Nassau Music Society’s Quartetto Gelato Gives Master Class at COB
Quartetto Gelato’s woodwinds virtuoso, Colin Maier, one of the incredibly versatile and accomplished guest artists of the Nassau Music Society’s 2011 winter season, offered a Woodwinds Master Class at the College of The Bahamas to young adults. Participating performers included bass clarinetist Dr. Timothy Barrett, who played Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite; oboist Lyndon Sands, who played Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe from the movie The Mission; and flautists Shavincia Thomas, Michelle Claire, and Rashad Cunningham, who played Mozart’s Menuetto from Divertimento No. 3, Kv.229 arranged as a flute trio by Ralph R. Guenther. Dr. Christy Lee of COB graciously provided piano accompaniment. Ms. Thomas is the current recipient of a Nassau Music Society scholarship.
Mr. Maier is an extraordinarily perceptive woodwinds coach. In addition to being a member of Quartetto Gelato, Mr. Maier has performed with the Calgary Philharmonic, the National Ballet, the Scarborough Philharmonic, and the Niagara International Chamber Music Festival. He plays the oboe, clarinet, English horn, flute, and saxophone among other instruments.
Mr. Maier focused on each individual’s tone quality, technical production method, dynamics, and phrasing. The first thing he pointed out is that musicians must not just be satisfied with playing the notes, but must figure out where a piece is going so that it does not sound all the same throughout. He stressed that dynamic shadings must be observed, that staccatos must be shorter and sharper and more pronounced, and that grace notes still need to have value and duration and”air”even though the main note to which they lead will have the accent.
For the reed instrumentalists, Mr. Maier said that the reed must be in one’s mouth and the embouchure must be set before one starts to play. He also said that the attacks on each note must be equal when they are articulated. As for slurring, one should tighten the bottom lip, support with a lot more air(“tons of air”), and play authoritatively rather than tentatively. Mr. Maier recommended that players not be afraid of higher notes, that they should drive to stronger accents, produce faster and more abundant air, and sustain forward movement.
As did previous master teachers, Mr. Maier stressed that real musicians are not mere note-producers and must remain emotionally engaged throughout the piece. Such engagement can be expressed through the use of vibrato, rubato, leaning into phrases, ensuring that slurs are observed and not articulated as a string of separate notes, and by playing in a way that is freer, as if one is singing through the instrument. He suggested practicing to adjust the pitch with the embouchure. He also suggested that more air and more intensity would help in the production of a good vibrato, which could be practiced by laughing”ha ha ha”into the instrument in pulses to get a vibrato started. Mr. Maier said that starting with quarter notes and then moving to eighth notes and then triplets etc. would help the vibrato to smooth itself out.
Among the suggestions imparted by Mr. Maier to the flute trio performers in particular were to play more assertively, with more dynamic variation and intensity, and with fuller breaths and air bursts. Again, forward motion must propel the music from phrase to phrase. When performing as part of a group, players should angle their stands so they can make eye contact with one another and give physical cues so that they will breathe and play as one, a bottom-line requirement. Solo melodic portions must be identified and played louder in order to stand out, and the soloist should worry less about blending with the accompanying parts. Pianissimos for the soloist are more intense than pianissimos for the accompanists and must carry farther. The melodic line must then be passed from one player to the next as a smooth handoff, seamlessly, with a matched sound. Upward slurs must be observed; and more exuberance, intensity, and decisiveness are to be desired to avoid a certain”flatness”in production. In general, more power and faster air are required, especially on runs. Better articulation and phrasing, tighter rhythms, and stronger tongued attacks as well as more attention to maintaining a forward impetus will make a tremendous difference.
Colin Maier is not only a great teacher, but also a true entrepreneurial performer. His parting words of wisdom to the Master Class participants were these:
• Practice every day.
• Be punctual when it comes to group rehearsals, and don’t do your practicing on group time.
• Come prepared.
• Drop your ego at the door.
• Remember that you are there to make music, not just to play a bunch of notes.
• Interpretations can be flamboyant.
• Aim for uniqueness.
• Take the stage when it is your turn to play.
• Interact with and engage the audience.
• Have fun!
And to this we say:”Amen.”