Larry Krantz Flute Pages: Robert Dick Flute Corner

Last updated on September 6, 2007
Robert Dick
Composer and Flutist

    "Dick held the audience in rapt attention with his spellbinding virtuosity"
    Washington Post

    "There are few musicians that are truly revolutionary. Robert Dick is one of them."
    Bill Shoemaker, JazzTimes

    "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...................."
    Dizzy Gillespie

    "It is high time to recognize the prodigious bravura of Robert Dick"
    Stefano Marighi, Musica Jazz (Italy)

Robert Dick describes himself as "a musician with 21st century skills and 18th century attitudes, being totally at home as a performer, composer and improvisor". With equally deep roots in classical music old and new and in free improvisation and new jazz, he has established himself as a legitimate heir to virtuoso composer/performers like Chopin, Paganini and Jimi Hendrix. Robert Dick has often been referred to as "the Hendrix of the flute" because of his revolutionary musical approach and the ultra-high intensity level of his performances. Listening to him play solo has been likened to the experience of hearing a full orchestra. Dick's concerts typically include performances on flute, alto flute, bass flutes in C and F, and the giant, stand-up contrabass flute.

Current projects include solo recitals, concerts with the "ambient/overdrive" group King Chubby and a performance piece, "The Psychological Sonata" in collaboration with the well-known singer and performance artist Rinde Eckert.

After ten years of living in Switzerland, Dick returned to the United States, where he was Visiting Professor of Flute at the University of Iowa for 2002 - 03. He now resides in New York City and is teaching flute at New York University.

A prolific recording artist, Dick is known for his CDs of original music and improvisational collaborations. Newest is "Vindonessa", released in Europe on ECM Records with Paul Giger, violin and Satoshi Takeishi, percussion. Dick has also begun to record traditional repertoire. Italy's Callisto Records has released his first classical recording -- the twelve Telemann "Fantasies" for flute alone. (www.callisto-records.com)

Here is James Galway's response to Dick's Telemann recording:

I positively loved the Telemann recording. It is original in thought and conception, well produced and with all the "extras" I think it is one of the most practical and desirable recordings in the field. I loved the bass flute numbers.

A highlight of Robert Dick's compositional year was the premiere of "everyone@universe.existence" at the National flute Association's convention by the semi-finalists of the Young Artist competition. The work, written in collaboration with the poet Marvin Bell, was commissioned for the ocassion.

The 2002-03 and 2003-04 concert seasons find Dick performing in the United States, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Italy, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Chile. Masterclasses frequently accompany his solo concerts and he has taught at the Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel, Juilliard, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Vienna Conservatory, the University of Montreal, the Royal College of Music in London, Soai University in Kyoto and very many others.

Mr. Dick also does extended residencies at universities and music schools. He feels that the opportunity for in-depth instruction and follow up that a five or ten day class provides is invaluable for students. He has done six such residencies at the North Carolina School of the Arts. At Chicago's DePaul University, he used a five day residency to create a new work with the flute class. Teaching both basic improvisation and introducing extended flute techniques, he led the class in a concert presentation of his Transdimensional Lending Library. Student comments included "You have opened a whole new world of music for me", "This week will help us grow in 21st century music" and "I can't thank you enough for doing what you're doing with the flute and sharing it with us and the world".

As a composer in the classical world, Robert Dick is one of only two Americans ever to be awarded both Composers' Fellowships (twice) and a Solo Recitalist Grant by the N.E.A. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship for composition and commissions from the Jerome Foundation, Fromm Music Foundation, Mary Flagler Cary Trust, the city of Zrich, the Philharmonie in Cologne and many others. At the 1999 National Flute Association Convention in Atlanta, Dick was soloist in the second performance of his Concerto for Flute/Bass Flute Strings and Percussion. Close to two thousand flutists gave his performance and his music a standing ovation. At the premiere of his concerto at Town Hall in New York City, the New York Times spoke of the work as "riveting in its timbral variety and brilliant in Mr. Dick's playing."

Robert Dick's multifaceted musical life also includes work on redesigning the flute itself. He is currently collaborating with Bickford Brannen of Brannen Brothers Flutemakers on the development of the "Robert Dick Glissando Headjoint", which does for the flute what the "whammy bar" does for the electric guitar. Dick performs on a special prototype flute that Brannen built for him, a radically expanded version of Brannen's Kingma-System model. While playable as a normal Boehm flute, this flute has a myriad of new musical possibilities and Dick's newer compositions embrace these freedoms. Robert Dick also has a relationship with Emerson Musical Instruments, which produces the Robert Dick Model bass flute. The goal of this bass flute, which Dick plays in his concerts alongside of the unique Brannen, is to be a powerful, rich-toned yet modestly priced instrument.

As an improviser, Robert Dick is a member of groups based both in New York and Europe. Based in Europe is the Giger/Dick/Takeishi, with Paul Giger, violin and Satoshi Takeishi, percussion. In New York, he is a member of the ambient/overdrive ensemble King Chubby, with Ed Bialek, keyboards and samplers and Will Ryan, percussion. Over the years, Dick has performed with John Zorn, Steve Lacy, Christy Doran, Steve Argelles, Evan Parker, Ned Rothenberg, Gerry Hemingway, Mark Dresser, Denman Maroney, Barry Guy, George Lewis, Marty Ehrlich, Shelley Hirsch, Leroy Jenkins, Min Tanaka, Georg Grwe, Jelle Leandre, Klaus Knig and very many more of Europe and America's finest improvisors.

Selected CDs:

Vindonessa (ECM 1836) 2003 Violinist Paul Giger, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and Robert Dick create a lyric, modal sound world, rich in vivid textures and colors. Dick plays contrabass flute, bass flute, flute with "Glissando Headjoint", and flute. Paul Giger plays violin, vviolino d'amore and viola d'amore. Satoshi Takeishi plays his uique and very beautiful percussion instruments. www.ecmrecords.com

Twelve Fantasias for Flute by Telemann (Callisto Records CLS0101) A three CD set with Robert Dick performing the 12 "Fantasias" on flute, bass flute and piccolo on the first CD, Lorenzo Cavasanti playing them on traverso and recorders on the second disc and a multimedia CD with scores, interview, photos, etc.

Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat (That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles) (ENJA Records 9361-2) The A.D.D. Trio -- Robert Dick, flutes; Christy Doran, electric guitar and delay devices; and Steve Argelles, drums -- plays music by the members of the trio. This band has played together since 1993 and has reached a rare peak of musical communication and virtuosity.

Jazz Standards on Mars (ENJA Records 9327-2) -- music by Coltrane, Dolphy, Hendrix, Shorter, Coleman and Dick played by Robert Dick with the Soldier String Quartet

Worlds of IF (Leo Records CD 224) -- Robert Dick solo and multitracked. Solo pieces for flute, alto fl, F-bass & picc. Overdubbed groups of flutes and voices. Duo with guest Ned Rothenberg.

Third Stone from the Sun (New World/CounterCurrents 80435-2) -- music by Jimi Hendrix and Robert Dick performed with the Soldier String Quartet.

Mr. Dick has authored and published, on his Multiple Breath Music imprint, a number of seminal works for contemporary flute: The Other Flute: A Performance Manual of Contemporary Techniques; Tone Development Through Extended Techniques; Circular Breathing for the Flutist; and Flying Lessons: Six Contemporary Concert Etudes (Volumes I and II). Translations are published in German (Zimmermann), Dutch (Molenaar), Italian (Ricordi) and Spanish (Mundi Musica).


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Robert Dick Flute Publications

Exclusive distribution for Western Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand by MMB Music, Inc.

The Other Flute - A Performance Manual of Contemporary Techniques, Second Edition S110002 (ISBN 0-939407-02-7) $39.95
Regarded as the definitive reference work for flutists and composers. A comprehensive presentation of the flute's sonic possibilities. Includes multiphonics, alternate fingerings, quarter-tones and smaller microtones, natural harmonics, glissandi, whisper tones, percussive sonorities, jet whistles, a discussion of techniques for piccolo, alto and bass flutes, and more. Spiral bound.

    "The most informative, easy to understand and precise endeavor of its kind. It is a MUST for all college music libraries, advanced and professional flutists and teachers." Francis Fuge, Notes.
Tone Development Through Extended Techniques S110003 (ISBN 0-939407-00-0) $19.95
Daily studies designed to enable the flutist to produce optimum resonance and to develop the embouchure strength and sensitivity to confidently play multiphonics, whisper tones, natural harmonics and other extended timbres while simultaneously developing the power, color and control of the tone for traditional music. An important feature is the unique presentation of "throat tuning," a breakthrough technique for tone development.
    "A book that belongs in everyone's library." Judith Bently, Flute Talk.

Circular Breathing for the Flutist S110004 (ISBN 0-939407-01-9) $16.95
Circular breathing allows the performer to sustain tone while inhaling, a tremendously valuable tool. For the first time, a method is available specifically for the flutist, covering development of the embouchure and breathing coordinations needed to master circular breathing. Examples include orchestral passages, selections of solo literature from Bach to Varese and contemporary repertoire.
    "The last word on how to do it!" Trevor Wye, Pan.

Flying Lessons, Volume I - Six Contemporary Concert Etudes Playing Score S110005 $16.95 - Instructional Cassette S110005T $12.95
Short pieces use multiphonics, glissandi, percussive sonorities, singing with playing and other extended techniques in an original, lyric style. Clearly notated with accurate, easily readable fingerings. Cassette for Volume I: Performance of etudes and detailed instruction on practice and interpretation. 90 minutes, chrome, Dolby B.
    "A wonderful opportunity to study and perform the newest techniques in multiphonics." The Flutist Quarterly.
    "The cassettes actually simulate private lessons." Notes.

Flying Lessons, Volume II - Six Contemporary Concert Etudes Playing Score S110006 $19.95 - Instructional Cassette S110006T $12.95
Collection of etudes including Indian music, quasi-serial and quasi-minimal, and an "electric" blues in the style of Jimi Hendrix. Cassette for Volume II: 90 minutes, chrome, Dolby B.

European Edition of Flying Lessons Playing Score S110007 $18.95 Instructional Cassette S110007T $12.95
For Plateau Model, C-Foot Flute. Four etudes drawn from the two volumes of Flying Lessons. Instructional cassette: 90 minutes, chrome, Dolby B.

Afterlight (1973/84) Playing Score S110008 $11.95 - Instructional Cassette S110008T $12.95
For flute alone, this award-winning composition uses multiphonics to create a musical language that is direct, expressive and compelling. This revised edition is a winner in the NFA Newly Published Music Competition. Eight minutes. Instructional cassette: 90 minutes, chrome, Dolby B.

Flames Must Not Encircle Sides (1980) Playing Score S110010 $19.95 90 Minute Instructional Cassette S110010T $12.95
A solo work for flute that spectacularly combines multiphonics and circular breathing. In a setting of continuous multiple trills, the flutist creates illusions as to how many players there are, and where "they" are in the room. This piece was the only American composition on the repertoire list for the 1990 Munich International Competition.

Lookout (1989) Playing Score S110011 $14.95 - 60 Minute Instructional Cassette S110011T $12.95
For flute alone. Commissioned for the 1989 National Flute Association's High School Flute Soloist Competition, Lookout is a tonal, melodic rock solo for flute that uses singing and playing and easy multiphonics.

Or (1984) Playing Score S110009 $11.95 - Instructional Cassette S110009T $12.95
For flute alone. An introspective, quiet piece using small-interval multiphonics, sometimes a quarter-tone or less. These sonorities, with their slowly shimmering quality, have a special, bell-like sound. Eight minutes. Instructional cassette: 90 minutes, chrome, Dolby B.

Paganini/Dick - Caprice No. 2 in B minor and Caprice No. 15 in E minor Playing Score S110012 $19.95 - Instructional Cassette S110012T $12.95
Two of Paganini's famous Caprices for solo violin transcribed for the contemporary flutist. The violin chords are played multiphonically, creating a truly effective vehicle for flutistic virtuosity. An exciting challenge. Instructional cassette 90 minutes, chrome, Dolby B.

Eyewitness (1991) Miniature Score S011001 $19.95 - Set of Four Parts S114001 $79.95
A quartet for four flutists composed in multiphonic style. Multiple trills and tremolos, Indian flute-style glissandi, percussive sounds and other sonorities are used to create a wide sonic panorama. Instruments needed are four concert flutes, two piccolos, alto flute and two bass flutes.


Flute Masterclass

See Robert Dick Website


Robert Dick Discography
    Jazz Standards on Mars (Enja Records 9327-2, Germany) 1997 -- Robert Dick with the Soldier String Quartet. Music by Eric Dolphy, Jimi Hendrix, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Robert Dick

    Potion (Les Disques Victo 053, Canada) 1997 -- New Winds: Robert Dick, flutes; Herb Robertson, trumpet; Ned Rothenberg, alto sax, bass clarinet and clarinet play orginal works by members and improvisations

    Aurealis (Les Disques Victo 052, Canada) 1997 -- Trio Aurealis: Robert Dick, flutes; John Wolf Brennan, piano; Daniele Patumi, contrabass play orginial works by members and improvisations

    Irrefragable Dreams (Random Acoustics, Germany 018) 1996 -- improvised duos with violinist Mari Kimura

    Instinct (Bellaphon, Germany LR 45104) 1996 -- The A.D.D. Trio plays originals by members Steve Argelles, Robert Dick and Christy Doran.

    Worlds of IF (Leo Records, England CD LR 224) 1995 -- Robert Dick solo and multitracked playing original works. Solo pieces: flute, alto fl, F-bass & picc. Overdubbed groups of flutes and voices. Duo with guest Ned Rothenberg.

    Digging it Harder From Afar (Les Disques Victo, Canada cd 028) 1994 -- New Winds performs original works by members Robert Dick, J.D. Parran and Ned Rothenberg

    Third Stone from the Sun (New World/CounterCurrents, U.S.A. #80435-2) 1993 -- music by Jimi Hendrix and Robert Dick performed with the Soldier String Quartet.

    Steel and Bamboo (O.O. Discs, U.S.A. #12) 1993 -- original music by the duo of Robert Dick and Steve Gorn, master of the Indian bansuri" bamboo flute.

    Tambastics (Music and Arts Programs of America, CD 704) 1992 -- original works and improvisations by the ensemble Tambastics, with Robert Dick, flutes; Denman Maroney, piano; Mark Dresser, bass; Jerry Hemingway, drums.

    Venturi Shadows (O.O.Discs, U.S.A. #7) 1991 -- works by Robert Dick, three flute solos and duos with Ned Rothenberg, shakuhachi; Steve Gorn, bansuri; Neil B. Rolnick, electronics and Mary Kay Fink, flute.

    Ladder 5 of Escape (Attacca Records, Netherlands #9158 - 1) 1991 -- solo recording including four original pieces and works by Berio, Fukushima, Debussy, Asia and Morris

    Traction (Sound Aspects, Germany #044) 1991 -- New Winds performs original works by members Robert Dick, J.D. Parran and Ned Rothenberg and a work by Eric Dolphy

    The Cliff (Sound Aspects, Germany #025) 1989 -- New Winds performs original works by Robert Dick, J.D. Parran and Ned Rothenberg

    The Other Flute (GM Recordings, U.S.A. #2013 - CD) 1986 -- solo recordings of original works and pieces by Eric Dolphy, Edgard Varese and Paganini/Dick

    Whispers and Landings (Lumina Records, U.S.A., #007) 1981 -- solo program of original works. Available only on cassette.

    Robert Dick also appears on recordings by the Brooklyn Philharmonic (Steve Reich's "The Desert Music"-- Nonesuch), John Zorn ("Archery" -- Parachute Records, re-issued on Tzadik Records), First Avenue ("First Avenue" -- O.O. Discs) and the Klaus Knig Orchestra ("Time Fragments" -- ENJA Records).

    He has also recorded the flute compositions of Martin Bresnick ("Conspiracies" for solo flute and four other flutists, all parts -- CRI Records), Malcolm Goldstein (soloist in the improvised concerto "A Breaking of Vessels, Becoming Song" with Musical Elements -- CRI Records), Lukas Foss ("Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" -- CRI Records), Jin-Hi Kim ("Tchong" for daegum and flutes --O.O. Discs), Neil B. Rolnick ("Blowing" for solo flute -- O.O. Discs) and Chester Biscardi ("Tenzone" for two flutes and piano -- CRI. The same CRI album "Flute Possibilities" contains Robert Dick's recording of his "Afterlight" for solo flute).


Bookings for Concerts, Masterclasses and Residencies

Jane Deckoff
Jane Music Management
1060 Park Ave., Suite 9G,
NYC 10128
email: janemgt@aol.com>
tel: 212 534-6191

Robert Dick welcomes direct contact. If you have questions about his work or are interested in study with him, please don't hesitate to contact him.

Robert Dick
310 Clermont Avenue #3
Brooklyn, NY 11205-4612
telephone: 718 855 - 5409
email: robert@robertdick.net
Web site: www.robertdick.net


Thoughts about Off Set G Key

I've been following the discussion about offset and inline flutes and would like to offer a comment or two. Although I'm a fairly large person with large (but not gigantic) hands, I play on the offset G and would never consider returning to the inline. In the 1970's, I had two flutes, an inline Powell and an offset Haynes. While the Powell was the better of the two sonically, I found my technique was far smoother and faster on the Haynes. The difference was only the more natural left hand position. I checked this out on with a metronome and found that if my maximum speed for a passage was 132 on the Powell, I could play the same passage with equal control and musicality at 148 on the Haynes!

Looking in the various books on old flutes, we see that all the original Boehm flutes are offset. The inline was developed by Louis Lott in order to help him make the flutes faster. That's faster out the door of the shop, not faster in our hands. With his 19th century technology, Lott could save time by eliminating the rib and two posts that the offset mechanism requires, about a half-day of work. What Lott did was copied without reflection by makers earlier in this century. But with 20th and 21st century technology, making the offset G is no big deal for today's flute builders. The offset G is more in keeping with the shape of the hand. Unless a flutist has a fourth finger that is longer than the middle finger, the inline flute makes no sense at all in terms of the human body.

Of course, many players have accustomed themselves to inline flutes and feel no need to change, and I'm not suggesting they do. But as we teach, we should dispell the myth that inline is the "real deal" and offset is for kids.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - December 1997


About the tongue position and resonance in the mouth

The vowel shape formed in the mouth while playing is the primary way of making tone color on the flute. Try playing while forming open vowels like "Ah", "Ooh", and "Oh" (as pronounced in network TV news generic American English). Then check out some other vowels too, like "Eee" and "Eye". You'll here a remarkable change in tone color. Then try changing between these and as many other vowels as you can think of while practicing those classic long tones. If you can speak more than one language, use the vowel sounds from them all to explore a large range of colors.

A great way to decide what vowels to use when playing music (a more complex challenge than tone studies) is to sing a passage over and again, trying different syllables and gradually forming the vowels that feel most natural and expressive to you. And as you "scat" your way through Bach or Berio, you'll find more of the inner phrases emerging.

The "marimba tube" effect of resonance is well proven in the acoustics literature. For all wind and brass players, not just flutists, that resonance comes from the throat more than the mouth. If you hold your vocal chords in a position where they are ready to sing the note you are playing, you will maximize this resonance, which I named "throat tuning". The vocal chords do not have to be pitched in the same octave as the flute; throat tuning will work very powerfully even if the silent voice is pitched one, two, three and in rare cases four octaves below the flute. To try it out, sing a note softly and gently with an open vowel like "Ooh" at the same time as you play that note. Then play the note without singing while clearly hearing your voice in your inner ear and feeling like you are singing that note. After working with some single notes, go on to short phrases, etc.

For those who might have alarm bells going off for fear that singing will lead to a tight throat and/or strained vocal chords, please remember to always sing softly and, while singing, use open vowels. (Practicing singing the open vowels is often the solution for people who have throat noises when they play.)

The "open throat" concept was a milestone in the development of 20th century flute tone. It certainly blew the old tight throat and rapidfire vibrato right off of the musical scene. And good riddance.

The drawback to the open throat concept is that it limits sound colors if it is used without variation in syllables -- as is so often taught. The evolutionary successor to the open throat is the tuned throat. And when throat tuning is done well, the effect of the vowel formed in the mouth is magnified.

Every person who has ever played a wind instrument with a beautiful tone has done throat tuning to some degree, whether they were conscious of it or not.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - December 1997


Fourth Octave G

I spent a lot of time in the 1970s searching for the fourth octave G, which I never found under normal circumstances. At the time, I believed that the upper limit of the flute was simply a function of the strength of the flutists desire (mine was unlimited) and body. I was also inspired by Cat Anderson, the famous high trumpeter in Duke Ellingtons band. I did a gig with Cat, one week of the Ice Capades in New Haven, and was moved by his musicality, beautiful personality and cosmic chops. I thought, "if Cat can do it, Robert will too." So in the mid-70s I developed the embouchure strength, flexibility and sensitivity program that remains the backbone of my technique today. And although I found fantastic arrays of interesting and beautiful sounds, and some ugly ones too, I never got the fourth octave G.

While working at I.R.C.A.M. (roughly translated as the Institute of Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music)in Paris in 1978, I spent time with the acoustician Arthur Benade. From him I learned about a truly distressing truth: the "high frequency cutoff" which is a reality for all musical instruments. For the flute, the fourth octave F# is the highest normal note, resonances above this are extremely weak. I read that one or two folks can occasionaly get a hint of the G and this makes sense in that the cutoff is not absolute but is the tail end of a weakening train of resonance. Thats why the high F natural is so difficult to play in tune with any kind of good tone quality. I tried the suggested fingering in another posting and got a transitional hint of G natural. The sound goes away so quickly because the lips cannot maintain enough pressure to compress the airstream at such a high speed. We can "muscleup" for a blast, but lose control quickly. Benade metioned that, if someday a flutist could muster the necessary power to jump from the fourth octave F# to the B natural above it, there would be frequencies again. I think that this is in the zone of totally diminished returns. The lip power necessary to keep the airstream focussed at the necessary velocity is quite possibly beyond what the human facial musculature is capable of. (And please lay off the steroids; this is art, not the NFL or East German swimming.)

There are two ways to play above the fourth octave F#. First, whispertones, which are acoustically described as "semi-coupled" resonances extend past the normal tone high frequency cutoff. I play whispertones through the entire fourth octave daily. It can be done using the low B fingering and not as well with the low C. This is just one of the very many cases in which the low B provides us with more and better musical possibilities. Why play the whispertones? Because they are incredibly beautiful and have an absolutely magical effect in concert. My New Age musician friends speak of whispertones as a "healing" sound. Maybe thats overstating the case, but whispertones make me and the audience feel good, and they earn me money, too.

The other way to get up above the fourth F# is to alter the headjoint. I did this with Albert Cooper one sunny London morning. We moved the cork in so that the face plate reached the very upper edge of the embouchure hole. Thus the space above the embouchure hole was completely eliminated. With a bit of tweaking of the F# fingering a real, sustained in tune G natural was heard. Of course, the price to get this note was to kill the resonance of the rest of the flutes range. That space above the embouchutre hole has a major role in making the flute sound like a flute. So we offered each other congratulations on a successful experiment which refretfully had led to nothing musically useful. Then we moved the cork back to its normal position. (I keep it dead center on the gauge. Very simple.)

The most important thing I learned from this whole experience was that none of us are alone on the planet. Other people are doing good work and it makes sense to learn what's out there lest we find ourselves reinventing the wheel. My experience with Benade led me to study acoustics and this led to many direct applications in both understanding the flute and its sound, and in my musical art.

Benades book Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics Oxford U Press, NY, 1975 is a great place for the inquisitive musician to start. He wrote the book for us, not for acoustics students and so he left out all of the calculus. Its still a major intellectual effort. But if you do it, it will really be worth it. Colleagues will be asking you what youre doing that has made you so much better.

For those who wonder why anyone would want to play a fourth octave G or anything else new, I can only suggest you free your imagination. Too many people take what is taught them as the end of the road, not the beginning. What a fantastic musical exclamation point a great sounding super high G would be! Too bad it isn't there, although the F# can sure be electrifying. I use it right at the end of my solo flute version of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze for exactly that reason.

Right On!, Ian. I dig your attitude. And crack those acoustics books so you can break barriers.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - December 1997


E4 and More

The range of the flute extends up to F#4. So after you nail E4, there are two more mountains to climb! You are on the right track thinking that developing the chops to get these notes will do good things for the rest of your playing. When you are playing fourth octave notes, you might want to remember a few things: After warming up well and doing some natural harmonic excercises,

  • 1. Make absolutely sure you've got the fingering right. Take the flute out of playing position and look at your fingers. This is critical because its possible, with a wrong fingering, to set up a situation where the flute has no frequencies to vibrate in the range your going to play. If you then blow, and blow powerfully as you will need to, the flute can literally reject the air. Feels like a little fist coming out of the embouchure hole and belting you right in the mouth. This is why so many players say the fourth octave is not for them. They've been taught that there could be problems and thus the whole issue should be avoided. Why not solve the problems and keep our heads and headjoints out of the sand? To do this, I suggest,

  • 2. Try out the fingering as a whispertone first -- this is a great way to learn the angle of the airstream you'll need and errors won't make you feel that your lips are going to come off. When you can get a faint but clear whispertone on the right note, then its time to

  • 3. Stand up to your full height to open the abdomen so that you can use the power of the abdominal muscles. Then turn the flute outwards, uncovering more of the embouchure hole than is usual by about an additional 50 percent. No kidding - really open it up. Then bring your jaw well forward. With the upper and lower teeth far enough apart to place the tip of the tongue between the uppers and lowers, most people will find that the jaw should be far enough forward so that the lower teeth are lined up with the uppers or perhaps even a bit forward of the uppers. Don't worry about TMJ (jaw problems) or LBJ (ex U.S. president), if you are not pushing hard against the jaw and your mouth is a bit open there is absolutely no reason to anticipate problems. Now you are ready to

  • 4. BLOW!!!!!!! Don't try to squeeze the note out with your embouchure. Use the power of your breath. Really move your stomach in and use up a whole breath in a second or two. By doing the things suggested in number 3, you will have set up a situation that minimizes resistance and the fourth octave notes should sound.

Now, about practicing in the fourth octave... No matter how well we prepare our position, etc, these notes are strenuous, to say the least. The pathway to great sounding high notes is a long one and involves just a few seconds per day at first, but everyday. I also recommend following a ratio of about ten seconds in the lowest register for every second in the fourth octave. This will help prevent the piccolo syndrome where the embouchure muscles tighten (and they do need to be tightened for piccolo) and its hard to relax them.

There is an extensive fourth octave fingering chart in my book *Tone Development Through Extended Techniques* that also takes into account the different fingerings needed for C foot and B foot flutes. There are also model practice schemes to show how to incorporate the fourth octave into daily studies. If you have trouble locating a copy, please try Just Flutes in London -- email is They are the European distributor for my work. If you are in the USA, please call the American distributor, MMB Music at 800 543 - 3771 or fax 314 531 - 8384 or email

If you play the fourth octave notes at least once a day, after a few weeks/months, they'll sound great. And then you'll discover that you can play with real dynamic control in the top of the third octave and up to D4. By present professional standards, full technique and dynamic control is expected up to and including D4.

Happy blasting!

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - January 1998


Music as a Career

Nobody ever promised a life in music would be easy, and as you're discovering, the difficulty can start years before your professional career does. It may well be impossible to convince your parents and relatives of the validity of your dream, at least for now. When you are leading the life you want and making a go of it, they may come around. My own parents eventually did, but it took a llllloooooooonnnggggg time.

In the meantime, you might want to show the family how much you care by taking responsibility for the payment of your own lessons, even if it means taking a part time job. As said in the previous paragraph, a life in music ain't easy.

When I think of the day I told my parents that I was going to be a flutist, I still shudder. I was a high school junior at the time. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a stereotypical Mr. Corporate America, lower echelon. They responded to my announcement by cutting off all funds for music and telling me it had been a mistake to get me a good instrument and good teacher. "You'll never make a living!" "How will you survive?" "We're telling you this because we love you and its for your own good!" I just wanted to gag. And then my father said something that none of us could appreciate the humor of at the time -- we had a great laugh at this line a mere twenty years later -- "With your mouth, you're going to be a lawer!"

Well, I took the bull by the horns, not because I was brave but because frightened as I was, I had no choice. By getting some private students and hustling up little church jobs, I was able to pay for my lessons and at least the nagging about that issue went away.

Somewhat later came the issue of college. I thought I wanted to go to Juilliard and believed I had a good chance of making it in. This was where the parental units drew the line in the sand and refused to even consider paying a cent. All I heard from the family by then was that I should have an education to "fall back on". At least by then they had realized that there was no stopping me from trying to be a musician. From your letter, its clear that like so many of us, you're committed to standing or at least falling on your face, going forward, not back on your butt. The argument that I would succeed fell on deaf ears. You've surely discovered the same by this point. Like you, I didn't want to spend four years preparing myself for failure in music. It was ridiculous. I was in a classic situation where no adult could be trusted because none were listening to me. It seemed all were in cahoots with my parents. And more than a few were recounting their failures and justifying why they weren't doing what they had dreamed of. "See, if I couldn't do it, you won't be able to". To be fair, some of them had good reasons for their dreams to be broken -- the Great Depression, World War II. But what did that have to do with my future? There were no believable answers.

Then a great stroke of luck happened. I was admitted to the Boston University High School program at Tanglewood. Got a merit based scholarship and the 'rents actually paid the difference. It was part of a painfully hammered out compromise where i had agreed to go to college as an academic major for at least two years, after which the possibility of a transfer to a conservatory might be considered. And at Tanglewood I met James Pappoutsakis and was truly fortunate to have the opportunity to take a summer's lessons with him. Jimmy was perhaps the kindest person ever. I developed a trust in him because of the honesty he consistently demonstrated, and I asked him for his advice about going to a conservatory or a college. Pappoutsakis convinced me to go to university, not to prepare to fall back, but to prepare for SUCCESS IN MUSIC! Dig it!

Here's what he said. "I teach at the New England Conservatory and also have students from every college in the Boston area." (Mr. P was indeed a flute-teaching lifetime marathoner. He had something like 40 hours of teaching weekly plus the Bostion Symphony, where he was second flute and the Boston Pops, in which he was principal. The quality of such an extreme life is worth reflection, but that's a different subject.) Back to Mr. P: "Long experience has shown me that the Harvard students play just as well as the NEC students, and often better because they are more questioning of the music. There's no doubt that if there is any difference at all in your playing between how you'd sound after four college years and four conservatory years, you could make it up in one summer of hard work. Now the real reason you should go to college is that I know it's hard for you to see now, but in the future everybody who plays the flute will have done the same pieces, the same scales, the same orchestra studies. Everyone who is still playing will play well. The difference in your music will come from who you are, which will determine what you have to say. You have the chance to go to college and develop yourself as a person. Do it. Your music will be the better for it."

And damn wasn't that the truth. Because of Pappoutsakis I went ahead to Yale and the course of my life has been profoundly different than if I had gone to Juilliard or NEC. It was really worth doing. For graduate school, it was time to tighten the focus and I went to the Yale School of Music and got a Master's degree as a composition major. (Still don't have a degree in flute playing. Like to think I represent hope for the flute minor.)

Back to family relations. Despite supporting my own musical studies and successfully graduating from Yale and starting to write a book on new flute sounds as a special double credit course in my senior year, (*The Other Flute: A Performance Manual of Contemporary Techniques*), my parent's still wouldn't give up their nagging. I remember when I phoned my mother and told her I had started writing a book. She laughed. "You?" "Yeah, me." I had heard of some species that eat their young, and was convinced I was a member of such. Obviously, nobody eats their parents, they're indigestible.

The thaw in the parents anti-music attitude began when my book got published by Oxford University Press five years later. But it still was another decade before the words finally were spoken: "We're sorry. We should have believed in you and supported anything you wanted to do with your life".

Emily, you will these words someday. In the meantime, please know a lot of us have gone through the same thing. Its a drag to be sure. Think of dealing with your parents as an extended rehearsal for the superhuman diplomacy you'll need with contractors and other lower life forms. (Flutist contractors -- relax! We're not talking about you, unless we should be.)

While its certainly true that I could have made a LOT more money in law or whatever, the satisfaction of leading the life I want more than makes up for it. Although there are times when I wonder. And I still dream of actally making some big bucks with my music. Will do it, too. The difficulties, rejections, extended hours (hope you saw Jan Boland's post a few weeks ago), uncertainties (every year begins with 12 blank pages in my calendar), etc all continue to make life a hell of a lot harder than it is for "regular", employed types. I chose this and accept the price. The joy of making music makes it worthwhile, but you will have to be STRONG.

Wishing you the realization of your dreams,

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - January 1998


Circular Singing & Breathing - Longest Note

Read more about Circular Breating in the FLUTE FAQ 2.1.82

CIRCULAR SINGING: This can be done by alternating singing while exhaling with singing while inhaling. If the "change of bow" is done smoothly enough, it can be very musical. Best I've ever heard at this is Joan LaBarbara, who also offers the advice that if you want to try circular singing, proceed as softly and gently as you can. Joan performs her own music and other contemporary works. Her circular singing must be on disc, but I don't have any specifics about her recordings. She's worth hearing.

The other, much more well-known, use for circular singing is found in a many African musics. In these styles, there is no attempt made to hide the change in breath direction. Instead, its featured as a rhythmic device. Check out groups like "Sweet Honey on the Rock" (an Afro-American accappella womens' group) to hear this done in a really exciting way. I sometimes use this approach to circular singing to set up a rhythm pattern with my voice to counterpoint the rhythm or line I'm playing. CAUTION: This can be quite rough on the throat. Do this only a little bit at a time until you feel more secure. If you haven't experience singing and/or find singing uncomfortable, please take some voice lessons, especially before getting into anything like circular singing. The voice is easy to strain and perhaps damage. While I reject the often held tenet of the classical music culture "If there might be problems, then don't dare touch it", its important to know that there might be problems and we have to intelligently solve them.

CIRCULAR BREATHING: Circular breathing is done by storing air in the mouth and then playing the flute (or any other wind or brass instrument) with that air while inhaling through the nose. Its not as compicated as it sounds and can be learned by anyone whose willing to put some time in on it. I feel that circular breathing is vital to learn because:

  • 1. It allows musicians to be part of their own time. On a worldwide basis, composers are increasingly treating the wind player as a circular breather. So in order to play music written today and future music, we have to have this technique at our disposal to use when its artistically appropriate.

  • 2. To solve breathing problems in older music, circular breathing is a fantastic help. Lots of Baroque composers, most notably J.S. Bach, understood the violin and treated the flute as a wind-powered fiddle, paying no attention to breathing problems. Many long phrases abound in the traditional flute repertoire. This was also because older music was written for earlier types of flutes, which use less air than the modern instrument. So when faced with such a passage today, the player has three choices, to put in one or more breaths (which may or may not be musically OK), to be very conservative with dynamics and meter out the breath to complete the phrase (which is long and boring), or to circular breath, thus playing the phrase at its true musically intended length with all the dynamics and expressive possibilities. When I played principal flute in the Brooklyn Philharmonic, I used circular breathing frequently, and more than a few players asked me how I managed to play with so much power for such long breaths.

Because I could circular breathe, my stress level was a lot lower. I had a "safety valve" in case something went wrong. If I missed a breath or didn't get a really good one (this does happen as we all know), then I had an answer and didn't have to fear the humiliation of a badly played phrase or solo. If the conductor wanted to ritard until he and others began to lose consciousness, it wasn't a big deal for me, although there were a lot of wind players turning bright colors.

LONGEST NOTE: I have no idea who has played the longest note, and I don't care either (unless an opportunity to make some real bread out of it comes along). It wouldn't be surprising if Kenny G's PR people encouraged him to go for a record. The longest I've ever help the sound (not just one note, but a piece of music) is over fifty minutes without interruption. This was when I played William Hellermann's "Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December", a minimal composition that deals with how musical inflection changes as we take our bodies to their limits. In terms of breathing, I could have gone on for much longer, but my lower lip, never released from the lip plate, simply had had it. When I was learning circular breathing and was in the phase where endurance was being developed, I used to watch baseball games on TV (Let's Go METS!) and play one note per inning. If the Mets or their opponents had a rally, it redefined the meaning of long tones!

If you want to learn circular breathing, please check out "Circular Breathing for the Flutist" (by Robert Dick; Multiple Breath Music Co., 1987) I created a new method of learning circular breathing on the flute which works a lot better than the traditional approach. The flute uses the most air of all wind instruments (more than the tuba!) under the lowest pressure, so its the most difficult to learn circular breathing on. My method deals with developing the embouchure needed for all phases of the circular breathing cycle first, then applies the breathing. This solves the "where did all the air go?" problem that traditionally has held flutists back from circular breathing. Hope you'll get into it.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - January 1998


Headjoint Placement

I have observed how many flutists position their headjoints and the relationship between how far the head is pulled out and the kind of tone they are after.

To the best of my knowledge, learned anecdotally, Joseph Mariano was the first to pull the headjoint way out, the quarter to half inch that September mentions. Mariano was famous in his day as the loudest flute player ever, for whatever that was worth. WIBB (William Bennett), who also pulls his headjoint out a lot, told me he got the idea from Mariano. When I studied with Julius Baker, he had the headjoint out perhaps a quarter inch or somewhat less. Tom Nyfenger kept his in about that position, perhaps placing it slightly more in than Baker, but memory of this isn't so clear.

Thinking about the history of this concept, the underlying reason seems to be twofold. First, the players who originally did this were using old scale flutes, with scales essentially at A = 435. So by pulling out that far, they put the flute in tune with itself. The intervals and octaves actually were in a better relationship with each other with the headjoint pulled out to about the length the flute would be when tuned to A = 435. Then they blew the whole thing up to pitch. Secondly, by lengthening the flute so much, the fundamental in the sound is strengthened, thus making it easier to play louder. Many players of the old scale flutes also altered the cork position, putting it further up the flute (towards the crown) so as to additionally enhance the fundamental strengthening effect. But like all things in acoustics, there is always a tradeoff. Loudness is gained at the cost of flexibility and harmonic content in the sound. This can be overcome by a really powerful player who likes to blow hard, but it is the rare flutist indeed who, like James Galway or WIBB, can stay in tune while playing softly with the headjoint out so far and produce a harmonic-rich, colorful sound. Its more usual to note that players who pull that far out have a reduced color palette and limited command of soft playing, which they tend to avoid.

I've observed that playing with the headjoint out can sound really good in the orchestra, as the reduced harmonic content in the sound enhances blending. Mariano's career was spent in orchestral playing. I also noticed that Rampal, by far the most colorful and expressive flutist around in the Sixties, played with the headjoint only about an eighth inch out at most. My experience has been that when playing with piano, the flute sound gets a bit covered up when the headjoint is so far out. I started my career playing with the headjoint out because it was the thing to do in New York in the Sixties and Seventies, but eventually shifted to keeping it about an eighth inch out. The tone got a lot more interesting and varied, epecially when playing with piano. And it was possible to be clearly heard even when the piano played very loudly because the increased high harmonics in the tone lead the listener's ear to the flute. Again, there is a tradeoff; its not as easy to blast out gigantic low notes as when the headjoint is out a lot, but its stil possible.

Since most of us are now playing on modern scale flutes, the original reason for pulling the headjoint out so far has disappeared. I've been very lucky to have spent a great deal of time working with Albert Cooper and discussing these points with him. Its Albert's position that, as a maker, he's made enormous efforts to build the flute as in tune as possible, and that it just isn't sensible to distort the acoustics of a modern scale flute by altering the cork position or putting the headjoint in an extreme position. He's got my vote.

The nameless professor September mentions who has his students start with the head pushed all the way in and the embouchure whole covered, whether he knows it or not, is emulating one of the obsolete habits of the old French school. Whatever one may or may not think of the old French players and their repertoire (I'm charmed by the players and loathe their repertoire), one must come to terms with the fact that their intonation was dreadful, truly awful. The famed French school articulation was a major feature of their style, and they were willing to tradeoff intonation in order to enhance articulation. Setting up the flute with the head turned so far in makes articulating a lot easier. The short headjoints were used to compensate for the massive flattening effect of turning in that much. Indeed, many French players not only pushed the headjoint in all the way, but had the heads cut down to be even shorter. The distortion of the flute scale this caused resulted in horrendous pitch. Except in the case of Gaubert and Dufrene, who played beautifully in tune, (and probably Tafannel too, who sadly was never recorded), intonation in France was bloodily sacrificed on the alter of articulation. Mon Dieu!

So there really isn't a right way to set up the flute. It depends on what you're after. It makes a lot of sense for students (and professionals) to check out the whole range of headjoint placements, both in terms of length and embouchure hole coverage. There is something useful in every placement, and there's no law that says we have to lock into one position and never change. Why not set up differently so as to sound best when in the orchestra or on the recital stage, when changing styles within a recital, when playing into a microphone or playing acoustically?

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - January 1998


Quantz for Philosophy, maybe not for embouchure

Picking up on the Quantz thread... I've always felt that Quantz has a lot of timeless things to say about being a musician, things as relevant today as when he wrote them. But perhaps we might be better off not taking his embouchure advice as gospel, just as we ought to avoid Hotteterre's hand position concepts while we continue to play his music.

In Quantz's "On Playing the Flute", his introduction is called "Of the Qualities of Those Who Would Dedicate Themselves to Music". We all should read or re-read these pages every decade or so and get an inspirational charge that helps carry us through a society that really doesn't think we're important or even necessary. I love his comment that "If we paid dilligent attention to the inclinations of young people, sought to find out how they spontaneously preffered to occupy themselves, and gave them the freedom to choose for themselves that occupation for which they showed the greatest inclination, we would find more happy and truly useful people in the world." This is on his first page of text! And it can't be better said today than this: "He who wishes to excel in music must feel a perpetual and untiring love for it, a willingness and eagerness to spare neither industry nor pains, and to bear steadfastly all the difficulties that present themselves in this mode of life."

Its great to spiritually and intellectually commune with Quantz, maybe even to swap a few stories with his shade about idiot critics. But it is comforting to know that we have learned a few things over the last two and a half centuries about actually playing the flute that perhaps weren't understood in 1752. Quantz's comments about how the lips must be thin, (so much for me), about not changing the angle of the flute, etc, etc, are of true historical interest. But we shouldn't let these ancient concepts influence what we do today without shining the light of reason and of continuing development of knowledge on them. While many of his technical ideas make sense when transferred to the present day flute, the "don't change angle of the flute" concept is certainly one that does not hold up today.

Its commonly understood that the angle of the flute, how we rotate it in towards ourselves to increase coverage of the embouchure hole or out away from ourselves to open the embouchure hole, has profound effect on pitch. (Its not the only way to influence pitch, as we know, but it is a major one.) It seems not so ordinarily discussed that angle has a major role in tone color as well. From the acoustics literature we learn that a short airstream emulates the behaviour of a hard reed, strengthening high frequencies. A long airstream emulates the behaviour of a soft reed, favoring lower frequencies. When we want the tone to have more "edge", more presence, it makes sense to roll the flute in. The flattening effect of this action can be compensated for by pushing up with the lower lip. And when we want the sound to move to the most open of vowels "oooohhhh" and "aaaaahhhhhh" and the like, then it helps to turn out, lowering the jaw to compensate for the sharpening effect. With a little practice, this becomes fluid and easy. For example, to launch a powerful low note, we need to:

    a) Throat tune accurately on the note, whether in unison or in some octave relationship. Without the throat tuning, everything else we do will have much less effect than it should. That's why it takes so long to develop a good low register. Its not actually the embouchure that's the culprit, but the anti-resonance effect of the vocal chords when they are not tuned to the pitch desired.

    b) Turn out! Not in. And lower the jaw proportionally with the outward rotation and the power of the breath to stay in tune.

In doing this, we'll have maximized the potential of the body to resonate the note and maximized the potential of the flute to sound it.

Once we have worked out the balance of the flute, with the help of teachers or by ourselves, then its not difficult to get the flute into fluid motion while playing. Locking into any unchanging position is locking maximal expression out. We need ALL of our tools -- posture, breath, throat tuning, vowel shape in mouth, angle of the flute, embouchure, et al -- in order to freely express the music within. Why not use everything? After all, its only flute playing; if we go too far once in a while, nobody's going to suffer dire injury or death. It will just be a note or two that sounded bad. But if we don't explore, if we concentrate on formulae instead of fluidity, then we'll never get as far as we can. Turning back to Quantz, he constantly urges us to free our imaginations and spirits while working diligently on concepts of style and developing our musical knowledge and taste. I can't help but to think he'd be at the forefront of musical and sonic developments for the flute if he was alive today. So yes, please apply his relevant concepts now and forgive him the limits of the knowledge that was available to him. In a few centuries, I hope someone has the same thing to say about us.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - May 1998


21.5 by Varese

Sam Baron told me that Varese had said to him to perform Syrinx and Density 21.5 back to back. Sam's wife, the musicologist Carol K. Baron, followed this clue to its source and made a brilliant analysis of Density 21.5 as modeled on Syrinx. Her article is called:

    "Varese's Explication of Debussy's SYRINX in DENSITY 21.5 and an Analysis of Varese's Composition; a secret model revealed." The Music Review, Volume 48, Number 2 -- May, 1982

Anyone who really wants to understand what's going in Density 21.5 has to read this for starters. There are other important aspects to Varese's style of course, particularly his approach to dynamics, which should be treated as expansively as possible. An indispensable thing to do is to listen to Varese's other compositions. I've taught Density 21.5 at countless masterclasses. It is deeply saddening to report that this great piece usually is played without any clue to Varese's style. This is because flutists almost never check out the rest of his works. They're great. But when I ask for anyone who has heard any of Varese's pieces other than Density 21.5 to raise a hand, less than 5% have. There are real reasons that composers hold Varese in such high regard and he is so influential. Varese didn't write a lot of music, so most of his works can be listened to in an a fantastic, life-changing afternoon. (His POEM ELECTRONIQUE was a big favorite of mine in high school, long before I started to compose.)

There are also a few typos in the printed edition of Density 21.5. In the key-click passage, the music asks for a range of dynamics and articulation to be played along with the clicked (and unclicked) notes. But a footnote explains that the notes marked for key clicks should alway be played pianissimo. The footnote was left over from the original 1936 edition where the entire passage was marked pianissimo. In 1946, when Varese revised the piece, he made the changes in this passage that make it so much more interesting than the original by adding dynamics, articulations and changing meters.

When learning Density 21.5, be very precise with the rhythms. Subdivide everywhere at first. The rhythms feel quite different than the flute music from times before Density. Also, play every articulation as written. None may be changed. No slurs may be broken, and none added. The articulations are composed, they're not mere suggestions. And while breaths are needed in addition to the ones marked, those that are marked must be taken; they define phrases. And my last suggestion is to remember not to breathe between the last high D natural and the first low Ab! Breathing between these notes breaks one of the most dramatic moments in the entire history of flute music.

A bit of library time will reveal Varese's connection with the visual artists of his period. He was very close to the painter Kandinsky. And a look through Kandinsky's wonderful little book "From point, to Line, to Plane" will give some provocative insights into the philosophy of the Constructivist movement, a movement Varese considered himself part of. Its fun to take Kandinsky's drawings in his book (MUCH simpler than his paintings!) and to play them as graphic scores, using the captions as musical instructions.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - May 1998


Interesting questions about Density 21.5, aren't they? I have some insights into this piece that come from Henry Zlotnik, who studied it with Barrre. Amazing that we're only a couple of generations from the source.

About vibrato: Varese hated a non-varying, over romantic vibrato and was very much afraid of unstylistic over-romantic interpretations of the piece. Non-variation in vibrato is the key here. Zlotnik told me that Barrre tried to vary his vibrato much more than usual when he played Density. (Is there a recording anywhere of Barrre playing Density? That would be fascinating to hear.) Varese considered himself a constructivist artist in sound and there is a famous quote where he describes his music as "the intersection of moving masses and planes of sound". So it is critical that no notes ever feel static. There is nothing wrong with using vibrato, but it must keep changing. More than two waves without some change in speed, intensity, depth, etc is just plain anti-stylistic. There is also a place for relatively light use of vibrato or no vibrato. But again, notes without vibrato must be in motion, changing in dynamics and color. Vibrato plays a larger role in Density than in most other pieces because of the need to vary it so dramatically. I've heard Density played without vibrato, and honestly feel it sounded awful.

About the "are they or are they not" B#'s in m. 23: Zlotnik never commented when I played the written B#s, and Sam Baron told me that he played the piece for Varese many times as written without comment from the composer. That said, I wish they were B naturals, it makes gestural sense -- but its Edgard's piece, so changing it is absolutely out of the question.

Having heard this work countless times in masterclasses, there are some comments I'd like to add.

Firstly, I wish folks would stop thinking of Density 21.5 as "contemporary music". Its a classic, written in 1936, virtually two thirds of a century ago. There has been so much music composed since, so many marvelous newer journeys in 20th century music to take as well as this great classic one.

Density is a milestone in 20th century music because Varese changed the way composers think about a solo voice with this piece. Its the first work to recognize that every note on the flute, or any other acoustic instrument, sounds different from all the other notes, has an individual timbre. Instead of the concept of homogenizing the tones to make them sound as much alike as possible, the breakthrough here is to make each note sound as unique as possible and to take each through a maximal range of dynamics and color, which includes the various ways of treating notes with vibrati.

When studying Density, listen to recordings of Varese's other music. Please do this BEFORE getting to work on Density. One hears this piece played so unstylistically so very often because the performer only has heard this one piece by the composer. How well would we play Mozart if the only piece of his we had ever heard was a flute concerto? Most of the interpretive questions can be answered by Varese himself in one life-changing afternoon of listening to his music. There is a reason he's considered one of the greats of the last century. His music is thrilling, gutsy, rainbow hued, three-dimensional, intensly emotional, fantastically original. The phrasing is different than earlier pieces in the flute tradition, but is completely natural once you've acclimatized yourself to it by listening. Most of his pieces are fairly short, so at least 10 of Varese's works can be heard in an afternoon, or over a few days. You'll love it once you into his world.

In the key click section, people sometimes do very wierd things. Play it as written! Play the notes with real tone using the dynamics indicated, clicking with a smart snap on the G-key on the indicated notes. The footnote that says the notes with key clicks are to be played softly is wrong! It is a typo left over from the original 1936 edition in which the whole passage was marked double piano. In his 1946 revision, Varese added dynamics and articulations but the footnote somehow got left in.

No articulations may be altered. The player must tongue where indicated, never slur over tongued notes, and never tongue slurred notes. The marked breaths must be taken, since they indicate important phrase points. And please, do not breath after the last fourth octave D and before the first low Ab. This destroys one of the most exciting transitions in all music. Breathe before the last high D and after the first Ab if you must. I know this is hard to do at first, but that's where practice enters, stage right.

And lastly, rhythm and tempo. Please work hard on the rhythm to play it as written. Its critical. Once you have really heard the piece as written, not as distorted by inaccurate rhythm, you'll know what you'll want to do with interpreting the piece. About tempo, I think its fine to play Density a bit slower than indicated. We have a much greater dynamic and color range than flutists generally did seventy years ago, and to exploit these dimensions in sound, which Varese wants us to, it can take a bit more time. Let me say again, though, at whatever tempo one takes, the rhythm has got to stay right on.

Hope this is useful. I love Density 21.5 -- it changed my life.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - March 2000


Steady Air - Long Breaths

Hi Everyone,

Your in-air correspondent is back on line -- heading from NYC back toZurich. It's unlikely that I'll be able to contribute much to FLUTE until after February 15 as I'll be in a total compositional immersion, writing a flute and guitar duo. But here and now, while sitting on the plane with earplugs in and some hours on my hands:

About breath support and the temptation to play a long time on one breath -- may I be a link to the past and a conduit to the future? Its sometimes amazing how time has flown and, simultaneously, has stood still. On the issue of wanting to play a long time on a breath, let me quote the advice from Georges Barrre student Henry Zlotnik, my primary teacher. Barrre was a Tafannel student -- so in only three generations we get from the seminal figure who brought the flute into the 20th century to we of the 21st. Amazing, ain't it?

Henry used to rightly say that it was natural for an ambitious young player to want to be able to play for a long time on a single breath and to play fast. Perhaps the best attribute of his teaching was that he didn't just correct -- he would acknowledge the natural impulse behind what a student did, and then move to a higher level. With warmth and humor, he explained that Barrre (and presumably Tafannel) taught that both the goals of sustaining the breath and playing fast were reached indirectly. If one strove towards a beautiful, full and projecting sound, it was a natural consequence that the ability to sustain that sound grew over time. Henry NEVER would countenance a goal of playing for 45 seconds or a minute on a breath. One could get quite the faceful of his legendary cigar breath (NOT an olfactory treat, especially at age twelve or thirteen, I can attest) by taking such an approach. Instead, after the storm broke and his good humor returned, he would explain that playing musically and beautifully was the name of the game and that the length of one's breath would grow naturally. He also made it a point that breathing is part of life and music and one should not be ashamed of it (!) but rather simply do it well. (Henry and Geoffrey Gilbert had an enormous amount in common, with interesting cultural differences which related to how thet taught, not what they taught. Their similarities were in a mutual simplicity and directness, with a clear accent on flute playing as a subset of music at all times.) Both stressed that music, like song and speech, has its commas and a simple short inhalation on a comma is graceful and musical.

As a pioneer in contemporary flute playing, I stress that its critically important to know when to use such hyperdrive techniques as circular breathing -- and when not to. When the music needs to breathe to be natural, it must breathe. When music is created for a continuous flow (my "Flames Must Not Encircle Sides", for example) or when some additional time feels right, then circular breathing is a legitimate answer.

About playing fast: Henry's point, which I happily inherit as a central point in my teaching, is that playing with a clean and accurate technique is the goal and that playing cleanly and accurately will absolutely result in playing cleanly and accurately, faster and faster. Its true and is as simple as that. Of course simplicity can be elusive when one is yearning to BURN, to FLY, to BREAK THE SOUND BARRIER. That's where learning in junior high and high school that the twin engines of success are imagination and discipline comes in to play. Both are vital and they are not in conflict at all -- one plus one equals infinity.

And here's a blast from the truly ancient past, an exercise at least many centuries old -- perhaps a thousand or more years. To stabilize the breath, light a candle and gently blow on the flame, keeping it blue. With practice this can be done for a long time. The skill learned transfers equally well to non-vibrato playing in Baroque repertoire and to whispertones and multiphonics. The past, present and future are circular, not linear.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - January 2002


"Gazzelloni" by Eric Dolphy

"Gazzelloni", by Eric Dolphy, is what jazz musicians call a "head". The actual composition is thirteen measures long and everything else is improvised. In tunes from the period it was created (1964) it was also typical to end with a restatement of the head. Thus the terms "in-head" and "out-head" referred to the playing of the the theme at the beginning and end of the piece.

I've recorded "Gazzelloni" twice. Its one of my favorite tunes and there is so much to work with in it. There is an unaccompanied flute version on "The Other Flute" (GM 2013) and a version for flute, string quartet, two contrabasses and drums on "Jazz Standards on Mars" (Enja 9327 2). Dave Soldier (of the soldier String Qquartet) wrote the arrangement and both the fantastic violinist Regina Carter and I solo on it.

The best way to learn "Gazzelloni" is to start with Eric Dolphy's original recording, which is on his album "Out to Lunch" (Blue Note CDP 7 46524). This CD is a classic! It put "chamber jazz" on the map and forty years later is as vital as the day it was made. Dolphy plays alto sax, flute and bass clarinet and is my favorite jazz flutist of all time. "Out to Lunch" is must listening for all who wish to survey the flute's musical landscape.

Back to learning "Gazzelloni" -- play along with Eric during the tune and during his solo. As time passes, develop your own soloing concepts and strive to use them without literally repeating yourself. "Gazzelloni" is a melody only; there no chord changes to learn in the usual jazz sense. Many harmonies are implied by the tune and its best to just let the ones you hear speak to you and to express them in your soloing. Both the solos on "Gazzelloni" that I have recorded are completely different from what Eric played, and from each other.

On "Jazz Standards on Mars" we also recorded another Dolphy tune from "Out to Lunch". Called "Something Sweet, Something Tender" it is a gorgeous ballad and features a contrabass flute solo.

The Dolphy CD and the two of mine mentioned here are available through the major online retailers. Perhaps Fluteworld has Dolphy's recordings, too.

Over the years, many flutists have asked me for the music I played when recording "Gazzelloni" and I always tell them that they already have it. Its inside you. Just joyously do the work and you can bring it out.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - March 2002


History of Flute Techniques

Its 2002, more than late enough in the flow of history to get rid of the musically ghetto-izing "contemporary techniques" concept. Microtones, multiphonics and the like have been around a long time, a very long time, in very many flute traditions. In Western style composition, they have been subsumed into the mainstream of flute music for two thirds of a century. Its time for flutists to take advantage of the mental and musical freedom that comes from releasing ourselves from thinking in categories in a way that is mind-limiting.

As part of the National Flute Association Pedagogy Committee's most valuable "Selected Flute Repertoire: A Graded Guide for Teachers and Students" (2001), I contributed an article called "Down with 'Extended Techniques!'". The main points were that "extended" techniques aren't really new at all and that by such labeling, a clear implication is made about what is "normal" and thus "necessary" and what is "beyond" and thus "extra" and not necessary, especially for teachers to learn if such concepts and techniques were not covered when they were in school.

Here is a very brief look at a few of the deep roots of the wide range of flute musics and the techniques used to play them. Let's start with a joke, but a telling one:

Has any school of flute playing been more microtonal than the French? In accepting intervals that in no way can be considered accurately diatonic (fitting on the keyboard in either tempered intonation or even "just" intonation), a way of hearing has been developed that is "tonal" in name only. Whether or not someone from outside that particular musical culture can accept such a mode of hearing in ostensibly diatonic music isn't the issue here. The fact is that there's nothing contemporary about a wide range of microtones in performance of European classical music. While a judge at last fall's Geneva competition, I experienced performers clearly accepting intervals that didn't come close to matching the perfectly tuned piano (tuned daily, in fact). There was no sign of distress, it was a microtonal mode of hearing. It happens that I hated it, because the music they were playing was diatonic and tonal and my hearing of that music is based on accurate intonation within the tonal/diatonic system -- but I was only a judge, and an American one at that.

I strongly second Ardal Powell's motion to have a look at his wonderfully written "The Flute" for an overview of the recent emergence of techniques called "contemporary". For a fascinating excursion somewhat deeper into the past, Nancy Toff's "The Development of the Modern Flute" has a wonderful passage about Georg Bayr, the Dutch flutist who is the first Western flutist known to have played multiphonics as an art -- in 1810 no less! That's well before the Boehm flute; what's "contemporary" there? At the time, some refused to believe Bayr was playing multiphonics and accused him of simply running superfast arpeggios. This is nonsense. Bayr's own book "der Schule fr Doppeltne auf der Flte" (The School for Double Tones on the Flute) has a passage that describes how to play two notes at one time. Indisputably he is describing multiphonic technique. There are no two ways about it.

Charles Nicholson, the hero of 19th century English flute playing, incorporated slides into his pieces and made a special notation for them. As a good example, his written version of the traditional "Roslin Castle" features these.

Further to 21st century thinking, let's consider the history of flute playing from around the globe and abandon ship on out of date Eurocentric concepts. (I am not saying "forget the history of European music" -- I am saying "European classical music is part of the history of world music, an important part to be studied thoroughly as we develop our awareness of the whole".) Singing and playing has been part and parcel of African flute playing for very many centuries. Glissandi, both long and short, are a mainstay of the Japanese tradition, North and South Indian flute playing and that of the South American Kena, among many others. Bends and microtonal ornaments are critical to Irish flute playing, and the Javanese. Air sounds are part of the Panpipe music in the Andean flute traditions. Circular breathing is the traditional mode of playing the Bulgarian Kaval and the Narh flutes of Rajasthan in India. There is significant evidence to believe that Buffardin, the flutist who first played Bach's b minor Sonata, could circular breathe. He had been trained as a glassblower, all of whom use circular breathing. One can go on and on. Name a culture and a period in history -- there's a flute or flutes there, and imaginative ways of playing them.

Who ever decided that Western, 19th century style orchestral style flute playing is "normal", anyway? Its just the way to play certain music. Like all music, the appropriate tradition ought to be respected and treasured -- and placed into wider perspective. During the period of European political, economic and cultural domination, the period before awareness of world music as more than "folk" or "primitive" music, the 19th century approach was the "given" in Europe and its cultural offshoots like the United States and Canada. But as the Rolling Stones so aptly put it, "Its All Over Now". The world has changed and musicians need to be changing with it or be left behind.

I hope that "traditionalists" will find comfort in knowing that as they finally get around to learning multiphonics, singing while playing, circular breathing and the like, that they are joining a parade that began before recorded history. Welcome aboard.

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - June 2002


Circular Breathing While Tonguing

Hi Everyone,

It is possible to circular breathe while tonguing, single, double and triple. I've never heard anyone do this at truly high speeds over a sustained period of time, but there is no reason whatsoever that the same amazing effect that was produced on Sir James' recording of the Paganini "Moto Perpetuo" with tape editing could not be done live. To reach this astonishing level of technique, though, would be an astonishing amount of work. Passion, dedication, iron determination and sheer grit would be required in huge measure. Over the years, a few students have come along declaring they wanted to do this, and each time I've promised to learn "Moto Perpetuo" with them -- I don't like the piece well enough to spend hundreds of hours on it just for me -- but the task of truly doing it proved too daunting for them.

I regularly circular breathe during articulated passages at medium tempi, say 16th notes at quarter note up to 88 or so. The Paganini Moto Perpetuo ought to be zooming along at about 160 to the quarter note or faster -- a challenge at a much higher magnitude if the flutist is to actually articulate each note, as would a violinist. A strategy that could work technically, but is too compromising musically, I feel, would be to slur two or three notes while circular breathing when playing at such high tempi. The whole point of a super virtuosic display piece is ... super virtuosity. Compromise robs the effect of magic and majesty.

Is anyone ready to take their chops where no flutist has gone before? I'll be there to help you!

Robert Dick
from the FLUTE list - April 2004


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