part of another post. I’ve pasted the original Russian below.

A Slap in the Face of Public Taste
To our readers – an Unprecedented Unexpected First.
We alone are the face of our Time. The horn of time is trumpeting through our lingual arts.
The past constricts us. Academia and Pushkin make less sense than hieroglyphics. Dump Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc. overboard the ship of Modernity.
Those who don’t forget their first love won’t recognize their last.
Who would trustingly turn their last love to Balmont’s perfumed lechery? Does it reflect the vigorous spirit of today?
What coward would fear to tear the paper armor from the warrior Bryusov’s black tuxedo? Or does it shine with unknown beauties?
Wash your hands that have touched the filthy slime of books written by countless Leonid Andreyevs.
All those Maxim Gorkys, Kuprins, Bloks, Sologubs, Remisovs, Averchenkos, Chornys, Kuzmins, Bunins, etc. need only a dacha on the river. Thus fate rewards tailors.
From the heights of skyscrapers we look down on their sorry asses!
We order the reverence of poets’ rights:
  1. To enlarge the scope of the poet’s vocabulary with fabricated and derivative words. (word-novelty)
  2. To insurmountable hatred for the language existing before their time
  3. To wrench with horror from their proud brows the Wreath of cheap fame you have made from bathhouse switches
  4. To stand on the rock of the word “we” amidst seas of boos and outrage.
And if your filthy stigmas of “common sense” and “good taste” are still present in our verses, they nevertheless glimmer with the first heat-flashes of the Newly Approaching Beauty of the Word – sufficient and valuable unto itself.


Пощёчина общественному вкусу

Читающим наше Новое Первое Неожиданное.
Только мы — лицо нашего Времени. Рог времени трубит нами в словесном искусстве.
Прошлое тесно. Академия и Пушкин непонятнее гиероглифов. Бросить Пушкина, Достоевского, Толстого и проч. и проч. с парохода Современности.
Кто не забудет своей первой любви, не узнает последней.
Кто же, доверчивый, обратит последнюю Любовь к парфюмерному блуду Бальмонта? В ней ли отражение мужественной души сегодняшнего дня? Кто же, трусливый, устрашится стащить бумажные латы с чёрного фрака воина Брюсова? Или на них зори неведомых красот?
Вымойте ваши руки, прикасавшиеся к грязной слизи книг, написанных этими бесчисленными Леонидами Андреевыми
Всем этим Максимам Горьким, Куприным, Блокам, Сологубам, Аверченко, Чёрным, Кузминым, Буниным и проч. и проч. — нужна лишь дача на реке. Такую награду даёт судьба портным.
С высоты небоскрёбов мы взираем на их ничтожество!
Мы приказываем чтить права поэтов:
1. На увеличение словаря  в  е г о  о б ъ ё м е  произвольными и производными словами (Слово-новшество).
2. На непреодолимую ненависть к существовавшему до них языку.
3. С ужасом отстранять от гордого чела своего из банных веников сделанный вами Венок грошовой славы.
4. Стоять на глыбе слова «мы» среди моря свиста и негодования.
И если пока ещё и в наших строках остались грязные клейма ваших «здравого смысла» и «хорошего вкуса», то всё же на них уже трепещут впервые зарницы Новой Грядущей Красоты Самоценного (самовитого) Слова.


Paul Edmund-Davies: 28 Day Warm Up Book

Recently I have enjoyed working from Paul Edmund-Davies “The 28 Day Warm Up Book, for all flutists…..eventually!”. Its (English-only) text is extremely clear, with touches of humor that engage the reader from the start. His approach is extremely practical and humane. There is advice on how to approach your practice, how to structure it, and the empty staff paper at the end of each section encourages further thought and creativity for your own exercises.

The daily exercises cover four areas: sonority, fingers, articulation and intervals. I felt compelled to write about my experience with these exercises because it is a lesson in humility. With several decades of professional playing under my belt, I took a look at some of the pages and thought “how simplistic, I don’t need that stuff”. But playing them, I realized that they were quite challenging. So I got to work. And they sound nice! My family particularly likes to hear me practice Articulaton no. 7.

A number of exercises I find useful for piccolo practice. Intervals no. 2 is not only good for intervals, but makes a great intonation study if played with a drone from a tuner or computer. (How I wish I had a live tambura player to assist me :-) ). Articulation no 6, with its combination of repeated and moving notes, is especially good for controlling the sometimes tricky middle register of the piccolo.

The section on fingers I find very practical. He points out that scales are all well and good, but they don’t really train the fingers to lift and close with swift independence. The exercises, some of which are based on Taffanel & Gaubert, reinforce this idea. Because its familiarity makes for easy memorization, I am a great adapter of T&G myself, and am always happy to learn other approaches.

Here on YouTube, you can watch Paul Edmund-Davies demonstrate some of his exercises in the context of learning Anderson’s Op. 15.

For those who are interested, my complete warm-up these days goes as follows:

  • harmonic studies, with and without articulation, add trills
  • finger and articulation exercises, including scales and written exercises from this book. As I have written elsewhere, I find Peter Lloyd’s approach works well with me: Get really warmed up first, and then do sonority work.
  • combined melodic sonority/intonation/interval exercises from this book and others

You see, I have gotten away a bit from long tones. They can be useful, and I may come back to them at another point. But for now, I find melodic studies and other exercises from “de la Sonorite” more useful. Gotta do what works!