Opening of _Afternoon of a Faun_

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auletes83
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Opening of _Afternoon of a Faun_

Post by auletes83 »

Hello, everyone, I'm new to the boards. If this topic has been posted before, I apologize, but I was wondering if you guys had any secrets to playing the opening solo of Debussy's _Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun_ without pausing for breath. I'm a 21-year-old man, and I'm in good shape, but it seems that no matter how may long tones I play, and no matter how much cardio I do, I can't seem to adequately expand my lung capacity to play this solo correctly. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks. :)
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powayflute01
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Post by powayflute01 »

First off, welcome to the board!

I actually just sat through a class about this on Sunday...apparently it's a VERY common problem; there are A LOT of people who can't do it. (I've never actually worked on it for an audition or anything, so I'm not talking from personal experience, but from what I understand it's not an easy task!)

If you're ever asked to do it in an audition setting, Larry Krantz's flute pages recommend taking two full breaths at the beginning: a long slow one, and then another one just before playing (this is called "topping off"). He says that he would try playing pianississimo high G's while the audience was still noisy to make his embochure as small as possible, allowing him to be as economical as possible with his air.

But...what I learned from my class last week:

According to the coach teaching the class (a local symphonic musician), if you have to breathe, there are a couple "acceptable" places to breathe. The ones I remember are after the E in the third measure and right before the last three notes (between the two B's in the last measure).

You should probably try and take your largest breath at the beginning and if you have to, "top off" once at one of those points.

I hope that helps!
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ick27
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Post by ick27 »

I'm also a 21 year old male.. I can do the faun solo in one breath, but I think it sounds better if I take a breath (before the last three notes.) Doing it in one breath forces me to make compromises in terms of sound and volume for the sake of air conservation. I've never played this solo for an audition or in performance, but I imagine the added anxiety would make it harder to play in one breath. I do use the "topping off" technique, it's a good way to get as much breath as you can, after that you just have to worry about blowing.. If you have a small lung capacity, your mission should be to use less air as you blow, not necessarily to increase your lung capacity. Just my 2 cents.

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Post by kodalyflutist »

powayflute01 wrote: "Larry Krantz's flute pages recommend taking two full breaths at the beginning: a long slow one, and then another one just before playing (this is called "topping off"). He says that he would try playing pianississimo high G's while the audience was still noisy to make his embochure as small as possible, allowing him to be as economical as possible with his air."


I believe this information should be credited to Peter Lloyd, ala Suzanne Lord's Dissertation, via Larry's site: http://larrykrantz.com/chapt6.htm#faun

I highly recommend reading this! Outstanding work by Suzanne Lord, thanks to Peter Lloyd for sharing his wisdom, and kudos to L.K. for posting it for everyone to see.

Peter Lloyd: "One of the biggest solos faced by orchestral flutists is Claude Debussy's work, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. The flute starts the piece alone, and the first note is one of the worst on a flute--open C-sharp. Plus, according to tradition, the flutist must play the opening phrase in a single breath--although in actual performance most flutists take this admonition with a grain of salt.

Seriously, the breathing thing--I think it an un-useful thing to have to play it all the way through in one line. I think the allowable one is to take it before the [last three] "waspy" notes because that's actually a pickup into the oboe solo.

I remember working with [a particular conductor] and he insisted on me taking two breaths. Actually, there is a copy that has a Debussy suggestion on the breath. [Peter Lloyd sings the first ten notes of the solo and stops.] That's where [the conductor] made me do it. And then another one before the last three notes. But he made me play it very slowly, with absolutely buckets of passion. It was really quite a good thing.

When I first played this piece with him in our first rehearsal, I played it in one breath because that's the way we "had" to do it, the way everybody else did. He looked up and said, "What do you think you are doing? This is music, not mechanics. Play it again."820

I think it's stupid playing like this--told that they've got to play it in one breath. Having said that, at an audition, you're [still] going to have to do it in one breath!821

Even for flutists who plan on taking one or two breaths within the opening phrase, Peter Lloyd cautions that a completely full breath at the beginning is a necessity.

If you're playing Après Midi for instance, I would [begin with] two breaths. Take a good long slow one, and then [just before playing] take another one. When you're taking your long slow one, you're almost full. But then the muscles relax just a little bit--and that was always enough to get [me] through when the conductor wanted [the opening phrase] in one breath.822

Besides breathing, the most tension-producing moment of this work is coming in with color and life on the worst, most out-of-tune note on the flute. Peter Lloyd shares how he prepared himself for this task:

In performance, before I would start playing this, I would always--while the crowd was still making noises out there--be touching top G's as pianississimo as I could....Anything to get the embouchure [extremely] small, so that when the conductor came on, I knew that I could start as economically as was possible and have enough air to make the phrase. [In this way, Lloyd was able to keep the air speed going fast enough to keep color and life in the sound. But by sending it through the smallest possible opening he was able to conserve his resources without undermining that sound.]

A third daunting experience in the same solo is its dynamic marking--"piano." Some players are encouraged to enter almost inaudibly, while others ignore the marking completely in order to project the sound. Peter Lloyd reminds flutists that changing the sound of the flute with different colors can imply a dynamic.

I think you have to be very canny about the... definition of dynamic markings. They're not only dynamic markings. I think if you're going to pull it off, don't think of them as "piano" and "forte"--because the way we translate it, the forte is far too loud. So it doesn't work.

I think you'll find that pianissimo is a beautiful soft color with life; [with] something happening. It doesn't matter if it's desperately quiet. You have to sing.

If you start the piece off and it just said "piano", what does that mean? You cannot play piano unless you've got something to compare it with--something to balance it....I think in this case it's an expression as much as anything." [end Peter Lloyd quote]

My own personal experience: when you take the long slow breath, you may do so through the nose, and it *can* assist you in drawing in as low as possible. (practice this now, slowly; you should notice that it is almost impossible to breath incorrectly in the upper chest) This technique is ONLY for slow breathing, not quick breathing where a breath must come in quickly. Think of your breathing as a stoplight: fill up the bottom first (green), then yellow, then open your mouth for the "red" to do the "topping off". Another good technique for filling up *slowly* down low first is to suck in as if through a soda straw.
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Post by fluteplayer13 »

ick27 wrote:I'm also a 21 year old male.. I can do the faun solo in one breath, but I think it sounds better if I take a breath (before the last three notes.) Doing it in one breath forces me to make compromises in terms of sound and volume for the sake of air conservation. I've never played this solo for an audition or in performance, but I imagine the added anxiety would make it harder to play in one breath. I do use the "topping off" technique, it's a good way to get as much breath as you can, after that you just have to worry about blowing.. If you have a small lung capacity, your mission should be to use less air as you blow, not necessarily to increase your lung capacity. Just my 2 cents.
1. You should be breathing from your diaphram. This increases air incredibly! Small lung capacity has nothing to do with problems. I, personally use the top of technique and use an even tone center and air flow to play through the piece. You should also not be blowing harder to achieve the higher notes. It's all in your lips. If you are blowing harder, play octives without blowing harder to achieve lip flexibility.

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Cass
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Post by Cass »

You should be breathing from your diaphram.
I hate to nitpick, but your diaphragm has very little to do with it. Sure, it pulls away from your lungs, but what really does the work are your Abdominal muscles. Think about the Abs instead of the diaphragm and you will see increased capacity and control. (Straight from Alexander Technique)

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cleversod
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re breath control

Post by cleversod »

Actually, you dont need to be in good physical shape (but it's good for your health !), there are 2 points I would like to make.
1. An efficient embrouchure is the key to long phrases, it comes with time and practice (long high notes, as quietly as possible is one way).

2. The other thing to remember is more subtle. Sometimes less is more. You find students who take a breath at every opportunity so that near the middle of the piece they are exhausted and have to stop to EXHALE before taking a fresh lung full. The reason for this is that each time they INHALE they have not emptied their lungs so the stale air in the lungs remains and eventually they have full lungs, but nothing but stale air. If this happens to you then the thing to do, seems quite un natural, but it works. At the end of a phrase, breath OUT, and not in, and then use the rest of the phrase to expell all the stale air so that at the next breath point you can breath in a full fresh lung full. Esp Baroque music !!

Thanks
John
ps. Final thing, ,, it is rarely necessary to take a forced lung full of air, you can go further on a comfortable lung full and with better control.
don't believe me? Try this.
1. Take a forced lung full and hold your breath, time how long you can keep it all.
2. After recovery, take a mild 2/3 breath, and hold it, and time how long you can keep it.
be amazed !

boglarka
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Post by boglarka »

Hello,
One aspect of this solo that I have not seen mentioned on the board is the question of tempo. If you listen to different recordings, you will hear that the tempi taken by flutists can be very different from one another.

I would suggest you find the tempo at which you can play the solo in one breath with no problem. This might be too fast for what you generally hear on the recordings, but for practical purposes you need to know it.

Once you figured it out, slow down the tempo by 2 clicks or so. Play through the solo in one breath. If it doesn't work, play it softer, or speed up by 1 click. Once you have mastered this speed, slow down the speed again by 2 clicks. Keep doing this until you reach your desired speed. (Needless to say, abandoning a strict metronomic interpretation of the solo is crucial in performance.)

With this method, you do the opposite as what you would do when building speed for fast passages. Here, you are decreasing speed gradually to build stamina. This approach to practicing is also helpful when trying to learn the Scherzo solo from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream.
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Post by OhMyBetty »

i personally played this song for an all south audition last year (my sophmore year of highschool).. and the best way i learned to do it was this.. take 4 full counts to breath in before you begin.. once you begin..CAREFULLY play the first phrase.. do not use all your air..its all a matter of conservation. it took me 3 and a half weeks before i could get it down.
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fluteguy18
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Post by fluteguy18 »

I have heard several people recommend playing with your eyes closed. They say it helps [ I guess it is just a mental factor]

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sidekicker
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Post by sidekicker »

I guess I'm from the "old school" but this solo should always be played with one breath. Sure, there are a couple of options for sneaking in a breath, but the phrasing, IMO, is completely destroyed by doing so -- especially by the dreaded (and oft-used) breath just before the last three notes (b, c sharp, a sharp). I know some conductors like their flutists to do it that way, but I personally hate it every time I've heard it that way (I was lucky enough to have a conductor who preferred it done in one breath). The flute has just started this beautiful piece alone, hopefully changed colors during 3 solo bars (see below), then is joined by harp and horn at the end. To break it off right before the harp and horn join in just ruins the phrase, IMO.

In one of my lessons w/ J. Khaner we studied this piece and he pointed out something to me that flutists often forget (i.e. ignore): the dynamic markings in the piece. Many flutists have a natural tendency to crescendo down from the opening c sharp to the g natural in the first two measures, probably to make sure those lower notes are projecting. This, obviously, wastes a little more air and does hardly anything to enhance the quality of Debussy's very simple, yet elegant, flute solo. But it's not necessary. According to my score part (confirmed by Khaner as accurate), there is no dynamic change at all until the third and fourth measures. So, he recommended to me that the solo be played at ppp (don't worry, you'll be heard by the audience if the sound is centered and properly supported), with no dynamic change at all (nor very much, if any, vibrato), until measures 3 and 4. Also, the three c sharps (beginning measures 1, 2 and 3) should all have different colors to them; the second slightly brighter than the first until the most colorful 3d one (which I have always referred to as the "blooming flower" measure).

Now -- having said this, it's important to realize that the solo cannot sound weak either. So adequate breath control and support is crucial. It's tricky to pull off without sounding like you are holding back because you can't make it to the end in one breath; but that's a practice issue. The sound quality still has to be there; that is the challenge. If you have adequate support, then you will have no problem projecting, even at such a low dynamic level. I've, personally, never really had a problem playing Faun in one breath, especially when I consider the advice I got about how to play it. But I realize it's a major challenge for every flutist who gets treated to this gem in the orchestral repertoire.

Just my two cents.

SK

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flutepicc06
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Post by flutepicc06 »

Just an interesting side note....The premiere of this work had two flutists playing the opening solo. This gave the illusion of it being played in one breath, without either of the flutists actually having to do so.

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Post by fluteguy18 »

That is interesting! I know that my professor has me play that solo sometimes to work on the 'taper' at the end [to make my diminuendos more even so I can literally fade out].

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sidekicker
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Post by sidekicker »

flutepicc06 wrote:Just an interesting side note....The premiere of this work had two flutists playing the opening solo. This gave the illusion of it being played in one breath, without either of the flutists actually having to do so.
Which seems to confirm my opinion that the solo should always be played in one breath because the phrase cannot/should not be broken. I don't know for sure whether Debussy was still alive when Faun was premiered and offered input, but obviously the first conductor of the piece did not want the phrase broken by a breath.

Really -- it's not that hard. Just pay attention to the dynamic levels as written, develop good breathing/support skills (you should be doing that anyway), and enjoy this beautiful solo if you are lucky enough to get a conductor who picks it for the repertoire that season!

SK

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Post by Meredith »

Really? I believe that in Trevor Wye's Omnibook, he states that the premiere used three flutists. Either way, though, it's the same point -- Debussy's original soloist couldn't cut it.

My trick for taking deep breaths is to completely empty my lungs, and then slowly fill them "from the bottom up," keeping my shoulders still and level until the very end, when I finally raise them to get in the last bits of air that I possibly can. Mastering this has enabled me to play this solo in one breath with air to spare.
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