Etude 11: Flute and Movement
Throughout the various chapters I have stressed that extended techniques are unceasingly directing us towards a most valuable question: “how to use the body?”. When studying whatever extended technique this question comes back constantly. That is also the reason that you can find this question written in the area of extended techniques in the Circle Story. It is a most vital question, which can teach us about how we use our body while playing. As mentioned before, if we split the flute playing into a flute-part (the finger action; the exterior) and a body-part (everything you do with the body to blow the flute; the interior), the extended techniques are a wonderful and most enjoyable tool for developing the body-part of our instrument. This promotes the extended techniques to a modern tool to help us, just as we use other tools like a mobile or a bicycle. They are not a goal in themselves, but they help us to reach our goal, namely to develop our flute playing in general and especially our sound quality.
"…the breathing is controlled, not by the flute, but by our body…"
Stress and Relax
When studying the flute, we have to learn many techniques and lots of repertoire. Because of some time limitations, we sometimes tend to direct our focus on the notes, the fingers and the speed of our playing (‘quicker’ is ‘better’?). But in our positive hurry we sometimes forget about the body-part. The result is not always satisfying and in some cases a flutist ends up with lots of stress and tension both musically as well as physically. It seems a contradiction: we play the flute to express happiness and relaxation, but at the same time we may tend to create stress and tension.
When working with dancers, especially in modern dance, I realized an enormous difference in approach. Flutists tend to focus only on one sound (as the flute is basically a monophonic instrument). It is like every molecule in our body is thinking towards that one sound. In your fingers, your embouchure, your lungs, even your feet, all seems to be conscious about that one and only sound! On the other hand dancers seem to think about their body as a huge collection of possibilities, which can be controlled all independently, to create several expressions simultaneously. For example, one hand can be waving softly, while one leg can make an abrupt movement. Several expressions exists simultaneously, without knowing about each other, totally independent.
So it seems that if we can introduce such multi-layered style to our flute playing we may progress enormeously. Beside a lot of fun, we may develop more accuracy as well as relaxation in our playing. A relaxation initiated not from the brain (the thinking), but from the body (the feeling). If we learn to separate different actions into different layers, we will create different control areas in our brain. The result will be a tremendous extension of our control possibilities. We could even extend this idea further adding additional activity layers like:
We can also apply the idea of multi-layered activity to the musical expression. If we play for example a melody going up, we do not want to automatically play a crescendo. Initially the nature of the flute makes us play low notes ‘piano’ and high notes ‘forte’. But, if we develop our technique, we can separate the loudness from the pitch, so that we learn to play also p on high notes and f on low notes. We could add additional layers for the various musical parameters like rhythm/density, articulation, sound color, etc. Separating these musical parameters will give each expression its independence and refine and intensify the overall expression in our playing.
The same idea is incorporated in my book For the Younger Flutist (published by Zimmermann Frankfurt and ZenOn Tokyo) directed to the 'younger flutist' and in a most enjoyable and non-intellectual way.
Two Exercises for Flute and Movement
One way to initiate a multi-layered flute action is that we reserve a first layer for our flute melody. Within another layer we will perform some body movement. Now to try this yourself, play some music of your choice, anything you like but preferably something slow. While playing you will add another layer by simultaneously performing some body-movement. Below I will give two elementary examples:
1/ Knee Waving
While playing the music of your choice, slowly bend through the knees, with the knees pointing slightly outwards. Next move up again, always in a constant and slow movement. Repeat this process. It is like a up and down waving.
2/ Legs Up
While playing the music of your choice, start from standing with the feet parallel without touching each other. Now slowly lift the right leg, while moving down and bending the left knee. Bring the right leg up until its highest position and - always slowly - bring it down to return to the starting position. Repeat the motion, now lifting the left leg. Continously repeat the whole process from the beginning.
Etude 11: Flute and Movement
Etude 11 from the etude book For the Contemporary Flutist focuses on playing and moving simultaneously without any vertical relation, e.g. both in its own tempo. In this layered action the two actions do not know about each other similar to a layered image, as we have discussed before. The notes in Etude 11 are not complex and based on a kind of logic, which should be easy to remember (the piece should be played by heart since you will be moving around). Simultaneously you will perform a series of slow movements, vertically unrelated to the tempo of the music. It is like you have to split your brain and dedicate one part of the brain to control the flute-playing, while the other part of the brain controls the movement. All these stretching and flexing movements bring relaxation to the body, which makes this etude a good morning-study to awake your body.
Moving, Breathing, Playing…
Body-involvement is nothing new. It is just so obvious that we sometimes forget that the breathing - being the most essential activity when playing the flute - is controlled not by the flute, but by our body. Without the body, we cannot blow. Without the body there is no flute sound. Flute playing means breathing. It has been mentioned frequently by many famous flutists throughout music history. That's why we have to give attention to how we use the body. Do use your creativity to extend similar ideas into your studying. You will not only enjoy but simultaneously balance the body and mind.
Dance with Me
At last, I would also like to introduce another really enjoyable composition I wrote for flute ensemble: Dance with Me. In this piece the players not only play the flute (in unison), but also perform a sequence of synchronized dance movements. Here, these movements are sharply timed dance movements accompanied by the flute sound and a hip-hop-like accompaniment on CD. On YouTube exist a growing number of videos of the piece.
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