IPAP Summer Update!

May 21, 2012

Dear Readers,

Life changes have been many for us at IPAP.  Moves, new jobs and new adventures have kept us unexpectedly busy these days.

Some things to look for in the near future:

1) A new format for our beloved weekly digest, now coming to you with a different author each week, beginning in June.

2) Upcoming posts to spark dialogue about artist’s identities:  the struggles, joys and changes we go through as artists and how we alter our identity out of necessity, growth or a combination of both.  We are really excited about this and hope you will join us in the conversation.

3) Excellent posts as always from our stellar writers here at IPAP.

All best, enjoy the spring and be outside but keep reading with us too.


On Friday, April 20, the Rochester Flute Association welcomed Guest Artist Rhonda Larson in an intimate solo-flute performance entitled “One Woman, a World of Music,” at the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York. Accompanied by her “virtual band” (a sound system that provided backing tracks during the performance), audience members enjoyed a journey based on her travels, weaving stories and inspirations from her life, combining her classical training with musical traditions and flutes from the globe over, including C and alto flutes, a crystal flute, panpipes, a Scandinavian overtone flute, bamboo flutes and penny whistle. The musical selections—many composed by Ms. Larson—varied from Armenian folk songs (“Armenian Allure”) to a boat song from Nova Scotia (“The Boatman”), to pieces inspired by walks (“The Gift”), rivers (“The Way of the River”) and the openness of America’s West (“Montana”).  They were verbally announced from the stage by Ms. Larson whose charm, sincerity and wonderful story-telling combined with her flair and virtuosity as both flutist and composer made for a truly memorable evening.

Opening the performance was “Armenian Allure,” a mid-eastern influenced piece that she played on a bansuri, a bamboo flute.  Ms. Larson followed this with a welcoming piece she wrote for C flute that depicted the big skies of the West (“Montana”) by its long traveling phrases played with a clear resonant high register.  “Sweet Simplicity” featured joyful, beautiful articulation and phrasing combined with gorgeous soft high notes.  An infectious melody which she wished to rename “Dreadful Difficulty,” it is a piece to be added to any flutist’s library.  Ms. Larson shared a Scandinavian overtone flute with us on the next piece from 13th Century Spain made of pear-wood with a haunting quality in timbre that fit perfectly within the context of the piece.

“Movin’ On”, the second piece she ever wrote, was played on C flute which featured fast leaping beautiful jumps down to her resonant low register, followed by a sad Celtic love song from Nova Scotia called “The Boatman” that was played on crystal flute. Ms. Larson finished the first half with “The Gift”, a melody that came to her following a three day walk in the New Hampshire White Mountains.

The second half of the concert opened with “Spirit Maiden,” a Native-American inspired piece she performed with three flutes which required an enormous embouchure (Ms. Larson humorously added, “It’s like going to the dentist!”).

Returning again to Nova Scotia, the next piece came to her while she was sailing in Cape Breton and featured crystal flute, penny whistle and C flute.  Ms. Larson lives part of the year one hour north of Rome, Italy, and shared with us a piece from 14th Century France she often plays for lute and recorder in a medieval festival there.  She performed it on an 1869 Meyer Flute with an ivory headjoint that had a woody, warm sound.  The second half also included “Be Still My Soul”, a piece Ms. Larson wrote a few years ago while practicing in a quintessential New England Church in Connecticut with a particularly beautiful moment when she sang and played simultaneously, and a tune from the Celtic region of Northwestern Spain which she performed with the ensemble Milladoiro. The last piece, “The Way of the River,” performed on C flute and written by Ms. Larson, was Celtic-inspired and homage to her love of rivers.

As I left the performance, I thought about Ms. Larson’s piece titled “The Gift.”  This flutist’s ability to combine incredible virtuosity with a unique voice that is only hers is truly a gift for all of us, and the Rochester Flute Association would like to extend a special thank you to Ms. Larson for such an unforgettable and inspiring evening.

Photos courtesy of Rochester Flute Association

© 2012 Laura Lentz

When someone says to you “you need a strong core” or “you need to train your core”, does that leave you scratching your head in confusion?  I mean, what IS your core, anyway, and what on earth does it do? Is it your insides?  The middle of your body?  Your diaphragm?  Let me help you clear up all the confusion.

The core, in its simplest form, is actually the area of your body called the torso – therefore, not your arms, legs or head.  These aren’t just your abdominal muscles; there are LOTS of other muscles that make up the core.  In fact, some of the key players to core strength are in your back and lower back.

There are an awful lot of muscles in your core, and each one plays a role in how well you play your flute.  Yes, that’s right, your hip flexors, your back muscles, your abs; all those muscles have an impact on how you play.  How is that, you ask?  Well, the easy way to explain it is that all your muscles work together in any activity you do.

  • Standing uses your core muscles to keep you balanced and from falling over.
  • Driving uses more than your arms; your core is heavily involved. An indication of core weakness is pain in your hips or low back when you get out of the car.

The muscles in the front (your abs) serve to pull your body forward. These are the muscles with which you are probably most familiar, and as you know, spending most of our day in a bent over position works them plenty.  What this shows is that your back muscles may become weak from the forward-pulling motion of your abs. To have a strong core, this means that you must train your body to resist forward flexion and side to side twisting.

So how does this relate to playing your flute?  Like I mentioned before, you don’t just use your arms to play the flute.  Remember that old song “the head bone’s connected to the….neck bone” etc.?  It’s true.  Your body works as a whole.  It takes lots of different muscles to lift your arms, turn your head, hold up a flute and breathe to play.  And some of those muscles will get tired.  When this happens, other muscles take over.  If this goes on too long, you get what are called muscle compensations and imbalances, meaning that some muscles become weaker and allow other muscles to do their jobs for them.  This can lead to pain.

Each muscle is made to do a job whether that is its own job, the job of being a synergist (helping other muscles do their jobs) or an antagonist (the opposite of a muscle).  For example, your hip flexors are antagonists to your gluteus muscles.  If your hip flexors get too tight with too much sitting, your gluteus muscles become weak, eventually allowing other muscles (your hamstrings) to do the job of the glutes.  What happens then?  Your knees could hurt, or maybe your low back hurts from the stress of too much tightness in the front.  When your low back hurts because it is weak, this can translate to a weak upper back.  If your upper back is weak, it cannot support your arms which are doing a really hard job of holding up your flute, so when your arms tire, you’re just in pain everywhere, all because your hips are too tight, and guess what?  They’re part of the core!
So what to do?  I think by now we’ve established why you need a strong core to play.  When the body works well as a whole, you can play longer without compensating.  There are lots of good exercises to help with core strength.  My favorite exercise is the plank.

This can be progressed by lifting an arm or a leg, putting your feet on a bench or arms on a ball, or adding weight on your back, and can even be done on your side.  The goal is to keep your hips in line with your shoulders, so your body looks just like a plank; a board.  Even with the progressions: do not twist your hips or sag in the middle.  Hold for 30 seconds or longer, rest, and repeat.

Another of my favorite core exercises are 1) The Anti-Rotation Static Hold and its variation 2) Pallof Presses.  These are just fun, and it’s a great way to work your entire core without having to do a single crunch, or sit-up and if you have bad shoulders, these are an excellent choice without putting your shoulders into a compromising position.

To set up for both: 

Stand perpendicular to a cable station with a weight stack or a pole to which you’ve wrapped around a band.  Grasp the band or handle, pull it in front of you and then push it out in front of you, without twisting.  If you hold that position, that’s the static hold.  If you push it out and bring it back, those are Pallof Presses.  The goal with both of these is to avoid twisting (hence: anti-rotation) which you’ll feel all down the middle of your body. Make sure to choose a heavy enough weight so that the exercise is challenging.

This is a video of the Pallof Press:


If you hold the weight out without bringing it back, again, that is the Anti-Rotation Press.

If you are looking for a program of strength training that will train your core from every conceivable angle and get your entire body stronger in the process, I highly recommend a book called “The New Rules of Lifting for Abs” by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.  I’ve done the whole program myself and not only was it fun, I saw my strength increase by leaps and bounds!  They actually have a brand new book out called the “The New Rules of Lifting For Life”.  I just got it today and intend to read through it soon, but the gyst of it is that it is geared for non 20-yr olds, more towards middle agers and people who want to learn how to program their own workouts.

If you would like more exercises and more information, I actually have a longer blog post I’ve written about it with videos here: http://fluteangel.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/3-exercises-1-for-core-strength-and-stability/

As always, I have spots available for long distance training where I can write you a program to strengthen your core, improve your endurance and help you learn to play without pain.  You can find me via my website: www.MusicStrong.com and I’m always around on Face book: www.facebook.com/MusicStrong.  Come by and say hello, or send me an email with your comments and questions to angela@musicstrong.com  I look forward to hearing from you!

Inclusive Awareness brings you into the moment of music-making.  You experience the many movements of playing; from air to fingers, along with the sights, sounds, kinesthetic and tactile sensations.  You are actively engaged in the the creation of sound, and can  fluidly respond to the needs of the music, fellow musicians and audience.

This exploration will help you begin to integrate inclusive awareness into your playing.

Exploration 1: Feel Air Movement

  • Allow your visual field to be broad, feel the touch of your clothing on your skin, hear the sounds around you, see all of the colors and textures in the room.
  • Notice the movement of air in and out of your body.
    • Feel it pass through the mouth or nasal passages.
    • Feel movement in the chest where the ribs are located.
    • Feel the movement that occurs below the ribs.
  • Continue to notice the movement of air with your instrument into playing position.
  • Sustain a single note and tune into the movement of air out of your body.   You may notice it passing through the mouth or over the interior of the embouchure.
  • Notice the movement of air as you inhale.
  • Repeat playing a short phrase

Is there a difference in how you play when air movement is the focus of your awareness?  Is there an increase in ease?  Are you using just the right amount of air?  or was it too little or too much?  Next play a phrase as you notice air movement.

Enjoy!  As always, I welcome your thoughts & comments!
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