NFA 2013 was a blast! This year’s National Flute Association Convention was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Great concerts. Fantastic master classes. Exquisite food. Celebrity flutists. A fun time was had by all! Check out our pictures on facebook.
A highlight of the convention was our product showcase. Robert Dick presented his Glissando Headjoint along with Flute Specialists President Robert Johnson. On Saturday August 10, a packed room heard all about the sound opportunities created for flutists and composers by this innovative headjoint. The Glissando Headjoint telescopes and slides creating sounds more similar to that of the human voice. Robert Dick demonstrated how the traditional flute can be transformed into an instrument free to express a full range of dynamics and colors while seamlessly sliding from note to note. Soon we will have the showcase presentation video available on our website. In the meantime, check out our video of Robert Dick and Nina Perlove from NFA 2012.
Autumn is my favorite time of year. The cooler weather, crunchy leaves, and football games contribute to its unique appeal. If you are in school, you might be preparing for marching band shows and competitions, but it’s not too early to start thinking about concert season if you haven’t already. Here are some ideas to help you prepare.
First, make sure your instrument is in good working condition. Playing your flute or piccolo outdoors in extreme temperatures will often make the delicate mechanism go out of adjustment. Don’t try to do repairs yourself. Visit your skilled local repairperson.
Consider participating in events like solo and ensemble competitions, regional bands, and your All-State festival. Get the audition materials and deadline dates from your band director or private teacher and fill out the application forms. Attend workshops on the audition music by professional flutists in your area.
Once the forms are sent, you can begin preparing for the audition. Plan a regular time to practice every day. Your teacher can help you structure your practice time effectively. Thirty minutes of focused practice every day is much better than cramming three straight hours before your weekly lesson. Create a distraction-free zone for yourself and make sure the phone is off (unless you are using a smartphone app as a metronome or tuner) or set it to the “do not disturb” function.
Learn the music well in advance, and then put it away for a while (maybe a few weeks) while you work on other material. When you come back to it, you’ll find it to be much easier. If you are preparing for auditions or an important performance, playing for as many people as you can ahead of time will help you feel less nervous on the big day.
Here are some items you will need during your practice sessions. Your teacher can advise you on how to get the most benefit from these tools.
Instrument in good working order
Pencil with a good eraser
One major difference between playing the flute on the marching field and performing on the concert stage is posture. Marching instructors often encourage flute players to hold the instrument exactly parallel to the ground, head tilted up toward the press box. While this creates a good visual image on the football field, it can force some players to raise their shoulders, causing unnecessary tension. In your personal practice, allow your head to align naturally with your neck, and make sure you’re keeping your shoulders down. Check your posture in a mirror frequently.
Fall is a busy time of year, so be sure to get lots of rest and exercise, and drink lots of water. Proper hydration is essential for good flute playing. Carry a water bottle with you during the day.
Finally, attend a concert at your local symphony or go to a professional flute recital. Hearing and seeing experienced musicians perform will teach you many wonderful things and inspire you to raise your level.
John McMurtery is professor of flute at Western Illinois University and section flutist with the New York City Opera Orchestra. He performs with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Luna Nova, and UpTown Flutes. He earned a D.M.A. from The Juilliard School, M.M. from Rutgers University, and B.M. from Central Washington University.
The Evolution of the Gary Schocker Headjoint: An Interview with Gary and Dave Williams
This is the story of a decade-long conversation, and the remarkable innovation that has resulted: a headjoint that combines the ease of playing of a modern headjoint while retaining the beautiful sound and wide range of colors which are associated with older flutes. Made by flutemaker David Williams, and named after Gary Schocker, the flutist to whose demanding specifications it was created, it represents an exciting new direction.
It all began in December, 2004, when Gary Schocker, one of the best-known flutists in the world, walked into the shop of Williams Flutes in Medford, MA. There, he met flutemaker David Williams, and an unusual relationship was born.
Schocker was on a quest: to find a flute that he loved playing as much as the first handmade flute he ever owned, a used Haynes from the mid-1950s, which his parents had bought for him as a bar mitzvah present. He had stopped playing that flute after it was rendered unplayable in the late 1980s by an unscrupulous technician who had claimed he could improve the headjoint, but who ruined it instead. “That’s what led me to playing modern flutes,” Schocker explains. “My repair guy said, ‘I’ve got this really beautiful gold Haynes you should try.’ And I picked it up and I felt my whole back open—it was so much easier to play. At that point it was a good thing for me, because I had a lot more physical tension back then.”
Williams, a professional flutist himself, who worked at a major Boston flutemaker for several years before starting his own company in 1990, was on a quest of his own: to create a flute that better suited his own playing needs than what was then available. He, like Gary Schocker, had spent his formative years and the first part of his professional career playing a Haynes (in this case, one from the early 1960s) that was built before the “modern” era. According to Williams, “The first time I ever played a new-style headjoint was when I went to work at the flute company in 1982. I had just performed the Prokofiev Sonata (in D Major, Op. 94) two weeks before, and I picked up one of their flutes and played some of the arpeggiated sections and said, ‘Oh my god, what is this?’ Because I had never experienced anything like it before.” But then he goes on to say, “It took me many years to come back around to see what was missing from that sound for me.”
A little knowledge of the history of flutemaking is helpful, in order to understand what is meant by the term “modern” as it applies to flutes. Until the mid-1970s, American flutists had essentially two choices for handmade flutes: Haynes and Powell. Both companies had based their designs on the prized French flutes which first arrived in the U.S. in the 1880s, most notably those made by Louis Lot. As such, the scale, which determines the placement of the tone holes, was pitched at A=435 or thereabouts. The low register of flutes based on this scale tends to be flat, and the highest register tends to be sharp. However, flutists who grew up playing these instruments were taught how to adjust for these idiosyncrasies so that they were able to play in tune. Beginning in 1974, Powell began building flutes based on a new scale devised by British flutemaker Albert Cooper, and shortly thereafter Haynes adopted a scale developed by their own master flutemaker, Lewis Deveau.
Around the same time, flutemakers began experimenting with headjoint design, changing the size, shape and cut of the embouchure hole, and changing the height of the riser and shape of the lip plate. As a result of the changes in scale and the style of headjoint, the sound of a modern flute has very different characteristics than “old”, pre-Cooper scale flutes. Something may have been gained, but much is also lost.
Of the modern flutes, Gary Schocker says: “Someone who gets a modern flute with a large embouchure hole and a very sharp (blowing) edge, is going to be able to play that flute in any way—it’s just so easy—and that’s a goal of the modern flutemakers, to make somebody feel like every note is going to come out every time, and loud. But the irony is, in a hall, those flutes don’t project as well as, say, a Louis Lot from 1869 or a Haynes flute from 1956. They sound really loud up close, but they don’t have the same projection—they stop.”
David Williams adds: “I learned how to play the flute with the understanding that it was not built perfectly in tune, but there were some great advantages. The third octave is traditionally sharper than the rest of the instrument but it gives you the opportunity to move into the note more in the third octave, and to play pianissimos that are actually in tune without having to strain yourself. Now, the third octave is refined and resonant, but that complex, gorgeous ‘howl’, that emotive sound that old-scale flutes are capable of, is just not there in a modern flute.”
When Schocker walked into Williams Flutes in 2004, he was not looking for another flute. He was playing the gold Haynes and was happy with it. “But I got really fascinated with what David was doing,” he says.
Williams remembers their first meeting like this: “Gary tried out what I was making at that time, which was based on all modern stuff, and he liked the headjoints. He bought one and took it home with him, and later purchased a silver flute from me. Then he played a 14K solid gold flute of mine and a wooden Williams flute, which he played for a couple of years.”
But, ultimately, Schocker sold almost all of those instruments (he still owns the wooden flute). “I’m just a homing pigeon when it comes to old flutes,” he says. “There’s something about the way the harmonics stack up that just keeps bringing me back to them.”
Schocker started really listening to recordings of flute players he admired. He had grown up listening to Julius Baker, with whom he studied beginning at age 15, and also to Jean-Pierre Rampal, Elaine Shaffer, and others who were performing and recording in the 1970s. But he went back to recordings from the 1920s and 30s, and even earlier, of Philippe Gaubert, Adolphe Hennebains, Fernand Dufrène, and others. “I loved those guys, and they were playing on those old flutes,” says Schocker. “My love of the flute sound is really based on the old guys. To me, the flute sound is like a flame. Or like water. But it should always have a delicate quality, as if the flute is magically making a sound. It’s very hard to do that on a modern flute because when you hit that sharp edge, long before you can shape anything the note has already been shaped. So, for me, playing those modern flutes ultimately led to a lot of frustration.” He began experimenting with older flutes: in addition to older Haynes and Powells (at one point he owned Powell numbers 2 and 105), there were Louis Lots, as well as flutes made by Bonneville, Rive and others.
“I went to one of Gary’s performances,” recalls Williams. “And he was playing an old Haynes, and the sound felt to me like scratching an itch—it was something I had missed for a long, long time. And I started asking him about what he was doing. He let me play some of his old flutes, the ones that he considered to be extraordinary instruments. And I looked at the headjoints, to see what made them extraordinary.”
The two men started a dialogue, which quickly blossomed into not just a collaboration but a close friendship. “I get a new idea, and I call him up, and he’ll try it,” says Schocker. “And he’ll call me back and say, ‘Hey, man, that’s incredible, I loved that idea!’ Over the years as I was playing his flute, I really liked it but I couldn’t get my high register happening. And I would say to him, well, could you do this? And could you do that? And because his ego is so remarkably small, and because he is the most humble, kind person, he was willing to make these changes to help me get the sound I was looking for. I’m so incredibly lucky to have a friend like him because, well, he loves my playing, and he listens to me, and so I make a suggestion, and something will come back for me to try. And it’s kind of like being king!”
Says Williams, “Of course, Gary may very well be the best flute player alive, and he is certainly the best flute player I have ever stood in a room with. But he is humble beyond belief. And he is the most introspective human being I’ve ever met, which means he spends a lot of time analyzing the mechanics of flute playing. He analyzes what he does on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, every minute. And Gary loves music and he loves the flute, and that was really the thing that we bonded over. And we’re both extremely curious about everything. I stumble onto things by taking observations that Gary makes and little experiments that he does. Initially when he tells me something he did, I’ll be somewhat skeptical that it could actually make a difference, and then we’ll send videos back and forth, and I’ll see what he is talking about. He tries things that I would never think of trying—some of the things he’s done are just so amazing to me, and have led to innovations on my part. ”
“David finally realized that all this time he was taking the modern flute as his starting point and working backwards, and what he really needed to do was to take the Louis Lot or the Haynes model and work forwards,” observes Schocker.
“I began re-learning my own craft,” states Williams, “by looking at what the masters had done years ago. To be honest, I was originally coming from a mindset of ‘the old stuff really is passé, and what everybody is doing now is an improvement.’ Everything was considered an improvement—that word was bandied about over and over again. And of course, it wasn’t an improvement, it was a change. And when you emphasize one aspect of the sound of an instrument, it’s always at the cost of de-emphasizing another aspect. So basically the whole push, from the late sixties almost to the present, has been not so much to emphasize the color or the tone quality of the instrument, but to emphasize the LOUD quality.”
Williams also looked at crown design in the old flutes, trying many different designs until he found what worked best with the different headjoint cuts. “He’s somebody who’s very experimental,” says Schocker. “And he gets excited about things and he likes to just get down in the sandbox and try it all out. He’s not stubborn; he’s not married to a product, as if once you put a label on it you have to make it the same way for the rest of your life.”
With each change in the design, Williams sends a headjoint to Schocker to try. Due to the ease of making a video with the iPad and posting it on YouTube, it is possible to have almost immediate feedback about the relative merits of each change. (A quick search for Gary Schocker on YouTube reveals dozens of short videos of headjoint trials, which he has made public so that other flutists can observe and learn).
“What he has created is something that is a lot more comfortable to play than an old headjoint,” explains Schocker. “The sound is a little cushier, a little bit more forgiving. And the high register has this beautiful, singing quality. The embouchure hole’s smaller, the wall’s lower, and there’s no overcutting or undercutting.”
Williams came up with the idea to call this new headjoint the “Gary Schocker Headjoint”. “When he suggested this to me, I said, ‘Well, why would you want to do that?’” Schocker admits. “And he said, ‘Because it’s based on everything I’ve learned from you in our conversations, and from your teaching.’”
In recent years, old instruments have fallen out of favor in the flute world, as can be readily demonstrated by the drop in prices commanded by these flutes. According to Williams, “Current opinions reflect the fact that a lot of today’s players learned on new-scale flutes. So if you learned to play right from the beginning on a new-scale instrument and then you pick up an old-scale instrument, it’s out of tune. Because when you go to play it the way you normally do, the old flute doesn’t work the same way.”
Observes Schocker, “There are beautiful instruments out there and now is the time to buy them. If someone is reading this article and they wonder why I sound the way I do, they should try playing on an old Haynes or Powell sometime, and see what they get, what it’s like. Or they can try one of these Gary Schocker headjoints made by David—it’s the closest you’re going to get to an old-scale flute sound. But you have to have a pretty good technique. You can’t just pick it up and blow it, like you blow a free-blowing modern flute. I don’t think it’s for everyone. I think it’s for somebody who hears something in the old flutes that they love.”
One of the happiest outcomes of this collaboration is that Williams was able to take the ruined headjoint from Schocker’s first, beloved Haynes, and put on one of the newly-designed Schocker lip plates. “Now it sounds like a Super Haynes flute, you know? I just love it,” says Schocker. “Because I’ve owned this flute my whole life, and because it has twice been stolen from me and come back to me, I just feel like I was meant to play it.”
Over the past couple of years, Williams has made several dozen Gary Schocker headjoints. He continues to make refinements based on feedback from Schocker. “We are questing for a design, but it’s not going to be an exactly repeatable design,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to have slight variations in every headjoint so that it was unique, so that it would find a unique owner. It’s been a pretty successful way to do it so far in my life. I’m not a ‘cookie cutter’ type of guy. For every player there’s a headjoint that’s ‘the one’ for them, but it might not be ‘the one’ for another player.” Like Schocker, Williams calls the flute sound magical, and likens flutes to magic wands. So it is fitting to imagine that each individual flute or headjoint is destined for a specific owner.
When asked where their collaboration might go next, Schocker speculates that he would like for Williams to make a flute that has both open and closed hole keys. “The closed hole has a kind of solidity which I love, and the open has a kind of freedom. I think they might be combined.”
There will always be new things to try, and adjustments to be made. As long as these two inquisitive, curious flute minds continue to work together, the flute world can only benefit from what they discover.
I met up with flutist Amanda Sparfeld at a local trendy restaurant. While eating deliciously messy burgers, we discussed her beginnings in music, her evolution as a flute player, her career at the Michigan Opera Theatre and as a private teacher, and future projects and goals. Below are some highlights from this inspirational afternoon.
FS: Tell us how you got started down this path.
AS: I grew up in a somewhat musical family. My grandfather had been a trained opera singer from New York City. He pursued a career in opera, but then my mom was born and he basically ended up finding another job so that they could survive in Manhattan. But music was his love and his passion. I grew up going to a private school two miles away from my grandparents’ house in Connecticut which was about an hour from New York City and my mom worked at the school. My grandparents would pick us up at 2 or whatever time we were done, she would work until 5 and so I would spend 3 hours or so every day at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather, I’m sure purposely, would sit at the piano and sing and play. It was magical for me to see him in his element. Even though I didn’t really have a lot of conversations with him as a child, I could sense how much he loved it and how much he wished he had that career full time. He had trained very seriously to make it big, he had been on the radio, and I’m sure he really wanted to make it at the MET or something. I kind of picked up on that. Even before I started flute, I started piano and even before I started piano I was already thinking “I want to take the torch and I want to make this my life”.
FS: Did you sing a lot with him as well?
AS: He encouraged me to and he used to record me actually. And I would get a little shy but I would sing for him. I ended up singing in the chorus and stuff all through school and musicals too. When I was six, I think I was six or seven, I started piano. He was responsible for that. He found the teacher and he paid for all the lessons. And I loved it. I loved it because it was music.
But even so, during all that time, I wanted to play the flute. We had a very close family friend who through our church would play hymns in Sunday School. She had been trained at Juilliard and studied with Julius Baker. So she was no longer pursuing a professional career but had been Principal Flute in the New Jersey Symphony and when I was growing up was playing locally still on the side. It wasn’t like some amateur playing the flute. I was hearing a well-trained solid flutist. I was very much drawn to the flute, to the sound, to the way it looked, the beauty of the instrument itself. I remember hearing her play the Ibert Concerto and watching her. My parents played a lot of classical music recordings growing up so I just was always drawn to the flute. My mom had sort of natural musical talent but never pursued it. My dad didn’t really have any but they both played a lot of classical music which was helpful. I grew up hearing it all the time.
But my grandfather was really the biggest influence, I would say, in my life and the reason I’m in music. I begged and begged and begged to play the flute. Even when I was playing piano I was like “Please can I play the flute?” And they said you have to wait until fifth grade band. My dad would always do the thing where you blow into a bottle and you get the sound, and he said “Why don’t you just do that until you get your flute” so I would literally just practice on bottles. I would just do that for fun. I still remember the day I got my flute; it was the best day ever. I still remember the smell of the case. I was so determined to get a sound out. There was no question of course. When they do the presentation of all the instruments I was like “Alright, I know I want the flute, let’s just get right to it.” I remember going home and getting a sound out the first day. I had some 3 or 4 years of piano so I could learn how to play the flute itself and not have to learn theory which I think is a great way to start in music. I fell in love with music, fell in love with flute. Within that first year I started taking lessons. Once I started flute, I stopped piano. My grandfather not only paid for my piano lessons and bought our family a piano but then once I got the flute he paid for the flute and paid for all my flute lessons. So he was literally responsible for me doing music because my parents couldn’t afford it. I think my second flute was purchased technically by my grandmother because he had just passed away at the end of my eighth grade year. That was pretty tough because I had a really strong connection with him and musically so, especially. All my lessons through high school and everything were all paid for by my grandparents. So that’s how I got into flute.
FS: Did your grandmother get to see you grow as a flutist?
AS: Yes. I remember going to concerts with them and sitting in the audience at the New York Phil numerous times and saying that’s where I want to go. I want to be on that stage and I want to play with them. My dream from a very young age was to play with the New York Phil. I can’t even remember if I had been playing the flute or not yet but I still remember watching the flutists the most.
FS: So what did it feel like when you were finally on stage?
AS: Oh my gosh it was unbelievable. Unreal. I was playing second flute to my teacher (Robert Langevin) and he is one of the most laid-back people. He helped to make me very calm and comfortable in that situation.
FS: What do you like the most about playing with the Michigan Opera Theatre?
AS: : I wouldn’t have realized this when I started but I love playing opera because when I’m not playing, I’m listening to the singers and I feel like they are my teachers. I love the challenge of opera. It’s unlike a symphony orchestra which is a little more straight-forward: you’re on stage and it’s more predictable. With singers you have to be so flexible. You have to be staring at the conductor practically. Night to night it can change. They may take certain things a little faster, a little slower, they may stretch certain notes, they may rush through them. You never really know and you have to be so flexible as a player and sensitive. I think the coolest thing in addition to that is that there are times when I can play really loud and there are times I have to play super soft. I feel that this is really challenging, in a good way. I feel like it’s made me a better flutist, hands down. It’s so inspiring. It’s not really a surprise to me, having grown up listening to my grandfather sing. Go figure, I end up in an opera. I’ve been around singers my whole life.
FS: So you started playing in 5th grade, how much would you say you were practicing at that point?
AS: I wasn’t one of those people that that’s all I did. I loved it but I was also in sports and I was also a really good student. I know that we would have a chart in band and it would require us to try to practice a certain amount. I usually did more. I would say anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour at that point.
FS: And how did that evolve as you got into high school and beyond?
AS: High School-same thing I was really involved. I was doing cross country and track and soccer. I did a lot of sports and was really involved in school stuff. I probably did a couple hours a day, not as much as I should have done had I wanted to go to conservatory. I mean I did want to go to conservatory but I also went to a boarding school for my last two years of high school so I felt a bit alone in that I didn’t have someone helping me. I did have a really supportive band director who actually drove me to a lot of my auditions and helped make it possible. My senior year I was realizing I was a little bit far behind where I should be to get into some of the schools I wanted to get into. So I turned down AP courses that I wanted to take. None of the teachers could understand it of course. They were like “Why aren’t you taking an AP course?” and I would say “Because I have to practice. This is what I want to do with my life.”
By the time I went to college I re-dedicated or devoted myself. So at that point I was doing 4 hours a day in addition to rehearsals. From college on I did at least four hours a day.
FS: Who is your favorite flutist?
AS: (Robert) Langevin – he is my hero. It was like soul mates in a sense that his sound was the closest conception to my own that I had ever experienced. I listened to a lot of recordings and I would pick and choose what I liked. He was playing the way I had conceived in my own mind and how I wanted to play as well. When you find someone like that you say “I have to study with you. I have to keep working with you because you’re not going to make me change the way I naturally play”. He was kind of like my flute dad. A really humble, very genuine, sincere man. No ego. A hard worker and an incredible flutist. A very deep musician. My favorite thing about his playing is the soul behind it. There’s no “this is about me”. It’s about the music. An incredible, rare thing to find in someone that talented.
FS: What professional flutists do you find yourself listening to most?
AS: I find I don’t listen to a ton of flutists actually. I probably listen to more singers than instrumentalists. I would probably say it’s somewhere between Robert Langevin and Emmanuel Pahud. I do listen to Galway though. And [Raffaele] Trevisani. (laughs) It kind of depends on what I’m preparing for or what I’m in the mood for.
FS: Are you able to have any hobbies outside of all this music?
AS: I would say running is my main hobby. I like to read. I like supporting other art or concerts. I don’t do it a ton but I do enjoy going to other events or other concerts. I like to hike. I’ve done skiing, surfing, just about any sport I like to do. I would say running is my main outlet; it is the one thing I can do all year that doesn’t take a lot of organization.
FS: Do you have any advice for flutists of all levels?
AS: One of the biggest things I would say is that you don’t have to go to the best schools to do well. I think the most important thing is just putting in the time and having the passion and the drive. I feel like anyone can do it when you have those things. I don’t discourage having balance. There are times when I think maybe I should have worked really hard as a kid, but I just did what was normal to me. I wasn’t around people who were only practicing and didn’t do sports. It was normal for me to be balanced and I don’t think that was a bad thing. I think always finding the balance at whatever level you’re at is important. I’m not going to tell a 5th grader to practice hours and hours a day.
For anyone wanting a career, I think it’s a very tough business but it can be done. Resilience is needed. Resilience and a fighter’s spirit.
The other advice I have is stay inspired. For any student of any level, go to concerts, go to live concerts, go to as many concerts as possible. Even if you have to just go on Youtube. It’s ok to not be the best one, sometimes I think it’s better not to be the best. Stay inspired and always enjoy the whole process. Keep the love of what you do. Stay positive.
Amanda Sparfeld is the Principal Flutist with the Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra at the Detroit Opera House and the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. She is the former Principal Flutist of the Miami City Ballet, and has substituted with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
As a chamber musician and soloist, Amanda performs with organizations including New Music Detroit and Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, performed concerti with the Sibelius Camerata and Allegro Chamber Orchestra, and gives solo recitals around the country. Amanda maintains a private flute studio outside of Detroit and has served as Interim Flute Instructor at Oakland University in Michigan.
Amanda studied at Manhattan School of Music where she earned a Professional Studies Certificate from the prestigious Orchestral Performance Program. Other degrees received include a M.M. in Flute Performance from the University of Miami and a B.A. in Music from Principia College. Her primary teachers include Robert Langevin, Marie Jureit-Beamish, Jenny Robinson, and Christine Nield-Capote.