I had not really experienced the teachings of Marcel Moyse until the beginning of this year. All of my previous teachers’ influences stemmed from great flute players other than Moyse, such as Baker, Rampal, Taffanel and Gaubert, and so on. My only early exposure to Moyse was through the book “De La Sonorite,” and I tried to work with that book but had little success. The exercises contained in that book were very boring and tiring, and I quickly lost focus. The greatness of Moyse’s teachings were lost to me, and it wasn’t until a studio class this year that I realized why Moyse is so revered by flutists around the world.
One student in my ute studio studied with Trevor Wye for a year, and therefore had a large collection of historical Moyse recordings. So, we dedicated a day of classes to listening to recordings of Moyse. We listened to Moyse play the Hue Fantasie and then some of his exercises from “Twenty-Four Petite Melodic Etudes with Variations”. I was particularly impressed by two things in Moyse’s playing – his technicality and his dynamic contrast. In the Hue Fantasie, every run was played perfectly. I had never heard anybody play with such brilliance. I could clearly hear every note even in extremely fast passages. This was particularly impressive considering this recording was done in a single take due to the lack of editing back then.
We also heard Wye talk about his impressions of Moyse and some of Moyse’s philosophy. Moyse was a thinker, and was constantly thinking about ute and music. If asked a question, he would not necessarily have an answer immediately, but would always have one eventually, even if that was several years later. Wye also said that Moyse would spend a very long time warming up, and it was not uncommon for him to sound like a complete beginner when starting his ute practice for the day. On those bad days, Moyse would not move on from his warm up until his tone improved. This was all very inspiring, and I went to the music store as soon as possible and bought all of Moyse’s books. The book that had the biggest effect on my ute playing was “Twenty-Four Petite Melodic Etudes with Variations”.
I am sure I speak for a lot of people when I say the exercises felt like they were written specifically for me. They addressed all the problems in my ute playing that I wanted to work on while doing so in a musical context. My favorite part about the exercises was the pacing of them. They initially seem easy to play, but actually are quite challenging to master. This was especially useful for me as an advanced flutist, since I had was almost exclusively playing very technical and musically difficult pieces since they challenged and interested me. These difficult pieces required that I focus all my attention on getting the notes and intervals correct, limiting any opportunity for experimentation. One thing about ute playing that I now believe in is that experimentation is necessary for finding the optimal way to play the ute. Everybody’s body is different and everybody perceives their bodies in different ways. So, something that works for a teacher may not work for the student, or there may be difficulties in explaining a certain technique when people’s perceptions differ. The “easy” exercises in the 24 petite studies gave ample room for experimentation in things such as embouchure, relaxation, support, and more. Since playing these exercises, I have been able to be much more relaxed when playing the ute. I identified and relaxed some tension I held at the upper portion of my throat. I also no longer strain for high notes and instead maintain openness and let the intervals happen rather than forcing them.
My soft playing has also significantly improved as a result of the 24 studies. A large majority of the exercises involve piano or pianissimo playing. Thanks to the gradual pacing of the exercises though, soft playing is the only technical issue being addressed. In other words, the first few exercises are in an easy register with simple notes and key signatures, meaning that all I have to focus on are the dynamics and musicality. I have been able to achieve a much more open sound and relaxed playing style thanks to these exercises. Before I had a tendency to lock up my lips and throat and pray that soft notes would speak. Of course, this habit reduced the control and resonance I had over soft notes. Now soft playing is much easier for me and is something I am not scared of.
One thing I particularly like about these studies, and part of why I said before that they seem as if they were written just for me, is that they are musical. I’ve had some talks with my ute teacher about vibrato use and we reached a consensus that vibrato is intimately tied with phrasing. Vibrato cannot be practiced in a vacuum, or it begins to sound mechanical and disruptive. These easy and musical exercises allow me to train and focus on my vibrato while in a musical context. Of course, these studies also train my musicality and phrasing, an important part of ute playing that often isn’t addressed in other etudes.
The musicality of the studies has a psychological bene_t as well in that the studies are fun to play. The etudes can simply be beautiful music if thought of as such, and I certainly enjoy playing beautiful music. This means I am more willing to play these exercises, and I look forward to playing them every day.
Since learning about these exercises, I have become much more relaxed, confident, and resonant in my playing. In addition, other people have noticed an improvement in my tone. After playing in one studio recital, several people, both ute players and non-musicians, told me that my tone has really matured over the past few months. So in short, the “Twenty-Four Petite Melodic Etudes with Variations” by Marcel Moyse have helped improve my ute playing not only in ways that I have noticed, but that other people could notice as well.