Singing and Fluting

This is inspired by Craig’s comment on my previous entry.
As I have dusted off my flute and played it again after very little activity in the last 7 years, I am finding it refreshingly different than previous times that I came back from breaks. I have been fearful of playing flute again largely because I want to enjoy it, and in the past I kept getting into joyless situations. I have had to look at this and try to learn from it.
What has changed? Seven years of intensive work on my singing! Singing is so personal and so much at the heart of everything musical. Taking the time to work on my voice has really given me a new way of thinking about music and performing in general. Some thoughts about what is so different about the way I have worked on singing as compared to how I used to work as a flutist:
  • Control of the voice is indirect. It can never be entirely mechanistic. It is not visible, and it is not under specific tactile control. It is vital to have a clear concept of what you are intending to do, and to continue it to the end of each phrase, to the end of the piece, to the end of the concert.
  • “Technique” goes so much deeper than how fast you can play scales or articulate notes.
  • Everyone’s voice is different. It is an ever-challenging task to reveal more of what one’s own voice can do. If you try to sound like someone or something else, then you thwart your own voice’s possibilities. In fluting, I was too concerned about all the people who were “more advanced” than I, without realizing that even blowing on similar metal tubes, we all can have our own voice, and SHOULD. If I had believed in my own individuality and contribution, I wouldn’t have been so caught up in competition and judgement.
  • In order to sing well I need to feel like it’s impossible to keep it inside. I have to be in, or get myself in, a state where a vocal upwelling is inevitable. This for me is a physical-emotional necessity, or else what comes out of my mouth will not resemble music at all. On the flute, how many times have I blown into the tube and pushed my buttons at the allotted times without getting into the place of expressive necessity?
  • Acting, to some degree, is an essential part of singing. Who was I and what was my “character” trying to say when I played the flute?
There are also some technical issues of singing that have helped the fluting, such as how to breathe, how to start a phrase, and how to end a phrase. These and others have been interesting to play with as well. But it’s the emotional-psychological realm where I see the most important influence of singing on the fluting.
I have a recording of the first time I played flute on a recital, when I was 19. That fall I played the Bach Sonata in G Minor on my old Armstrong flute with my friend Tim playing harpsichord. Looking back, I realize that I didn’t really play that beautifully again until years later. During college, I became so obsessed with technique, competition, and especially judgement, that I couldn’t just let go and play. I could be inspired by others, but I couldn’t play in an inspired way for an audience.
My really big breakthrough was a recital I played at age 32. I prepared music I loved well (Vivaldi Piccolo Concerto in C, Woodall Serenade, Kvandal piece for alto flute, Godard Suite, perhaps one of the Fukushima unaccompanied pieces), I loved my passionate pianist, and I was able to let it fly and hit it out of the park. I had finally achieved something really important to my musical growth. I had proven my “judges” wrong (including a professor who had said “you don’t have the temperament to be a performer”). This was probably about the 30th full concert I had played in my career, and I finally “got it right”. For years I had had something to prove (to myself, to my judges, to the Universe), and I had done it, by finally learning how not to try to prove anything! Right after that was one of the times that I put my flute away for a while. I was tired, and my life as it was then couldn’t deal with starting another mission to Mars.
Dealing with all these memories and feelings in the last two weeks, while getting reacquainted with my silver friend, has been quite a journey. I wonder where it will go next?
If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

2 Replies to “Singing and Fluting”

  1. Brian, I'm going to steal your bullets from this blog entry. They are brilliant!

    I'm curious now about the Kvandal piece… finding repertoire for alto flute has always been a challenge. I played a lot of Fukushima back in the day. It was considered by my very conservative classmates to be too far out LOL! I put my flutes away shortly after I moved to Vancouver. I was an unknown out here and there was a plethora of really good players already, so it made more sense to focus on singing.

    You've inspired me to pick it up again… it's slow going but loads of fun.

  2. Thanks Craig! Johan Kvandal's Nocturne for alto flute and piano is his Opus 56A. I no longer own it (I think). I probably sold it years ago after I sold my alto flute. I miss that flute. It was one of the first altos that Altus made and it was good.

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