New video series: What's On My Stand

Hi, everyone! I wanted to give you all a heads-up that I’ve started a new weekly series about what I’m practicing called What’s On My Stand. It’s just short videos explaining what I’m currently working on (it’s not always bombastic or amazing, sometimes we just plod along in our practice rooms…). The most recent one, above, is about practicing the flute solo from Brahms' Symphony no. 1.

I’ll always have more detailed information in the video’s description, too. For example, here is the text from the description of the video above:

Brahms wrote beautiful solos for the flute and horn in the last movement of his first symphony - but it's really quite a blow and requires projection and beauty of sound so the flute can match the horn in intensity.

I practice quite a bit with a tuner, both via long tones and individual notes in context, and practicing this excerpt with my tuner showed that I needed to lift the pinky finger on the high E natural every time except the last statement. The high F# on my flute is stable, so I used the regular fingering (with the third finger on the right hand). If the F# is in tune, you will have more power and projection with this fingering than you would if you used different ones.

Vibrato is tricky with this solo - it's all about individual taste, and not everyone agrees. To me, it's easy for things to get overwrought, and I'm not particularly in love with every note that I recorded in this practice session. I like keeping my vibrato inside the tone, not letting it get too wide or too slow. Don't wait to find great vibrato until you suddenly have to work on an excerpt that needs it. Practice finding Brahmsian vibrato every day - or Debussy vibrato, or Mozart vibrato, etc. - they should all have different qualities!

I hope you will subscribe to the channel and also let me know what YOU’RE practicing! Maybe we’re actually practicing the same things sometimes and I can make a video that relates to what you’re doing, too. See you on YouTube…

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 WTSBOA All West Flute Senior High 11-12

The audition excerpts for WTSBOA’s All West honor band are particularly wicked for 11th-12th grades. Let’s begin with the Allegro selection.

Allegro selection

This page of music in 3/8 with four flats is a lesson in dynamic contrast, rhythmic integrity, and articulation. Be sure to start with a strong sound at the very start: to change to p in m. 8, you will need to make room for contrast. Note the accents that are in the first line of the piece - the accents are on the quarter notes. It is easy to accidentally accent the eighth notes at the end of each bar; be sure to place the emphasis on the down beats. The Db in m. 13 is commonly mistaken for a D-natural.

As we move into m. 17, it’s important to have a plan for the Bb thumb -- the plan being when exactly to use it. The high Gb will not speak if you have your thumb on the Bb side of the key - so starting after the C in m. 16, be sure to have the thumb on the natural side. You may transition back to the Bb side after the Dbs in m. 18, however, and continue to use that key until the B-natural in m. 24.

The grace notes are quite tricky here; either place them directly on the down beat or very close the down beat. Either way, they must be played quickly in order to not lose time. For the grace notes that are also large leaps, like m. 24 or m. 29, keep a very open throat and give plenty of air support for these leaps to speak cleanly. Additionally, imprecise fingerings will render these leaps non-functional. Be sure to change all the fingers at exactly the same time. This seems obvious, but imprecise fingers lead to a lot of issues here.

Continue to remember every Db dictated by the key signature.

One last note: there is no ritardando marked in this ending. If you feel you absolutely must play one, make it very subtle and in good taste.

Use a metronome to help you get up to speed, but start learning this piece very slowly and have patience. It's thorny.

Bach selection

Please note that there are two wrong notes printed in the WTSBOA-issued parts! Hopefully they will eventually release a corrected part, but in case they do not, please correct these in your music:

Measure 29: the first C should actually be a D. The measure should read G#-A-B-D-F-E.

Measure 32: the first note of the measure should be a C, not a D.

It’s important to note that Bach did not write most of the articulations, slurs, or dynamics that are printed here. Someone else has written these in as a guide for you. Traditionally, the flute player chooses how to articulate the piece and develops his or her own dynamic concept. You should endeavor to follow these printed markings for the audition, but you will see that I break a few of these rules in order to breathe with the phrase.

I suggest that you listen to my video and write down my breathing spots - they are fairly conventional, although by no means are they the absolute rule.

The little squiggle markings over the E in bar 6 and over the D in bar 8 are commonly interpreted as mordents. A mordent is one single trill. I play them as mordents in my video performance.

As far as tempo goes, I like to have a balance between a strict slow tempo and music that breathes and wanders. This is a mature concept that won’t work for every student - first you must be sure that you can play the entire movement in one steady tempo. Then you could work on finding a little bit of freedom, usually around breaths that are at the ends of phrases. A good example of a place where one could take more freedom is at the end of m. 34.

I break a few written slurs in this edition in order to breathe. The first place is in m. 10 before the sixteenths. This is a common place to breathe for phrasing and should not be slurred together. Another place is in m. 15 after the first E - I breathe here because it is unusual for me to be able to make it all the way to after the C. (It’s interesting to note here that WTSBOA has transcribed this measure as a C half note with a quarter rest when in Bach’s hand it’s actually a dotted half note without a rest.) I choose to break the slur over the E in m. 15 because I do not want to break the phrase with a breath in m. 14.

The articulations marked with staccato after m. 21 should simply be articulated - playing extra-short notes in slow movements in Bach’s time period is not stylistic. I would encourage students and teachers to throw out the slurs-into-staccato notes in m. 24 and replace these articulations with all-single tongue, medium length.

Finally, a note about vibrato: it’s conventionally agreed upon that Baroque flute music, particularly Bach, should be performed with either no vibrato or very minimal vibrato. In my video, I have used some, but that was distinctly my own choice. Consider your vibrato while you practice this piece. Be sure that it is not too heavy or wide, or too fast. If you want to use vibrato, make sure it is subtle and does not distract from the musical line.

It is with frustration that I provide a practice guide for this excerpt. This Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Partita in a minor for solo flute is one of the most important pieces in our literature. While it may just look like simple, straight-forward, pretty music, it takes years of study to play this piece well. I am not convinced that this is a good selection for high school students, but you all may prove me wrong! Consider having a few flute lessons with an experienced teacher on this piece. It will help.

New flute

About a month ago, I purchased a beautiful 14K gold Powell handmade flute. What a huge moment, a huge change. I have a lot of feelings about the process and the result, and each day is like a process of reckoning. In many ways, practicing this new flute feels like starting over from scratch. I’m playing in front of a mirror a lot, checking in with posture and embouchure. The Powell flute has an offset G key, and I’ve been playing an in-line G with a plug for more than ten years, so that has resulted in a major hand position adjustment. But I’m also finding this whole thing to be a pretty emotional process, and maybe some of you reading this can relate.

I last bought a flute in October of 2006. It’s a silver Brannen-Cooper that used to belong to Tim Day, my old teacher at San Francisco Conservatory (he is also principal flute of the San Francisco Symphony). This Brannen is #529 -- a low serial number sometimes has cachet, and in this scenario, it was handmade for Tim when he was principal of Baltimore Symphony. This flute is really special, and doesn’t sound like any other Brannen flute that I’ve ever played. Tim has actually admitted that he regrets selling it.

I’ve made so many memories with this flute. Leander helped me decide to buy it when we were just starting to date. This flute went on so many auditions - some triumphant, some terrible. It travelled with me all over South America and China. We had amazing days and terrible days together. It was there when my quintet won Fischoff. It has moved across the country three times with me!

But the Brannen has some issues. Since it was made in 1980, it has an old mechanism and the keys are becoming unstable. I’ve been told that it will need a mechanical overhaul at some point - actually replacing posts and springs! I looked into having the silver mechanism on this Brannen melted down and re-made into a Brogger system, but that would have cost more than a whole new flute, even though it would have been really cool! Phoenix rising, sort of. I knew that eventually I would need a change. The Brannen is not a super loud flute - I can always feel how difficult it can be to keep up sonically with a professional orchestral flute section. It also has intonation issues - what flute doesn’t - but these issues were pretty difficult to untangle. I started researching and trying flutes about a year ago, feeling that it might be time.

This new Powell is gorgeous, and I look forward to playing it every day - except when I don’t look forward to it, except when I’m absolutely intimidated by the instrument and its demands. What if I spent all this money and don’t sound that much better? Would this flute sound better with someone else - like, am I bringing it down? I should probably not wear pajamas and practice this flute, right? I know the first scratch is going to be devastating.

When we begin playing newer/better instruments, there is so much expectation of a new plateau of skill and sound, and for me this expectation is exciting, overwhelming, and perhaps foolish - I want to give my new flute all of my attention and best practice, not just let the instrument lift me up. What a great challenge, what a privilege.

Announcing a competitive masterclass for high school flutists

Competitive Masterclass for High School Flutists

Perform for Prof. Elise Blatchford, Asst. Professor of Flute at the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music.

Saturday, December 3rd at 2:30 pm at the University of Memphis choral room. Open to the public.


  • A maximum of five students will be selected to perform. Each student may perform one piece, nothing longer than 15 minutes. All-West audition music is allowed. Works for flute and piano or unaccompanied flute are allowed.
  • To apply, students must submit an application, a video recording of what they intend to play at the class, and be a member of the Greater Memphis Flute Club ($15/year).
  • Piano accompaniment is not required on the video but may be used in the class.
  • Videos must be uploaded to Youtube and the link included with the application.
  • Applications must be submitted via email to e.blatchford@memphis.edu by midnight on November 11th, 2016.

For any questions, please contact Prof. Blatchford: e.blatchford@memphis.edu.

What is tenure, anyway?

There are a lot of different kinds of tenure, but at a large state university tenure means that the university has invested in a professor’s career and is making an effort to retain them for the life of their work. It means a considerable pay raise and protection from being fired for mistakes and disagreements. Tenure is actually a vital mechanism to protect independent thought within our higher learning institutions: tenured faculty have the power to raise their voice if they disagree with the direction of the school, methods of research, or treatment of students. Tenure helps to ensure that pure research may be done without as much outside pressure to conform.

Full-time professors are expected to contribute to the university in three ways: teaching, research, and service. Teaching is evaluated by graduation rates (this is easier to see in instrumental studios, when you often have the same student for four years), faculty observation, and student course evaluations.

For music performance faculty (sometimes called “applied faculty”), our research can include publishing articles about flute pedagogy, flute history, reviewing CDs in flute journals, and writing books. The vast majority of our research is actually creative activity: performing concerts, recording CDs, collaborating with other artists.

Finally, professors contribute to their university through service, and this essentially means committee work and administrative organization so that the department can run smoothly. We decide on curriculum changes, the course catalogue, guest artists, and a lot of other issues.

All of this must be painstakingly documented.

So, as you can see, there is a lot more going on under the surface of your applied teacher’s day-to-day. As I have written in another article about different levels of professorships, a tenure-track professor is hired at the rank of assistant professor. Once tenured, they are elevated to the rank of associate professor. After some years, they may elect to seek a rank of full professor.