Congratulations! You have made the decision to invest in your future as a musician and upgrade your current instrument…and now you have a bewildering array of products to choose from so more decisions need to be made. How to make sense of it all? Here are a few tips!
1. Decide on a Budget: I always wish that there was a fairy godmother who could wave her wand and grant us the instrument of our dreams…since our dreams know no boundaries, the budget would not be of any consequence! However, back to reality: most of us do have to work within a budget, so realistically decide how much money you have to spend. You will be able to upgrade within your economic means as there are so many instruments to choose from today. It also helps to consider where you are in your musical growth: is this a step up instrument for a high school student? (in other words, are you moving up from your first student flute)? Are you upgrading because you are serious about your studies and need an instrument that can take you into the college audition phase? Are you in college and buying your first professional flute? Are you an amateur buying your first ‘grown up’ flute now that the kids are out of college? Each scenario is different so the process of purchasing an instrument will be different.
2. Prioritize: it’s not just about options! Getting an instrument that is fully made of precious metals is perhaps the most important thing you can do to improve the quality of your tone. If that is not in your budget, then at LEAST get a solid silver head joint. A fully handmade flute is usually higher priced due to the labor involved, but it is usually a higher quality instrument. Once you make these decisions (which will be determining the instruments prices) there are some options to consider on the body: Open hole (French model), B foot, Offset G key (especially if you have smaller hands), C# trill key (I LOVE this feature as the high G-A trill is superb as a result of this key), and D# roller key. An open hole flute is really the standard of most professionals today: in fact many contemporary effects require open holes.
The low B foot adds not only the ability to play one note below middle C, it adds the ‘gizmo’ key or high C facilitator, automatically, and the added 1.5 inches of silver give the flute a warmer sound in general. The offset (as opposed to inline) G key is ergonomically helpful and a wonderful option for all to consider: it just feels better to me. IF you have money in the budget for the C# trill, then by all means go for it, and the D# roller is absolutely wonderful to have: I never knew what I was missing before I tried it!
3. More about Metals: Why the difference? Silver is the most common metal for flutes, but gold, platinum and combinations of metals are available. Some manufactures offer just the riser (the back wall of the embouchure hole) in different metals: it is amazing the difference a platinum riser can make, without the price of an entirely platinum head joint. Gold is lovely to look at but make sure that you are able to handle a heavier metal: it takes more air pressure to make this vibrate. If you are a more experienced player, try a gold headjoint on a silver body: this combination brings you the best of both metals. Some manufacturers layer the metals to get a similar effect.
4. Keep an open mind: Don’t get ‘tunnel vision’ to a particular brand of flute. Have a trusted friend or your teacher listen to you across the room, and evaluate the flutes without knowing the brand: the results may surprise you. Also, try used flutes: a fine used instrument is less expensive and although maybe not as shiny as a new one, can be a terrific way to find a great flute or piccolo at a reasonable price.
Happy Instrument Shopping!
Now P laying….
I fell in love with Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in f minor and was so excited to find out that there had been a transcription made for flute, published by Zimmerman. I got the music and got to work, but discovered, like many transcriptions, octave displacements that took the range much higher than in the original piece. I decided to make this work more authentic to the original score and artistic intentions by re-editing many octave choices throughout the piece. There are several pitch choices (where the violin originally played double stops) that have been changed to satisfy voice leading in the adagio movement. Articulation was also edited to attempt to come closer to the original marks in the violin score. I believe that this performance is much more in the spirit of the original composition. The performance was recorded during a live recital.
Jacque Ibert’s Entr’acte is an exciting and festive work for flute and harp. Although Ibert’s writing is quintessentially French, the Spanish flavor was a favorite as the composer enjoyed his travels to Spain. Written in a ternary form with a brief slow interlude in the middle, this Entr’acte is more likely to close a program than open the curtain!
Colibri (Hummingbird) was written by Eugene Magalif for piccolo and piano and was given it’s world premiere on July 12, 2013, by Cindy Ellis at the International Piccolo Symposium at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The work is an adaptation of the original Colibri for flute and piano or orchestra, inspired by the composer’s wild hummingbirds that visit his patio feeder every night. Enjoy the world premiere performance!
Let’s take a closer look at the smallest flute in the family! Whether you call it by its French name (petite flute), German name (kleine flote) or Italian name (either flauto piccolo or ottavino), the piccolo has some unique structural qualities. The term piccolo is an Italian adjective that literally means small and has come to be the most common name for the instrument in the USA, although many times it might be called the &**# piccolo depending on the mood of the player at the time!
The Boehm flute of today is constructed exclusively with cylindrical bore and a ‘parabolic’ headjoint (The Flute Book, Nancy Toff). Piccolos can be made with either a cylindrical bore if they are made out of silver or conical bore if they are made out of wood. The cylindrical bore instruments generally offer an ease of playing in the third octave, but the trade off is that the tone quality is generally more shrill up high and weaker in the first octave with potentially faulty intonation. This is why you will not see silver piccolos being played in today’s professional orchestras: they are just too bright in tone quality and offer unreliable pitch.
If you look carefully at any of a wooden piccolo, you will see that the instrument is indeed larger at the headjoint end than the foot, illustrating the conical (cone shaped) bore, or shape of the instrument. Conical bore piccolos have a more beautiful tone quality overall with a rich low register and more reliable intonation. Piccolos can also be made of plastic resin, which is an inexpensive option that sounds more like a wooden instrument. These piccolos are quite immune to weather (I would certainly not take one out in a downpour, however) and because they are so much more easy to manufacture they are budget friendly. One of the compromise options available to piccolo players is an instrument with a wooden body with a silver (or gold) headjoint. This provides the player with a more consistent feel when doubling back and forth on the flute because of the lip plate, which offers a kinesthetic sensation much more similar to the flute.
Wooden piccolo headjoints often have the option of wave or wing styles. These styles set up a different trajectory of the air column to the back wall. Many players enjoy the security of this style of headjoint as it seems to give them a more pure sound quality. As with any headjoint, the player’s perception of comfort is an individual matter: it often depends on the lip fullness or thickness, relative thickness of top lip to bottom lip, and strength of air column produced. Now, a frequent question is why does the piccolo have a bulb or ‘bubble’ in the design? This bulb is the profile of the wood that is created to go around the tenon joint. In other words, the wood follows the profile of the internal silver hardware of the joint(this hardware can also be made out of gold). The tenon is the area where the headjoint fits onto the body of the piccolo: the headjoint is the ‘male’ side of the joint and the ‘female’ side of the joint is the cork wrapped metal receiver (Interestingly, this is the spot most likely to crack on an instrument since the wood must be thinner at this point in the construction. Wood used in piccolo manufacturing is carefully aged or seasoned so that movement will be minimal, but despite all precautions, cracks can happen under wide temperature or humidity changes. Dry and cold environments can be the most harsh to wooden instruments.
What about extra keys on the piccolo? The split E option has been available for some time now ….it closes one of the G keys and changes the venting for high E, making it more stable. This changes the ability to use some traditional trill fingerings but there are other trill fingerings that can be substituted. Some manufacturers offer an on/off mechanism for the split E, giving the player the best of both worlds. (BURKART'S WEB SITE SHOWS A GREAT PHOTO OF THIS). There is a C# trill key available on the piccolo, most useful for the perfect G-A third octave trill it can provide, but this mechanism is reported by many players to be a bit awkward. Another great optional key available is a G# facilitator, a mechanism that closes only the lower one of the thumb keys, eliminating the need for adding RH 23 to stabilize the high G#. (BURKARTS WEB SITE HAS GREAT PHOTO).
Piccolo pads can be made of traditional felt, cork (which is useful on the keys which stay closed all the time to reduce the chance of water bubbles) and the Straubinger style pads which are firmer and more reflective of sound. Pad material does affect the tone quality and is another personal choice for the player.
For such a small instrument, there are an array of anatomical differences to behold!
Content copyright 2013. Cynthia Ellis. All rights reserved.
There is no "I" in teamwork
Teamwork is a word we often hear applied to the business world and to that of the professional athlete. Since so much of our musical life is spent alone practicing or auditioning, it is easy to forget that making music is essentially a collaborative art which requires a very specific contribution from each member of the team. The flute section is a specialized team within the larger framework of the
woodwinds, which interface with the rest of the orchestral brass, strings and percussion. If your work involves any other audio or visual components, such as a ballet, opera, or film, you have an even larger team of players. This ever-expanding network of artistry pulls together to deliver the finished product for our audience to enjoy.
Each member of the flute section has a unique contribution to make towards the finished product. The piccolo chair is one of the most unique positions in the symphony orchestra because often you are acting as a section player and a soloist within a single work. For example, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra contains some of the most delicately demanding piccolo solo passages that alternate with low 3rd flute passages, designed to blend rather than stand out. The player needs to recognize the difference in these kinds of writing for each instrument, adjusting the blend and balance as the lines dictate.
Many composers, particularly in the 20th century, write for multiple piccolo players. Shostakovich is a prominent example, but there are many other piccolo duets in the romantic repertory as well as the post-romantic writings of Strauss and Mahler. The question as to which player would play which part often arises. Many times there are not set designations on 3rd flute/piccolo and 4th flute/piccolo parts to indicate which part contains the lead, or 1st piccolo part. To make matters more confusing, there are no universal rules to determine this: it needs to be handled on an individual basis. For instance, Symphony # 4, by Gustav Mahler, is scored for 4 flutes, with two flutes doubling piccolo. The most prominent piccolo solos are contained in the 3rd flute/piccolo part. Mahler’s Symphony #3, also scored for a flute section of four players, all doubling on piccolo at some point, has the most prominent piccolo solos written into the 4th flute/ piccolo
part in the Kalmus edition. In Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’, the score demands huge forces on stage, including a flute section of six players. Parts one through four are for flute only, with flute 5 doubling on first piccolo, and part six is listed as second piccolo, no doubling. There is a very exposed solo doubled with the celeste in the 5th flute (1st piccolo) part at measure 199. This part is doubled in the 2nd piccolo part but is often played only by the 1st piccolo player as a solo.
If there is any doubt as to which part should be played by whom, a thorough investigation of the score can reveal the location of the solo passages which should be played by the piccolo specialist regardless of the numeric ranking (1,2,3,or 4) of the actual flute doubling part.
Listen to the principal flutist for cues of balance, pitch, style and articulation. The principal player is also responsible for setting the general dynamic level and timbral qualities of the section. Never play with a more intense or intrusive vibrato than the rest of your section. As the highest voice in the orchestra, be especially careful to match lengths of articulated passages: piccolo players do not want to hold releases past the flutes. You may need to articulate lighter and more crisply to match the timbre of orchestral bells, a frequent color combination.
Intonation on the piccolo is critical. Work with a tuner so you know the particular tendencies of your instrument. This is a great help when you begin to work within the orchestra. Many composers use the piccolo as a color addition to blend with the violin section. You will find
that you need to adjust your intonation slightly higher, especially if you need to match a high harmonic in the strings. Using alternate fingerings to shade and blend is also very helpful.
Another aspect of teamwork within the section involves warm-up etiquette, especially in scoring that requires multiple piccolos. Try to find a quiet area backstage to check intonation in unison passages. It will be much more productive for you to work in this manner and more pleasant for those seated around you. The second violins will be especially thankful for your sensitivity as they are your closest neighbors in most orchestral seating arrangements. Using a bit of common sense when testing passages can go a long way towards improving the disposition of your colleagues. Many orchestras provide a separate warm up room for the brass section that keeps the volume of the backstage area more conducive to quiet work. Ask if you can use this special area if there is something particularly powerful that you need to try. Common sense also dictates extra sensitivity when working in close quarters in an orchestra pit. Testing every high passage in full voice during a warm up in the pit is not necessary: go backstage to do your personal preparation and the atmosphere of the pit will be so much more pleasant for all seated nearby. Sometimes being a good musician is a lot like having good manners: you need to put the needs of fellow musicians higher than your own needs. Remember also some of the basics of orchestral manners: never play anyone else’s solo, and to never turn around to see who is playing during a performance. These are considered breaches of etiquette in every professional situation. Most importantly, be supportive of all your colleagues, especially those in your flute section. The greatest musical experiences are not found in solitude, but through the collaborative efforts of the orchestral team. We are truly stronger when unified, and enjoying the fine work of our colleagues is a great part of the orchestral experience.
Although our teams don’t score goals or points, we can certainly all pull together for an art form greater than any one of us alone, music.