Personal Review

Of Same – Same – Different Workshop for flutists

Athina Chrysostomou

Things to improve on and things to improve on EVEN MORE [and score!!!]

I organised an online workshop for flutists in May 2020. I sent the participants my piece Fantasie Impromptu-ish and asked them to familiarise themselves with at least one or two phrases. The purpose was to produce the piece in different ways, as many ways as the participants I had. I also talked about exploring and accepting how our experiences form our choices. Some more information about it can be found here

The goal was to produce variations of the same piece by freely manipulating the sound colour. If we were to choose just one quality to work on and manipulate then playing with sound colours qualities would be it! I don’t feel I fully communicated this. I wanted to say: change the timbre of phrases, use the articulation and dynamic markings as guidance to help you identify which technique would produce the sound colour that could be described by said markings, narrow your focus on timbral changes. For example, if there is a legato jump you may choose to slide between the notes, if a fragment is staccato and piano you can try slap tongue or a key clicks and so on. In regards to  rhythm, slow down the ending of phrases, speed up some arpeggiated fragments. But I don’t feel I successfully conveyed this.

I should have concentrated only on sound colour and appoint a specific phrase everyone would be working on. Rather my instructions were a bit vague. I was giving recommendations and invitations, not instructions or guidance. I didn’t want my input and expectations to affect their decisions. This didn’t backfire but with different wording of approach it could have gone smoother. Nevertheless, all participants showed traces of embracing the theme and investigating what kind of timbral effects they can bring to the piece so it was a success.

Another thing I learned was to save time to pause and demonstrate. And to put it in context, pause and demonstrate a few ways of changing the timbre of a note like are air sounds, percussive sounds, singing…  Instead of having imaginary expectations and taking this knowledge for granted.

 I asked the performers to be free and interpret the score as they felt made sense to them. The problem here was distributing a highly specific score. The tempo, articulation and dynamics were given as well as the rhythms were very precise and not to mention a little bit difficult. This wasn’t unjustified as I feared that without the phrasing marks and such, the score wouldn’t easily make much sense. My own insecurities of giving an idea of how the end product may sound, led to an overloaded score that achieved the opposite results of what I wanted. Instead my score could have had less markings, fewer complex rhythms and the words free or ad libitum could be placed on the top instead of the metronome marking. 

At this point I would also like to blame Sibelius – the software – and how I work directly onto the software. I manipulate everything so that it sounds as close to what I’m looking for. I knew I did this, I never realised how negatively it impacted my creative process.

By now you can sense that I have trouble. What I always struggle with is communicating my thoughts especially when under pressure and with people I don’t know. It is something I am actively and consciously working on. Listening back to the short clip I remembered to record, I circle around the same words (interesting, interested) without adding a lot more information. If only you would learn something without the practice and the mistakes and yes, the feeling of humiliation…but alas!

A hidden gem from this was inclusivity and playing with other musicians. The performers did play together at times, we played games and they had a chance to exchange ideas and approaches. They loved it and I most definitely loved it. I also noticed how there is more new music written for professional players rather than amateurs and students. At least I write having a professional player in mind so this was a wake up call to write music for various levels and purposes.

So overall, this was a positive experience. The most important being going through it form preparing and planning the workshop, talking with my dear friend on how to make it happen, to writing the posts, marketing and promoting it – even the minimal marketing I did, answering the emails and everything that led up to the minute before clicking START MEETING, to finally clicking END MEETING. I feel I got my toe through the door of organising something and self promoting which was haunting me for a decade. And that was the best learning of all!

You will find the full score here ready to download!

Note to self: to add much more playing time in the next workshop.

* Expected: what do you think I mean by expected?

** Extended techniques monologue will come very soon!

Special thanks to Evi, Athina, Lauri and Kata for their support, inspiration, and kick!

All thoughts and ideas writen here are through my own experience and observation.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music and other Art Forms

A little long something I wrote years ago. The people I am referring to there have now changed their approach, and maybe I have as well… Anyway, based on true stories

Should a Musician explore and practice other art forms or must he/she only use music knowledge to interpret the notes on paper into music… or art?

Continue reading

Finding the way with Chopin

Even though I haven’t studied music therapy in depth, I have spent time in lectures, reading, researching and discussing about it. It’s undeniable that music therapy can heal a person. But how exactly does it do that? What does the therapist want to achieve by the end of a course of sessions? ”If the point is to make the patient express his inner thoughts (never said the word feelings), how can they talk through art? Unless they are writting down or saying actual words, noone knows what they are thinking so why go through that process?” someone asked me once and they were determined music therapy is just another trend. Well, what are your limits and how can you handle yourself?

When we get angry we don’t explode or errupt like a volcano. We are more like the cassaroles that grandmothers have (mine does) that you turn a nob and it lets steam out slowly, no destruction and you can eat lovely food later. I come to agree with this idea. (In simplistic terms) holding emotions in and then letting our selves explode in merely another bad habit. It doesn’t show power and that you are the voice of reason, like they do in the movies, on the contrary, it shows lack of characters  for not speaking up earlier and not to mention the destruction you might cause on the way to proving a point. I’m not arguing about the act of getting angry but the act of resorting to “volcanoing” as a safe place. So initial steps, detect the situation and trust yourself that you can be a better version of yourself.

Now what I had to do was opening up to the world and explaing my thoughts, anxieties and conserns. This had to be done soon before emotions pile up again.

I had gone through a phase where I loved Chopin and then I was bored of listening to his piano pieces, they would sound a little bit pretencious (this also came from my social surrounding at the time). I opened my book today and found one of his Valses. The brilliance of his writing was just laying there. A melodic phrase, repeated enough times to built a smooth lift off. The pianist announces the idea without having to move his hand, just relaxes the wrist on top of a key position and lets the fingers dance on the keys. The left hand does the dumb-pa-pa-dumb-pa-pa. Sink the fingers in the piano, don’t sit on each note, play the note and it’s gone, you will lock the harmony with the pedal. “Move on, don’t drag the piece, use rubato sensibly, don’t hold back the rhythm.” Right foot and left hand have to coordinate to trap the correct harmony so the right hand can ring out the melody. The music moves forward to come back to the same idea, the comfort zone. The dumb-pa-pa, is one bar and it’s in constant move. It’s there to project anything and everything the right hand says. Even that fleeting little passage you spent hours perfecting and unless you aim after the end of the passage you will never get it right. It is a fleeting melody and giving it more attention than what it needs then you loose momentum from the whole piece. Find the sense of “home” of the piece, that’s where all the melodies lead to. And, oh yes! when you find that feeling of “home” in the piece you know it’s half way there.

Well maybe it’s not all black and white. Take a step back and review the whole piece. You can see what melodies are repeated and how they bloom and blossom only to get repeated again (thankfull for the student player that will find it as an excuse to practice less). Maybe it’s a good time now to talk.

Second time playing the same piece. Ah, yes. I’ve played this before. Why does he use so many black keys? Well, it didn’t make it more difficult to read, did it? Let’s try it in an easier key signature. It’s horrible, it looses it’s character, and my fingers get tangled, they don’t slide so smoothly. Yes, maybe there is another way to look at a problem and the first step is to realise it as a situation and not as a problem. Talk about it again change your angle, there’s always more than meets the eye.

Third time. Playing the same piece. This melody is flying off my fingers. Okay, the left hand still sits on the notes, maybe I should read the harmony. I now can prepare the right hand to play G natural and the left to play Gb. Why didn’t I see it before? The G was running away from home. Gb is where it sould be. Someone is grounding you down. They don’t deserve to be in the dark so to fulfill the old habit of exploding to make a dramatic effect on others that don’t matter and be expected to pick up the remains. Have another talk. It’s alright. You are home, Frederic.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2017

On traditional music

Pick a language you know completely nothing about. Imagine you are learning how to say a ‘bad word’ or a phrase like ‘I love you’ in that other language. You can also make it up.

We arrange letters in logical positions to form words. The letters are the body of the word. Every person, no matter what language they can speak, will see the same characters and will (generally) be able to reproduce them by copying the characters of the word and writing them down. Some might go as far as enunciating the letters to form the word and until then it is a reproduction of the sound of the word.

Later, we will find out about the meaning of the word. That’s the brain. If it’s a ‘bad word’ we might giggle knowing it’s a bad word in another language and in our language it doesn’t mean anything. This information will be stored in our brain, like any other piece of information and if we use it often we will remember it if not, it will be jumbled up in there.

Taking for instance a phrase like ‘I love you’. How do we feel if someone said it to us in our own language and how in the foreign, unknown language. The meaning is the same in both languages. But there’s a deeper connection to the phrase when it is said in the language we have be speaking throughout our lives. That connection to the meaning of the word or phrase I call: the mind. The higher understanding of the word that only repetition, practice and daily interaction with the language in various forms will eventually make us able to feel the words on that level. To realise when a word is being used correctly without having to go through grammar and syntax rules. It just “sounds” right. These rules are abstract and change according to the language and sometimes the region. Some languages may have the subject before the verb and some the other way round, some languages might not need to use a specific word to determine the person in a sentence (I, you, he, she…) and some languages do. Translating directly from one language to the other without thinking about these rules will sound like nonsense.

And now connecting it to Music. The letters are the individual notes or sounds, that we arrange in time and space to make a fragment. To form a musical phrase, we arrange these fragments into patterns, or motifs, and so on. Just like grammar and syntax rules, there is music theory that will help to better understand the needs of creating a musical passage, how to give the feeling that the phrase has finished but not the whole piece, manipulate rhythm and melody within one phrase. These rules, for me, are as important as the rules we use in our language. Just like language, these rules might have some alterations depending on the type of music; folk, eastern European, middle eastern, classical and the region of course. The special thing though is that music is universal. And no matter where or what kind kind of training someone has had, they will make sense of any kind of music much easier than someone that had no training. Wherever you are in the world, if you hear the music you are used to listening to (not necessarily the one you like) it will touch your emotions so deeply as if someone curses or says that they love you in your mother tongue.

In conclusion, learn your traditional music, practice, learn, enjoy learning and practising and prefer to defy the rules, rather than reinventing the (cart) wheel. It’s okay. Of course, some practises are straight forward and just a few interactions with the means will help you come to the same conclusions other people pay money to learn but it is a shame to see someone with such potential voluntarily stop their mind from progressing.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2017

Music and Mathematics

Imagine – Think – Reason

I was taking a course on how to teach music to adults (why?!) and when we would talk about lesson plans, the teacher emphasised that we had to incorporate language, maths and ICT concepts and activities in the lessons. We discussed about the connection on music and maths and everyone else agreed that it revolves around the topic of counting rhythms and dividing note values into bars. That’s not it! This is only one tiny granule of the whole concept of music and maths, it merely touches only the surface of it.

Music and Mathematics may also be the study of how sound is created and organised. The fundamentals of instrument tuning and creating a sound electronically involve mathematical equations, logarithms, frequencies, adding up sound waves, organising rations of the frequencies, and so on. And finding or coming up with the pattern of the sound wave, arranging the sound into patterns, adding or dividing, multiplying and subtracting from the basic formula of the sound wave and then arranging the new sounds into patterns, so eventually we could create the music (put in simplistic terms). I’ll call this the “physical study of music and maths” as one can almost touch the sound during the process. You can see the wave form, the equations, you can listen to the differences and how it finally becomes what you desire. Perhaps this talk, by Scott Rickard may give a small insight to this topic (Scott Rickard: The beautiful math behind the world’s ugliest music, filmed September 2011 at TEDxMIA)

How the philosophy of Music and Maths speaks to me is a little bit more abstract or intangible and Roger Antonsen‘s, (TEDtalk Roger Antonsen: Math is the hidden secret to understanding the world, filmed January 2015 at TedxOslo) talk explains it very well. It’s about understanding the world around us. The connection between maths and the world for me is music. The reason is because I can apply my knowledge of music in every day problems, tasks, philosophies, social interactions, learning, teaching and so on… As the video suggests, mathematics is a process of finding and creating patterns, music translates patterns into sound giving them another dimension.

Mathematics and Music (kindly) force people to always be thinking to find solutions or ways to avoid errors or undesired conclusions, study from the past and create something new. And that is my fundamental point. It’s easy to be given a formula and apply it on a specific task to come up with an answer, but how easy is it to come up with that formula relying on knowledge of the subject? Through both subjects the brain is trained to be consciously seeking information through past knowledge and apply it on new grounds. With music one can immediately listen to ‘it’ as well. When teaching music my primary goal is to assist the brain to create more connections as the brain usually keeps the connections it needs and “forgets” about others made in the past. There is extended research on this subject.

Mathematics is explained as an abstract science and I find Music to be an abstract science. The subjects are so abstract that give meaning to anything they are applied to. They are an idea, a concept. What breaks the walls and the boundaries of the brain. Something that can not be physically felt but exists because it is emotionally felt. Meant to elevate the soul and ground our existence. By knowing this, you can apply your knowledge to understanding the rest of your world. Not everyone will become mathematicians and not everyone will become musicians. What everyone should aim to become is rounded thinking adults capable of living in harmony, finding solutions, being adaptable and progressing as beings.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2017

The Habit of Feeling Comfortable

The habit of feeling comfortable

During physical exercise, there comes a point where we just want to stop because we decide that we had enough and we are tired. Then we look at the time and we see that we have been exercising for half the time we know we can. At some point we started a habit of stopping our exercise and now we are desperately seeking for that comfortable state of stopping. After that we decide that the only way to get back on track is by accepting that we need a bit of motivation and that will come through a training buddy. And it is true. Having someone motivating you is far more exiting than trying to motivate ourselves and also trying on our own might not work so there is no reason in trying.

When I was studying  at the university, my teacher spotted a habit I didn’t know I had. That was stopping half way though the piece I would be performing to “catch my breath” and continuing. I would play both halves of the piece perfectly and I would play the ending of the first part and the beginning of the next very well but for some reason I would stop at some point and then continue, and I would do that for every piece not matter its length. My teacher called that “a habit”, the brain, body and mind muscles needed training.

To get rid of the habit, I started by (probably) the obvious thing and practice playing just a little bit past my stopping point. and adding up and using different other practicing techniques that I shall talk more on later. What I had realised was that in my head the piece was divided into these two large chunks so whenever I would have the chance I would start singing it, in my head. Practice never stops.

What took a while for me to train was my mind accepting that it was ready to play the whole piece non stop and getting out of that comfort zone of stopping. I noticed that when we would play a duet with my teacher I needed more stopping points. It wasn’t lack of not knowing the piece, I just didn’t have a strong enough character to complete the piece. Playing the duets was actually a positive thing as it acted as a pressuring mechanism to carry on. Using that idea during my practice time was what made me get rid of the habit of stopping. It took a lot of personal strength, engaging my body, brain and mind fully while practicing and knowing when it is time to stop and when I should try a little bit more.

It’s a habit. It’s the muscles that for some reason they have learnt to do it, in this case, stop. When we play we don’t use only our body or only our brain or only our mind. It’s the combination of all three that makes us create and play music. All three of these factors are trained to work together, in combination and to work apart. Just sometimes, they need to work together a bit more, so we need to do some exercise in different levels.

The muscles of the brain need to be disciplined to accept the full length of a piece and its uniqueness, brain strength. The muscles of the body (not just the fingers but also the back and the core, the head, the neck, the lunges, diaphragm, legs…) need to be disciplined to learn a whole piece through any possible way, body strength. The mind needs to accept that we know the piece and sometimes that’s more difficult. Nevertheless, it is a sign of inner strength and it can be exercised.

Getting rid of a habit will happen best with a buddy, your friend, your teacher, your ensemble, your metronome. But the best person to help us get rid of our habit and take us out of that comfort zone is of course each one of us (and maybe the metronome used sensibly). So our musician friend, teacher, ensemble will play with us and just enjoy the act. It’s not just practicing the notes for this one, it’s practicing in ourselves, believing, visualising the piece, listening to the ending and reaching it. It’s a physical, mental, and emotional thing. It’s music!




© Rania Chrysostomou, 2017

Patience through Practice

To value and devote time to recap. Go through what you have learnt so far and practice them on a beginners level. Practice slow. Playing or reading about what you already know as long as the intention is to move forward. You might realise something new, build muscle memory and brain memory, and my favourite, to make new brain connections to understand something else entirely different to music (if there is such a thing!).

Recapping, revisiting something already known shows a disciplined character. Do it with full purpose and intention, be humble to your knowledge and expertise and allow your body, brain and mind time for digestion time for digestion.

When I was at university I studied saxophone. My teacher would start my lesson with tenuti, so I had to practice them. I felt embarrassed at first, it didn’t sound interesting. I was doing this when I first started saxophone and my family would leave the house for the time I was practicing. Then this exercise progressed to “dropping the harmonics” as he called it. Something I wouldn’t be able to do as a beginner. I continued studying as my teacher guided: “slowly, take your time, challenge yourself for longer, listen, go again, be mindful”. My sound was comparable to the teacher’s in just 6 months.

Patience. Be patient with yourself. Be firm. Listen. Think. Organise. Take time and give time.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2017