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Winter Retreat Recap | Sorcha Barr-Deneen

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!

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