Quite a few years ago I attended a Gilbert Masterclass in which a flute student (now principal in a major orchestra) played a show piece that, at the time, we all thought was brilliant!
Geoffrey Gilbert was heard to say, disparagingly, that this person processed a
facility for playing the flute rather than a true technique. I have often wondered about what the criteria is for "True technique" and what constitutes facility and ultimately which is better.
The above question was posted on Galway Chat yesterday.
I think that true technique is proved when as a flutist, you get a last minute call to sub, and have to arrive and suddenly sight-read some of the trickiest chamber or orchestral literature.
The questions are: How perfectly musical does it sound? How technically perfected does it sound when the player hasn't seen the music before, or hasn't had a chance to prepare? That's the true test. Mere facility is not sufficient; though it
can get you through the gig, it may not win you a call-back.
The quality high level musicians are looking for is more than just "fingers", it's beautiful tone colour, as well as fingers.
There's also adapting, blending, and playing "in style."
When you're suddenly forced to perform for a great musical ensemble, but on very short notice, the minimum you must have is finger technique.
Of course this means at least five years of scales, scales in thirds/fourths etc., and arpeggios are already up to speed and can be played at any
dynamic, with any articulation pattern.
If a flutist is prepared in this way only then they can concentrate on blending, intonation, musical nuances and making the music truly come alive with expression and meaning.
If a sight reader can even assist their fellow players, and inspire, rather than simply "get through the part" then they have technique AND musicality.
I wrote the above paragraphs even before checking for Gilbert's own words in "The Gilbert Legacy" by Angelita Floyd.
On the front page of chapter 9 I later found this quote:
Floyd on Gilbert:
"According to Gilbert's teaching there is a definite distinction between facility and technique; facility being the ability to move the fingers quickly, whereas technique includes this ability to move the fingers in combination with proper sound and expression. Consequently, when practicing for facility, flutists should concentrate on the technique of SOUND as well. Gilbert explained his concept of technique in an article in FluteTalk.
"We would all agree that possession of a virtuoso technique is absolutely necessary for those who aspire to be virtuosos.
(Masterclass Gilbert Quote)"
Gilbert's Flutetalk Quote:
"Almost every student aspires to be a virtuoso but they don't have a virtuostic technique. Too often students try to learn the flute by just playing pieces. If they would spend more time acquiring technique by playing articulated scales in all possible forms and arpeggios before they come to a piece, it would save them hours of time. Then rather than wasting extra time learning a difficult passage, they could spend more time on improving tone and intonation". - Geoffry Gilbert
This chapter 9 of "The Gilbert Legacy" then goes on to outline what a true "technique" is, and a great deal is devoted to maintaining tone, intonation and nuance while increasing the amount of daily technique practice.
I highly recommend this book for understanding Gilbert's ideas.
Floyd has included quotes and samples from all sorts of teaching situations of Gilbert's.
I'll be interested to hear more about this topic from others, too. :>)
And for young flutists looking ahead to getting "The Gilbert Legacy" and the technique books suggested in it, may I suggest that a very useful book for starting technique practice is Brooke's Flute Method. I have an old second-hand copy of volume II here from a used book store, and combined with the tuning CD, (droning on the tonic) it's a fabulous resource for interesting scale patterns that you can endlessly vary.
Best, Jen Cluff