Practice Suggestions from John Wion to AmyAmy - I think it is important to keep clear the difference between practicing and playing. Playing should always be for fun, either for your self at home or for your audience - whether your fun comes from showing off your technique or expressing yourself through a song that you love. Practicing is what you do so that you can extend the range of your ability to express yourself. If the focus of your practice is on some external "should" it will always be frustrating and tension creating and ultimately counter-productive. A good teacher will be your more experienced ears to make you aware of areas to change, and a source of techniques to facilitate change, but *you* have to make those changes happen.
from internet discussion group (July 1995)
Productive practice starts with wanting to do something differently - better. This only starts when you listen to yourself play something and evaluate it - not to dump on yourself - just to make observations, as in "something is uneven there" or "out of tune" etc. If you can specifically pinpoint the problem it will normally correct itself.
The second step to productive practicing is to have the courage to admit when you can't define the problem exactly. Then you have to say "If I can't do this, what *can* I do? This means playing at a slower speed or a different octave or different dynamic.
In the case of a difficult fingering passage, for example, play it at a speed where you just know it is "a piece of cake". Then find out what that is on the metronome.Put the metronome on one notch faster - now this is the critical point - play the passage in your head just as you played it on the flute, then live out that fantasy on the flute - just once - don't prove it by doing it again! Put down the flute to rest your muscles and brain and move up the metronome one notch and repeat the process. Repeat this process until you sense that you not being completely successful (maybe 5 minutes)- this usually means you're getting tired or bored. Go onto something different. Next session start the same way - you will find that your starting speed (which comes out of your head) will be faster and you will reach a faster speed. I promise you this works- and amazingly quickly - and it's fun because you're building on a positive image of something you are doing successfully instead of a negative one of reinforcing something you can't do!
If you can't play a beautiful high B or low C what note *can* you play beautifully? Work from there towards your goal.
If your tone doesn't flow in the top octave...
If your articulation is muddy at this speed...
You are only productively practicing when you are actually listening and evaluating every note (maybe a minute or two before you find that you are actually thinking about something else?) The moment you stop listening you are either wasting time (if what you are playing is good) or reinforcing an imperfection.
In this sense the goal is actually how little time you spend practicing not how much!
Mastering the low D
"Does anybody have any suggestions on mastering the low D that begins Cantabile et Presto by Enecso".
Practice playing a long low D with full tone and vibrato and pay particular attention to the attack. It is a common thing for students to not have a clean attack on such a note and to only get the vibrato and good tone going a moment later. If the note is to be a long one that is not such a problem, but if it is a short note you will be onto the next note before it ever gets going. Common mistakes in starting low notes are to tongue and blow too hard. The result is that the sound splits at the moment of attack. Practice by getting your long tone sounding your best (regardless of attack), then restarting it precisely in a way that doesn't alter its quality. (If you master this there is no need to resort to slapping a key to help the attack). Once you are confident that the quality sound is really there at the moment of clean attack imitate it on a short note - the tendency again will be to think you have to work harder - resist it! Once you can produce a clean short note practice playing tktkt on low D with the sense of the beat being with the first and last notes and paying particular attention to the quality and clarity of the first note. Finally play tktktkt where the first tk are sixteenth upbeats as in the piece, but lean into the first note as if it were still a downbeat so that it still has the same fullness of tone and clarity of attack. Remember that when you want to play louder you need to direct more air into the flute but you don't want it to move faster so you have to make sure you compensate for the increased energy by opening the embouchure and keeping the back of the tongue down. Good luck!
JOHN WION on OPERA
Highly Recommended books by John Wion
Opera Excerpts vol. 1
For easy ordering I would suggest using the link to Flute World
REVIEW from PAN
John Wion, who has been Principal Flute in the New York City Opera Orchestra for 30 years, has just completed the seventh volume of a unique and comprehensive collection of opera excerpts. Teachers who know of this series would surely never let any student go through music college without both acquiring and studying all of these books. So much emphasis is placed (rightly) on the study of symphonic excerpts and little, or none, on the study of the opera repertoire, which requires unique skills and sensitivity [sixth sense!] for the accompanying orchestra and which of course contains many prominent and important solos.
As John Wion says in the introduction to the series, 'the principal function of the [opera] orchestra is to accompany the singers...more need for beauty of sound, expressivity, and sensitivity to tempo fluctuation...', you therefore need to be in complete technical command of the music before you begin. John Wion has done a magnificent job here. There are solos and difficult tutti passages from 11 operas in volume 5 alone. Each excerpt is prefaced by a brief description of the story and states the scoring, with practical advice on the extracts, such as: where it is necessary perhaps to learn a short passage from memory because the flute is accompanying a tricky tenor solo, where there is an awkward ensemble run for the flutes, where the tempo usually doubles, when the upbeat is played much shorter than it is written etc, even comments like 'there are considerable discrepancies between the scoring and the parts in this section'. All tremendously helpful in preparing the players for their task. The series is unique - would that it had been available before I began MY career, I would have had an easier start
to my life in the opera pit.
Review by Walfrid Kujala
John Wion, the highly acclaimed principal flutist of the New York City Opera since 1965, has already produced seven volumes of a projected ten volume set of opera Excerpts for flute and piccolo. The first volume appeared in 1991 and was a winner of the 1992 National Flute Association Newly Published Music Competition. The seventh volume was issued this year, and three more volumes are planned to round out the series.
Orchestral excerpt books generally tend to be overly restrictive in the number of passages selected and are also likely to be full of errors. Wion's series, I am happy to report, is just the opposite. He has been scrupulous in the thoroughness of coverage and his attention to detail and accuracy.
There are many unusual features that add to the appeal of these volumes-- synopses of the operas, instrument specifications, valuable advice for dealing with problem passages and stylistic questions, metronome markings based on Wion's extensive experience (many composers do not supply metronome markings, and where they are given, are not always valid), coverage of important second and third flute and piccolo passages as well as first flute passages, stage band parts, identification of doublings with other instruments, and, most helpful, inclusion of rehearsal numbers, enabling one to quickly locate a passage in the score or to follow along in a recording or radio performance.
The music engraving is very clear and easy to read. Interestingly, Wion has inserted on page 8 of Volume 3 a reproduction of a typical page from the original flute and piccolo part of Verdi's La Traviata, Act 1, to acquaint the reader with the real world of what many Italian opera parts actually took like--primitive looking and hard-to-read printing style, unusual and persistent use of repeat symbols, and no key signatures! Also, because of the flute and piccolo being typically printed together in score form in these Ricordi editions, awkward page turns abound. What a great boon it would be if all opera parts were Wionized!
So far, 78 operas have been covered, not only including most of the standard "grand" operas but many of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, one in each volume. These books are not only valuable for their thorough coverage of the flute and piccolo parts, but the opera lover can benefit enormously from the pleasurable sight-reading that these 448 pages (thus far) offer, plus there are a surprising number of beautiful duet and trio opportunities to enjoy.
John Wion Champions Romberg
Concerto in B Minor, Op.17 for flute.
Edited by John Wion.
Piano reduction by Elaine Baker.
Published by John Wion
180 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10024, USA $14.95
This is not only a 'must-have', but also a 'why haven't we heard of this before' piece of music. Romberg's Concerto is wonderful fun and fills the large gap in flute concertos from the Beethoven era. This edition is clear, well-edited and well-transcribed for flute and piano. Highly recommended.
The Journal of the British Flute Society
Volume 14 #2. Summer 1996
Bernard Heinrich Romberg
Flute Concerto Op.17; Divertimento for flute and strings,
Op.27; Quintet in G major for flute and strings.
John Wion, flute, with various artists.
John Wion champions works by forgotten composers and often turns up minor masterpieces. Romberg, who was featured in a recent issue of Pan, was a colleague of Beethoven's. The three pieces here recorded are worth getting to know. The Concerto, which is now available in a flute and piano version published by John Wion, is a virtuoso work from a period of history that produced little flute music of substance (but thousands of airs and variations). The Divertimento is an agreeable work, while the Quintet (for flute, violin, two violas and cello), is music of high quality. These performances are excellent.
a new book of arias for flute and piano
I wanted to share with the list my excitement that my book of arias arranged for flute and piano (with lovely forewords by James Galway and Beverly Sills) went to the printer today in time for me to go on vacation next Tuesday as planned. If all goes well the books will be ready on my return July 24. This project started with so many of you last fall on flute-m and only was brought to fruition by the continued enthusiasm, suggestions and editing of Helen Spielman. Then just weeks ago this list helped me find a terrific graphic designer who was able to produce a lovely cover almost overnight. The music (arias from the operas of Bizet, Flotow, Handel, Massenet, Mozart, Offenbach, Puccini, and Verdi) is preceded by a four page introduction that I hope will encourage flutists to think more vocally as they play to improve phrasing, intonation, and musicality. If any of you would like a copy of this intro I would be happy to e-mail it (minus musical examples). At the risk of making this sound like blatant advertizing, I would also like to offer a twenty five percent discount to anyone on the FLUTE list who would order a copy of Sing! before the New York Convention (just e-mail me). I hope that convention goers will look for it at the booths of the music sellers. - Have a great summer.
Sing! is available from:
Flute World - USA
A lifetime of playing opera has changed the way I play the flute. I find myself singing to my students and urging them to "sing" on their flute. Because such advice is often met with a blank look, I am prompted to offer something more concrete here.
By making performing versions of some of the most beautiful arias from opera available to flutists, I hope to encourage them to imitate great singers in the quest for expressive phrasing.
The way wind instruments are taught, from the very beginning, can create problems of phrasing and intonation that are often disregarded at even the most advanced levels, but that are easily understood and corrected if related to singing.
Flutists are taught, for example, that closing certain keys on the instrument will produce a certain pitch, and that closing more keys will change that pitch. These fingerings relate more to notes on a printed page than to a musical interval, and the action can be carried out mechanically without thought. Singers, on the other hand, cannot sing an interval unless it has first been heard in the mind. Flutists' intonation will always improve when they start to "hear" the next anticipated pitch before actually moving the fingers, because they will immediately adjust the note if it does not conform to their expectation.
Some of the arias in this book, by their very familiarity, offer students a vehicle for practicing this aural exercise. The exercise can be made even more helpful by playing these arias in different keys. Flutists tend to believe that certain out of tune notes on their instruments are actually in tune, and to disbelieve suggestions to the contrary. Playing simple melodies in different keys and listening to the intervals will start making them aware that a particular interval in one key is not quite the same as when played in another key or a different octave. While a certain amount of such work can be done by reading the same notes on the page but changing the key signature (A Major to Ab Major) or clef (treble to bass or alto), the best results will be obtained by playing from memory. For this reason I have resisted the temptation to write out the arias in a variety of keys.
Expressive phrasing is rarely missing from a singer's performance but is often lacking in an instrumentalist's. I believe this also relates to how we are taught.
When we express ourselves verbally we start with a thought that we then put into words. Depending on our level of education and the nature of the expression, the result might vary considerably in length, but the appropriate amount of breath will always be taken, the stresses will be made in the appropriate places, and the quality of voice will relate to the emotion contained in the thought. In contrast flutists will always (or never) take a huge breath, regardless of the length or dynamic of a phrase. Off-beat notes may become stressed just because they are long and down-beats may be under-stressed just because they are short. Many flutists will not hear that bright notes need toning down in a particular situation, or that dull ones need to be brightened, and will allow the vibrato and dynamic to fluctuate without regard to the direction of the music.
With singing, composers' and performers' sources of expression derive from the words. Composers are inspired by the lyrics' basic emotional content and move the expression forward with appropriate melodic line, harmonic logic, and rhythmic stress. Performers use lyrics and their emotional content as a basis for recreating the composer's inspiration.
Instrumental performers, not having the clarity of words as a guide, have to find the logic elsewhere. A simple musical phrase will usually rise to a single high pitch and decline again to its starting point. Sensitive musicians will intensify the sound to that high point (perhaps increasing the tempo as well) and ease back to the end of the phrase. Listeners will subconsciously be brought along a satisfying musical journey. More complicated instrumental phrases are not always as easily understood by performers. One cannot move the phrase in a logical fashion if its direction is not perceived, and the result will not be satisfying to listeners.
Simplifying such phrases is an excellent way to understand them. For example, the flute's four bar opening in the slow movement of Mozart's D Major Concerto
can be simplified to G - A - B.
The A in bar two is repeated.
The As in bar two and three are delayed by G# appoggiaturas on the down-beats, and the movement to B in bar four is delayed by an A# appoggiatura.
Performers aware of this progression will see the D and B in bar one as an ornamentation of the opening G and move the phrase through those notes to the G# in bar two. That G#, reduced by ornamentation to a sixteenth note, will be lengthened and stressed to carry the phrase through to the A on beat two. That A, though a quarter note, is seen as a resolution and played lighter. Similarly the long A in bar three is under stressed, and its following C leads forward to the stressed A# in bar four.
We can learn much about phrasing from following the simple lines of beautiful arias and by imitating the ways that great singers express them. Look at how the opening of Puccini's "Un bel di, vedremo"
moves from the tonic down the scale on the first four downbeats, then listen how great sopranos extend that line through intervening pitches and changing vowels, across rests, until the tonic is reached again on bar eight.
By playing these arias with an understanding of both the narrative content and the musical direction we start to breathe in a more natural fashion, just as in conversation when we instinctively take the correct amount of breath for the length of the sentence, the distance of the listener, and the power of the emotion. We begin to use the entire period of each rest to breathe normally, instead of holding our breath until the last moment and quickly inhaling regardless of need.
A common fault with flutists is to start a long note without vibrato, then quickly introduce a noticeable vibrato for the remainder of the note. The result is an illogical and unsatisfying phrase because of the effect of these surges in inappropriate places. Players who truly see the direction of a phrase will not play in this disruptive way. The sustaining and shaping of operatic arias is an excellent tool for developing this awareness and acquiring the necessary control.
Finally we can study arias for the expression of emotional content. Knowing the specific range of an aria from its words can lead us to strive for a quality of sound and a use of vibrato and rubato that will carry that emotion on the flute to an audience. A daughter's pleading for her father's help can be seen as quite different from an abandoned bride's fantasy of her lover's return. A young poet's expression of his hopes and dreams to his newly met neighbor differs from a lover's telling of his dream of paradise, perfect but for the absence of his lover. We learn to feel these emotions ourselves, and to imitate the instincts, skills, and artistry of the great singers as they express these emotions. If we learn well we improve our skills as performers and artists.
Review of 'Sing!'
from Pan magazine, March 1997
by Duke Dobing
To this end John Wion (principal flute of the New York City Opera since 1965) has drawn upon his wealth of experience as a performer to select a group of pieces most suited to guide the instrument in this vocal quest. The volume opens with a perceptive essay on the benefits of developing proper aural awareness, on phrase structure and direction, and offers some useful deconstructions of themes by Mozart and Puccini to support the general thesis. In addition, each aria is prefaced by a mise-en-scene to locate the dramatic and narrative context for the player, and touches on one or two interpretive insights to lend some operatic authenticity. Some of the piano accompaniments are a little robust and would benefit from a touch of judicious pruning, but in all other respects this is a well presented and valuable addition to the literature of development through interpretation.
Sing! is available from:
Flute World - USA
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