A Tale of Two Series by Mark Sparks


by Mark Sparks

Orchestral Excerpt Practice Books And Exploring Sound: Tone Development Through Orchestral Repertoire

I have recently began to publish two series of books: 2 volumes of an Orchestral Excerpt Practice Book series, and 2 volumes of Exploring Sound: Tone Development Through Orchestral Repertoire.

Each volume addresses a particular piece, or orchestral excerpt. It has been a fun, at times consuming, and interesting project. I have quite a few additional volumes for each series cooking in my computer, and if there seems to be widespread appreciation for these ideas, I will threaten to continue publishing!

Both series grew out of my own developing practices and thoughts, and more recent perceived needs of students, as my teaching career has unfolded.

Orchestral Excerpt Practice Books:

Volume 1: Beethoven Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”
Volume 2: Rossini William Tell Overture

Through years of auditioning, and performing the orchestral excerpts, I realized that I was gradually developing more creative ways to practice in order to battle excessive repetition and injury. I was also, by necessity, looking more deeply into the entire work instead of just focusing on the excerpts, and this has been fun and illuminating.

Though it may seem like overkill to write single books on each excerpt, I realized that if I wanted to communicate my growing alternative practice ideas to others, as well as provide some background information on the piece, illustrate harmonic context, and try to present some clear direction for phrase shaping, some pages were indeed required!

I think students and young professionals on the audition ladder can benefit from this more detailed, yet more well-rounded “holistic” approach to audition preparation. I’m concerned that many of our young flutists are becoming injured or burned out through over-repetition on their journey to become an orchestral artist.

Exploring Sound: Tone Development Through Orchestral Repertoire:

Volume 1: Brahms Symphony No. 4
Volume 2: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2

At some point, I realized how little of the entire piece I knew, staring into my flute part! I also heard talented colleagues playing in such an inspired way; somehow many of them had avoided boredom over the years of repeating the mainstream repertoire. I have always truly loved the music. I realized that the only path for me was not away from the repertoire into other interests, but further into the music. I gradually became interested in learning some of the string and wind passages, beyond the flute part.

Tone study is the lifeblood of the dedicated flutist. Good technique is requisite, but the truth of the music lies within the sound. All melody is precious. I think this is what Moyse was trying to teach us in Tone Development Through Interpretation, which is still a very popular work.

The Exploring Sound series is an extension of those ideas into the orchestral repertoire. Each volume focuses on the great melodies of a particular work, and each melody is transposed into the possible keys on the flute. Many of the greatest orchestral passages are definitely not written for the flute, and this method gives us a chance to explore our skills in the broader melodic context of the great orchestral masterpieces. It really is fun!

Mark Sparks is an American solo flutist, orchestral artist, teacher, and writer. He is Principal Flutist of the St. Louis Symphony. Recent and upcoming engagements include solo concerts in Monterrey, Mexico, Beijing, Qingdao, Sydney, the British Flute Society, the St. Louis Symphony. He has performed with many orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Cincinnati, Houston, Bergen Norway, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras. Events this season include visits to UMFA, Interlochen, and Central Florida University. Sparks can be heard as recording artist on the Summit, AAM, Sony, Telarc, Nonesuch, and Decca labels. He recently released his third solo recording, “French Album.” Mr. Sparks is a faculty member of DePaul University, the Aspen Music Festival, and Flauti al Castello in Italy. A Contributing Editor of Flute Talk Magazine, he has recently published several books, Exploring Sound: Tone Development Through Orchestral Repertoire and Orchestral Excerpt Practice Books, in addition to several arrangements for flute and piano. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory where he studied with Robert Willoughby.