24 Petite Melodic Etudes
I was first introduced to the 24 Petite Melodic Etudes with Variations when I was fourteen. I was attending my first master class, given by the late Eleanor Lawrence, on Cape Cod. It was my first time flying alone and it was my first time learning in a group flutist setting. I was so young, I notated my 24 studies book with pen (I use pencil now).
I remember practicing for the class. I was assigned number eleven to play. I could not understand why it was so hard. The notes were easy, the tempo was slow, I had breath control not to break the slur, and it was easier for me to play forte than piano. I listened as ten other students performed other etudes before it was my turn. In listening to my colleagues, I realized that I had not practiced well at all. In truth, I could not understand why I did not sound good. In my past preparation- tempo, breath, notes, and rhythm was the core of my practice. I had practiced number eleven as I was taught.
I was very nervous and Ms. Lawrence was very kind to me. We worked on legato. I worked on the space between the notes. This was a new concept. We worked on not dropping the sound in my low register. When I was done playing, I remember vividly thinking how much energy the flute takes to play. In my personal practice, I was not trying hard enough. This was my first mistake. When I went home to New Jersey to practice more of this book, I just tried harder. I became frustrated and incredibly intimidated by my lack of improvement. I could not understand how something so simple could be so hard. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of learning with other flutists or perhaps I was just mimicking Ms. Lawrence, but I could not recreate what I had done on Cape Cod. With frustration, I put the book aside.
I ventured into the book again, when I was 15 with my private teacher in New Jersey. She was very interested in playing the page well, but I was not getting the same emotional response from inside of me as I had in Cape Cod. I tried to learn to play in tune with different dynamics and using my air for phrasing, but I did not have the same energy that I had during the class. For the last two summers, I have attended William Bennett’s Summer Flute School in Sale Marasino Italy. In his school, we practiced 24 Studies for one hour everyday. It was my favorite hour of the day. More than twenty years after my first time with the book, I finally had the musical maturity to understand what this book means. My thoughts about this book are the following: every little etude has many layers for the flutist to discover. I use the word discover, because sometimes in practicing with one emotion, I am led to another meaning or a new way to play each etude. Each etude has a variety of musical problems to solve. Some of those problems are specific to the flute. For example, etude two requires the player to make sure the low register does not go flat. Etude one teaches the performer how to tongue repeat notes. Other problems are universal musical problems. An example of this is found in etude 1, with terraced dynamics in the first line.
I play professionally for the El Paso Symphony Orchestra and the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra. I use many techniques that I learned from this book everyday- how to create a phrase that carries over the bar line, but is also true to the time signature or rhythmic gesture. I know I am playing a phrase well, when I can feel the same energy that I felt for the first time twenty two years ago on Cape Cod. Somehow, I know I am connected to the artistry inside of me. This book has helped me develop my artistry because through the deceptively simple etudes, I can connect with the musician inside of me.
When I returned from Italy, I bought the Marcel Moyse Society CD to listen to his phrasing and I tried, without success, to get the Eleanor Lawrence VHS tape about the 24 Studies book. When I was fourteen, I was too young to understand the depth of the book. I did not understand the artistry behind it. My hope is to be selected to the class, because I need a better way of teaching my students this book. They too, find the book deceptive. While the exercises look easy, they are not easy to perform. I know it is a jewel of our repertoire, but I do not always have the tools to help my students understand all the levels of artistry within each line.