A new day a new server

More open–source music software

A penguin has his day

I wrote about Audacity, the open–source music editor the other day. Now another suite of applications Rosegarden has come to my attention.

This suite offers a full range of applications for writing, sequencing, editing, mixing and recording music—all for Linux! Source binaries aren’t free— but source downloads of course are and might be a good alternative for students wanting to get into music production (not just recording!) on the cheap.


Open–source music recording and editing

I'm a big fan of alternatives to the Windows hegemony for philosophical and practical reasons. For a long time this has meant using Apple software and hardware for creative music applications. No longer.

Linux was born out of and has lived most of its life in the server and high–performance computing domain. Now creative applications written under the same GPL license and working on cross–platform code are reaching maturity. This is good news for musicians.

A great example of this new open–source maturity is Audacity, the free audio editor and recording application. It is compiled for Linux, OS X, and Windows, and is a stable, fast and fully–featured application which is competitive with commercial offerings. With Audacity, you can record and edit up to 32-bit (floating point) samples, record at up to 96 KHz, add effects, use VST (industry standard) plug–ins, export mp3's, change pitch of recordings without altering tempo, alter frequencies (high– and low–pass etc)—the list goes on.

Why record yourself?

A mirror on your playing personality

I remember when I first got into computer music recording back in 1997: there were precious few good music recording options and these were pretty expensive. I got a version of ProTools with an Audiomedia 3 card which was great and reliable but set me back a packet and needed the best desktop (an Apple G3 333Mhz tower with Fast SCSI interfaces) then available to run it well.

What a change 8 years makes. Now anyone with a half–decent laptop can record @ 92kHz(or even 196kHz!)/24bit without breaking a sweat, and there are dozens of USB2 and Firewire interfaces which will record pristine–quality audio and which are available at very reasonable prices.

Why bother with any of this? Isn't it just as good to just use your ears and trust your teacher as a flute student? Well, the honest answer is no. Recordings are the best way to listen objectively to oneself. There is a shock at first, as we hear things which we don't want to, but it lets us hone in on how we really play, as opposed to how we think we play.


Hybrid music

In the latest Libretto magazine for music teachers from the ABRSM, there was an article about Smartmusic, a new tool for music teachers and students.

Basically, Smartmusic allows music students to play with a computer accompaniment which, through a microphone connected to your PC or Mac, can react to the natural ebb and flow of a student's playing. That's the theory anyway. I'm going to test this out, because while it won't replace an accompanist, it could aid students in getting familiar with accompaniments and recording themselves.

One thing I'm not wild about is the subscription model through which they'll be selling licenses—I guess it makes the up–commitment less which is a good thing

Of course, if you want to just record yourself, there are a bunch of open–source applications to enable that. I would imagine the minimum hardware requirements for smooth operation (as opposed to just flaking along) would be steep but it could all work well. Time will tell.

A demo can be found at the Smartmusic website but be prepared for a wait—the file is huge (ca. 550Mb) and the server slow.

Sydney Flute Academy

A holistic approach to music

A new approach to flute teaching is going to get an big outing next year in the form of the Sydney Flute Academy. It's being organised by two friends of mine, Sally Walker, flutist in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and conductor and flutist Paul Dhasmana.

The Academy will be in the form of a series of masterclasses running for 3 days, from the 14th to the 16th July, 2006. Alexander Technique will be covered by Janet Davies, violin and Alexander Technique teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium.

Both Sally and Paul have a lot to offer students—both are highly intelligent players and musicians with a great deal of experience between them. They have some unique perspectives on the flute and music which will benefit many flute players and flute teachers alike.

Hopefully, the start of the Academy will signal a rejuvenation in the Sydney flute scene which seems to have stagnated over the past few years.

Riley Lee

Spring Sea

Riley Lee's recording "Spring Sea" is a beauty which I have just discovered, having heard several tracks for a few years on ABC Classic FM. For those who don't know, Riley Lee is Australia's only grand master of the shakuhachi, the long Japanese traditional flute.

There is a wealth of beauty on this recording—very contemplative music of both Japanese and Western genres. Hari no Umi, written by Michio Miyagi in 1929, is the first track on the CD, but it's followed by Anne Boyd's Goldfish through Summer Rain, a Western classical piece in an Oriental vein. Reaching further afield, one song which is particularly haunting is the English composer Benjamin Britten's Corpus Christi Carol, written to the words of an fifteenth century English carol. One of the last piece's is Chikuho Sakai's Nesting of the Cranes, which seems very naturalistic in its free depicting of the feelings of a young crane leaving its nest. Beautiful, unusual music played with great feeling and atmosphere.

Martinu's flute music

Marion, Dubreau and Hamelin

A recording I picked up not long ago is a great one for hearing some really under–played music: the flute chamber music of Bohuslav Martinu. We so rarely hear of this composer yet he is easily one of the most sophisticated and tuneful of mid–20th century composers. Real lyricism with functional harmony is an unusual combination from those times (when almost every man and his dog was being a serialist).

Marion's playing really shines in the chamber music setting—though I'm not such a great fan of his style of playing you can't deny his quality in this recording.

The recording features the late, great Alain Marion on flute with Angèle Dubreau (violin) and Marc–André Hamelin (piano and harpsichord). Hamelin's playing is a wonder, frankly, and Marion and Dubreau work well together through the Sonata for flute, violin and piano H. 245, the Pomenades for the same combination H. 274, the Sonata for flute and piano H. 308, Five Madrigal Stanzas for violin and piano H. 297, the Scherzo for flute and piano h. 174A, and the Madrigal–sonata for flute, violin and piano H. 291.

The pieces date from 1929 to 1945 and show a wide range of influences, from Renaissance forms to jazz. It's on the Fleur de Lys label, FL 2 3031.


Or how you improve

What do we have to do to improve on the flute?

Where people really stumble learning an instrument is dealing with the type of learning involved. When we're learning many intellectual things, a superficial level of understanding will get us by. Knowing and understanding things intellectually is fine for a great many pursuits—it's just that flute–playing is not one of them. We have to get to the stage where we understand what we do on an intuitive, physical level, not just a superficial logical, concious one.

To really master the flute (or any other instrument, of course) you have to develop your own understanding of the technique involved. Of course there are lots of things a good teacher can point out by way of assisting a player "tune in" to what they're doing and see where they can fruitfully improve. And learning can be an impossibly long process without such help. Nevertheless, all students need to use this assistance as only the beginning and effectively go practice and "discover" these truths for themselves.

Seen in this light, practice should be a process of trying to pose and answer questions about how what a teacher suggests really works for you personally, not as unthinking grind. It should be about trying to rediscover the truth of what the teacher suggests for oneself. If the teacher is good, he/she will be suggesting many global and specific suggestions to your issues, and it's up to the student to ask him or herself, why and in what way those suggestions are true. If the student questions whether the teacher is indeed making competent suggestions, then they must seek another teacher.

Ross Edward's Ulpirra

Another good Australian flute piece

Things you learn from your students. One student of mine brought in a fun piece the other day which was new to me and a lot of fun—Ross Edward's Ulpirra for solo flute.

The piece is in his classic bird–song style, with lots of quick leaping gracenotes, mixed compound meters and darting rhythms.

The one thing you find about Ross Edward's music is that the fun comes at a steep price: these pieces are damnably hard. Not so much in a technical sense for speed of passages, but more through the difficulty in getting the rhythms (with all their grace notes) tight enough.

If you want to get this piece, the place to go is the Australian Music Centre down in The Rocks. They publish and stock the largest range of Australian music anywhere (it is their mandate, after all!) and will even sell you copies of unpublished music still in the composer's handwriting. The staff are really helpful, friendly and knowledgeable.

Flute repair 101

An ounce of prevention

I was catching up with a friend, Paul Dhasmana, (fine local flutist and conductor) a few weeks back, and over lunch we got down to talking flutes (as flute players inevitably do). He plays a Brannen like me and I was interested to try his out as he had just had his serviced by Brannen in Boston. As I've mentioned before, they're fine flutes—their Brögger Mechanik especially (the patented mechanism which sets them apart from all other flutes) is a great innovation.

I later tried out his flutes and thought to myself "Wow, this plays great, makes my flute feel like a sluggard!" Of course, after this, I had to pull my flute apart and see what was up with it.

What I found was a bit sobering—my flute was completely out of oil. What this means is;

  • 1. The axles were wearing away the inside of the mechanism.
  • 2. It was a matter of time before the axles started binding to the sleaves they sit in—a really bad occurence. What happens then is the axles can get stuck inside their sleaves which can mean serious (and expensive) flute–surgery to repair.

What was the solution? A quick dissassembly and oil for the Brannen had it moving and feeling much better. I also replaced some pads which I found had deteriorated badly (the skins were cut through). While this took a few hours, when the flute went back together, it was like night and day over its previous state.

What's the upshot of all this? Be careful with your flute and check the action—if the action's slowing down or some keys are lagging, get it checked and oiled.

Where can I get this done? The Woodwind Group are good repairers of flutes in Sydney, as are Musicorp—ask for David or Joshua.

Can you do this yourself? Unless you have some training in flute repair, I wouldn't recommend it. Why do I do it? As a kid, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some of my summer holidays with a kind man called Eric Adam—a chemical and electrical engineer, management consultant, and fine amateur clarinettist. In his spare time, he repaired woodwind instruments for fun and kindly tolerated me coming up, hanging out at his workshop and helping out for a few weeks at a time. He taught me how to repair flutes, though I made a fair few mistakes along the way. I was very lucky to have his patient advice and encouragement.

A Recording of Rodrigo

Where do old recordings go?

I was recently after an old, favorite recording—James Galway's recording of Joaquin Rodrigo's Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre. It was a key recording in my development as a flute player and I wanted to share it with my students.

I looked at Fluteworld, on Amazon and in local music stores. Absolute bubkas, nada, nichts. It seems it's gone out of production, RCA wasn't selling enough of them. Anyhow, I ended up ordering a few copies of Joanna G'froerer's recording of the same pieces which is great (she's a good flutist) but not the same.

You would think that in all the Western world there are enough flute players around to support such a recording. After all, it's one of Galway's major recordings and one of his best and he's the Heifetz of flute–playing—what all flutists have to come to terms with and have an opinion about. What do all these flute–players listen to? It's a shame that such a recording has left the repertoire.

Tadeu Coelho plays in Angel Place Recital Hall

Brazillian flute in Sydney

There is a concert coming up on October 30th (3pm) which should interest flutists in Sydney— Tadeu Coelho, a Brazillian flutist based in the States is playing with Simon Tedeschi and Trish O'Brien at Angel Place, in the Sydney CBD.

The concert is part of the "Voice of the Whale" tour (after the work of the same name by George Crumb) and features Coelho and company playing works by Pierne, Ginastera, Crumb, Mower, Villa Lobos and Martinu. The Crumb, Villa Lobos and Martinu will I'm sure be lovely and interesting works—I'd imagine the Villa Lobos is the Bachianas Brasillieras No. 6 (a wonderful work for flute and cello—really exciting and approachable) and the Martinu would be either his Sonata for flute and piano or his Trio for flute, piano and cello—both very lyrical romantic works.

I've never heard Coelho play, but he certainly had some good teachers—his biography lists the great Julius Baker and Ransom Wilson as his teachers—and he currently teaches at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

On an associated note Gary Schocker is also going to be touring here next May. Great player and an interesting musician. Good news for flute players!

Visit the Archives for more articles