Every fall at Boise State for the past several years, Dr. Molumby recruits and directs the Boise State High School Honor Flute Choir for any interested high school flutist looking for a high quality music extracurricular activity. This was my second year as a teaching assistant, and, once again, it did not disappoint with plenty of fun music, creative ideas, and energetic flute playing. The group met once a week for six weeks in September and October with a finale concert the last week. I went with Dr. Molumby and Amanda Johns (the other teaching assistant and graduate flute student) to area high schools to recruit for the group, put together music folders, completed set up and tear down for each rehearsal, led sectionals, and gave mini lessons for those with important solos or those interested in playing the “big” flutes (alto and bass flute). This year there was a piece that had some open solos with chord changes for a couple students to master, and I wrote them four short jazz phrases they could trade off with each other. Talk about using a lot of skills!
This year the honor flute choir had a guest artist/conductor. Dr. Molumby brought in one of her mentors from the University of Ohio, Dr. Alison Brown-Sincoff. Dr. Brown-Sincoff was super prepared with the music and had lots of great ideas to bring the group to the next level in a very short amount of time. She expected clear articulation, excellent rhythm, and tight ensemble playing from the moment she started conducting. Her work with the group certainly paid off at the concert – the group sounded fantastic! Of course, there were props and small costume additions involved in the performance – it is flute choir, after all. After the concert we had a reception with snacks and sweets, and the big cutout flute was there for photo opportunities. I mean, who wouldn’t want their picture in a giant flute?
Another part of the Honor Flute Choir event included a masterclass for university and high school students given by Dr. Brown-Sincoff. I was fortunate enough to be one of the masterclass performers, and I chose to play the first half of Shulamit Ran’s East Wind for solo (unaccompanied) flute. I’m playing it on my master’s recital next semester, so I figured this would be an excellent opportunity to get some feedback on my progress so far. I performed the first half of the piece uninterrupted for Dr. Brown-Sincoff and the audience. I was a little nervous because this piece is extremely difficult, and I still do not feel like I was ready to perform it in any capacity. But that’s the thing with performing: you’re not always going to be given your optimum situation or timeline, and you have to make the best of it. Preparing under a time crunch and making executive decisions on what to practice are both skills you have to gain as a professional musician. I knew where my weaknesses were, but I also knew some strategies to approach them intelligently.
Dr. Brown-Sincoff was very complimentary of my playing, and she had some great suggestions for me that were very clear, methodical, and logical. Her style of teaching is quite different than that of Dr. Molumby in terms of personality and energy-type, but the foundational pedagogical ideas were always the same. Sometimes it just takes another person to say the same thing in a slightly different way for that concept to finally click into place. That’s what makes different teaching methods and learning styles so fascinating and engaging!
A few of the things I took away from my masterclass include the following:
- Space and silence is just as powerful as, if not more than, actual notes – give your audience a chance to breathe, process, and absorb before moving on to the next phrase
- Fourth octave notes on the flute need a different embouchure, lip direction, and resonance inside the mouth because of the extreme air pressure and speed involved
- Hear all of the notes in a run – it will be more effective than a blur of notes and you will have time to voice the steps, leaps, and changing directions appropriately
- Take an even bigger risk with the dynamics: a true pianissimo will draw your audience in, while a well-placed fortissimo will have them pressed against the back of their seats
For me, this piece of music never ceases to amaze, and I always find something new every time I pull it out. The power of a story through sound has never come so alive as it has with this piece. I learned from Dr. Molumby that only through solid technique will the music come alive, and the emotions will translate easily once technique is achieved. East Wind will continue to capture my interest as I prepare for my recital, and I’m super excited to apply the things I learned in this masterclass to my practice. As I’ve continued to learn, you should never underestimate the power of a new perspective.