November 25, 2015

Artemis Who Loves Song and Dance

Rising Full Moon
The Wild Wood
We are familiar with Artemis as the huntress of wild things, the independent Goddess of the Moon who refused to marry and guards young children. But she is also a Goddess closely linked to singing and dancing. 
The Dancing Hunter
In myths and poems, Artemis is described as loving to sing and leading her nymphs in song as often as they hunted. Artemis led the Muses in circle dances and directed their choir singing (before Apollo became their manager). Young girls dressed in saffron tunics and danced a bear dance in honor of Artemis before they were allowed to marry. In myths, Helen, Ariadne and girl after girl were abducted while dancing or singing for Artemis. Aphrodite once disguised herself as a mortal and claimed the same thing had happened to her to make her story convincing. Many dances were considered sacred to Artemis: circle dances, winding chain dances, lively jigs with wild leaps into the air and dances where the dancers dressed as plants, deer (or other animals) and the opposite sex. Karyatis, Kordax and Korythalia are all titles or names linked to Artemis and the dances that were done in her honor.
Deer in Winter
The Moon and Deer are Symbols of Artemis
A few of Artemis's musical (or at least noisy) titles include; 
-Hegemone “leader of dance" or "choir leader.” 
-Hymnia “of the hymns” or "lover of songs." 
-Celadeinus/Celadeine “strong voiced" or "lady of clamors.”
And a final observation of my own; Erato the Muse of erotic and love poetry, wedding music and sometimes dance, is sometimes shown holding a bow and arrows, like Eros the God of love. And Artemis the leader of the songs and dances of nymphs, Muses and Graces, is most often pictured with bow and arrows today.

Eclipse Crescent Moon
When the Moon shines, Artemis dances with the plants and animals

Artemis is the untamed singer beside the forest stream who leads us into the harmonic wilderness. She is the conductor hiding within the ensemble, the dancer in costume, the disguised side of ourselves who sings duets with those she loves.

October 23, 2015

Playing the Baroque Flute

I'm not an expert on the Baroque flute (also called Traverso.) I was trained on the concert flute and that is where a lot of my skill comes from. But I've been playing Baroque flute for a couple of decades now and I believe I have enough experience to share some tips.
In many ways, information about any transverse flute, modern or ancient, can be transferred to the others. But they do have their personal traits which is what makes them so interesting (and frustrating) to play. Fingerings, tone, volume, range, chromatic notes, basically everything shifts for each flute. This is also what gives them their unique sounds.  

There are several books on Baroque flutes, old and new, out there and I do suggest taking a look at one or more of them. "Method for the One-Keyed Flute" by Boland has some great advice for ANY wood flute, care instructions and some technique exercises. Treat the fingerings as a starting suggestion. Each flute works a bit differently and you may find a different fingering works better. Most of these books assume you already play the modern flute or have a teacher and do not include much basic how-to-get-a-sound-out stuff. If you are starting from scratch you may want to talk to, or take lessons from, a flute teacher to get those basics down.
When looking for advice and tips, keep in mind that there are several different Baroque flutes out there. The flute went through a radical redesign at the beginning of the Baroque era (1600-1750) and then continued to change without any one style becoming standard. Some of the changes included the shape of the bore (inside of the tube), adjusting the tuning and adding a key. Then they added a couple more keys. Then they added yet more keys.  Then they argued about which keys were useful and which were "decadent." The only key they all more or less agreed on was that first one. After that, it was anyone's guess which keys an instrument make would use. Plus, some Baroque flutes can be taken apart into 3 pieces, some 4 pieces, some have multiple-sized interchangeable middle sections used to adjust tuning and the foot joint can sprout a telescoping extension.
In spite of all that, tips for one style of Baroque flute can generally be applied to the others. But it helps tremendously to know exactly what kind of Baroque flute a person is talking about.
photo by Kenton Samual
Baroque flute in action. Photo by STL Photovisions
I play a one-keyed, four-piece Baroque flute. It is one of the simpler (though not simplest) styles. It has some of the most limits on chromatics and scales unless you are comfortable with half-hole fingerings. Most players back in the day shifted to flutes with more keys pretty quickly. It is one of the last flutes that could be held to either side of the body though it was usually held to the right so the flute section wouldn't knock into each other too often.

Baroque flute, Maple wood
Baroque flute in pieces. Maple wood.

Now here are my main tips; Work with tuning and modes. Try to improvise on the flute you are learning. And play the flute regularly even if you don't sound the way you want yet.

Tuning on the Baroque flute is not the same as the concert flute. Not just because of the reduced chromatic notes either. The internal scale is tuned a bit differently than a modern flute and it takes time to adjust. Any tuning work on any flute will help so if tuning the Baroque flute gets too frustrating, do some tuning exercises on another flute for a bit. This improves your ear which WILL help your tuning on the Baroque flute eventually. Remember, as your ear improves, you hear the flaws in your playing more and it can feel like you are getting worse. You aren't. Your hearing and your playing are just improving at different rates.
In general, typical tuning issues on the concert flute are magnified on the Baroque flute. For example, the 3rd and 7th degrees of the major scale need attention. And any note in a chord that needs tweaking on the concert flute likely will need very careful adjusting on the Baroque flute.

Closely related to tuning is playing in modes. These are scales that use different patterns than major or minor. Playing in a mode is often easier than trying to play in many major or minor scales other than the scale the flute is tuned to. (That's what all those keys are for-chromatics and shifting keys.) This is why you will find quite a bit of older music and folk music that uses modes. It fit the instruments better. 
What's more, playing in a mode makes you listen to your tuning differently. You will notice that some modes are easier to play in tune than others. This is partly a result of how you are listening to and adjusting your tuning. Each scale rearranges your hearing and tuning sense whether you notice it or not. A note that sounds fine in one mode may sound badly out of tune in another. This teaches you a lot about the tuning of your instrument.
This takes time and work, no way around it. But here's the good thing; if you keep at it, you eventually will develop a more instinctive understanding of how to adjust on the Baroque flute. You will always need to pay attention but it will become more natural, at least on some scales.
This link is a short introduction to the modes if you want to know more about them.

Now, improvising is a WONDERFUL way of getting to know an instrument, in my humble opinion. Chasing down a melody in your head will really teach you what an instrument is capable of in your hands. Additionally, playing a wide range of music helps you find out what works on a specific instrument faster than almost anything. I suggest looking at older music that was written when these flutes were commonly played (though some of these may prove a bit challenging!) or folk music. This music is often written with some awareness of which chromatics are difficult to handle. Take these tunes as leaping off points, ornament them, add notes and let the tunes lead you into improvised melodies that explore the flute's sound. But don't stop there. Experiment with music you like that is outside the typical style for the Baroque flute. Some pieces will work, some will sound dreadful and others will sound oddly transformed. This is all useful when getting comfortable with a new instrument.
You also need time to develop the tone you want and improvising is a great tool for that too. The tone of a wooden Baroque flute will naturally be different than a metal concert flute (this is why many people like it.) But there is a wide range of possible sounds within that wood tone. Listen to your sound, the sound of other players and see if you can change your sound to match others. Experiment to find out just how many changes you can make to your tone. Not every change will create a "pleasant" tone and this is ok for our purposes. The more tone options you have, the easier it is to create a tone you like or that fits a specific performance. It is nearly impossible to describe in words just HOW a person changes their tone. We tend to resort to "relax your throat" or "let the air pour out" or "make it sound like melted chocolate" to cause students to change embouchure shapes. The control of those tiny muscles develops almost subconsciously the longer you play and listen to others. Which makes playing for fun (and I think improvising is wildly fun) one of the best tone exercises around.

Don't be discouraged if you don't sound like a virtuoso right away. Just keep at it. Playing/practicing in short, regular sessions is the key. Five minutes once a day will bring about improvement. Fifteen minute sessions each day or every other day are plenty long enough when starting out. You don't want to exhaust yourself and regular practice rather than long is what keeps you from forgetting what you've learned.
And if you miss a day (or three) don't beat yourself up. You won't forget everything THAT fast! Besides, breaks are good both for your playing and for your enthusiasm. I firmly believe that having one scheduled day a week that you do not practice (unless you just feel like it) keeps you from getting overwhelmed and frustrated. You need that down time to remember how much you enjoy playing, to find and listen to recordings you want to sound like and to get some rest.

Whatever you do, make sure you have fun! Perfection is not the goal of music; delight and joy is.

September 24, 2015

Flute and Aulos in Greek Mythology - The Importance of Translation

I have mentioned this before and I know I will again but this particular issue is very widespread and deserves a post all its own. At least if you enjoy researching music in myths.
When reading anything about ancient Greece that mentions "the flute", there are very high odds that it should say "the aulos". Aulos is so frequently mistranslated as flute that you almost have to assume that flute means aulos in any English text. The aulos is a double reed instrument played vertically, sometimes in pairs and sometimes not. The flute has no reeds and is played horizontally/transverse and almost no one is crazy enough to try to play two at once. The recorder is sometimes played in pairs but again, the recorder does not use reeds and so also isn't an aulos.
Pan Playing Double Aulos
Pan Playing Double Aulos Among the White Violets
The aulos does not exist as a modern instrument and we don't know all the details of how the aulos was made or played. We do have enough pictures from vases and sculptures, as well as writings about it, to know it was not like the flute at all. The aulos does seem to be somewhat like an oboe but that comparison is not precise either since oboes are not played in pairs and don't require a strap around the head. This means that whenever you run into something saying "Athena invented the flute", "Euterpe was the Muse of flute players" or "Apollo played flute with the Muses" it almost ALWAYS means aulos, not flute.
Now just to confuse things, there was a transverse flute in use in ancient Greece. It was considered a country instrument, not very sophisticated and linked to shepherds. There are almost no mythological stories that feature this instrument and the only reference to a God playing one (that shouldn't actually read aulos that is) that I have run across is Pan and I'm not sure about that one. It is possible that the original Greek text said panpipes or syrinx instead of flute, another common mistranslation. Although since Pan was a God of shepherds, it is not impossible that in this case, they actually meant the transverse flute.
Baby Pan Playing Transverse Flute
Pan Playing Transverse Flute Among the Wild Columbine
The transverse flute just didn't have enough respect to be used in the stories. It is one of the oldest instruments in the world but it took centuries for the flute to gain any standing among other instruments in Western culture. Yet people kept playing it, teaching it and writing music for it. And now, it is so hard for us to believe that this instrument didn't matter in the past that we change the name of other instruments to flute. Flutes can be sneaky little things.

For more on the myths of the aulos see  Athena and Hermes Musical Inventions, Apollo the One Man Band and A Night at the Theater

August 26, 2015

Wood and Bone - A Very Short History of the Flute

The oldest instrument ever found is a flute that is around 30,000 to 40,000 years old. It was made from the bone of a vulture’s wing. (There are older artifacts that some claim are parts of flutes but that is strongly contested.) The top is an open tube with a v-notch on one side. The assumption is the player blew through the top of the tube down the v-notch while holding the flute vertically. This is a fairly well developed design that suggests this type of instrument dates from even earlier but finding anything older will likely prove tricky. There are a number of folk flutes that are "end-blown" vertical designs similar to this but today the instrument we most often think of as a flute (the concert flute) uses a different design and is held horizontally.

Bone was a common material for flutes for a long time. Some old flutes and wind instruments were named after the bones typically used to make them (the tibia for example). Perhaps this is part of why flutes were associated with sacrifices and religious ceremonies. Some cities kept wind players on an official payroll because they were required at religious ceremonies regularly. At the same time, it was considered a rural instrument, played by country people and associated with nymphs and wild Gods who couldn’t quite be trusted. In many cultures, playing a wind instrument wasn’t as respectable as playing strings or singing. Girls and boys both could seriously damage their reputations by learning to play them.

Wood was another popular material for flutes. Boxwood was one of the favorites for most wind instruments for centuries but so many others were used that the list tends to get excessively long. (I happen to have a maple flute.) There are many trees called “whistlewood” because the branch or bark was (or is) used for flutes and whistles by instrument makers or children. A few trees are so perfect for whistles, they have been used for generations even though they are poisonous and can make children sick.

Flutes have been made out of nearly any kind of material that can be made into a hollow tube. Wax, glass, clay, potatoes and carrots (I’m not making this up) are just some of the examples. The metal flute is a quite recent development and some modern performers still prefer wood instruments. One common compromise is for the head joint to be made of wood and the body of the flute to be metal. This generally gives it more of a wood sound, but makes the key-work more reliable and reduces the likelihood of the wood cracking.

The older flutes were often made in a single piece. Later, they were made in 2, 3 or 4 sections so key-work could be added with less effort, to make it easier to tune to other instruments and so they could be taken apart and stored more easily. The first key was added to the flute in the 1620s. This is also around the time the flute became more popular in Classical music and began to take over the role the recorder had held for years. As more keys were added, flute players could use more accidentals and play a wider variety of scales comfortably. However, there was nearly no agreement about what keys were best to use, how they should be attached or even if they should be used at all so the technical ability of flute players often related very closely to the kind of flute they had access to. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Theobold Boehm standardized the keys on the flute although there are still controversies and new keys/key designs being developed and argued over. Some styles of music (trad. Irish for example) use strictly older flute designs with few or no keys even today.
Every change to the design of the flute, no matter how small, changes the sound of the instrument so it is hardly surprising that nearly all the older styles can be heard today. What's more, each musician sounds different on each flute so one flute may sound brassy, bright, haunting or lush when played by different people. And this is why I so enjoy meeting the different flutes in the world and in history!

June 9, 2015

Program Notes or What I'm on about in my albums

Amaltheia's Lullaby-program notes-
In Greek Mythology, Amaltheia is a nymph or a goat who raised Zeus the God of thunder. Pan, half God half Goat, is the God of the wilderness. There are many different stories of Pan’s birth and antics. As the son of Amaltheia’s goat, Pan was raised in a cave with Zeus. Another story says Pan and Arcas were the twin sons of Zeus and Callisto a nymph who was changed into a bear. In yet another story, Pan helped Zeus after his sinews were stolen by the guardian of the sacred oracle at Delphi. Pan often plays a panpipe or a syrinx that can put anyone to sleep. A Labyrinth is a maze with only one path in and out. The version often seen in Crete, where Zeus and Pan were said to have been raised, has seven corridors.
The four notes F G C and E-flat are a call to Pan according to some. All the pieces on this album relate to these notes.
1 Cave Lullaby---alto flute
2 Bear Dance-Cub Steps---flute
3 Bear Dance-Tempo Challenge---flute
4 Transposing Delphi-Lament and Lure---alto flute
5 Transposing Delphi-Mirror Dreams---alto flute
6 Beggars Pan---glass piccolo
7 Labyrinth-1st Loop-Lulling---flute
8 Labyrinth-2nd Loop-Memory Game---flute
9 Labyrinth-3rd Loop-In the Garden---flute
10 Labyrinth-4th Loop-In and Out---flute
11 Labyrinth-5th Loop-Weaving---flute
12 Labyrinth-6th Loop-Turn About---flute
13 Labyrinth-7th Loop-Rainstorm---flute
14 Rain and Flood Lullaby---flute

Waking the Devas-program notes-
A while ago, a friend of mine was telling me about her new garden. It was in the country across the road from a forest. It made her happy just seeing it. It overflowed with life as if little spirits were peeping out around the tomatoes, morning glories and grass. Even the bugs that ate plants down to the ground had a magic to them although that didn’t make them less of a nuisance. The garden became a nursery for nature devas, a safe place for them to gain strength as they step, roll and rush out into the world. This got me thinking about waking the devas, fairies, nature spirits in the world around us. Drawing them into the cracks in our lives and letting them run wild. Messy sometimes but more than worth it for all the joy they bring.
1 Lament’s Balm---glass piccolo in C recorded in a forest clearing
2 Rain Dare---glass picc during a rainstorm with a few cows
3 Thaw Longing (Sun in January)---flute as a wind front built up
4 Wind and Rain (Waking Lullaby)---glass picc in a garden during a break in the rain
5 Flood Drops---flute on a sunny winter day in a greenhouse
6 Drawing Out---glass flute in G on a windy sunny day in a greenhouse
7 Fireflies-Here and There---flute at early night on the edge of the woods with crickets
8 (Enter Chorus) How Hummingbird Sees Time---baroque flute on an afternoon in a forest clearing as the cicadas warmed up
9 (Fireflies) Spying on Starfall---flute at night on a lane in the woods with crickets
10 Chorus in the Elm---baroque flute on an afternoon in a forest clearing with cicadas
11 Fireflies-World’s Rim---flute at night on the edge of the woods with crickets
12 Perseids-Night’s Overflow---flute, rattle at midnight on a lane in the woods
13 Cicada Antiphony---baroque flute on a summer afternoon in a forest clearing
14 Perseids-Some May Yet Sleep---flute on a lane in the woods under meteors
15 Lament’s Balm/Lemon Balm II---flute at night on a wooded lane
16 The Fairies’ Hounds---flute. The hounds in question scrambled across a tile floor (click, clack go the claws) but refrained from howling till the recording was done.

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