There’s a flurry of excitement today on social media among the flute community. Emails went out this morning notifying everyone about the status of their proposals for the annual NFA Convention this August in Washington D.C. For those of us who submit proposals to perform, present a class, present a lecture, etc., we submit our materials in the fall and then wait patiently until now to hear the results. Last year, we didn’t find out the results until early March. Suffice to say, we are always eager to hear the results and excited when we are chosen.
For the second year in a row, a group of colleagues and I submitted a proposal to present a masterclass honoring our mentor teacher, Clement Barone. And, for the second year in a row, our proposal was declined. Sitting here with my enormous cup of morning tea, I asked myself; What will I do about this? Well, first of all, I’d like to congratulate all of my flute friends and colleagues whose proposals were chosen. Secondly, I’d like to re-post a portion of a blog I wrote last March, when my friends and I learned that our Clem class had been declined. By the way, if you’re interested in reading that post in its entirety, click here. If you happen to peruse my other blog posts, you’ll notice quickly that there’s a common thread which runs through many of them:
Clem Barone: Arguably one of the finest piccolo players ever, a great musician and mentor, and a wonderful man.
My Dad, Santo Urso: Former Assistant Concertmaster of the DSO, an extraordinary violinist, musician, and mentor, and the greatest Dad ever.
It is of paramount importance that we as musicians always remember the great giants who paved the roads on which we all travel. I preach this to my students regularly. I am so grateful to all of my teachers for everything that they gave to me. Their wisdom is gold, and not only shapes my own daily practice, but my teaching as well.
Here is my list of Top 12 Clem Pearls of Wisdom. These are applicable for any musician, not only flutists and piccoloists.
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.
In the spirit of Clem’s amazing ability to always find another way and to give back, that is exactly what I’m doing and will continue to do. I feel very fortunate to have Clem’s musical ideas, tonal concepts, practice tools and gobs of general wisdom swirling around in my head. Thank you for being my North Star, Clem Barone.