Category Archives: Composer Profiles

Composer Profile: Geoff Eales

Geoff EalesIt’s lucky for us flute players that jazz pianist-composer Geoff Eales and the talented Andy Findon are such good friends. As a direct result of their collaboration for the CD The Dancing Flute, we now have some of the best flute jazz music to play for ourselves.

Eales studied composition with Alun Hoddinott and wrote award-winning large-scale orchestral works before he became more interested in jazz. His stellar career since then has enabled him to carve out a niche as an improviser, and it is these two aspects of his style that underpin all his works for the flute.

Dreamy Melodies

Eales certainly knows how to write dreamy melodies. Song For My Mother is beautiful, with a simple tune over a sustained accompaniment. There is no huge technical challenge here, but the 16-bar piano intro sets a relaxed ambience for the whole piece. There is a real feeling of freedom in the flute writing which is quite enchanting.

Remembrance is in a similar style, but the minor key adds darker sonorities. This is captivating, drawing you in as you play – absolutely lovely!

Change of Tempo

If you’re in the mood for something upbeat, Eternal Dance is rhythmically tough with 7/8 alternating with 5/4 in the manner of Bartók (the metronome marking is 162, so this is a real workout!). In a completely different style is Elf Dance. Here three fast and furious sections alternating 6/8, 3/4 and 5/4 contrast with something slightly more lyrical to produce an exciting piece that’s always on the move. Farewell Patagonia is different again with a driving tango rhythm taking us to South America. In all of these works the piano is so important, and there are frequent improvisatory-style piano introductions and breaks. This makes the performances even better!

Music for Other Flutes

Geoff has also written repertoire for other members of the flute family: there isn’t much original music for penny whistle, so In The Eyes Of A Child is very special. A simple lullaby in waltz time, this is a piece that wonderfully captures the innocence of youth. You can of course play this on the flute but it really does sound great on a quality whistle!

This could not contrast more starkly with Force 11 for piccolo and piano. The performance direction for the opening improvised section here is manically and atonally and this leads on to the notated main body of the work that is marked demonic! This will stretch even the most accomplished player with its extreme range and relentlessly changing times. Intensely fun!

For low flutes, Geoff has written us two gems. Lochria’s Rhumba for alto flute and piano is a real fusion of styles. The mysterious melody is based on the Locrian mode and weaves its way enticingly around the lower reaches of the alto. The accompaniment adds a slow rhumba to the texture. The result is another laid-back and free work that casts an evocative spell over the audience. His work for bass flute and piano is Ice Maiden, another hypnotic piece which is again really sultry. The pulse is more clearly defined here with gentle syncopation in the piano allowing the sensuous sound of the bass flute space to sing the rich melody. Both these pieces are extremely well crafted for each specific instrument, using it to its maximum effect and reflecting the individual character.

Jazz for flute doesn’t come much better than this. Geoff and Andy – thank you!

Geoff Eales’s music is published by Astute Music and is available from Just Flutes.

Wil Offermans

Composer Profile: Wil Offermans

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.

Andy Scott

Composer Profile: Andy Scott

Andy Scott“Andy Scott is a hugely talented composer using his artistry to communicate fresh ideas through a traditional sound.” – Bramwell Tovey.

If you are not familiar with the music of Andy Scott perhaps now is the time to do some exploring! Scott is a sax player but he is of great interest to flute players as a composer. He won a British Composer’s Award in 2006 – an indication of the quality of his output.

As you might expect, his style is jazz-based but not exclusively so. Perhaps the best way into his music would be to start with the beautiful And Everything Is Still….Here the gentle melody floats above enigmatic harmonies to produce a lovely piece of quiet simplicity. This has universal appeal and is a real stunner.

Not all his music is that straightforward though! Three Letter Word was originally commissioned for sax by the Park Lane Group but Andy made this challenging arrangement specifically for Paul Edmund Davies. There is virtuoso flute writing from the outset with a great deal of improvisation in the style. It’s a really exciting piece, which despite its slower finale, ends dramatically and with a real surprise.

You’d like something somewhere in the middle? Salt of the Earth is not without its challenges either, and you’ll need a good finger technique as well as a feel for the Latin/jazz idiom to do it justice. The smaller note range, one sharp key and simpler rhythms lend a slightly lighter character to the writing but, as with most of his works, you will need a really good pianist. This great piece is really fun to play so it’s well worth the effort!

 

Andy Scott’s music also provides a happy hunting ground for those who want to work with instruments other than the piano. Paquito is a fast salsa, which pays homage to Paquito d’Rivera and is scored for flute and harp. Again it is quite difficult, but also playful and fun:

My Mountain Top represents a total difference in style. Centre stage is the narration of haunting words by Lemn Sissay, around which Scott weaves a magical mix of sonorities. Ethereal sounds created by the keyboard allow the alto flute to add colour with a mix of timbral trills and plaintive melody. This is definitely not a play-along experience, but is instead a work of great intensity and power that is most compelling.

Music for solo flute is also well represented. Eighteen is ‘funky and hard-edged’ and Scott recommends a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude when performing. KBM is more improvisatory with contrasting sections of free melody and rhythmic groove. In his collaboration with fellow sax player Rob Buckland, Scott also has a volume of easier pieces to his name. Changing Times is a selection of 12 short pieces aimed at the grade 6–8+ level – the perfect way to get started in this genre.

Andy Scott is a prolific writer. He has already written substantial sonatas for both flute and piano and flute and harp as well as Eight Pieces and Café Europa, two volumes of easier gems, this time for flute and piano and again with Rob Buckland.

Most of these pieces can be heard on the Bad-Tempered Flute CD, which will be a good starting point for your explorations. Given that there is plenty to choose from whatever your level or instrumentation, what are you waiting for?

Cecilia McDowall

Composer Profile: Cecilia McDowall

Cecilia McDowall

Cecilia McDowall

It is very unlikely that you will not know at least one piece by Cecilia McDowall – even if it is the very popular Comic Song from the ABRSM grade 4 book! She isn’t a flute player, but her father, Harold Clarke, was. He was principal flute at the Royal Opera House, and professor of flute at Trinity College of Music. So it is inevitable that Cecilia would write music for us, and write it well. She is completely woven into the flute fabric in the UK, with works on exam lists and commissions ranging from contemporary solo pieces to music for large flute ensembles.

Cecilia McDowall - Six Pastiches for Flute and PianoThe Comic Song actually comes from one of my favourite of her albums for emerging students. Six Pastiches for flute and piano is a book of little gems, each one having a quirky take on their individual title. For example, there is a disjointed “Hornpipe”, in which the tune appears almost but not quite as you would expect; the minor key “Comic Song” full of clown-like pathos; and a truly slapstick “Music Hall.” Easily accessible but full of scope for the imaginative pupil to explore the unusual, these are invaluable as both teaching and performing resources.

Three Concert Studies develops technique by the back-door – the “Chromatic Waltz” for chromatic scales, “Tongue in Cheek” for articulation patterns and “Spaces” for intervals. In a popular harmonic language, these are all very appealing. Soundtracks, another album of intermediate pieces, is worth having for the sumptuous Russian Encounter alone. The wonderful melody and off-beat accompaniment make this a winner!

The Moon Dances by Cecilia McDowallAt the other end of the spectrum, The Moon Dances, commissioned by Susan Milan, represents a serious challenge. Here McDowall uses contemporary techniques to evoke the colors with which to illustrate the “intense imagery of the Spanish poetry” – the inspiration behind these contrasting dances. The whole of the second movement, “Black with Shadows and Wolves”, involves the flute being played into the piano, resulting in a pervading veil of ghostly harmonics. Rhythmic complexity and drive characterize the outer movements “Paper Sea” and “Silver Coins and The Red Star Trembles”.

McDowall is greatly influenced by her Scottish background. Piper’s Dream draws inspiration from Celtic folk music, with the flute at times reflecting the sound of the bagpipes! Essentially a fantasy, the improvisatory style of writing creates a dream-like quality that eventually fades away into the mist.

Eleven by Cecilia McDowallAnother of her important works for flute and piano is Eleven, illustrating her ability to create a sound world distinctly foreign to the instruments used. It was written at the time of the troubles in Kosovo. She writes: “I became obsessed with what happens to a culture when it is dispersed due to war. ‘Eleven’ means ‘alive’ in Hungarian, and I dedicated it to all those in danger of losing their cultural identity, in the hope that they can keep their cultural ‘voice’ alive.” The mesmerising nature of the indigenous religious music of the region is graphically illustrated here, and the depiction of suffering is intense. The piano part is written to reinforce the sound of the cimbalom, and the improvisatory nature of the folk song writing for the flute adds to the passion. I think that this is one of her best pieces and is impossible not to be moved by the strength and depth of feeling underlying every nuance.

Her latest project is Crossing the Bridge, an exciting new work for flute orchestra, commissioned by Margaret Lowe for the National Flute Orchestra. A whole array of flutes feature – piccolo, 4 flutes in C, 2 alto flutes, bass flute and optional contra alto and contra bass flute. As she explains:

“The structure of the work is like that of a bridge. The short middle movement, ‘London Bridge’, spans the divide by taking the last phrase of ‘Mostar’ as its opening, exploring the darker tones of the lower instruments, and the first bar of ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ as its close. In this middle movement I took the old English song, London Bridge Is Falling Down, and played around with it, sharing it between the instruments, until it ‘falls down’. The opening movement, ‘Mostar’, refers to the old single arch stone bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which became such a symbol of peace and hope in the late 1990s. In the outer sections of this movement the flutes explore the characteristic ‘fall’ at the end of the phrase which is quite a feature of some middle European music. The central section is lively and has a whirling, folk-dance feel to it. At the time Brooklyn Bridge was built (1883) it was one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. It connects Manhattan with Brooklyn across the East River, always busy with traffic, and has a powerful presence on the New York skyline. The third movement of Crossing the Bridge is one of perpetual motion, opening with a bright, staccato texture, and is in the shape of a palindrome or arch. (Appropriate, I hope, for a piece about bridges!) It is restless and energetic, driving full speed to its final cut off.”

If you add to all of this Seven Impressions for piccolo and piano, and Winter Music for wind quintet, you start to understand how important the flute is in the life of Cecilia McDowall. Her father has a lot to answer for and we are in his debt!

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.