The Anatomy of Sound DVD

Amy Porter - Anatomy of SoundWelcome to the classroom of a flutist, something that, if described by my some of my students, could be similar to basic training for the US Army. Recently, a doctor told me that Med School was the easier choice in college than being a music major. Let me also welcome you to a prescribed research environment for learning the flute that goes beyond music. Welcome to the most non-competitive workshop environment you can imagine.

How did this happen? Is it possible to look back sometimes and say I did something methodically spiritual? I like to reflect on what happened in order to learn from it. So how far back should I look? Let’s go back to the beginning. Let me set the tone by saying, “I am a beginner every day.” If I make us all beginners every day, and we all welcome our days playing our instrument as beginners, we have more to learn and discover from our efforts that makes us more imaginative. That means our long tones are not giving us a false sense of security but a sense of balance. Our technical exercises are not meant to give us tendonitis, but a wonderful way to begin to create music on the instrument. Our etudes are not for naught – they are often more difficult than our major repertoire so they serve our future. If we are beginners every day then we can lose old habits and replace them with good ones.

I was teaching a lesson at U of M to a sophomore in 2001. She was not using absolutely every single nerve in her body to play the music and I was frustrated. I was frustrated because, as many teachers can attest, we physically feel for our students. We want them to feel what it is that we feel so we play by example, we use words to songs, we use our stories, we use recordings – I had used everything in my power, through the breath, body position, visualization, to show this student she needed to give me MORE emotionally. I knew it would help her playing if she could tap into her own power.

But she couldn’t.

I had to say something that was kosher. I remember bending down at the waist, looking at the floor and in a soft whisper of a yell, I exclaimed …

“It’s the ANATOMY!! Of SOUND! You need to play from everything that is inside of you – you need to hear it before it happens, feel it before you hear it, … see it and hear it as music not notes. Then put your WHOLE life into it!” She, of course, didn’t say a word. I don’t know how long it took for me to stop talking and for her to continue her etude – but I sneaked over to my desk and scribbled on a Post It – “Anatomy of Sound” and put it on my computer monitor. I knew I had to remember what I’d just said.

A summer went by. The next fall I was at the faculty meeting and they introduced the new Professor of Theater Jerry Schwiebert and his background. He was teaching acting classes with so many levels of awareness and it was everything I knew I had learned too!! I sought him out! “Hello!” I said. I proceeded to tell him that, while having studied a lot that he was teaching in movement, I was no expert. I was hoping my students could be as fortunate as I was at Juilliard to have a movement course. I had received a four-year course in Alexander technique, andattended countless movement seminars and lectures. I had done meditation retreats, gotten involved with many aspects of yoga and health. I was somehow able to play music with all of this great non-musical material. But in no way could I teach all that I had learned. I wanted something for my students here at the U of M where they could learn skills beyond their instrument. I wanted them to look inside themselves as well. It’s just where I believe that the best performances lie for the performer.

An orange flyer appeared in my school mailbox that fall. It said, “Want to start a Summer Workshop?” and was calling all faculty to lead the way in the trend of interdisciplinary workshops! So I took the yellow Post-It note off my computer monitor and posted it to the orange flyer and an idea was born. I asked Jerry Schwiebert to team teach with me, unscripted and unplugged.

So how were we to merge our teachings? We decided we would not. I’d go for it – he’d go for it – we often ask each other before beginning with a student, “Should we go for it?” Yes, I say, and we delve into the person’s unknown beauty, and musical truth. We literally are like talk show hosts who sit next to each other and compliment each other’s teachings with humor and love without ever saying the same thing. Again, there is no script, syllabus or method – I do my thing. Jerry does his thing (which I know to be only good). We have different methods for the same message. Be open, honest, communicative artists.

Still I needed to offer more in this workshop than just Jerry or I could teach. Somehow I needed everyone to understand what I knew to be true about the mind/body message. You need to get on the floor and be quiet. That’s when I knew I needed a Certified Yoga Instructor to teach an introductory course. I hired my fully qualified and outstanding Doctoral student Cathie Apple, to come and teach a “Yoga For Flutists” class. She did the first two workshops beautifully before moving away to Sacramento. Then I was told by one of my beloved amateur students, Professor of Law Margaret Jane Radin, that I should hire Laura Dwyer. She felt that Laura had a powerful and connective experience in her class that complimented my teaching in my class. Well, Peggy only gives great advice, so I hired Laura in year three. She helps us understand that everyone needs to just breathe. And then there is the mind. You have to turn it off before you can turn it on to perform. We learn from Laura about body awareness, away from the judgmental and chatty mind, and it frees us in a way we need to perform at our best.

The final component of the class, the featured guest, came when I realized I needed to appeal to the masses and not over-saturate my class with anatomy and sound lessons. I needed just the “regular bona fide master class.” My idea was to regularly invite my friends and former teachers, offering what the flute student really wants – to perform!! So it all started in 2003 with friends Alexa Still, now at Oberlin and Goran Marcusson from Sweden in year one. That year also began the tradition of eating dinner after every class – dinner beginning at 10 PM. We still hold true to our tradition to this day and steadily run out of clean forks.

The second year, my teacher Jeanne Baxtresser graced us with her poised teaching of orchestral playing. The 2005 workshop welcomed Jim Walker from USC and he taught us how to improvise. 2006 brought Andras Adjoran from Munich, Germany and he lectured on the Doppler Brothers and we covered Mozart’s flute works in depth. In 2007 we invited Dr. Brad Garner from Cincinnati Conservatory and he discussed the foundation of good flute playing and we studied the French Conservatoire repertoire. In 2008 we had my Juilliard classmate Tom Robertello, Professor at Indiana Univerity and composer Martin Kennedy. Tom made the students improvise to art on the projector from the artists he featured at his Chicago art gallery. In 2009 we welcomed Marianne Gedigian from UT Austin and she lectured on the great violinists and taught us repertoire from the Romantic era Composer Christopher Caliendo also came that year to hear Marianne and I perform his music. NYU Professor Keith Underwood came in 2010. We offered him the biggest screen of his life in Stamps Auditorium to show his YouTube video lecture on famous flutists. Never has Jean Pierre Rampal with the Muppets looked so good to him. Then we had composer Ian Clarke in 2011. Fifteen Anatomy of Sound performers, all offering fifteen different Ian Clarke pieces. I was so proud to offer this as a tribute to Ian and his music. This June, our tenth, we featured Paula Robison from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Magical moments for me were hearing her recital, her lecture on Marcel Moyse and sharing the stage with her in a duet.

Here are four quotes from throughout the years from participants. Please remember this is an adult workshop so the ages range from 21-75.

QUOTE #1 “What I appreciated most of all about the workshop was the fact that these two outstanding teachers, with their accumulated years of expertise, were completely focused on helping each participant improve. To me, that’s the essence of teaching, and to see that happening with every participant in every session was very rewarding, not just on a musical level but on a human level as well.”

#2 “The tone was set immediately at the orientation. Even an old dog like me felt at home! As a teacher, I appreciated all of the attention paid to professionalism throughout the class and I thought that all of the instructors worked hard to make this class ‘non-competitive’. Absolutely the right message to send to the young players in attendance and it really worked.”

#3 Yoga every morning was a new experience for me that I intend to continue. It truly improved my playing! I also loved the combination of the anatomy and sound. Jerry worked wonders and helped me fix a back problem that has been plaguing me for a very long time.

#4 I am still shocked that I only knew those people for 4 days and it certainly felt like longer. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would feel amazingly comfortable having lunch, dinner, and practicing with people from Curtis and Juilliard, and coming from. Japan and Canada. This workshop made that possible. I have been to summer festivals, some lasting 2 weeks and some lasting 6 weeks, and I can honestly say that this 4 day workshop is the best summer program I have been to.”

At the National Flute Association convention in Kansas City in 2008, I was asked by Daniel Dorff of Theodore Presser Publishing to write a book. “Amy,” he asked, “how do you get your students to play the way they play? Can you write a book about it? I said, “ Yes Danny, it’s called flow and, instead of writing a book, I could make a DVD!”

And now, with the patience of all who helped me get here, I am here with this study guide about performing, finding your personal tone and being your best musician. Like every recital or lecture you give, like every classroom or pulpit you enter, like your boardroom, your conference presentation, your banquet kitchen, or your report in class…these are all performances. We are put in a position to stand in front of people and do things that we fully intend to do well. And we should fully enjoy it through the portals of our own life.

Daniel Dorff asked me to tell people how I was able to cultivate a voice and a presence on stage that allowed me to be musically free, and at the same time, teach it to students. This DVD is the result of all the best training I have had and use my gifts.

I have been given a gift and so I need to offer a gift in return. My entire philosophy of teaching is wrapped up in this concept and this is my gift to you.

In the table of contents you have the ability to travel through portals that we all use. Mirrors, Windows, Doors, Steps, Elevators, Paths Platforms, and Levels.

I have divided the chapters into sub-chapters – Sound Advice and Sound Movement. It is a storyline of lessons through which you can journey as a beginner and use in your own way. My audio/video engineer Dave Schall wanted this to be more of a film that we had to watch instead of a cold list of exercises and lectures that we had to follow methodically to come to our best tone. That would be a method book. I like this concept. There is a flow, but it is just like a documentary. Consider it a documentary of our workshop that helps in finding your personal sound.

My cohost on the DVD is Laura Dwyer. All the graphic artistry is the talents of Alexander Harrision of Flaming Armadillo Productions. All the pictures you see are me, my mother, my father, two of my teachers and were taken either by a family member, a close personal friend, a workshop participant or me, and permissions have been granted for all the music and video. The sessions we have on film are from 2010 and 2011. The background music is all listed in the credits at the end of the DVD. Most of the piano playing you hear on the DVD background music is with my duo partner, Professor Christopher Harding, and I do also feature David Gilliland and Philip Bush on the DVD as well. Most of the recordings are live performances.

You will see an appearance by my physical trainer Meredith Mitchell and you will see professional flutists Keith Underwood and Ian Clarke, our guests from 2010 and 2011.

I knew I needed to begin with how we look at ourselves – our artistry and our life and how we address playing our instrument. I first learned movement and body awareness in Europe at the Mozarteum Academy at age 20. The early morning movement classes were enlightening. Then, learning yoga at age 23 was a fortunate gift. I have a huge mirror in my flute studio that I use to teach and it inspired me to name my opening chapter, mirrors. In the first chapter Mirrors of Truth, Sound Advice addresses the question: “Why can’t I get it – now?” And in Sound Movement we discuss posture, embouchure and inclusive awareness.

In the next chapter, Windows, I urge everyone to explore their own path for their inspiration and not just to other flutists. So many flutists look to me to be their inspiration and facilitator but I feel I’m just their mirror. I’m reflecting back to them what they already have inside themselves. By a stroke of kismet, Laura Dwyer gave me a gift one day while visiting her in Florida. I had said I was just a mirror to others – and she gave me a plaque that said “Teachers turn mirrors into windows.” So that is where we are now. We are at the portal called Windows into your World. Sound Advice shows you how I walked my path, and we look at the mission of performance in the dictionary’s definitions of perform, confidence and ego. In Sound Movement we talk only about, as I call it, “flying positive.”

I figured the next opening we all have to pass through had to be a door of sound opportunity. But tone study isn’t a joyous journey for most so I just called it Unlocking Doors – A Tone Study. Here I reflect on the Universe being in a whole note and give my one note a week exercise. In Sound movement Laura discusses understanding core and the psoas.

In the next chapter, Steps of Study, we continue to climb on our journey. You will hear me preach again about being a beginner every day. I also look you deeply in the eyes and ask you to truly listen to yourself. In Sound movement we discuss posture and its effect on the sound, the position of holding the flute and giving up the weight of the arms, and you will see me coach Nina Assimakopolous, now Professor of Flute at the University of West Virginia. Laura gives an amazing hand warm-up and a letting go exercise. These are all steps of study that often aren’t covered in one flute lesson.

Elevators of Pitch is an obvious choice to me to use as a descriptor for pitch. Pitch is such a fluctuating pulsation that it has to be seen as a cruel enemy to vibrato, tone and – getting along with others. We can all have a beautiful sound but we can’t all play in tune. So, here is my plea. In the sub- chapter Sound Advice I tell you that intonation is not an opinion and advise you to play defensively. In sound movement I give you pitch tendencies on the flute, three ways to raise pitch and intonation exercises.

Paths of discipline – Or I could have called it the road less travelled –Oh, how many of us think it comes easy. My sound advice here is to solidify your technique, by going outside your technical comfort zone. We feature Ian Clarke and his piece Hatching Aliens – and then Keith Underwood, with David Gilliland on piano buzzing Yellow Submarine – and finally I discuss the journey of the airstream. In sound movement Laura Dwyer explains about the feeling of flow and I discuss the angle of the airstream.

We love all of our guests at Anatomy of Sound, especially when they get silly. So, here in Platforms is where I got silly in my script – and I ended up cutting most of the silly part and throwing it on the office floor. That’s why you will see some footage in the outtakes that are not in the DVD. This whole scenario was about the tongue and how it was really Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster in our mouth. It works well live in a lesson, but didn’t translate well on film. So you’ll have to glean what I mean from this clearer version of the lesson on articulation. In the chapter Sound Advice, I consider the jaw a platform of stability for everything that has to happen for flutists in the mouth. If the jaw moves a lot, sound stabilization is lost. In the Sound movement section, I describe the Bad Tone Day and how the tongue can sabotage the tone. Oh, the Bad Tone day – I’ve had them, you’ve had them, we all know they aren’t pretty.

We grow in levels as human beings. Levels of Awareness is the last area I take you to because I think it takes maturity to understand this concept. In the Sound Advice chapter I will speak about self-awareness, emotional awareness, owning your power, and enjoying it all in the end. As it is said, learn everything and forget it. In Sound Movement, we discuss several useful body awareness techniques available for everyone to learn for continuing education.

On DVD 2 I invite you into my own world in a short documentary called PERSONAL SOUND and then I will lead you into my interview with mezzo-soprano Freda Herseth in SOUND NOTES FROM SINGERS.

I am constantly surprised and I shouldn’t be. Yoga, for me is like a truth serum. That is why I am offering the 30-MINUTE YOGA CLASS with Laura Dwyer . Whatever is ailing me will make itself known within that one hour of asanas or postures – and then by the end of the hour, all pain will have gone. Where did it go? It went into the past. It became like sand and was swept away. Why am I always so surprised? When I made friends with the aches and pains in my body through the work on a yoga mat, I grew more aware of the same experience I was working with in my body while performing on a stage. I’ve performed regularly since I was 12. I’ve lived in the same body and mind since I was born. So – maybe the two practices could work together. Maybe I could take all the spiritual practice from yoga and put it into my spiritual practices of music. I could change my mind and my body the same time! It is a powerful combination that changed my life. The yoga mat, the weight room, the treadmill and the open road have been a friend to me when I have needed it. Music has been the gift of love.

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD YOUR TEACHER WARM UP? I love long tones. Now, don’t take me to be the one who wants to show off when I warm up. I always tell people “If you hear the worst flutist in the world coming through the walls of the flute studio it’s probably me.” That’s because I don’t want to sound beautiful when I am warming up. I am a sputtering, hissing, bag of wind for a few minutes before I even can bring out what I need to practice. SO I bring out my long tones for just a few minutes. After all my years of playing it’s not like I need to warm up like I did when I was 20 and 30. But I still need to warm up and I notice a difference when I don’t. I bring you this chapter to help you to know that all ways of warming up are good – you just HAVE to warm up.

 

September 4, 2012  Adapted from the lecture recital “The Anatomy of Sound DVD Premiere.”

Britton Recital Hall, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

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