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McGrath 1 Melissa McGrath Ms.

Rand English 1103 H02 11 September 2013 Musical Literacy: Playing the Flute The day I brought home my rented flute, I was so elated to begin playing. I understood what Mrs. Hawes had said in our music lesson that Tuesday about how to finger the notes B flat, C, A, and D. I understood the concept of correctly placing my fingers over the keys in order to achieve a certain pitch. I already knew how to read music because I had learned to play the piano years earlier. The only aspect of playing the flute to which I really had to devote time was pushing air through the mouth piece to get a sound. To protect the kindergartners from witnessing my elation in the form of flailing arms, a loud voice, and the inability to control myself, the bus ride home need not drag on too much. I had been told not to open up my case on the bus because accidents tend to happen quite easily in a moving vehicle that seats up to eighteen young children. I peered out the window, watching the white lines on the road pass by as we cruised down the highway. Only thirty more minutes and I will be home! I thought to myself. It became a ritual to unload my backpack, eat some Oreos, go to the bathroom, wash my hands, and then begin homework. This time, however, I would unload my backpack, go to the bathroom, wash my hands, and play my new flute! Recalling one of the top ten rules on handing ones instrument with care, I was sure not going to be eating before I played my new woodwind instrument. Bus #812 finally stopped in front of my house. The bus driver wished me a good day, and I responded, Im going to have a great day, thank you. You too, Mike. I ran up the

McGrath 2 driveway, completely forgetting about my younger sister who was lagging behind in her oversized, mid-shin-length skort and heavy backpack. My mom greeted me at the door as she always did, asked how my day went, and I began to disclose all of the things about my first flute lesson that intrigued me. I asked permission if I could sit in her room on the floor in front of my parents big mirror. Sitting in front of the mirror would help so that I could see where I was placing my lips on the lip plate, and where I was positioning my upper lip over the blow hole. Picking up the flute and immediately drawing it to my mouth was not yet in the cards. It would take a couple of months before I felt confident enough to step away from the mirror and attempt to bring the flute up to my mouth without needing to see my reflection. I took out the short music pieces that Mrs. Hawes had assigned my group in class. I carefully put together the three main parts of the flute, crossed my legs in a pretzel formation, sat up straight, and excitedly but warily drew the flute up to my mouth. The music notes were written in to hold each of them for four beats each; they were whole notes. Okay, Melissa, I told myself. You know the fingering for this first note, B fl at. Just push some air through it, and youll get a sound. I was so focused on getting the right fingerings that I never took time to examine the real problem not investing enough time in the positioning of my lips over the blow hole. I was so focused on not playing a wrong note that all my energy went into my hands to make sure that my fingers were hovering over the correct keys. I thought that if I pressed the right keys and blew, I would hit the note. As a beginner, however, I was unaware of all the required concentration it would take to make a sound. After trying to make a sound with the other three notes I was told to practice and not getting anything but a wispy and low Hughh sound, I became puzzled. Why could I not play the most basic note on the flute? After numerous unsuccessful attempts, I called

McGrath 3 my mom in to see if she had any advice. My mom was literate in reading music, but could not teach me the specifics about tonguing and what was needed in order to produce a clear note. Her advice was futile. No one else in the house could help me. My mom was more than willing to sit down beside me and offer suggestions; however, because she was not the one with the desire to learn the flute, she did not understand my frustration. She was an advocate for this new literacy event that I was undertaking, but she was unable to provide the key ingredients to helping me achieve some sort of recognizable sound on the flute. I was becoming frustrated because at the music fair a week earlier where the third through eighth grades were informed of the different instrument options that were available to them, Mrs. Hawes had played a beautiful piece on her flute. I wanted to play with such confidence and clarity. Instead, I was sitting on the carpet of my parents bedroom looking at my lips in the mirror and becoming more dejected by the minute. My posture slowly began to worsen. I started practicing in an upright position, but once the frustration became overwhelming, that posture weakened until I looked like a turtle hunched over looking for food. I feel a sense of personal satisfaction when I accomplish something, so the fact that I was not able to produce a B flat was vexing. I had hope that my instructor would tend to our individual concerns at our next lesson, so there was no need to become too upset. However, in that moment, all I wanted was to hear the sound of my own B flat. Four days passed and I was off to my piano lesson. My piano teacher, Cara, knew that I was interested in learning how to play the flute. She asked me about the progress I was making, and I was not able to respond with positive details. I cant get a B flat out. Im blowing air into the instrument, but it doesnt seem to come out the other end in the form of music. Im holding my flute the exact way my flute instructor

McGrath 4 taught us, so that is not the problem. The list of unresolved problems continued until Cara stopped me. Hold on, Sweetie. Have you tried taking out the headjoint and just playing with that? I told Cara I had not done that, and I went into the explanation of how Mrs. Hawes wants us to hold the entire flute a certain way, not just pieces of it. Cara suggested that I ignore the middle and foot joints and solely concentrate on the headjoint, which in turn would force me to pay closer attention to the way I was parting and positioning my lips. I went home after my piano lesson, sat down in front of that same mirror, and only took out the headjoint. I covered the open end of this part of the flute with my right hand so that the resulting noise would not sound pitchy. I refocused my goal of trying to play the flute to trying to produce a clear, low sound using the headjoint. After several times of repositioning and readjusting, I found a position that enabled me to get a B flat out of the flute. I did not become too excited for fear that the sound of the B flat would never return. Instead, I continued to search for that position and subsequently played the same note about thirty times in a row. I had finally heard what my B flat sounded like! My mom slipped her head inside the room and had a little grin on her face that said, Melissa, youre doing it. Youre playing the flute. I continued to attend my lessons inside and outside of school and heed the advice of my music teachers. My teacher introduced us to tonguing the very next Tuesday. Tonguing is a critical technique to playing the flute. A flutist cannot merely blow air into the blow hole and expect beautiful sound to result. There is a precision to the curvature of ones lips and the positioning of ones tongue to begin the note. I started off by practicing sounds such as tu; I initiated this sound by placing my tongue inbetween my upper and lower lips. Repetition and practice became two highly popular words in my familys household for many months.

McGrath 5 As I became more advanced, I was introduced to new techniques. One September I felt confident enough to have my playing graded by a judge who worked with NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association). Participating in NYSSMA was a literacy experience within itself. Each year my flute instructor would help me prepare a piece that corresponded to my current level of expertise. We would begin taking the piece apart around November to have it entirely prepared by late April for the adjudicator. NYSSMA was frightening to think about as an eleven-year-old. I was a nave elementary school girl who was expected to roam the halls of a large high school campus and find my judging station. Of course my parents could accompany me up until a certain point, but the thought of navigating an unknown school, let alone playing a solo in front of a stranger, made me anxious. Not only was I playing for them, but each of my solos came with accompaniments that the judge could refer to as I played. What criteria will the judges use to grade me for twenty-five minutes? Should I concentrate on calming my nerves and then on playing the piece how I have practiced it, or should I focus on the piece and risk allowing my nerves get the better of me? There was a whole other world I had to tap into in order to succeed. When describing how NYSSMA worked to my high school teachers years later, they reminded me not to use the highfalutin language to which I am accustomed. I wanted to explain things such as, Well, the adjudicators will take off several points if I alter the phrasing of certain measures rather than reading the music verbatim. I also know to be aware of my embouchure, which could always use improvement. I thought my cadenza could have used a few more stylistic touches. I cannot imagine my third grade self using this level of diction. The fact that I can use this vocabulary now and understand with perfect clarity what it is referring to shows how far I have come in my quest for music literacy. It also illustrates that once one learns something

McGrath 6 new, the literacy is not complete; I learned to play a B flat. Then I learned how to tongue my notes. After that lesson, I was taught how to slur certain phrases and make other notes staccato. As I matured and grew in knowledge about the flute and what it took to master it to the best of my abilities, I was introduced to NYSSMA where I would have to be more conscious not just of my tone, but the quality of it. It is obvious that I need to breathe after every few measures; I had to learn breath control and how to take breaths so as not to disrupt the momentum of the phrase. I had to learn to be vigilant about posture, the accuracy of notes and dynamics, the steadiness of rhythms, the liberties I decided to take with cadenzas, etc. I can still look back on that Tuesday I sat on carpet in parents bedroom with a long silver music maker in my lap and many questions. After many weekly lessons at school and at home, I began to play with more ease. The positioning of my fingers to play a particular note became engrained in my muscle memory. I had an internal sense of whether my fingers were in the correct position or not, just because I had to master a specific set of notes in the first few weeks of learning how to play this instrument. Before I knew it, I was helping the newcomers to the band program at my school, participating in Honor Band with high school music students, and was invited to play with the symphonic orchestra at Hofstra University in New York. The mystery of playing the flute unraveled at some point, and it is still unraveling. Each time I pick up this beautiful instrument, I learn something new. For example, the weather affects how the flute plays. Whether or not I have to tighten my headjoint or leave it less securely attached to the middle joint is dependent upon the level of humidity or chill in the air. A beginner would not think to consider this element, but a more advanced player would take weather conditions into consideration. When I play the flute before a meal has been fully digested, I must adapt the practice of breathing from deep inside my stomach to make up for a

McGrath 7 constriction of air. Literacy is an ongoing process in which we discover new ways of thinking. I accomplished and am continuing to accomplish different ways of being while playing the flute. Becoming literate in playing the flute involved patience, practice, supportive music instructors, and a positive attitude. I could have easily allowed my potential literacy in the flute to slip out of my grip. I decided to push through the initial challenges and translate what was on paper to my fingers, and then from my fingers to my mouth.