Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To me tone is like an Artist's Palette

When I think of vibrato, intonation, tone color,  and the sound quality of my tone, when preparing my practice assignments, I think of an artist's palette and their brushes.

Why do you say this? The trust is that we as flutists, are musicians, and if we truly wish to make beautiful music, we need to make beautiful art! Are we not trying to captivate the audience? Are we not trying to create an image, something beautiful?

Let me address vibrato, for me vibrato is the kind of paint (water color, oil paints etc) we use to put the paint on to the surface of the picture (think of the surface as the individual music competition) we are creating. Now one must be very careful, as some paints and some surfaces do not mix well. We can not use oil paints on water color paper. We must choose the medium and the surface we choose to display the image on very carefully. For example oil paints and water color paper do not mix, just like we can't use a nanny goat vibrato in the JS Bach Partita for Solo Flute. There are many kinds of vibrato: shimmery, a slower kind, fast, slow, etc.

The brush for me is the kind of dynamic we wish to apply to the music composition we are playing. We must be very careful to pick the dynamic of the tone to match the piece. We can't use a liner brush (see more about brushes here) to paint a large wash nor can we use a forte sound when playing the opening phrase of Debussy's Prelude to An Afternoon of Faun. Just as there are many kinds of brushes we can use to paint, there are many dynamics we can use.

The color of the individual paints for me is the sound quality and color of the sound. We must learn to apply the sight sound color and quality to the music we are playing. One can't use a dark, forceful, sound for the opening of Faure's Fantasy. Some flutists think in colors: blue, green, red etc. One can't use a blue color paint to create a realistic image of the Sun. Sound quality could be lyrical, singing (perfect for something like the last movement of the Franck: Sonata) or short and light (for the opening of the Mozart: Concerto, K313)

One most not forget the intonation and a good open sound, for me this is the quality of paint. We do not want to use cheap paint for our painting just like we do not want to use a non supported sound, is which very flat or sharp.

Recently, I have been working on the exposition of the Mozart: Concerto K313 for auditions. Now I have picked the painting surface, this time I will use water color paper. First I choose the dynamic for the first phrase I will play, which could decide if the Orchestra audition panel will want me to proceed to the next round. This is like choosing the brush you want to use for your first brush stroke, we want to create a background wash, so let's use a wash brush. I choose to play at a mezzo forte dynamic. Now I must think of the sound I want to create, a sound that is Mozartian in nature, and respects the Viennese flute school and sound. I think of a warm, bright sound, that is energetic and well support. The first note needs some vibrato to give it energy, the vibrato can't be shimmery or dark, it needs to give it a warm character, that is playful and elegant. I think of a warm golden happy color (such as a cadmium yellow) when playing the opening phrase. I know that for my painting I want to create a a nice warm background, I choose to use a yellow paint and I must use water color paints for this picture. If I tried to use oil paints on the water color paper, it wouldn't work very well. I can't use a slow stagnant vibrato for this phrase, it would not respect the Mozartian school pf playing. Now the most important part of playing the phrasing is to play with a good open sound and intonation. Now that I have formulated how to play the first phrase I am ready to produce it. This to me is similar to the artist placing their first brush stroke on their desired paint surface.

When I think of painting a picture or playing a music composition, I think of painting a beautiful picture. I love thinking of what I want the audience to imagine when the hear the sound of my flute. Recently for example, I've been playing Second Flute for a performance of the New World Symphony. To me the New World Symphony is like the film New World or Pocahontas. I think of the Native American's creeping around, I think of the Wind blowing through Pocahontas's hair, I think of the meeting of John Smith and Pocahontas. Now that I know what I want the audience to imagine when the hear my solos. I use the tools of vibrato, tone color and dynamics to display this.

How do you think tone applies to a music performance?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

For sale: Yamaha 9K Head joint


  Yamaha 9 Karat Rose Gold Head joint. Khaner cut.0.12" tubing. $5250 CDN.
Previously owned by flute prodigy Zachary Kellog. 
These head joints are not easy to get a hold of.
Sound clips available. Buyer pays for shipping.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Flutistjosh Tantalizing Tasty Tea

I make this tea once a week before Orchestra rehearsal or before a lesson. This tea is high in anti oxidants, helps calm nerves, makes your mouth feel fresh and soothes your throat

This is what goes into it:
3 bags of mint tea (Any brand)

2 tablespoons of passion flower leaves

1 packet of tieh-kwan-yin tea

Put all the ingredients into a big tea pot. Pour boiling water into the tea pot. Let stand for 10 minutes. Pour into a cup and enjoy. Watch out, the tea will be hot!

The FJ way: I pour the tea into a one litre nalgene bottle, that has been filled with ice cubes (about eight). I use this tea to hydrate me while practicing before Orchestra rehearsal or my lesson.

Sweat Less!

I get nervous before my lessons and orchestra rehearsals. What happens to me? I sweat! For some reason I sometimes sweat so much, that there is droplets of water cascading down my face, especially down my nose. There are times where water has dripped of my nose and into the flute during an orchestral audition. Makes it hard to play a sublimely beautiful peaceful c sharp in the opening of  "Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun", right? Want to know a magic cure? The Chinese have invented it!

Here’s a picture of it! Drink one packet. Open the packet and pour it into a cup. Then pour boiling water over it. Trust me, you will sweat less :P The instructions say that you should drink this every day. I only drink it on days where I know I will sweat. Usually these are days where I have lessons or orchestral rehearsals.

Feel free to email me at: flutistjosh@gmail.com if you need to know where to buy it!

Thanks! Have a great week!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The flutistjosh Power Shake

(Source | 3.bp.blogspot.com )

Every morning after a walk, a run, or my exercise routine, I make a power shake. This gets me through my Alexander technique exercises and daily flute warm up. It’s very tasty and very good for you. This shake is vegetarian and celiac disease friendly!

This is what goes into it:
2 tablespoons hemp protein powder
1/3 cup yogurt
½ cup strong brewed green tea
½ cup bolthouse smoothie (Pick whatever flavour you want. I experiment and choose different flavours. See http://bolthouse.com/our-products/beverages/smoothies)
4 leaves kale (remove the leaf from stem and wash before using)
1 banana, apple or 1 cup frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
½ bunch parsley

Throw all these ingredients into the blender and blend away. Make sure that the shake is quite liquid. It will thicken in time.  I usually pour the shake into a protein shaker with a wire ball. This way it can be shaken up and mixed any time!  Enjoy - FJ

Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's been a long time...

A lot has happened since I last wrote on this blog. First let me tell you I am now preparing for my ARCT under my wonderful teacher. I'm currently working on the Mozart Concerto in G Major, K313, the Dutilleux Sonatina and Excerpts [Strauss (Dance of the Seven Veils) & Rossini (William Tell Overture)].

In terms of performing, I now play flute and piccolo in the  Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Leslie Dala. This year I helped create a quintet called the Vancouver Youth Woodwind Quintet and we are currently in the process of preparing for our first concert.

I urge all of you to see my site: http://www.joshuamichael.ca/

It is constantly updated with all my latest performances, and of course I am always happy to meet my blog readers after performances.

I will be starting a new series of blog posts on lessons learnt from Grey's Anatomy and applying them to flute playing, performing and teaching! I hope to hear your feedback on them.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

"I choose my gift"

This week on facebook my status was: "Gun to your head if you had to choose: Music or Love? What would you do?" There was a variety of different responses, none of which shocked me, because most of my friends who commented, I know really well. This status was inspired by Grey's Anatomy.

As most people know in the Season Six Finale, Christina Yang has a gun to her head while she fixes Derek, the husband of her best friend Meredith. Meredith views Christina as her soul mate "Derek is the love of my life, but you're my soul mate." Christina refuses to stop fixing Derek because she truly loves Meredith as her sister. Deep down she knows that Meredith needs Derek to survive. Previously Christina said she would choose surgery if a Gun was put to her head. It's interesting see where she ends up.

In Season 7 we see that Christina asks Owen if Owen would love her if she wasn't a surgeon.
"Cristina: Would you love me if I wasn't a surgeon?
Owen: I would love you if you were a plumber, but would you love you if you weren't a surgeon?
Cristina: I don't know, maybe?"
And later Christina quits being a surgeon, and Owen sticks with her.

For more info and an excellent article on this see:

This makes me think that in the end, maybe we'd all choose love.  It really struck me, because for me it's always been hard to figure out music vs. love. So in the end I feel that if I make the decision to choose love over music,  I would indeed be doing the right thing. If someone like Christina Yang in the end gave up surgery, then maybe love really is what everyone needs and can't live without. I know that if I was a surgeon and I had to save my best friend's spouse and die or walk away, I would probably walk away. Something to thing about. If life made us choose between  "Our gift" (whether it be surgery, music, art, teaching ) or lov, what would one choose. I have seen musicians have to give up their career to be with their love of their live, so that choice does happen to some people out there.