Jen Cluff ~ Davies Masterclass Report

Canadian Flutist and Teacher





Paul Edmund Davies Masterclass 2006

I was priviliged to attend the Paul Edmund Davies Masterclass this past Sunday, and thought I'd type up some interesting notes from that class/recital to share with you.
Mr. Edmund-Davies was principal flute with the London Symphony for 20 years and is currently professor of flute at the Royal College of Music in London. He is an excellent teacher and was able to make substantial improvements with each student in a limited time of 45 minutes per flutist (unlike some of the great flutists whom I've seen in masterclass, because they are "prodigies" who don't know how to explain well what they do, and teach very little by comparison to Davies).
  Here are some points that were made with each student:
Note: These notes are taken from memory, and may be a combination of my own observations, in conjunction with paraphrases from Davies; please feel free to correct any points that you may have observed differently if you were at the UBC class.
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1. A young flutist performed by memory a Taffanel piece in the grand style [Mignon?] (bold introduction and flourishes, followed by a delicate melody written 'piano'.)
Observations by Jen: Student had very tense neck, head and jaw, and fast vibrato.
  Davies commented (paraphrased):

- The flute doesn't have the same range of dynamics as, say, a trumpet. We are less able to play very loudly, and must really make a difference when we play softly, in order to draw the listener toward us, to really listen closely. We should make a huge colour and tone/dynamic change, and try not to play the whole piece 'forte', and with a brilliant tone.

- Pull your piano passages back, and let the audience come to you; play very very softly, and you will hear the audience hold their breath and listen very closely. Draw them in.

Jen observed: Flute students can play more flexibly if they don't brace your upper body with tension. Ask: "See if you can release and relax from the shoulders upward, in order to be flexible with your tone and dynamics.  

- When you leap up to the high register you are mistakenlypressurizing the high note at the note's start, and, instead you should be lletting the air speed and air pressure increase BEFORE the high note sounds; it should arise smoothly from the note just previous to the high note; like a singer. We tend to smack the high note with the tongue as a way of jump starting it, but listen instead to how a singer makes a large leap like this: The upper note's airspeed is created a split second or two ahead of time, on the notes that come before. The lower note's airspeed in increased before the leap. And once on the high note, listen to the shape of the entire high note, not just it's front edge. Maybe you're only listening to the front of the note, and not allowing it to musically develop further after you've already arrived on it.  

- Flutists should play like singers, not just press down keys, and bang the airspeed up a notch or two; airspeed should follow what a singer would do. Sing all your music and discover how to do this.

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2. A young gold flute player with a stunningly beautiful, rich sound, played Ganne's concours piece from "Flute music by French Composers". [Observations: the sound became more pinched and smaller by half way down the first page; student looked less comfortable, and breathing became more shallow and gasp-sounding]:
 

- I notice that as you proceeded you had less and less breath at each breathing point. Perhaps that happened because you didn't intake air a full bar before you entered, but waited for that first breath until just before you began to play. Remember that the opening of the piece is the only time (besides bars of rest) that you can fill up to the top with air, and feel that you have plenty. If you only take catch breaths, you'll soon feel pinched for air during the opening few lines.

  - Learn to fill up the lower lungs first, instead of trying to gasp in air to the top of the lungs only. - Let's all look at where our lungs actually are in the body (demonstrates where on the body lungs actually 'live'.) We've got enough tissue in this small area to cover a tennis court; it takes time to fill it up completely, so do that at the start of the piece. After that, fill up the large portion (lower lungs) very quickly, but fully. Practice this type of breathing away from the flute.  

- The most important beat of the bar may be "One", but the moving beat is beat "four". Move through beat four to beat "one" and you will have a more dramatic sense of the rhythmic motion.

- Add 'hairpins' to each two bar phrase at the opening of the Ganne, in order to phrase them with emotion.

- During the cadenza, it's more exciting slightly slower in tempo, where we can marvel at every liquid note in the arpeggio. If you dash the cadenza off too quickly, it's not as exciting (the reverse of what you may have thought.)  

- You might be pushing the flute into your face when you go for the tricky high G#3. It's far easier to raise the airstream to play that leap to high G# if you release the pressure on the chin.

Everyone try this: Put a flat hand up to your face, palm facing the floor, and lay the flat side of the index finger under your lip, like a flute. Push the side of the finger into the chin, and now blow as if it's a flute. Feel where the air lands on your four fingers.

Now, release the pressure on your hand-against-chin, taking away all hand-to-chin pushing, and let the hand move outward naturally with the flesh of the lower lip as a buffer.

You can mentallyimagine the hand 1/4 or so in front of the chin, and then you blow again as if blowing a flute.

Notice which fingers the air stream now lands on. Notice that the airstream goes upward in angle, instead of landing on a closer finger.

Do you see what happens when you change from pressing into the chin?The airstream rises in angle. And since the airstream needs to go up for high register, releasing the pressure gets it on a higher angle automatically. Use this for easy leaps to the high register.

Not pressing the flute inward to leap to a high note is alot less work to change the air angle, gives you the higher angle instandly, and allows the flute to remain easy in the hands.
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3. A flutist played "Afternoon of a Faun" without accompaniment. [Observations; the student stood in a braced-stance with an S-shaped posture, head to one side, ribcage to the other, hips to one side, legs to the other; feet and knees were locked.]
 

- Let's walk as we play this. Let's use the whole stage to walk for the opening solo.

  - A flutist is sunk if they think of this as "I'm in Nine beats per bar". Feel it in a big three beats per bar. Walk forward on each of the big three beats (one foot moves for each dotted quarter note). See how that improves your sense of forward motion, and you don't run out of air? The first bar may be slightly rubato, or slower, but as you progress to bars 2-4 you're back in time again.

  - Don't think you have to play full, rich and complex on the first opening phrase of this work; there are other instruments who are going to play before you return with this phrase. Like "Bolero", play with a light sound, piano, and shimmeringly soft, so that the piece doesn't start too full and rich; leave room to develop. This is a whole entire work; not a gigantic flute solo that stands alone; leave room for that to happen.  

- We all have nerves. Anyone who says they never get nervous is not telling the truth, or is not a performer at all. I get nervous---don't let it make you feel isolated; we all deal with it. Embrace your audience---share the piece's beauty with them.  

- Flutists often consider the start of the notes the important part; what about the middle and end? For example, in your sets of triplets, the first triplets are considered important, but then you lose interest in the second and third sets of triplets. Reverse their imporatance; make the third set of triplets the ones you care about and lead toward *them*.
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4. A flutist with a slightly small sound played Franck Sonata first mvmt. opening with piano on full stick; sound was lost in the low register. [Observations; the student was tense from the torso up, and looked tight in the throat especially].

  - Maybe dropping the jaw like the village idiot, or like an orangutang is really our best bet, even though it may not look intelligent at the time. :>)  

- I think you may be keeping your embouchure too still, instead of really finding the best, fullest, richest, most focused sound in your low register. Try Berbiguier 18 etudes very very slowly, where they undulate down the low register. Focus every low note by dropping your jaw down and back, and allowing the upper lip to aim downward into the flute for the low notes.

  - If you hold your embouchure too still, and try and refuse to move it, you'll never compete with the piano's loudness when you drop to the lower octaves; be sure and spend lots of time really developing the exact spot where the low octave sounds rich and full.  

[Note from Jen]: I think that Davies uses alot less pressure on the chin than some other players, and as a result, has more extended lips-off-the-teeth, and thus can manipulate the air stream using "a longer tube to aim with as the air leaves the lips".
Watching him demonstrate, because the flute is not pressed deeply into the chin, when he leaps to low register, he does so by lowering the airstream's angle with the upper lip, and retracting the lower jaw. This is what he was trying to teach by exaggerating it for this particular student with the too-quiet low register.

  Davies continued:
- I'm not saying you should make huge embouchure motions; not at all; just in practice you must locate the sound in the lower register that you'll need to sound rich and full, and you may need to experiment to find that embouchure change; but over time, you'll again feel that you're just "thinking the change", and not actually making a large mvmt. You may be making larger mvmts. while experimenting though; and I advocate that you really drop open the jaw, and relax the throat downward in order to discover what those actions will do; they will be refined over time.

For those who wish to learn throat fluttertonguing, or gargle-fluttering, this dropped open throat (lowering the adams apple) is the first step. You can't do it otherwise.

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5. A student played fourth mvmt. Prokofiev Sonata, but sound got lost whenever she descended to low register (as the piano was still on full stick).
 

- Again, I think there's lots to be done at the more quiet end of the dynamic. If you play big and large all the time, you may have set your embouchure to be larger and looser, and then you don't have as many options for colouring it at the smaller end of the dynamics. Here's a simple melody (puts a romantic Rabboni-esque vocalise on the music stand). Sight read this, and play it 'ppp'.

(Student plays 'p', Davies then plays it 'pppp' which is barely audible and very very veiled and tiny in sound.)

By doing this (and don't over-do it; once or twice in a practice session is more than sufficient---don't tire the lips) you develop more poise and precision in your embouchure; you develop the muscles around the lips to have more options through the dynamic range.

- Practice 'pp' and also non-vibrato on the beautiful soft melodies, in order to open up the throat and jaw and float the quieter dynamics. Add vibrato again after the throat and jaw have become relaxed and are singing the sound.
- Note how much better the audience listens when you draw them in with your quieter sections.
 

- I notice your pinky of the left hand is straight and up in the air, quite far from the Ab key. I advise you practice fast low fingers using triplet patterns taken from scales, or from T&G no. 1.
Keep all the fingers virtually touching their keys, while looking in a mirror, and make up your own triplet exercises such as:
EFE, FF#F, F#GF#, GAbG etc.

  - Lower register can be developed to be more full and rich with low register melodies (as noted before with the Franck flute-student). Work on finding the exact embouchure for a very centered tone in the low F, F#, E etc. This work will allow you to be more flexible when you descend to low notes, instead of just blowing harder through a larger lip opening, which only attempts loudness, without absolute focus and core of the sound.  

- Personally, I am (Davies said) bored when I play the standard two-note longtones (B to Bb, B to Bb; Bb to A, Bb to A). By the third one, I'm thinking about lunch, or picking up dry cleaning etc.
I like to make up my own:
Lontones slurred in threes:
B to C to Bb-------B to C to Bb...........etc.

  It's more important to be creative, and not do the same warmups every day. It's more engaging, and your mind doesn't start wandering because you always do the same old boring things.  

Part 2 Masterclass with Paul Edmund Davies
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Other interesting/funny things that were said by Davies (many of them half-jokes):  

- You'll notice that I have a silver and gold Powell up on the stage here for the recital portion. The gold gives a different tone colour, but I really prefer silver overall. Sadly, my body chemistry EATS silver flutes (flute is all black between the keys and has extensive tarnish on tubing as well); and in truth, this silver Powell is only five years old, and not 100 years old, as some people think; but it makes me look like I practice alot, doesn't it?? ;>)

  - Oh dear; there are some of you sitting way back in this hall; you're going to force me to play louder; you should sit near the front so I can play softly. You know if you play very softly the audience leans forward to listen, which is really drawing them to you, unless you're in Italy, where 40 of them start talking, and the other 400 all suddenly go "Shhhhhhhh!!!" ;>)  

- My second flutist, Ken Smith, bought a gold Muramatsu shortly after Galway did. Later that year we played a show with James Galway and he arrived with a platinum flute. As it happens, Ken Smith wasn't called that day, as there was only a flute I part. Someone in the orch said: Sir James, I see you've got a Platinum flute. And Galway replied "Ah...but gold is for GIRLS!"
(meaning the weight difference) ;>)

  - The 'ppp' sound that we were demonstrating before is an exercise to develop the poise of the embouchure muscles. But you DO use it in orchestra for blending in certain pieces.   - I don't care for extended technique pieces, or contemporary, avant-garde works at all. Others who like them; go ahead. :>)
Ian Clarke is a fabulous composer and player, and has a number of these fantastic works; however he gave me one to play called 'Hypnosis' which is a great piece (Davies performed it on recital) and I love it! No special techniques required. Fabulous!!

  - I can't improvise to save my life; just can't do it, and admit it. As a result, I like pieces that are all written out, and sound like improvised jazz. Those are great for people like me (Davides was speaking about his past performance of a two mvmt. work by a composer who wrote "jazz improv" sounding work for Davies, but sorry, did not catch title/composer. Added Sept. 15 09: An emailer kindly suggested the title of the piece may have been "Travellers' Tales", by Stan Sulzmann.)  

- I'm allergic to exercise; I can't possibly do it; it's not ME.
And when touring, I eat alot wherever I travel, there's so much good food! So now I have a rounded stomach, and breathing is perhaps harder; I shall have to do something about that, but I have no idea what. ;>)

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All in all; Loved the entire class and recital, and learned so much about playing lighter and with more flexibility of the embouchure, with less pressure on the lip-plate/chin area.
Davies plays with flute downward at a 45 degree angle, unlike the students who all looked tense and strained when trying to hold the flute parallel to the floor, all with visible strain in the left forearm and wrist. Davies has no strain in the left forearm and wrist (also has long hands, long forearms, and lines up blowing edge just slightly inward of center of keys.) Davies has both elbows dropped when he plays, and moves frequently onto the front foot to communicate phrases visually, "giving them forward to the audience". But he also floats the sound on the air without PUSHING the sound loudly out of the flute.
Seeing him play is a joy. He undulates constantly between expressive, giving playing, and contemplative "floating" playing. Very much draws you in as a listener. Never a dull moment; very poetic, lyrical, and expressive. Very relaxed throughout the upper body.

  Important quote of the day:
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"Don't practice what you already can do WELL! We all do that. It makes us feel better. "Listen to me do all these things really well!"   No.   Practice what you DON'T do well. That will make a much bigger difference! That will improve your playing in all the other areas.   Practice what you DON'T do well, whether it's pianissimo, note endings, phrasing, non-vibrato playing, playing easily in the high register.   If you spend your three hours playing what you already know you can do, you may make yourself feel confident about how great your good points are, but you've actually neglected all the other developments you could have made in your playing."
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end Davies paraphrase
  Jen :>)    

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