Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Flute Lessons with Mike Rafferty

Although a fair amount of biography and some good descriptions of Mike Rafferty's playing are available online (see links at the end of this post), I have yet to find anything written on his teaching. This blog post attempts to fill that void. What follows here are my reflections about Mike as a teacher and what I’ve learned from him over the past four years.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Took the Plunge

Yes, we finally took the plunge into the brave new world of Apple computers. I bought my husband a MacBook (2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB RAM, and 250 GB hard drive). He finally received the new computer I had wanted to give him last Christmas! You may recall the Vista woes of my January 14 and January 19 posts. I was more or less convinced that Mac was the solution in my February 8 post. So what took so long?

My struggle with Lenovo over the returned T61 Vista laptop intensified over time. Aggravated, I sent back its XP replacement without ever opening the box. With two laptop purchases on my credit card, I thought it best to wait for the Lenovo refunds before purchasing a third computer. Lenovo proved difficult, but on April 29 I received the final credit on my Feb 5 returns. By that time, however, my professor husband had second semester work in progress on his old laptop. Not a good time to make a switch!

Finally, on July 9 we made our way to Apple's new West 14th Street store. We came away with a MacBook, a Time Capsule, a copy of Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Leopard Edition by David Pogue, and a MobileMe subscription for the free iPod Touch obtained through Apple's Back-to-School promotion. (The iPod was for me, of course!)

Right out of the box, the MacBook was fun. We laughed as the setup wizard instructed my husband to take his own profile picture using the camera in the laptop lid. I squeeled with joy when the spiffy little machine, in less than a minute, automatically established a wireless network among our three computers. (You have no idea how much time I've spent over the years setting up home networks, both wired and wireless.) Kazowee!!

File transfer was easy as well. I simply plugged the removable backup drive into the MacBook's USB port and copied over all the files.

Moving Microsoft Outlook's mail, contacts, and calendar was a bit more challenging. Following the advice in Pogue's book, I downloaded a $10 program from Little Machines called O2M (Outlook to Mac). The transfer to Mac Mail was easy - all the subfolders were retained and I was able to transfer a previously archived mail folder. The contacts transfer was equally simple. After the contacts were loaded, features of the Mac Address Book helped me merge multiple email addresses into a single contact and eliminate duplicates. The calendar transfer was the most tedious. My husband has birthdays and anniversaries as well as appointments, but they all transferred into iCal as events. Therefore I had to make some manual adjustments, but in the end the calendar looked and behaved properly.

I loaded some components of Microsoft Office for Mac -- Word, Excel, and Powerpoint -- plus Google Earth, RealPlayer and Mozilla's FoxFire browser. I imported bookmarks and reset the home page. Lastly, I went through all the relevant system preferences making adjustments which would enable the MacBook look and feel like his old computer as much as possible.

Pogue's Switching to the Mac book was very helpful. Despite being a bit chatty, it contained clear explanations and instructions. Knowing nothing about navigating the Mac operating system, I managed to do the work of a Mac Genius! (That's Apple-speak for "technical support person.") Apple would have done a free data transfer, but they wouldn't have been able to do all the customizations that I could do because I'm on such intimate terms with my husband's old laptop. Besides, the weekend I devoted to the data transfer and setup effort really kick-started my Mac education.

I just hope my husband's road to becoming a Mac user won't be too bumpy. This Christmas-in-July gift was intended to relieve his frustration with sluggish response time, continual virus infections, and frequent downloads of program and virus pattern updates. While the Mac will eliminate those issues, it will require PC habits be replaced with Mac skills. Nobody is particularly fond of change, but my husband trusts my judgment that this switch will be worthwhile in the long run.

And really, how can he not love this sleek black MacBook? It's a dream machine, with its fast response and its totally gorgeous screen graphics... yea, I know. I sound like a real Mac person now, don't I? OK, I'll admit it - I've been converted. And so has the cat!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Blogging Statistics

Join Me at Blog World Expo 

Despite what it says on the logo there, I'm not going.  I was merely reading about the 2008 Blogworld and New Media Expo and the one-day Executive and Entrepreneur Conference that precedes it. Curious, I glanced through the presentation topics and scanned a good many of the bios. Sounds like great fun. Just reading the website was fun! Wish I could go. It might inspire an attempted career move.

But I digress...  What I wanted to point out here is their page entitled Important Blogging Statistics.  Click that link and have a look.  There are sure lots of people writing, but even more are reading.

Like you are, right now!

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Monday, September 01, 2008

Flute Choices for the Beginner

Recently I conducted an email discussion about the difficulties beginners face learning to play the flute. This exchange challenged me to further explore some of the factors alluded to in my February 2, 2007 post entitled Silver Flute vs. Irish Flute.

The email dialogue began with this question: If you've never played the flute, would it be better to start with a silver orchestral/band flute or a wooden Irish flute? (In the email context, the question assumed the learner would play Irish music some of the time if not exclusively.)

My answer: If the goal is gain a general introduction to flute playing, I recommend starting on the “regular” silver flute. It offers many advantages, detailed below, and there's no reason it can't be used for Irish music as well. The orchestral flute and the Irish flute share the same basic techniques of breath control, tone production, and physical coordination of arms, hands and fingers.

I would advise beginners of all ages to find a teacher -- a regular, classically trained teacher -- and take some lessons. A teacher will keep you from forming bad habits that have to be unlearned later in order to make progress. You’ll also learn to read music. Additionally, the discipline of preparing for a lesson organizes the learning process and leads you systematically through the rudimentary stuff. Definitely get a teacher.

What to expect: Absolute beginners should know in advance that producing those first sounds on the flute is difficult for most people. You must blow across the hole, not into it. Consequently, tone is initially encased in whooshy air sounds. Once you're able to produce a predictable sound on the notes that speak the easiest, the real work begins. Your lips and surrounding muscles (called embouchure in flute parlance) must learn to make the subtle changes required for the high and low notes. Afterwards, additional embouchure refinements must be made in order to bring the whole range of notes in tune with each other. Instruction books usually teach tone production by starting the beginner with B above middle C and simultaneously work up and down the scale from there until the student can play all the notes of the flute’s 3-octave range. Most people find the middle octave the easiest.

Advantages of the orchestral flute: Its larger and more rectangular blow hole help the beginner produce a sound more readily. Key placement is more comfortable, particularly for smaller hands, and closed-hole keys remove the frustration of not completely covering the finger holes. The orchestral flute has superior internal tuning of the notes of the scale -- that is, the flute is more in tune with itself. Finally, the flute's three-octave chromatic range means it can be used in a wider variety of musical styles – folk, classical, marching band, sacred music, jazz - opening up both social and musical opportunities, something that's particularly valuable for school-aged children.

Disadvantages of orchestral flute: Because of the more complex keywork, there are more things to break. Kids can be especially hard on silver flutes - bending keys, knocking off corks, fraying the pads, bending the springs, getting the flutes wet (resulting in possible rusted springs & screws and warped pads), even denting the body of the flute. Repairs can be expensive and frequent.

However... If you find yourself playing primarily traditional Irish music, you may indeed decide you want to play a more traditional instrument. While it's true that silver flutes are becoming more and more common in Irish sessions, you still run into a certain prejudice against the silver flute. If you are coming to the flute from the whistle, the fingering is the same so any tunes you know will translate to your flute repertoire. Teachers of the Irish flute may be scarce unless you live near a major concentration of Irish traditional players. Depending on the teacher, an Irish flute lesson might put more emphasis on learning tunes than technique. Also, reading notes is sometimes seen as a handicap as it can be used as a crutch to avoid learning the traditional way - by listening and playing back what you hear.

Advantages of the Irish flute: The wooden Irish flute has the distinctive dark and woody sound favored in traditional Irish music. Keyless flutes allow easy execution of traditional ornamentation (applies mainly to advanced players). Irish flutes are very pretty, and if you enjoy finely crafted wood, Irish flutes are especially nice to handle.

Disadvantages of the Irish flute: Its rounder, smaller blow hole makes it harder to get a good sound, particularly for beginners. Covering the finger holes is frustrating and difficult for beginners, particularly for those with small hands. Wooden instruments need oiling and require relatively stable humidity conditions to avoid cracks in the wood. The keyless Irish flute, the most popular model, plays only in the keys of D major, G major, B minor and E minor which limits its use outside traditional Irish music. The keyless wooden flute has a two-octave diatonic range unless you purchase a keyed flute. Irish flutes with keys are expensive, and because the keys are very labor intensive the waiting list for a new keyed flute is usually 3 years or more.

Before you buy: Regardless of what flute you decide upon, don't just go downtown and get something from your local music store. Let a teacher or an experienced player of either instrument advise you. Readers of this blog can also email me. I can help you find a decent new or used orchestral flute for a reasonable price. I can advise on Irish flutes as well. You should be able to get a flute that's adequate for a beginner (while still being a good instrument) for $400-600 USD.

In summary: Deciding which flute to play is an individual choice based on many factors. Those factors may change over time as your abilities and preferences change. Any flute in good repair can bring you satisfaction. The key is to learn to play it well. The better your technique, the more fun the music becomes. Don't fall into the trap of thinking a better flute, or a different flute, will make up for your lack of proficiency! Practicing and seeing your playing improve over time can be as satisfying as a good performance. A little time spent with the flute every day yields better long-term results than irregular bouts of practice.

All these thoughts about practicing have inspired me to finish up this post and go to work on a few new tunes and techniques. Hmmm.... now where did I leave my flute?

Rufus, an Australian Shepherd, fetching a flute!
Photo used with permission, courtesy of

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement