Composer Profile: Amanda Jane Fox

Amanda Jane FoxI absolutely love the music of Amanda Fox. She is a wonderful combination of classically trained flute player and natural jazz pianist. She has an amazing way of performing her own music, her rhythmic understanding being instinctively different from the ordinary musician. She once described to me an astonishing list of styles that she has drawn from. These included Bach, Rachmaninoff, Elton John, Carol King, Debussy, Chaminade and several jazz musicians – very much a mixed bag. She is also quite a character! She never stops talking, and is infectiously enthusiastic about all she does.

Amanda’s writing for the flute is impressive. Take “Infinity” for example. This is a big work and a great test of stamina for all those not blessed with her natural capacity for long phrases! She has an undoubted talent for melody, and all her flute music has gorgeous tunes. The opening of “Infinity” is stunningly beautiful – the kind of tune that you could sing walking down the street and feel happier for having done so. She also has a formidable flute technique, so plenty of notes woven around the jazz-influenced cross-rhythms add to the challenge. It’s a real crowd pleaser!

If you want something a little quieter, “In the Clouds” is my favorite of Amanda’s slower pieces. Dedicated to her father and composed shortly after his death, it’s a very moving piece with an abundance of yet-more–beautiful melodic themes accompanied by strong romantic harmonies. Or you could try “Reflections,” with its tranquil melodies and subtle, gentle colouring.

Her most recent piece is “Levitation,” which was written for me to play at last year’s NFA Convention in California. It starts with another one of her sensual melodies, and her special blend of harmony and rhythm conjures up all kinds of swirling emotions. If you look closely, you can certainly see influences of Gaubert and Poulenc, but it is really her natural jazz/funky style that shines through. Frequent changes of both key and tempo take place as, section by section, it all seamlessly flows like a journey to end triumphantly on a high. “Levitation” is an uplifting piece celebrating Amanda’s fight to recover from her constant battle with ME.

Amanda can play and sing all her own music, and a visit to her website will unearth gems of popular songs that she performs in her own inimitable way. Her latest mp3 download available there is “Destiny”, yet another example of wonderful writing for the flute. The tune is so lovely that you just don’t want to end!

So if you hadn’t heard of Amanda Fox before, perhaps now is the time to discover her, and indulge yourself in beautiful music!

Amanda Jane Fox’s music is available at Just Flutes: Infinity | Reflections | In The Clouds | Levitation.

Open G#: To open, or not to open?

If you look at your flute, you will find that all the keys are sprung open except for D#, G# and the trill keys. The reason for this is that Theobald Boehm, the inventor of the mechanism on the modern flute, designed the keywork on the principle that all the keys should be open, and that the keys should only be closed to shorten the effective length of the flute to change the pitch.

His reasoning was broadly based on two counts.

1. The more keys open (and the larger the holes) on the instrument, the louder it will be.
2. By having all keys below the first hole open (as far as possible), this will reduce the ‘veiling effect’ produced by closed sections of tube.

In Boehm’s original design he had the D# key sprung closed, but held open at all times by the little finger (except when playing D). This was to give a physical support in the right hand, thus making the instrument more stable when it is being played. The G# key he had open which fitted in with his ideas perfectly.

As the Boehm system flute became more popular and larger numbers of players transferred from simple eight-keyed flutes to the Boehm system, they had to learn a number of new fingerings. The key that they seemed to have had the most difficulty transferring to was the G# key, which had always been sprung closed on the eight-keyed flute.

After a number of experiments by different makers, a closed G# version of the flute was produced. This involved duplicating the G# hole on the rear of the instrument, and it is this design that is used almost universally today.

There are three main problems with the closed G# system:

1. The system spoils top E, because the G# hole on the top of the flute is open when playing high E. A split E mechanism is required to correct this.
2. The closed G# mechanism is unnecessarily complicated – there is more mechanically to go wrong.
3. The closed G# is illogical. When going from G to G# you put another key down to go up the scale.

Why then is the open G# flute not the standard flute?

The open G# system is used by a growing number of players, especially in Britain. However, due to the huge number of players on closed G# instruments and the lack of open G# flutes – particularly at the student end of the market – I don’t see the current situation changing. Perhaps one day a quality, open G# student flute will be made available, and this could produce a new and well-deserved interest in this superior system.

This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for the Flutewise magazine.

Open G# flutes are available by special order from Just Flutes, on most brands in the intermediate bracket upwards.

Headjoints: A Guide to Choosing

The headjoint of the flute is probably the most ‘personal’ part of the instrument: a headjoint that plays well for one person might be another player’s idea of hell! For this reason, no hard and fast rules can be given as to what makes the “best” headjoint, but a few guidelines might be useful.

There are really four basic things to think about when trying headjoints:

1. Dynamic range
2. Articulation
3. Tone colour
4. Projection

I’ll deal briefly with these, point by point.

1 Dynamic range

A good headjoint should be capable of producing a good dynamic range. It should play very loudly in all three registers with a good quality of sound. It should also play quietly in all three registers whilst being controllable regarding pitch. As we all know, when playing loudly it is all too easy to go sharp, so how easily can you pull the pitch down to concert pitch at the extreme of loudness (use a tuning machine as a guide to help you). Obviously try the same test with soft playing. Here, the ability to keep the pitch up is important.

Always compare the results with your existing headjoint as you cannot expect a new headjoint to cure your own playing difficulties! Don’t forget to try all three registers.

2 Articulation

Compare the ease of producing good, clean starts to tongued notes with your existing headjoint. Simple scales played slowly will be a good guide. Try both loud and soft in all registers. Also try without the tongue, diaphragm only. This is a very good test.

3 Tone colour

Try to get an idea of the range of colours available. Play low, simple tunes such as Fauré’s ‘Pavane’ or the ‘Aquarium’ from ‘Carnival of the Animals’, and aim at a very hollow, open sound. Go up one octave and see if you can produce the same sort of sound. It is very important that a headjoint is capable of producing a similar quality of sound throughout the full range.

Next, try a much harder sound with lots of harmonies again in different octaves (Moyse 24 Easy Melodic Studies No. 10 – strong and trumpet like, is ideal).

4 Projection

Less easy to check for this one! The help of a friend is useful here. Some headjoints appear to play very loudly close up, but cannot be heard at the back of a concert hall. Others don’t appear so loud close up, but the sound seems to travel better, it ‘projects’.

If you are able to take a headjoint home for a few days to try it then use the opportunity, if possible, to try it in a big hall. Choose a friend you can rely on to give good ‘musical’ advice. (String players seem particularly good at this, but in my experience don’t ask a flute player!)

Ask them which headjoint sounds louder at the back of the hall, and also which sounds ‘best’ to him, which he prefers. A string player will give you an honest answer, a flute player may have too many preconceived ideas.

If you can’t get into a hall, the next best thing is to ask someone to listen to you from outside the room you are playing in with the door closed. Now which is loudest?

Remember when trying out headjoints to compare them to your own. A headjoint can’t compensate for shortcomings in your playing – only hours of careful practice can do this. But a headjoint can give you the potential to do more things. Practice makes these a reality.

Happy Hunting.

This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for the Flutewise magazine.


Welcome to the Just Flutes blog.

The Just Flutes showroom in Croydon, London, UKOur plan is that this blog will develop to become a huge resource for flute players, comprising of ideas for flute music, books and recordings, instruments and accessories – some of which will be new, some not so new, some hidden gems you may have missed, others old favourites that every flute player should have in their library.

So, watch this space, enjoy, and feel free to register, comment and make suggestions!