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This blog is a collection of thoughts from board members, students and teachers. Do you want to add your voice? Write a blog post!

Blog posts can be about almost anything music and flute-related. Do you have a favorite piece or composer you'd like to write about? Have you thought of a new practice method, technique, or musical idea you'd like to share? 

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  • Sunday, August 15, 2021 5:00 PM | Sorcha Barr-Deneen

    NFA Conference, Day 1!

    The NFA Conference has always been to me, as an amateur adult player, a place to get inspired, whether it’s learning a new warmup, listening to some of the fabulous players, or playing along with one of the flute choirs.  This year it is virtual, but it still has a lot of great offerings.  The first day started with the Flute Orchestra, which included a rehearsal Wednesday night.  Of course it was virtual, but a lot of fun!  (There’s definite benefit to playing along on mute, you can play out as much as you want!).

    The next session I watched was Movement Matters, which was body mapping.  I definitely benefited from the work she did about head balance being the cause of shoulder pain, because that’s definitely me, head shoved tensely forward as I squint at the music, and very stiff in the right shoulder! They’re having a second session tomorrow which I definitely want to attend.

    200 Years of Historical Flutes was an absolutely wonderful presentation, especially if you’re a Baroque fan like me. The concert introduced baroque composers like Atys, D’Hervelois, of course Quantz, Anna Bon, and finished with a Rossini piece from Tancredi, arranged by Tulou and Carulli.  All the players are on period flutes, plus there is a gorgeous 12 string lute! 

    After that, I went to an Irish flute reading session, which was a lot of fun, followed by a low flutes reading session.  Then I took a break, but will be back for the late-night Big Band concert!

    Here’s a link to the NFA page which has a little preview video.

    Till tomorrow! 

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    Day 2

    Thursday night the wonderful Jazz Big Band concert included pieces by John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie, and “Sail Away” arranged by Mike Wofford, with Ali Ryerson as guest soloist.  A lot of us know now how hard it is to put together a virtual flute choir concert, and this was outstanding!  Today included warmups, several excellent concerts, including “The Peace and Healing” concert for those lost during the year, and the second flute choir reading session.  I also attended the Baroque master class, with Sandra Miller, who was one of the founders of the Juilliard Historical Performance program.  I loved the work she did on the four movements of the Bach Partita.  I studied the Partita this year at State, and know I barely scratched the surface, so I got a lot from it.

    My favorite performance today was the Jazz Artist Competition final round.  I heard a great set by flutist  Dominique Gagne (and it’s not just because she’s got a wooden flute!)  She has a lot of postings on YouTube; you might want to listen for yourself!   

    The second performer, Lukasz Jankowski, used a Robert Dick glissando headjoint to excellent effect “On Green Dolphin Street.” He finished with “Corcovado” and “Oleo.” Here is the combo’s website, illustrating another great thing about virtual conferences, as this group is in Poland!  

    The final combo, with Joseph Melnicove, was also great, here’s a YouTube video of his combo performing in a club.

    At the end, all I can say is I’m so glad I don’t have to be a judge for something like this, I’d have to insist on a three way tie for first place!  Now for an early night; I volunteered to play in the Adult Masterclass at 7 in the morning tomorrow! (Gulp!)

    __

    Day 3

    My day started with an adult masterclass, and I got to play the Bach e minor, mvt.1, at 7:00 in the morning!  (Yikes!). John Bailey was the master teacher, and he gave me so many good ideas, especially about choosing your breathing according to parallel structure.  He really was a perfect person for an adult amateur class, as he’s both very supportive and gives very specific ideas.

    From there I went to a great Baroque workshop divided up into four parts;  Why you should use the Urtext, Choosing a Baroque flute, then two great sessions on ornamentation and articulations.

    From there I watched the Baroque competition finalists, and was especially impressed by French flutist Gabrielle Rubio of La Chapelle Harmonique.

    After lunch there was the flute choir reading session.  That’s another great benefit of the convention, you can play through an incredible amount of music. 

    Finally I watched a session by the principal flute of the Krakow Philharmonic that gave a very clear introduction for circular breathing! For the first time, I understood HOW people do it (of course I haven’t a hope of actually learning it!) Her website is https://www.fluteinfinity.com. 

    One excellent element of the conference is that NFA has really committed to diversity.  Today included sessions devoted to Black, Latinx, and AAPI flutists; and several sessions devoted to the LGBTQ community; it’s just really nice to see the focus on inclusivity.  Off to watch a jazz concert!  Till tomorrow!

    __

    Day 4

    The conference finished with a “youth flute day,” and focused on workshops that were especially good for younger students.  I went to two workshops that were focused on young people, which had excellent ideas for everyone; one was called “Between the Beats,” and was about training yourself to be more grounded in the beat, including mixed rhythms, hemiolas, etc.  Another was about electronic looping, which looks like it’s fun!  Apparently it’s become more popular during the pandemic, as you can do it alone.

    There was an adult flute choir session, and they played one of my favorite pieces, the “Dancing Dessert Suite,” by Paige Dashner Long.  It has three movements, including the Chocolate Truffle Tango, The Sacher Torte Waltz, and the Lemon Meringue Pie—just a really fun piece.  The day ended, of course, with an excellent concert and the traditional playing of the Bach Air in D.  Let’s hope we can all go in person next year!

  • Wednesday, May 05, 2021 5:48 AM | Gina Sobel (Administrator)

    As a jazz musician, I listen to a lot of sax players and guitarists - while there are a handful great jazz flutists, none have really resonated with me, and the instrument can sometimes be used as a sort of gimmick within the genre. Matt Eakle is the exception.

    I first met Matt when I was about 12 years old after a David Grisman Quintet concert at the storied Birchmere club near Washington, DC. My parents took me to so many fantastic jazz and fusion shows when I was a kid, and the DGQ was one of their favorites at the time; blending jazz, bluegrass and Latin influences in a high energy and highly interactive style. After the concert, Matt spent 30 minutes talking to me (a relative beginner) about the flute and what I could do with the instrument - it was incredibly inspiring.


    Soon after that, Matt released his album "Flute Jazz," which I listened to on repeat for most of high school - I can still sing many of the solos along with the recording. When I listen to it now, I hear how much I learned from Matt as my sound and style began to develop during that time. Over the years, I stopped by his old spot in the bay area whenever I was there on tour for a lesson, and I'm grateful to be Matt's friend and colleague today.


    I'm so excited about bringing Matt to Spring Fest this year. His insights into tonal colors, listening and improvisation are amazing, and I'm looking forward to all he has to share with our community! His workshop (Flute Phonics and Improvisation) will be held Saturday May 22nd at 10:30AM.

    Matt's Bio:

    Matt Eakle and his flute have been blowing crowds out of their chairs and onto their feet since 1989 as the first wind player to share the front line with David Grisman in the David Grisman Quintet. He’s featured on 14 Acoustic Disc CDs with the DGQ, Jerry Garcia, Enrique Coria, and as the leader of his own jazz trio on the CD, Flute Jazz. On these and hundreds of other recordings, Matt takes people’s preconceived notions of what a flute can do and blows them inside out.

    Since the beginning of his professional career in 1976, Matt has performed in rock and jazz bands as well as symphonic, ballet and opera orchestras. In 1978 he met jazz guitarist and professor of classical guitar at S.F. State University, Davis Ramey, with whom he performed in a duo for 30 years. They added cellist, Mark Summer, of the Turtle Island String Quartet, and as Trio Con Brio, were known both as consummate jazz improvisors, and interpreters of classical masterpieces.

    Matt appears on 4 CDs with Jerry Garcia including the Grammy nominated So What with Garcia/Grisman. His other Grammy nominated recordings are Simple Pleasures with banjo virtuoso, Alison Brown, and Dawg 90 with the David Grisman Quintet. You can also hear Matt featured on Chris Isaak’s recording, Notice the Ring, and on the bass flute providing a mellow setting for Bonnie Raitt’s, Home. He performed with the mariachi group, Los Camperos, in Linda Ronstadt’s theatrical production, Mas Canciones de Mi Padre.

    Matt’s ability to mimic the sounds of Japanese, Arabic, Native American, and East Indian flutes with the silver flute is unique. His note bending, growls, singing, percussive sounds and circular breathing combine to create an alchemy which transforms the silver flute into bamboo, cedar or ebony. You can hear this in Matt’s recordings with Indian tabla master, Zakir Hussain, Japanese koto virtuoso, Shirley Muramoto, Arabic percussionist, Vince Delgado and Pakistani singer, Afqat Ali Khan.

    Matt performed and recorded with new age piano pioneer, Suzanne Ciani, and toured Europe and Asia as a member of her group, The Wave. Their DVD, Suzanne Ciani and the Wave, is often used in Public Television membership drives.

    His involvement in the fight to preserve the Headwaters Forest led Matt to produce the Headwaters Project, a compilation of music evocative of, or inspired by the wilderness. Paul Winter, David Grisman, Zakir Hussain, Norton Buffalo and Paul McCandless are just a few of the incredible musicians with whom Matt collaborated on this project.

    Matt recently worked with Darryl Cherney as Musical Director of the documentary film Who Bombed Judi Bari?. His flute can also be heard in the critically acclaimed documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.


  • Wednesday, April 07, 2021 11:18 AM | Gina Sobel (Administrator)

    Here's a great exercise created by my friend and teacher John D'earth. John is a fantastic jazz trumpet player and composer, and always has interesting ways to approach technique exercises, whether it's to focus on tone and embouchure or to get inside some different improvisation ideas. I love this exercise because it does both! It is eminently modifiable (articulations, dynamics, etc.) and it forces the player to be comfortable in all keys. It's set up like most jazz exercises: it gives you a few examples to start, and then you have to apply that pattern to the rest of the keys, which is a great mental exercise! I also like how you can focus on things like clean fingers, octave adjustments and speed. And if you are an improviser, getting these intervals under your fingers chromatically and in all keys opens up a lot of ideas and vocabulary you can use. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

  • Friday, March 12, 2021 7:18 AM | Gina Sobel (Administrator)

    I have had so much fun building out my effects and loopers over the last several years - searching for the sounds I hear in my head, and blending in with all kinds of genres with a little bit of flair.  But, if I could only have one pedal, I would 100% choose the Boss VE-20. While this pedal was originally developed for vocalists, the first time I heard it used was by the amazing jazz trumpet player John D'earth. It has a way of capturing wind instruments and transforming them without losing the acoustic quality of the horn. 

    This pedal is crazy powerful - it's got a 40 second loop, many many built-in style driven effects options, phantom power, delay, reverb and my favorite of all - the harmonizer. Here's an example of that in action:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24s21kQ_9k4

    On stage, I usually use my flute pick-up (Audix ADX-10) for a clean sound and then connect the Boss VE-20 to a vocal mic (my "effects mic") when I want to engage that. It sort of acts in the way an overdrive pedal would work for a guitarist - it allows me to boost my volume a little (if I'm using the double mic set-up) and adds a little crunch and natural distortion to the sound. I much prefer using a harmonizer to a traditional distortion pedal for this function, I think it suits the timbre of the flute better and also allows more of the natural sound to come through.


    I'll be exploring other pedals and electronics in this spot in the coming months, stay tuned and as always, feel free to leave questions and comments!

  • Monday, February 01, 2021 1:11 PM | Gina Sobel (Administrator)

    A lot of us have had to turn to recording in our houses this past year; whether for auditions, virtual choirs, session work or just for fun! Here’s a short, totally incomplete but hopefully useful run-down on building your home studio.

    You have 4 main options, I’m listing them in order of my preference:

    1. A phone mic! If most of what you’re doing is video recordings for virtual performances, this is a great option. I highly recommend the Shure MV88 which plugs right into your iPhone or iPad. I’ve used it while camping to record videos, and also for social media posts. There are not many user options with a mic like this, but it’s very easy to “plug and play.” 

    2. A “field recorder” like the Zoom line. This is a phone-sized device that has a built in microphone. It usually will record to an internal memory card, and can be connected to your computer to access the files. I use these sometimes to record rehearsals, and I know many people who use them as their main recording device. There might be a little more room noise (the bad kind, think buzzy/hums) captured by this kind of mic, but this can be mitigated to some extent by the space you’re in and the settings on the device. 

    3. A USB condenser microphone. This mic plugs directly into your computer. It may not have the power or overall quality of a more traditional mic, but it works pretty well! MXL make a condenser mic like this (the 990 USB) that works well. Unfortunately, a lot of these options (including the MXL) have sold out recently since so many people have switched to home recording situations, but I’ve also heard great things about the Apogee mics and I think they are more readily available.

    4. A condenser mic and an audio interface. This is what I use for my home studio set-up. An audio interface is a device that you can plug your microphone directly into, just like you would for an amp - usually with an XLR cable. It takes the mic signal and converts it to something that you can plug directly into your computer via USB. This will give you the most control and the best audio quality for a relatively reasonable budget.

    - I use a Pre Sonos AudioBox iTwo for my audio interface. I like having 2 inputs so I can plug in more than one mic at a time. It also has phantom power (something you need if you are using condenser mics, they have to pull power from an external source to work). 

    - My favorite flute mic is the Audix ADX-10FL. It’s a clip-on mini-condenser mic (the clip slips on under the crown) and it is the best representation of my actual sound that I’ve ever heard through a microphone. It’s especially great to play in live settings with drums and electric instruments, and works really well for recording when you are playing with accompaniment. It’s less good for solo flute because there is some key noise picked up. In my experience, that noise totally disappears with any type of accompaniment, but I can see how it would be annoying for solo flute. One other thing - it just picks up sounds from the flute, so there is very little atmospheric sound or room sound. I like this a lot (great for session work, non-classical playing, etc.) but many people who are recording classical flute prefer a microphone that gives a sense of space rather than a super close mic.

    - I also use the MXL 990 (XLR not USB) quite a bit. This is great for voice (talking or singing) and is just a generally solid, inexpensive condenser mic - a lot of people consider it one of the best entry level options. Of course, if you go into a professional recording studio, they probably have mics that are much more expensive that my car (try 3 or 4 times!) but I have been super happy with the clarity and warmth of this particular mic. 

    - a few other flute micing options recommended by Cato Zane (San Diego sound engineer and studio magic vlogger):

    • SM57: often used as a live mic, industry standard, does not need phantom power, built like an actual tank
    • AKG C1000s


    The options for home recording are pretty endless, but I hope this gives you a good place to start! Feel free to comment with any specific questions or recommendations!


  • Thursday, January 14, 2021 8:30 AM | Sorcha Barr-Deneen

    Is there a better way to start the year than with music, learning, and community? The Winter Retreat brought all of those, and so much more!

    This was my first time being involved in the planning of a virtual retreat, so from an organizational standpoint, it was fascinating and I learned so much! I know that's not really why you're here, though, so let's get onto the good stuff... my favorite take-aways from the fabulous classes with Linda Chesis and all our guest artists!

    The weekend started as every good practice session should, with a warm-up, lead by Antonina Styczen. Antonina walked us through a thorough warm-up, using exercises from Trevor Wye, harmonic work, pitch bending, and my personal favorite singing and playing simultaneously! If you've never tried to sing and play, I highly recommend it! Start by playing a short exercise, then sing it (getting as close to the right notes as you can) as you finger the notes, then combine the two! You'll get a lovely, gritty sound that's warming and opening your throat while demanding more air. Then, play that same passage and relish how open and luxurious your sound is! 

    Up next was Alexander Technique with Jill Burlingame Tsekouras! I've had the opportunity to work with Jill in another group class at the end of 2020, and it was wonderful to see her again! Jill taught us about "not doing" and "leaving our bodies alone," surprisingly difficult concepts to implement, and how we can apply those ideas to our flute playing, especially in how we stand, sit, and hold our flutes. Gone are the days of bringing my face to my flute, now I'm only moving what's needed and keeping my body in alignment. I've added "not doing" to my resolutions for this year... who would have thought that it would be my toughest?!

    Our fabulous SDFG President Alina Steele led the flute choir rehearsal next, and taught us the best practices for recording, including how far away to stand, how to get set up, and what things to look out for as we record. Listen to the recording we made and Alina produced!

    After a wonderful rehearsal and quick lunch break, we were back for a Q&A with Linda Chesis. I had never met Ms Chesis (even virtually) so it was wonderful to have this opportunity to hear her thoughts on her career, and how she thinks our fully-virtual lives and music-making will continue even after the pandemic ends. We should look at this as an opportunity, Ms Chesis said, because so many more things are going to be held virtually, like pre-screening rounds. Doing what you can to improve your video (and audio) skills will serve you well!

    Ms Chesis then led a Mozart Masterclass, and what a class it was! If you'd told me last year that square dancing and Mozart in D would work together, I'd have laughed you out of the (virtual) room, but with Ms Chesis, it makes sense. She pointed out that there are moments that feel like a folk dance, or swinging your partner round and round, moments of pure joy! It's a different image to bring to Mozart, but it really works, especially if you can use the music to really show your personality, and isn't that what music is all about?

    Our first evening ended with the Panel Discussion, delving deep into the future of the music, especially orchestral world, and how the virtual experience has changed what performers, competitors, and judges are able to do. The panelists, Linda Chesis, Amy Taylor, Antonina Styczen, Marley Eder, Tito Munoz, and moderator Alina Steele talked a lot about the importance of a good recording - making sure your recording reflects your ability, personality, and character - and pointed out that our phones and computers have good microphones, especially if you customize or change the settings to see what works best! A reminder was given to us all, as well... don't record too many takes or you'll get frustrated and overwhelmed! Take time between your recording and submission so you can think really critically about your performance and submit your best take!

    The discussion gave us a lot to ponder, and afterwards we said goodnight.

    Day 2 began with another warm-up class, this time from Marley Eder, who shared his thoughts on mindfulness, keeping our ears neutral (don't judge immediately, but let yourself process!), and the importance of a solid foundation in our playing. He discussed focusing on what's currently happening and not how different it is from your ideal - being aware of the moment means you can make more mindful steps towards improvement. Marley also introduced an excerpt from La Technique d'Embouchure by Philippe Bernold, beautiful vocalises for smooth and cohesive tone - I've since added them to my practice routine and I wish I'd learned about them earlier! 

    Ms Chesis then lead a wonderful two-part masterclass, featuring repertoire spanning the baroque, romantic, and 20th century. This weekend held the first masterclass performances for a number of the performers - an exciting milestone and one that will surely stick with them for a long time! Ms Chesis tailored her every comment to the performers, bringing beauty, grace, and refinement to each piece and truly elevating them.

    Amy Taylor presented our final masterclass of the evening on Orchestral Excerpts, taking these bite-sized excerpts and providing skills and technique that can be applied to every flutist's practice. A tip that stuck in my brain is for Mendelssohn's Scherzo. She suggested practicing the excerpt all slurred and seeing how far you can go in one breath to help build stamina and air control. I immediately applied that to my practice and have used it every day since - I never knew how much air I had!

    Our delightful weekend concluded with a recital and discussion - Ms. Chesis' performance was exquisite, beautifully refined and purposeful. She provided context and details about each piece, including art work to accompany it, to create an engaging performance that had me leaning into my computer so I wouldn't miss a single movement of her fingers.

    The Winter Retreat was a remarkable event, bringing together musicians across the country and world to share their time, talent, and knowledge, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to learn. This was my first virtual retreat, but I can promise it won't be my last, especially if our fabulous guest artists will be there! I feel recharged, excited, and ready to take my musicianship to new heights this year!

  • Wednesday, December 09, 2020 11:00 AM | Sorcha Barr-Deneen

    I like to play this exercise as a warm-up for almost every practice session.

    Basically, it goes through arpeggiated diminished, minor and major triads by raising one scale degree at a time. If you can really think about the individual triads as you play, it can help you memorize all of these different chords. This is useful for many reasons, including understanding music theory, thinking about composition, and of course, improvisation.

    If you play this exercise slurred, it’s great for navigating hard intervals, especially on the top octave. I would start by playing it very slow and really engaging with each triad that you are playing - name it and listen to it’s sound. Once you’ve done this for awhile and the memorization of triads is starting to stick, speed it up for an extra challenge! It’s a lot of fun, and sounds pretty cool once you’ve got the hang of it!

    Download this exercise as a PDF: triad_exercise.pdf

    Happy Practicing!

  • Friday, November 06, 2020 5:00 PM | Sorcha Barr-Deneen

    I recently put together a “Cool Flute” playlist for some students who were interested in exploring the flute beyond the classical realm. I remember being a high school flute student and having the realization that while I enjoyed Mozart, I didn’t want it to be my entire career, but I still wanted to be a flute player!

    Luckily, I had grown up with jazz and other kinds of improvisatory music, so I could see another path forward, and I want to pass that on - for anyone, young or old, happily classical or yearning for a different way to play. This playlist includes a broad array of flute music, from funk to Afro Cuban to down tempo to jazz, and I update it regularly. Enjoy!

    https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2gXAVxgh47L9tospbtjtUN?si=il5YqHeJSD6uiqb2k2W8Pw

    Learn more about improvisatory flute-ing at Gina's class Improvisation for Fun! on Saturday, November 21 at 3pm!

  • Friday, November 06, 2020 4:00 PM | Sorcha Barr-Deneen

    Welcome to our blog! This is where we'll share posts and thoughts about playing the flute, working with technology in the musical world, and career and life-long advice.

    Do you want to write a post and be featured in the 2020-2021 membership year? Email our blog administrator, Sorcha, at sdfgtech@gmail.com with your post! She'll review and post your article, and feature you in our monthly newsletter. Anyone is welcome to write an article for our blog, and the content can range from classical flute music and performance tips to your favorite holiday music, to jazz and non-western music.

    Submissions are reviewed for content and accessibility, but are not edited (beyond the occasional typo).

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