I received a pretty nice early birthday present this year. One of my chamber groups, Alcyone Ensemble was invited to perform at the 2014 National Flute Association’s annual convention in Chicago. Such an honor. My friend and colleague Amy Likar and I will be performing a brand new work that we commissioned our friend Danny Felsenfeld to write for us. This piece is special to Amy and I, it’s not your every day, run of the mill 2 flute and piano salon piece. Not even close! Our vision was to have Danny create something totally new, and boldly go where no composer had gone before (cue theme from Star Trek). “Blister and Wow” is an approximately 12 minute piece, in three movements, for two flutists and piano. Amy and I will play piccolo, flute and alto flute, switching back and forth between all three instruments throughout the entire work. Blister and Wow, indeed, and we can’t wait to share it with the flute community.
At the same time this exciting news came in, I also received a piece of disappointing news; the other proposal I submitted to the NFA for a group panel masterclass, honoring my mentor teacher, Clem Barone, was rejected. Five long time Clem students would have sat together on a panel, and in a masterclass setting we would share Clem’s pearls of wisdom and pedagogy, as individual performers came up to play for us. Side note about Clem: Clement Barone, solo piccolo for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra 1958-1991, was arguably one of the finest piccolo players of the 20th century, and to this day, in my opinion. He had a sound like no-one else, and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t play. (Students, here’s a fantastic listening project for you: seek out recordings of the Detroit Symphony during those years and you will hear some of the greatest, most sparkling, beautiful, perfectly in tune, and totally BADASS piccolo playing you’ve ever heard!) On top of all that, Clem Barone was an extraordinary teacher, and mentor, and it was an honor to have been a student of his. Every time we Clem students get together, we love to sit around and share our stories of lessons with Clem; his wisdom, artistry, funny stories, and of course, his never ending generosity and kindness. He was a gem, a real mensch! So, it seemed fitting for us to put our many years of collective Clem-ism’s together and create an event to share with those who never had the opportunity to know him, play for him, or learn from him.
Turns out, a lot of people were enthusiastic about submitting proposals to present or perform for the NFA in Chicago. I heard 508 was the final count. When we were notified that ours was rejected, I thought, “Oh, well, that’s OK, we’ll just re-submit for the 2015 convention in DC.” And then it hit me; why wait until 2015, why not share some of these great Clem gems right here?
With that said, here’s my list of “The Top 12 Clem Pearls of Wisdom,” which I think about everyday.
In no particular order:
1. “Strive to be a great musician, who just happens to play the flute.”
2. “There are about a hundred million great flute players out there, but only about 40 thousand great piccolo players.” Clem insisted that we all work to develop our piccolo skills, and not just rely upon being a good flutist. I treasure this bit of wisdom, and think of him every day that I play the piccolo. For me, piccolo playing is where it’s at. Thank you, Clem!
3. Regarding tone, always work from a palette of colors. We cannot and should not approach every piece we play with the same sound. Clem would have us play things without any vibrato or dynamic contrast. Then, little by little, we’d begin to add things in. He’d use the analogy of creating a work of art; first it’s a sketch, then you slowly add to that sketch with a variety of colors, and finally you frame your art.
4. “SING through your phrases!” It was always about the music with Clem.
5. Baroque flute sonata repertoire is ideal for the piccolo. Revisit these works as a piccoloist. Top of the list of Baroque flute repertoire to OWN on the piccolo: Gluck’s Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits. He made all of us do it on piccolo. I remember him telling me, if I could play that on piccolo, I could play anything.
6. With regard to articulation, Clem used to say “articulate the wind.” He had this great analogy of thinking of our airstream as the ocean waves; ever continuous, and our articulation like surfboards riding the waves. Don’t stop the air, and definitely don’t stop it with the tongue. Instead, let the articulation ride the airstream like surfboards ride the waves. This works beautifully for so many things, but especially for pieces like Mendelssohn Scherzo, Italian Symphony, Scheherazade, or any other fast, articulated passages. I still have his little penciled in notes to this effect in my music, and cherish them!
7. When working things out in your practice, or when thinking about music, ask yourself:
When? Where? Why? How?
When does it happen, or when was this piece written?
Where does it happen, or where should I do this or that?
Why is this particular thing happening in this spot, what am I doing to make this happen?
How is it happening, or how should I approach this passage?
If you take the time to really think things through, and figure out the answers to those questions, there isn’t any obstacle you can’t tackle, or problem you can’t solve in your practice. This invaluable lesson is what will help us to become our own best teacher.
8. Like all great teachers, Clem stressed the importance of building an excellent foundation. Some of his recommended fundamentals, all of which I continue to practice routinely: whistle tones, harmonics, Tone Development Through Interpretation in as many ways as possible, various technical studies of Moyse, and Taffanel and Gaubert , and of course all of the Andersen études. After all these years, these things remain my daily staples.
9. Clem was not only supportive of independence with his students, he encouraged us to have our own ideas. He didn’t want us to simply copy what he told us, but encouraged us to explore other ways, and find out what worked well for us. He used to say “there’s always another way,” and there was.
10. Practice with great patience, a positive attitude, and always listen. Don’t be in a hurry to get through things, take your time, listen carefully, develop your ear, and a thorough knowledge of what you’re learning.
11. And speaking of practicing, practice with one goal in mind: TO IMPROVE.
12. Give back. Clem loved to teach and was always generous when it came to sharing. He believed in giving back, always. If he had something to share that could help someone to become a better player, he’d help them in anyway he could. I could call Clem at any time of the day, it seemed, and he’d be there for me, to lend an ear, and give me the best advice. My lessons were rarely one hour in length, and in fact often 2 hours or more. He wasn’t a clock watcher and was always generous with his time.
In the sprit of giving back and acknowledging that there is indeed always another way, I write this blog.
What good is all of this wonderful information if my fellow Clem studio alumni and I don’t share it? It’s our duty as his students to pass on his teachings. About a year and a half ago, Jeff Zook (Clem’s successor as solo piccolo for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra) and I sat together discussing this exact point. It was that evening that we decided we’d put together a proposal for the NFA, to honor Clem by sharing his teachings. There’s a whole new crop of young players entering universities and conservatories who may never have heard of Clem Barone. So, it really is up to the Clem students to keep his spirit and pedagogy alive. That’s our way of doing what Clem did: giving back.
In the mid-70’s, Clem was diagnosed with a cancerous saliva gland that required surgery. He went through a major operation that left him with a crooked tongue, and was no longer able to double tongue. On top of that, his doctor told him he may never play again. The day after his operation, Clem asked his wife Marge to bring his piccolo to him at the hospital. He went out on the fire escape, tried to play, and was horrified by what he heard. Did that stop him? No way. He did this every day while he was in the hospital, and taught himself how to play again under these new circumstances. Of course, he recovered, and returned to the orchestra, and went on to play 15 more seasons with the Detroit Symphony, making all those incredible Dorati recordings! Flutists and piccoloists, can you imagine playing things like Scheherazade, or the symphonies of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky without being able to double tongue?!?
Clem found another way.
When I found out that my friends and I wouldn’t be able to present a master class this summer, honoring the teachings of our beloved teacher, I found another way, too: to give back, and share it here.
Thank you, Clem. You continue to inspire me.