Wil Offermans is one of the most interesting player-composers active in the flute world today. His music uses sounds and textures to explore different worlds and is flexible enough to be played in many different ways. Ethnic influences, particularly from Japan are very evident and his imaginative writing is very appealing for both performer and listener alike.
Perhaps the best place to start your journey of Offermans’ ensemble music is Voices of Nagasaki for solo flute, flute, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute or cello (optional), glockenspiel and random voices. This piece is conventionally notated and does not require any extended techniques. The glockenspiel can be replaced by any small drum and the voices do not have to be trained – it works very well by giving instructions to the audience! Even without this, the piece is extremely effective. Based on a simple jazz-like rhythmic figure, the haunting melody builds and becomes more intense to the end. The Japanese influence is unmistakable and the percussion adds an extra dimension to the scoring. You really need a conductor if you are using audience participation but it does work well without. This is a really beautiful and unusual piece, so do try it.
If you would like a freer approach then perhaps you could look at Kotekan for 8 C flutes which takes its inspiration from the music of Bali. Extended techniques are used here: wind tones, harmonics and bamboo-like sounds all contribute to the gamelan feel. Offermans calls the writing style ‘collectivism’ which is where “each player performs a relatively simple pattern which by itself seems without much musical value. However, once performed in the ensemble it becomes part of some sensational and enigmatic music” Many of the small sections of music are repeated four times and creates an almost trance-like state. Individually each part seems fairly straightforward but it’s the coming together of all the various strands that is the real challenge here. Worth it though!
Offermans is also into movement, so if you like to dance whilst you’re playing, try Dance with Me. There is only one part here but it comes complete with all the movements and a backing CD. The use of breath tone, harmonics and pitch bends are specified but the again the piece is effective without. The compositional technique is similar to Kotekan, but the style is completely different. This is a really funky piece and if you can learn the dance as well as memorise the simple notes it is fantastic fun!
The solo flute music is really interesting too. Tsuru-no-Sugomori (Nesting of Cranes) is a challenging transcription of a traditional Shakuhachi melody and comes complete with instructions and exercises to help with the extended techniques involved in the performance. The piece takes us through the cycle of the life of a crane (highly revered in Japanese culture) from building a nest through to death. Offermans recreates the Shakuhachi timbre by extensive use of lip glissandi, pitch-bending, portamento as well as a great variety of types of vibrato. This results music rich in colour and texture which is both exciting to play and to listen to.
Made in Japan is perhaps more approachable and comes with a computer-manipulated CD accompaniment. Some of the six songs here are shorter and the notation is rather more conventional, but there is still a wealth of sound worlds be discovered. Synchronisation with the CD is managed by time, which all adds to the fun. These songs refer to the ‘super-sweet sentiment’ of daily life in Japan, and one of the possible ways to perform them is to walk amongst the audience creating almost a ‘virtual reality’ of life. This is a great book for anyone interested in contemporary techniques.
Offermans is also passionate about teaching and is very active, giving master-classes throughout Europe. He is keen to harness the imagination of the less experienced too and For the Younger Flutist does just that. Partly an activity book, the ten pieces use either graphic notation or game playing to introduce the concept of music without strict notation. Each one is very clearly set out and there are notes for teachers too. This is really worth a look, especially if you work with groups. ‘Not at all because the material in this book is supposed to be easy, but young flutists are masters in dealing with imagination, creativity and enjoyment’. As such it can be enjoyed by anyone! Another great idea is the Improvisation Calendar which has 52 graphic scores (one for each week) designed for use in any style at all – the possibilities are obviously endless. This would be ideal for hanging in the teaching room for use in an ad hoc situation.
No review of Wil Offermans would be complete without Thumpy which is a simple ‘thumb flute’ of his own invention. The wooden tube is open at both ends, the blowing hole is in the middle and the 5 notes are made by opening and closing the ends with the thumbs. It’s obviously great for children and also for the more advanced as a way of increasing embouchure flexibility. In any case this is another way of using your imagination and having fun!
If you are not familiar with his music, take a look: you will find inspirational writing which tingles the senses.
Music by Wil Offermans is available at Just Flutes.