Thursday, April 23, 2020

Rampal's embouchure micromovements

Jean Pierre Rampal
Dear Flutists,

This week there was a question from an intermediate flutist:
Dear Jen,
Loved the free reprint of the Rampal interview from 1972, but am confused by his "don't move the embouchure at all" advice.
Can you help figure out what he means by that? My teacher has always told me that I have to move my lips (although very tiny movements) for large interval leaps.
Re: Quote from the interview:

Q: "What about the difference between the lower and upper registers on the flute? Do you make any changes in the mouth?

 No, not in the mouth, only in the direction of the blowing, and this is not the same thing. If you change the mouth position, you lose the homogeneity of the tone. To produce a beautiful, homogeneous tone, so there is not a stop or a jump between notes, you must think always of the passage from note to note, even in rapid music.
     And you must retain the same mouth position. Otherwise you have a flutist for the low register, a flutist for the middle register, and a flutist for the high register. You have three flute players, and you must be only one — always the same."
Above quote is from Flute Talk Magazine interview with Jean Pierre Rampal from November 1972: link to read article.

Dear Student,
So often the professional flutist has played flute so long their motions have become unconscious, and they are only aware of it when their students are over-doing the motions. It is great advice to make the motions very very microscopic.

To wit: Here are some pretty visible micromovements of lip corners in Rampal's Faure Fantaisie: (video that is set to start at the Faure.) Watch the whole piece to see extreme leaps from low to high, and observe his lip corners.

When there are extreme register changes, high E slurred down to low C or low D for example, Rampal pulls the lip corners back to narrow the lips and retract them for low C and then, later, moves them forward again for middle and high register.

When playing scale-style passages you cannot see any lip movement for long periods of time. He indeed makes very few changes for the middle and high register at mezzo forte.

But again, when he makes an extreme register change, or extreme intensity change in dynamics, he moves his lip corners forward and back.
He has perhaps simply not observed these movements; he has done them so well for so long.

I think overall though, he's the master of not moving the embouchure unnecessarily. :>)

Take note that in the opening B-natural of the Fantaisie, he's playing mezzo-forte to mezzo-piano with a hairpin, and not attempting to begin that first note softly! He achieves the pure first B natural by air speed alone! That eliminates one embouchure change right there: trying to play softly when you start the whole piece! ah HA!!

But I hope the video, with front and side camera work, helps to see what he truly does with his embouchure when he plays. Naturally, it's challenging to put into words and be flute-embouchure-exhaustively-specific in general interviews.
Undoubtedly moving one's embouchure too much is a problem in students, and it does make it sound like there is no homogeneousness of tone between the three octaves if there are radical embouchure changes.


 Another great reprint article from Flutetalk magazine this weekL Walfrid Kujala on "shifting the beat for great technique".
 This is a truly good one! Thanks to Flutetalk for all the sharing!