How a blog post taught me how to play The Afternoon of a Faun in one breath.
And how a Facebook video taught me about support and a Youtube video improved my sound drastically. The power of Social Media as a learning platform.
Hello you who comes here to read, I'm so glad to see ya! I can go in the "back door" on this website and check how many who's been here, statistics ++. More than 8000 visitors now! Woohoo! I just have to say thank you so much for all the nice feedback I've gotten via e-mail, DMs on Instagram (@eirikflute) etc. I'm really happy I can be of help in these pandemic times. Feel free to use the contact form in here if you have questions, requests etc... Don't hesitate!
There are two types of classical flautists: those who can play the Faun in one breath, and those who cannot.
There's always so much talk about the negative sides of social media, isn't it? How it affects our self-image, how it stresses us to be available at all times, how our days go from ping to ping, notification to notification and how we forget to raise our eyes up from various screens. We watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix and shake our heads and say pshhh, the Earth is spinning too fast right now, let me off, right? I didn't sign up for this, RIIIIGHT? It's so easy to forget sometimes how platforms like Instagram, Youtube and Facebook are also such incredibly powerful resources. And if you know where to look you'll find many hidden diamonds. In this article I'm going to refer you to a blog post and a Youtube video which have been REALLY helpful for me. I'm going to tell you HOW they helped me, and I'm going to tell you about an American lady on Facebook who's taught me something invaluable about support.
One of the most famous flute solos in the orchestra literature is the opening of Debussy's Prelude à l'après-midi d'un faun. When there's an audition for a flute position in a symphony orchestra it belongs to exceptions when this excerpts doesn't show up in the audition repertoire. There are two types of classical flautists: those who can play the Faun in one breath, and those who cannot. Until recently I've belonged to the latter. Not cus I haven't tried all I could for years and years ... I just didn't stand a chance. At all. And I just accepted it, thought it was because I smoked cigarettes for many years. Comforted myself with the fact that it has no real musical value not to take an extra breath, and so on. Several famous flautists take one or even two breaths and we don't think badly of them, you know. Still, it's been bothering me not to be able to. Perhaps out of vanity.
Then, I suddenly saw that Just Flutes (a flute shop in London) shared a blog post on Instagram. It was written by Roderick Seed and had the title "Can you play it in one breath?". Curious as I am, I obviously had to take a look. To be honest, I did feel a slight aversion as I had no faith in me that a blog post would change the fact that I didn't manage that solo in one breath, it would function more of a painful reminder of the opposite, but why not give it a read? And it was a decision I do not regret!
use your stomach like this and like that blah blah blah
In the blog post, Rod has made various awesome exercises where he breaks down the excerpt in different ways. What made the big difference for me however, was the tip about playing it one octave over where it's written. My natural resonnement would be that I'd spend MORE air that way, but to my grand surprise I could play it in one breath like that and still have a lot of air left! I mean, HE-LO?! I was shook and immediately called my dear mentor, Lars Asbjørnsen who teaches the flute at the Music Department of the University of Tromsø. I HAD to know what he thought about this. Lars told me that maybe I was wasting air by having too big an aperture while playing in the first octave. Man was he right!!
And this was when I cracked the code: I played through the Faun in the upper octave again, then I went directly to playing it as it's written but with my embouchure prepared for the octave over (=with a much smaller opening between my lips). Et voilà, Mesdames et Messieurs, I could comfortably play the solo from the Prelude to the Afternoon of a faun in one breath! Woohoo!
(Read the blog by Roderick Seed here: https://www.flutes.com/can-you-play-it-in-one-breath/)
your sound comes from the room you're in, from the ground, from Mother Earth
After this, I've been taking this discovery with me into other repertoire I'm working on these days. Among other things, I'm preparing André Jolivet's Flute Concerto No.1 (which I'll be playing as soloist with the Arctic Philharmonic in the beginning of June - how cool is that btw? I really love that concerto). Now I can play the beautiful opening much slower without being afraid of not managing those long phrases.
Of course it also helps using great support when playing loooong phrases. And that brings me to the next thing Social Media has helped me with lately: A while back I saw Body Mapping guru, Lea Pearson from the USA talking about support in an amazing way in a video she posted on Facebook. I can't seem to locate this video, so I'll just tell you guys what I got out of it instead.
We've all obsessed about the very famous support everyone's talkin' about. Lea doesn't say stuff like "use your stomach like this and like that blah blah blah" when she's teaching support. She rather talks about taking the support from the surroundings, the room you're standing in, the ground beneath you. And my version of this is as follows:
Imagine that the room around you is filled with energies. The Earth under your feet. Electricity. Life. And so on. Then, picture yourself sucking up those energies. Into your body by the tenfold. Via the floor, through the soles of your feet, up your calfs, your thighs, your pelvis and your belly. In the end this stream of energy becomes the stream of air that you're blowing into your instrument. Imagine it: your sound comes from the room you're in, from the ground, from Mother Earth. Does it sound New Age, spaced and eccentric? Well, sure! Haha! But it works!! Just try it and thank me later!
Edit: Lea Pearson kindly located the video for me, and for anyone who might be interested in checking it out, here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/lea.pearson1/videos/vb.811123737/10156275202288738/?type=3
The last "hidden diamond" I'm going to tip you about is a Youtube video where Egor Egorkin, the principal piccolo of the Berlin Phil, is talking about whistle tones and how practicing them is beneficial for your sound. I'll let the video speak for itself, so I'll just tell you about my previous relationship to whistle tones (If you don't know what whistle tones are, you'll know after watching the video btw! :-):
After many, many years of higher education in classical flute performance, the concept of whistle tones is not new to me in any way. I've been told multiple times how smart it is to practice the so-called whistle tones and then blow "exactly like that" when you play "normally". The problem for me is that when you're gonna play whistle tones your embouchure has to be extremely relaxed, and I'm only able to produce a sloppy sound at best when I'm that relaxed. Thus it's seemed irrelevant for me (I've been stupid, I admit it). BUT, after seeing G-n Egorkin's video I realized that we don't practice that simply to have a relaxed embouchure, it's very much about finding the correct blowing angle for a given note; when you find the point where the whistle tone sounds, you've found where to blow your air in order to produce the best possible flute sound on that note.
Watch the video here:
Close your nose while playing
I warmly recommend doing the harmonics exercises I wrote about in my previous article in addition to all of this (https://www.eirikflute.com/l/scared-of-heights/), and to round off this one I'll share an awesome tip I got from the even more awesome Aldo Baerten when I studied with him in Antwerp, Belgium: Close your nose while playing. Or else air might escape out there. Air you could use to e.g. play the Afternoon of a faun in one breath. ;-)