The Phoenix: Not What You’re Thinking

I simply MUST write about the piece I started learning yesterday. Those of you who pay attention to my tweets will already know which one it is, and that I’m rather excited to have found it. I would just like to go a little bit into depth about some of the things I like about this particular piece.

For some reason, my mind can’t get around the more avant-garde type pieces of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. There is a particular type of music theory that involves in-depth study of what is known as the twelve-tone system. Let’s just say that I barely managed to pass my twentieth-century theory class due to the fact that I couldn’t find a melodic structure to hang on to for whatever we happened to be studying. In short, my mind was set on the fact that twentieth and twenty-first century performance repertoire for the flute was always going to be bad and I was going to stay far away from it.

For the most part, I have lived up to this edict. The obvious problem, though, is that my edict was far too general. I’ve found myself enjoying a whole lot of twentieth and twenty-first century music, I just couldn’t find any flute repertoire that made melodic sense. It was all either composed using the twelve tone system, or was based solely on mathematic equations, or that visually looked interesting but sounded… well, very chaotic.

I have been leery of contemporary flute music from the beginning, and barely surviving my twentieth-century music theory class served only to locked the door. By the time I had finished that class, I had completely shut out all contemporary music when choosing repertoire. The problem was that with that door closed, I was rather limited. Not only that, but I was starting to find myself getting bored with the same old eras, and that sort of scared me, because it isn’t like me at all to get bored with a piece I’ve chosen to learn.

One day, I went to a flute lesson and was completely out of ideas as to what I wanted to learn. Susan, whom I have mentioned in previous posts, began riffling through her music and muttering things like, “This could be interesting… I think you’d like this… but you don’t like contemporary music… so that won’t work…”

I found myself wondering if I had limited myself too much by shutting out all twentieth and twenty-first century music. The answer is yes, I have. I can probably count on one hand just how many pieces I have learned which were written after 1900. Susan eventually opened the door again, though. I still don’t like atonal music, because my head just can’t wrap itself around pieces which don’t sound melodically structured, but this doesn’t include every twentieth century flute piece in the books.

The first piece I played after my rather unpleasant encounter with twentieth-century theory was Jacques Ibert’s flute concerto, written in 1934. While it bordered atonal, it still had melodic structure. It still had motives I could pick out throughout the entire piece. The problem was that it wasn’t quite me. At least, the movement I know is frantic, and almost too chaotic for my liking. What good would it be to say I’d never played something like it, though? What good is it to be a musician and not explore every facit, including performing a piece you don’t quite like?

Well, I have to admit that I haven’t ventured into the extremely atonal realm yet. However, I did find a piece a couple of days ago, which was composed in 1980. This piece not only has a melodic structure that I can interpret and enjoy, but the style of the piece itself fits my style of playing. While I have played lots of pieces in the baroque, classical, and romantic eras which I have enjoyed and could put my heart into, I can finally say that I’ve been able to put my heart into a contemporary piece as well.

I found it while I was skimming through a collection of James Galway’s albums. I didn’t even know the title of the piece when I first heard the opening chords. I listened to the whole first movement of the thing before I even took a glance at the title. After a little research, I found out that it was premiered the same year it was written by Sir James Galway in the Sydney Opera house with the Sydney orchestra. That only clinched it for me. I just had to learn it. The sound of it stuck in my head and invaded my dreams, and so I began the learning process yesterday.

I wish I could explain to you the richness of it! Everything in the first movement alone, from the steady three-4 time signature to the intricate and exquisitely-executed triplets and sixteenth-notes, is enough to keep me going back to hear it over and over again. I haven’t found a piece like that in quite a while, especially within the dreaded twentieth-century collection of flute repertoire.

Why take my word for it, when you can listen to the piece yourself? Take a moment and appreciated it, even if it’s for the simple fact that you haven’t heard it before. It’s taken me far too long to find this piece and reopen the door to contemporary music again. I’m going to make it my goal to play this piece with an orchestra before I leave this world. Take some time and watch the videos below. I think you will find at least one thing to enjoy. I know I did.

John Carmichael’s Phoenix Concerto for Flute and Orchestra:
Movement 1
Movement 2

Forever Seeking,

Me

The Breath of Life

I realize I haven’t written in a while. Nothing has been going on that has been particularly noteworthy. My routines have been just that–routine. To routinely write about routines would become routinely boring and then I would routinely lose what few routine readers I have routinely gained by routinely writing about routine things. Hmm, that was really quite unnecessary, I think. Ah well, I’m too lazy to go back and fix it.

Anyway, I’ve felt the need to write some things which have been on my mind, instead of the usual “I did thus and so on such and such date because of blah reason” bit. So, here it goes.

The word “eccentric” has several different definitions listed in the dictionary, but the overall meaning of the word is simple: off-center. We, as a society, have naturally decided to complicate it by linking it to what it could mean within human nature. When most hear the word, it’s usually spoken in an almost hushed tone. It is used to very politely call somebody “one hell of a weirdo.”

As a rule, our society has put musicians within the “eccentric” category. While there is a rather broad range of just how eccentric a musician (or anyone for that matter) can be, the meaning is the same. All musicians have some social habits and ways of thinking which everyone else thinks are outright weird. Now that I think on it, it’s the same way for anyone who has been given any sort of social label. That includes everybody in this strange world of ours. In so many words, I’ve just said that everybody has their oddities—myself included—and because everyone has eccentricities, you won’t mind a bit if I share mine with you… well, one of them.

I’m one of those musicians who try to put musical meanings to everything. Actually, a better way of putting that would be that I tend to take the nonmusical experiences in life and try to apply or link them somehow to music. I also can understand unfamiliar concepts a lot easier if they are explained to me in musical terms. As a result, I often times will hear a particular phrase in the English language which sticks in my head, like a fragment of a familiar piece, and my mind is always trying to figure out some way to “internalize” it and apply it to other experiences.

I know, I know, I’ve worded things far too abstractly. I tend to do that sometimes. My point is that I have been feeling the urge to write some of these musical thoughts down as they come to mind. Hence, the new category in this blog. I will often times either think of some way to apply a general concept to music, or apply a musical concept to a general one. It helps me find ways to solve problems. For you scientists, it’s basically my shortcut to solving life’s little equations.

Today’s thought happens to be a nonmusical concept applied to a musical one. I have been reading some interesting flute-related articles on breathing, and I’ve just had this particular phrase running around my head as a result. Actually, it’s not really so much a phrase as it is a title, a title of four simple words: “The Breath of Life.”

The phrase didn’t initially appear until I found myself remembering an interview I had with KSL Five, back in 2009, as part of the publicity which came with winning a particular competition. I couldn’t remember exactly what had been said, but I did remember the reporter had said something about breathing life into something.

I did a bit of research and found the article, which I was able to link to above for your convenience. I found the phrase that had caught my attention, and my mind began to create a train of thought around it. Here are the reflections which have stuck most firmly in my head.

The Breath of Life is not just used as reference to the famous biblical moment wherein God gave life to Man. It is common terminology for a medical practice in which one breathes into another individual’s mouth in order to revive him if he has stopped breathing.

The flute is an instrument which requires breath to produce its sound. While there are several other components which assist in achieving a clear, solid tone, the breath is the primary component. The breath is the foundation of obtaining that rich, golden tone that is the goal of every woodwind or brass instrumentalist. This means that if you do not have a solid foundation, you won’t have a solid tone.

Every single aspect of playing an instrument requires a percentage of your focus. Too many people seem to either exclude or put too little focus toward that first breath just before the opening notes of a performance. As a result, the first bars of that performance are marred, and the audience loses the initial excitement which comes with the composer’s opening notes.

Don’t just pay attention to how your body is feeling just before your opening breath. Pay attention to what your mind is doing. What are you focused on? Are you focused on a face in the audience, a particular pain splotch on the wall, the couple whispering a few rows back? Are you focused on the possibility that you might screw up your first note, perfecting that middle passage once you get to it? The more stable focus points are going to help you find the mentality needed to take a deep, confident, stable breath. Avoid visual distractions, if at all possible. Close your eyes if you have to, and try to go into yourself, rather than reaching out to the little sounds of the concert hall.

I have trouble with these things myself, believe it or not, and like all things, practice is going to help perfect them. The more I perform, the better I will get at finding my focus points and centering myself enough to take that first breath and make the opening breath as important as the opening note. It is additionally important that you don’t take too long to do this, because there is at least one member of the audience who will feel that slightly odd awkwardness which comes with taking too long to center.

Once you find your center and take that opening breath, don’t let that tiny space of time before your first note make you lose confidence! If you take the Breath of Life scene in the bible, try to imagine God taking this nourishing, stable, deep breath, and then letting it sort of trickle out. Even worse, what if God held back? When you breathe, use that tiny space of time before the opening note to show yourself who’s boss. Mankind didn’t get up and start walking around because God got scared or distracted. What if you were reviving someone with CPr and Mouth-to-Mouth? Would you hold back?

When you inhale, you’re preparing to revive your instrument. For instrumentalists who don’t need to breathe to give their instruments life, you can still breathe just before you play. It will help you find that center point of focus which gives life to the opening notes which the composer has written.

I used to wonder if that news reporter was right in saying that I breathed life into my instrument. When I began paying attention to my breathing, I began to understand what I should have been doing ages ago. Don’t just breathe, breathe life. Don’t just give, give life. Instrumentalists, don’t just play—play life! When you choose a piece to perform, you choose it because there is something in it that you can relate to. The fact that you can relate to this piece makes it a part of you, and that piece becomes a part of your life. Play your life, don’t just play. It all starts with your first breath, and it should end with your last. Dazzle your audience! Make your finale one to remember.

Forever Eccentric,

Me

Still Going Strong

Well, it’s just after one in the morning, and I’m currently wide awake.  I’ve actually been wide awake for at least a couple of hours now.  The sleep schedule is broken again because I decided to treat myself to a birthday all-nighter.  I did just that and enjoyed an awesome and amusing conversation over skype with a friend of mine.

When last I wrote, I think I talked about my flute status.  That is to say I was complaining about it being away and the fact that I was so miserable without it.  Ugh, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I’m still alive and going strong, and this post is to tell you a bit of what went on during the past little bit.

My most valued personal posession arrived on Wednesday last.  I had received a call the day before from Nagahara Flutes and was told by an apologetic Geri that they had already done the work. I was so excited I ended up making myself look slightly unprofessional by laughing and stumbling for words to thank her and the Nagahara crew for their excellent services.

A short discussion reguarding shipping prices followed, and I ended up overnighting it without paying for insurance. I was somewhat reluctant to do this, but I was told that the UPS service is really quite reliable and that I probably didn’t need to worry about insuring it for the way back. I was told that it would arrive the next day at half past ten in the morning at the latest, which meant I had to be prepared. No sleeping through the doorbell and coming out in my PJ’s to greet the delivery person, ha ha! On a side note, though, I’m an awfully light sleeper, so I wouldn’t have had to worry about sleeping through the doorbell, just being woken by it and having to rush about to answer the door. I ended up talking late into the night with a friend of mine though, the same one mentioned earlier, and so by the time I got to sleep, I was bound for trouble. I didn’t really think about it too much though, because I was tired. Let me tell you, I never thought I’d be so happy to awaken to the sound of the doorbell in my entire life. I had luckily fallen asleep in my clothes, which strangely happens more often than not nowadays, so I didn’t have to rush about getting dressed. I just ran to the door and asked who was outside.

The delivery guy was sort of confused by my asking though, because I had to actually open the door and stick my face out for him to see that I was asking him a question. I had to be a bit more pointed the second time and ask, “Are you the UPS guy?” He kinda looked at me and laughed, and I signed for my flute, or attempted to anyway… I hate my signature, ha ha.

It took me a few minutes to figure out how to get into the box, but once I managed to get the thing out, I went mad. I practiced for about eight hours, with only the occasional rest to give the hands a second to recover from their sadly habbitual tension. I did the same on Thursday. It was as good as seeing a lover again after a long and terrible separation. Or rather… it was as good as I imagine that particular scenario to be. I’ve not had the luxury of experiencing such things yet. Not that it matters, but ah well. Just another tidbit to add to the tidbits you folks already know, I suppose.

Friday and Saturday were spent recovering from the energy I’d put out during Wednesday and Thursday. I obtained and watched the new episode of Doctor Who which had come out that very day, and I don’t remember when I actually fell asleep… I just know it was earlier than on Tuesday last.

Yesterday was my birthday, as I mentioned before. I never expect anyone to do anything special for me, because just being with family and remembering the fact that it’s my birthday is enough to satisfy me most of the time. I celebrate it in my own way by listening to music and enjoying life. Nevertheless, I always seem to get something. Dinner, cake,and a small but practical present from Da .

The dinner was excellent. Stake, shrimp, and speghetti with alfredo sauce, with a glass of Pepsi to top it off. I’ve also been on this bit of an aromatherapy kick as of late, and as a result, I received several packets of all-natural scented bath salts along with a couple of sprays of esential oils.

I’ve ended up really enjoying myself overall since I last wrote. I’ve also learned a little about writing HTML, which is cool. This means I can create usable links for you guys and look kinda fancy. A bit unexpected, but hey, it’s still cool knowing I can do that. The Nagahara flutes link above seems to work just fine. I feel so special, ha ha. It’s nice getting and unexpected things sometimes.

Speaking of unexpected things, I wanted to thank those of you who have sent me comments. I’m not sure how many of them are actually legit, but they were civil enough, so I figured I really didn’t need to start worrying until I started seeing odd behavior from the site side of things. I must admit, I smile every time I get a notification Email which tells me of new comments. It’s like Christmas time opening those Emails. While I sort of wish I could get a little more about what you, my readers, are thinking, I suppose I really don’t write a lot which can be easily commented on. It really doesn’t matter though. The point is that I appreciate the comments given so far and I always will look forward to more of them.

Well, this is me closing, as I’ve really not got a whole lot else to say for the moment. Thanks for reading, as always, and do take care.

Forever Optomistic,

Me