In August I did a post which covered the flutes I had played before getting to university; now I will covering ALL the piccolos I have owned and played from high school (which was when I started playing flute) through graduate school.

One important note before I get into the reflection is that it is very common in my area that university students upgrade to a professional piccolo – a piccolo made of higher quality materials (resin/wood/metal); even in my undergrad (as a Music Education major) I felt this pressure to upgrade. And then as a Master of Flute Performance student there is DEFINITELY a push to upgrade, however, I am here to share why this isn’t a must have. Don’t feel pressured to do something that isn’t financially viable or you (yourself) feel is necessary.


High School

It is important to know that I started playing flute as a sophomore in high school for marching band. The flute section comprised of 2 seniors, 2 sophomores, and 2 freshman. Because the seniors were graduating I started my piccolo training only 3 months after learning flute (this is as a 15 year old).

  • Emerson – Nickel Silver Plated

PROS:

  • Durable for outdoor playing, I used mine exclusively for marching band every year.
  • Metal LH 1st finger rest to help with the size difference from flute (like a hand crutch).
  • Reliable – I kept this instrument through my undergrad for any outdoor playing – the mechanism held up well.

CONS:

  • The shrillness that comes with metal piccolos – less suited for indoor/concert playing.

  • Jupiter Nickel Silver Plated Head; Plastic Body*

*Before the PROS/CONS I just need to disclose I went through FOUR (yes, 4!!!) of these in a month so here’s what happened: The September of the following school year – my first school year exclusively on marching piccolo – I took a trip to a SamAsh because it was “the” musical instrument distributor in my area. The night I took home my first one I was practicing and then went to remove the head joint… and off came the barrel (aka the part that attaches the body to the head). We went back the next day and got a replacement… and I tried it in store (cautious) and it happened again. I’m not here to say anything bad about SamAsh or Jupiter, but this was VERY frustrating 8 years ago (now it’s actually comedic). I don’t know why we kept on going back to this one model of piccolo, and for context this all took place in the month of September by October I had found the piccolo I still have today. On the 3rd and 4th piccolos, there were issues with the mechanism going out of alignment. Anyway so:

PROS:

  • Decent price (just speaking on my own experience I can’t say much more than that)

CONS:

  • FRAGILE – better suited for indoor/concert rather than outdoor/marching
  • Quality assurance – in my own experience from 2013

  • Gemeinhardt 4SP; Plastic Head and Body

WINNER, WINNER. This is the piccolo I still own today, of course I have played professional piccolos, but in my own experience this piccolo plays well enough that I can not justify the price gap from this to a higher quality one.

And also considering that when you upgrade to a professional instrument you also have to pay for professional REPAIRS!!!! That is the biggest reason I keep this piccolo, it saves literally hundreds of dollars to play on this piccolo (especially considering piccolos go out of alignment much easier than flutes).

PROS:

  • Durable; can manage both indoor and outdoor playing
  • The plastic helps reduce the shrillness in the tone, more suitable for playing indoors than metal student piccolos
  • Stable tuning/intonation – 8 years on the piccolo – and even after playing professional piccolos I find that I can navigate tuning on this instrument with no issues.

CONS:

  • Not available anymore – the current comparable model would be the 4P

Bonus: Piccolos I Played In College

  • Haynes – Grenadilla Wood

This was a school instrument that I shared and borrowed within my studio, mainly because there was a stigma on student piccolos versus professional.

PROS:

  • The wood made the tone significantly less shrill.

CONS:

  • Durability – for all wooden instruments, being mindful of the temperature and not cracking the wood.
  • Scale, tuning – this particular piccolo just didn’t feel right under my fingers for the few years I played it; and intonation was always a struggle between registers.

Basically designed to be a “small flute” – has RH pinky keys, extending the lower register of the piccolo.

I don’t have any PROS/CONS for this still I tried it at a convention, but it was mind-blowing and I am still mildly interested in owning one for the novelty of a piccolo actually being designed to be a “small flute”.


What piccolos have you played? Thoughts on student versus professional models? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

This article will be speculative of what’s to come and reflective on the past year including the transition from in person to remote/hybrid lessons, classes, ensembles, and other music making activities.

This has been written with US perspective, in the NY/NJ area where the handling of the current global pandemic may differ from what some readers may have experienced thus far.


Lessons and Classes

Early March 2020 shutdowns ceased the majority of in person music lessons in the US flowing into a period of transition as teachers and their students had to work to figure out unfamiliar terrain such as audio/video recording equipment, video call platforms, internet stability, etc. Most experienced the growing pains of this strange time, and as a result there was a lot of flexibility in the first several months of the pandemic as everyone was navigating new territory.

However, university students had this much more cut and dry. If you were enrolled into a university, lessons are typically mandatory for students, and so they know what to expect. Outside of this formality were students in independently owned music schools, independent studios both locally-based and ones run online.

At their core these groups were impacted similarly to university lessons with the exception of the independent online studios that ran prior to the pandemic. Of course, there were some waves for this latter group with the influx of demand for remote lessons.

Most teachers can agree that teaching students, especially brand new or transfer students, remotely is one major hurdle. The shift from being in the same room as the student: being able to full assess what they are doing (as well as picking up on nonverbal cues), having a sense of control when it comes to distractions/environment, being able to make real time adjustments, and significantly less anxiety (most notably related to technology, especially poor internet connection). To then having to rely on the student having enough support at home to get set up; that the student has a relatively quiet and distraction/anxiety-free place they can work; getting the student’s attention for a significant portion of the lesson while also keeping up student morale; and on top of that being able to see and hear the student well enough to be of any help.

For university students who are self-sufficient or intrinsically motivated this is a less daunting task, but with extrinsically motivated or young or less mature students this being exponentially more challenging.

I’ve seen some teachers do outside or drive-by lessons with young or new students; maintaining social distancing, and sometimes separation by a screen/glass shield. This, of course, was easier during the warmer months, and now with flu-season and generally colder weather this is a less viable option.

Some teachers have tried using online creator’s videos to supplement information for still young, but more motivated students.

The overall take away is that the transition from in person to remote (or hybrid) lessons is really about release of control. As the teacher you have no control over the technology or internet stability of your students, you don’t have control of the distractions in their space, and you can’t get their attention as easily as you would be able to if you were in the room with them. Each student will have a varying level of control over their own situation – depending on their age and level of sufficiency. And on both sides there needs to be some empathy, when a large portion of the world isn’t able to experience live music the priority of lessons shouldn’t be music making it should be about the human connection. The music can follow.


Ensembles

Similar to lessons, music ensembles also ceased in early to mid-March. In my own experience, I did not have another ensemble experience until the Fall semester, there was so much chaos that they got pushed to the back burner and this really messed with my mental wellbeing – as someone who relies on that connection with other people to create music.

For some musicians – such as string players – opportunities to play live were much more available than they were for wind players. For obvious reasons, string players are able to wear masks and still play. Of course, I did see a few ensembles with wind players outside, distanced to play together, but these were mostly brass only ensembles (as woodwinds are significantly more fragile/sensitive to the outdoors). My own university used a parking garage to record both the choirs, band, and strings in this past Fall 2020 semester x.

Many people turned to online platforms to replicate the same type of ensembles and/or music that they would otherwise. Commonly (even pre-pandemic) you might see people on social media doing covers of pieces they like using apps like Acapella or just a video editing software and putting all the videos together to make a one-person (or sometimes several people) into a remote ensemble. Or they may use DAWs like Soundtrap, BandLab, or GarageBand to record trap to edit together.

I really have no idea when people will feel safe enough to assemble inside for ensembles. And this poses challenges for public school music ensembles in which the students heavily rely on the rehearsal time in order to prepare their own part and learn about the music as they are still developing the skills to be able to read and interpret music, and have enough maturity to be accountable to do so. For my own track as an educator I would strongly recommend making the music making experience less rigid/formal; set aside the standard of excellence and superiority. I’ve seen some schools forgo any type of concert schedule this year, instead focusing on technique and fundamentals.

I disagree with this decision because I feel that the students (who typically already dislike technique work) are going to EXTRA not like it when they have nothing to counteract it. Think about the students (there’s always a handful) who act out in there other classes, but then come to music class – whether that’s guitar club, music technology or just regular old band – and they get to just escape for however long that block period is. Instead, in this hypothetical situation, this type of student is being giving this gritty, mentally taxing work and we have no context for how their life has shifted since the start of the pandemic: what’s going on at home, is there stress and anxiety? Do they have siblings that are competing for technology, attention, etc? Are they giving care to younger siblings or even older family members? Of course we have standards and objectives that need to be followed for these ensembles, however, the material does not need to so rigid.

I would argue that the most important to skill during this time are the students ears. Perhaps you ask them to cover a song they like – they could do it on their instrument (for the class), an instrument they have at home, or with a DAW/MIDI software and you give guidelines for this type of ‘project’ that align with the standards and objectives you need to meet, but the students have so much more flexibility and will be honing the same skill while feeling like their choice matters.

It becomes very stressful – that same release of control – if we expect 9 and 10 year olds to teach themselves (even with the aid of adults at home) unfamiliar instruments. Teach them the skills they need – the two ears they have will be the best tool they need going forward for whatever musical path life takes them – and don’t worry that ‘they won’t be prepared for next year’ because no one will be. Patience. Flexibility. Prioritize.

Other Remarks

I can not emphasize this enough for the university folk who have been primarily classically trained… that is not the only path. Obviously.

Embrace the unknown, that this time as an informal professional development. What do you students listen to? Video game music? Rap? Movie soundtracks? Pop/J-Pop/K-Pop? Etc? Use this time now to immerse yourself in unfamiliar sounds and learn from them. Ask them to observe and actively listen; especially now with the unlimited access we have to music online you this to your advantage.

Take this time to learn about your students’ musical experiences outside the classroom. Do they make music at home? Do they have people in their house that play music? Community building is also essential – especially in public schools, cultivating and maintaining support for the arts is more important now than ever we need our art form to remain relevant for future generations to continue onwards.


How has the transition from in person to online impacted you this year?

Any additional ideas for lessons, classes, ensembles, etc going forward? Let me know in the comments!

Prescreening and audition season is just around the corner.

My last November as an undergraduate student preparing for my graduate prescreenings was a complete blackout of stress and crying. As a high school student preparing for undergraduate auditions I was utterly baffled as to how anything worked and whether or not I was sufficiently prepared. Here is some advice to help keep you on track this audition season:

The organizational requirements…

  • What are the audition fees?
  • Is there a prescreening required (are there rounds)?
  • Can it be in person or can it be a tape?
  • What are the audition dates (is it during the week or weekend)?

Planning how many schools you apply to – planning your budget for school fees AND audition fees. Keep in mind that usually the school of music has a separate fee from the university you are applying to – don’t stretch yourself too thin.

Know if there is just one round of auditions or if you are required to send in a prescreening. If there is… do you need to have an accompanist? Is there specific repertoire for prescreening? Do you have or need to get equipment for a high quality prescreening (nowadays phones are pretty good, but you might want to invest in a good microphone to present your playing in the best light. Here is one mic recommendation (Zoom iQ6) that is compatible with iOS.

Do you need to plan to travel? If the school is out of state/international are you eligible to send in a tape? With COVID schools are more likely to accept tapes than live auditions so you may be able to forgo unnecessary travel. Also with planning look ahead at your schedule – what are the specific dates for your instrument? Clear your schedule 3-4 months in advance to avoid issues during audition season.


The music requirements…

  • Is your instrument in good shape?
  • What scales do you need prepared?
  • What repertoire do you need prepared?*
  • *Two contrasting pieces or movements is a very commonly asked requirement. Clarify with the faculty at the school you are applying or your teacher what would be appropriate.

The first thing you should consider before preparing for auditions is the condition of your instrument. You do not want to have your instrument break down or put off a much needed service during audition season. Get it taken care of BEFORE you start preparing (at least 3 months) before your auditions so that you have one less thing to worry about!

Ask the faculty (if not abundantly clear on the audition list) what scales you will be required to play. What kind of articulation? Is there a preference for tempo and rhythm (band style v. straight eighths)?

Again ask the faculty if you have any confusion about the repertoire listed. Is there a specific edition asked for?


Mental preparation

  • Remember: The faculty are not looking for someone who is perfect, they are looking for someone they can TEACH. If you make a few mistakes that is fine, it’s how you handle them and respond to feedback that is so much more important!!
  • Practice tip: Work on starting pieces/excerpts once you feel like you’ve got a piece down. If you are able to get yourself centered, comfortable with the opening of pieces it will help maintain stability throughout. If you are nervous starting a piece, you may start to snowball.
  • Practice tip: Closer to the audition date (1 month or so) practice with the increased heart rate, high energy. Go run up/down the stairs; do jumping jacks; etc. before you run a piece to help acclimate to the way your body responds under stress.
  • Plan out your day of the audition so that you know what to expect. Will there be exams (theory/ear training)? Will you have an interview? Knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the audition day anxiety.

What tips do you have for college auditions? Share them in the comments below!

Presently, there are MANY barriers that prevent people of socioeconomic and racial status from pursuing higher education, especially in music. Take a look at what type of programs and audition repertoire are asked for at music programs across the country. We expect everyone to be on some standardized playing field… we expect everyone to have access to teachers… access to instruments. It is frustrating on both ends. Those who are marginalized by this are not given a platform to advocate; and those who are in a position to make change are shut down. People are afraid of change, “if I had to learn this then you have to suffer through it too”. There is this idealistic, utopian perception that reading Western sheet music is this “almighty, higher than thou” pedestal. When really there is this repressed fear of altering the way instruction is implemented, how curriculum is structured, and how to allocate resources so that (in the best case) education is accessible for everyone.

Before going forward with this article, I must disclose the identity advantages that I have as a passing-straight, abled, cis-gendered, white woman living in the United States. I deal with significantly less LGBTQ+ issues head on because I can pass. I deal with less misogyny because I am white woman rather than a woman of color. I deal with barely any physical limitations because I am abled. Generally, I deal with less barriers because I am a passing-straight, cis-gendered white woman.

However, I was born into poverty; and still live in the very low socioeconomic pool. There was a lot of moving in my early childhood that made learning especially challenging because the curriculum from school to school varied… I am the first in my family to go to college – both undergraduate and graduate. I had to learn how to do all of college alone. How to request federal financial aid, loans, grants. So my perspective for this article will be centered around the socioeconomic barriers; however, I will make the effort to be aware of other barriers that may make these resources less accessible to people of other identities.


Financial Resources

I qualified for EOF (the Educational Opportunity Fund) when I started my undergraduate degree, but it was completely on accident…. I had not idea what the program was when I applied, I just saw it being pushed by the school and decided to see if I qualified for the aid. Let me tell you about my experience:

Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF)

Offered to both undergraduate and graduate students who are low income first generation college students can be awarded financial aid for tuition each semester as long as they are in good academic standing and meet all of their universities specific requirements.

  • The requirements I had as an undergraduate student were to attend a summer institute prior to my first semester, attend a freshman seminar during my first semester, attend 2 counseling sessions each semester I was enrolled in school, and maintain my academic perform to my university’s standard.
  • For my graduate school experience the regulations were much less active, it functions more like a grant rather than an active program. Each school year I need to reach out to the EOF department coordinators to get access to the application form, if I qualify for the financial need then those funds help cover my tuition.

You can do a quick google search to see if your university offers an EOF program or fund. Or email your academic advisor or the financial aid office to see if you can find out if the school offers any assistance that you may qualify for.

FASFA

This one is no secret. The secret is DO IT EARLY. The sooner you do it, the better off you will be with your aid (pending you are in good academic standing and depending which financial bracket you fall into).

Since I started college in 2015, the dates have been moved around. It is now OCTOBER 1st…. DO It NOW!!!! It used to be in December/January, you may miss out on aid if you wait a month or several months to complete the form.

Know Your Financial Aid (Grants, Loans…)

In case you aren’t familiar with the different types of financial aid available, there are 2 main types: the one you have to repay and the one you don’t. Awards, scholarships, assistantships, work-study, and grants are all the latter – you DO NOT repay these. You can get awarded these by completing your FASFA early, applying for grants/funds (like EOF), and reaching out to your school’s cashiering or financial aid office for resources.

  • Schools will usually have a grants/scholarships page where you can see the more common awards you can apply for!

Loans (of which there are two types subsidized and unsubsidized) are more or less a last resort. When you don’t have enough aid or savings to cover your tuition, you must take out student loans.

TIP: Max out your subsidized loan BEFORE you increase your unsubsidized loan. Why? Because the subsidized loan does not earn interest while you are at least a 1/2 time student while the unsubsidized loan starts earning interest once the money is distributed to you. This may not seem like a big deal when you are getting your award money, but by the end of you degree (4 or more years for a Bachelors) you WILL notice the difference of 4 years worth of interest.


Online Music Resources

Free Apps

  • ProMetronome : iOS / Android
  • GuitarTuna: iOS / Android
  • **Spotify: iOS / Android
    • **Students get 3 free months of Spotify – it is worth it if you want access to more recordings while in school!
  • GarageBand: iOS

Websites


Music Resources at School

1. LIBRARY: You can use the library to borrow sheet music, scores, textbooks, and other materials you may need for classes.

2. ONLINE LIBRARY: As a student you have free access to journals and databases for academic resources. Take in as much as you can. Websites like JSTOR, Ebsco, and ProQuest are a few examples of the many, many databases I had access to in both my undergraduate and graduate schools.

3. COLLEAGUES and TEACHERS: If you really can’t afford to buy you own music or books for courses, sometimes you can borrow or buy materials at a heavily discounted price from upperclassman. Or you professors many be willing to loan you their materials for you to use.


Feel free to share any resources I missed in the comments below!

  • Bach – Sonata in E Major (BWV 1035)

The authorship of this sonata is still being debated by music historians – many of the sonatas initially attributed to JS Bach are now thought to be written (at least in majority) by CPE Bach. This is the Barenreiter edition follows the original articulation of the manuscript – leaving out “obvious” patterns that the Bachs (whichever composed this Sonata in E) expected the perform to intuitively know. As a result, careful listening and score analysis is essential for creating articulation patterns that closely follow the style of this piece.

  • Peter Bacchus – Quartet for Diverse Flutes

As the title indicates, this is a Quartet for “diverse flutes” C flute, alto flute, and bass flute. An unusual feature of this score is that it places Flute IV (the bass flute) on line 3 rather than at the bottom. This is because Flute I and II are C flutes so keeping all the concert pitch instruments (the C flutes and bass flute) together and placing the only transposing flute, the alto flute, Flute III at the bottom to avoid confusion… even though it tends to create confusion when referring to the III and IV parts.

  • Sergei Prokofiev – Sonata in D op. 94

This edition includes both the violin transcription along with the flute line – being aware that there are variations (and other editions of the piece) was really important when studying and listening to the piece before practicing. The infamous D7s are just one of the challenges this piece presents where the goal is for them to blend into the ascending arpeggio pattern.

  • W.A. Mozart – Concerto in D Major for flute (K. 314)

Mozart has 2 concertos for flute – one in G Major and this one, in D Major (which is really just a re-voicing of the oboe concerto in C). This Barenreiter edition is great for analysis and understand the solo flute’s role – it includes the principal flute part, piano score, suggested cadenzas, and a reference score.


What’s on your stand this month?

  • Francis Poulenc – Sonata for Flute and Piano

The challenge with this piece has been playing what’s on the page versus playing in a stylized manner (as many recordings of this piece often exemplify). The technical elements such as the sept-tuplets, 32nd note pickups, or double tonguing in the 1st movement require a practice approach that will make the end result sound seamless or effortless.


  • Sergei Prokofiev – Sonata in D op. 94

This edition includes both the violin transcription along with the flute line – being aware that there are variations (and other editions of the piece) was really important when studying and listening to the piece before practicing. The infamous D7s are just one of the challenges this piece presents where the goal is for them to blend into the ascending arpeggio pattern.


  • Katherine Hoover – Kokopeli for solo flute

With no indicated meter and no accompaniment the challenge with this piece is maintaining rhythmic values. As well as keeping an active ear for intonation, especially on repeated pitches. And finally keeping a sharp eye on the accidentals since they do not carry through the octave. Despite these initial challenges, the phrasing and overall mood of the piece drive the player to overcome these visual hurdles.


  • W.A. Mozart – Concerto in D Major for flute (K. 314)

Mozart has 2 concertos for flute – one in G Major and this one, in D Major (which is really just a re-voicing of the oboe concerto in C). This Barenreiter edition is great for analysis and understand the solo flute’s role – it includes the principal flute part, piano score, suggested cadenzas, and a reference score.


What is on your stand this month?