This month we looked at some seasonal tunes, including Gabriel’s Message, taken from concertina player Paul Hardy’s Xmas tune book (available as a free PDF download) and the Shetland slow air Da Day Dawn. We also explored some flute technique, in particular breath support – also useful for any wind player – and embouchure.
The next workshop will be 21st January. Details will go the the website and be announced in the newsletter very soon.
Notes below the range of the flute
We played long tones on Em (E-G-B) to warm up and then learned Gabriel’s Message by ear. The tune features a B below the range of our instruments, so we looked at strategies for accommodating it. In this case we settled on playing the B in the low octave – i.e. an octave above what is written – but when we then played the melody entirely in the upper register, we played the same B. Other options include playing a low note that harmonises, such as E or F#. Keeping it low respects the feel of the melody.
It is not uncommon for traditional tunes to drop to G string on the fiddle. What strategy is adopted depends on the tune and how those notes feature.
We looked at a few ways of employing the diaphragm for more efficient use of air in producing a sound. This included exploring playing the flute while lying on our backs, as described by Ciarán Carson in Last Night’s Fun:
We included a refinement that brought us closer to the Semi-Supine position in the Alexander Technique. Bringing the feet up the body and supporting the head. This may be helpful in developing good posture while playing the flute.
We thought about extinguishing a candle flame with directed and controlled breath and keeping it spluttering. We also looked at keeping a piece of paper to the wall using breath:
We explored whistle tones to find the embouchure sweet spot (see Jennifer Cluff on this) and tried singing and playing to open up the throat. Flutecolors lists some of the benefits in its extended techniques pages. Larry Krantz’s web site also includes an exploration of technique.
Books that were brought in or mentioned and look at extending technique:
- Conal Ó Gráda’s Feadóg Mhór
- Hammy Hamilton’s The Irish Fluteplayer’s Handbook
- Fintan Vallely’s A Complete Guide to Learning the Irish Flute
- June McCormack’s Flúit and Flúit 2
- Trevor Wye’s Practice Books for the Flute
- Ciarán Carson’s Last NIght’s Fun
The tunes we covered and some others are on the Resources page. The written music will follow on. Gabriel’s Message is a Basque carol but SW England song collector Rev. Baring-Gould translated the lyrics and it is widely sung, here by Sting:
Finally, I recorded a version on the Bb flute: