Teaching Philosophy

“I have always related the sound of the flute to the human voice. Music is a language. When I play I try to convey the impression of laughter, singing, talking – in a manner almost as direct as that expressed by my voice.” Marcel Moyse

Western Michigan University School of MusicI am committed to a teaching approach that seeks to nurture each student’s unique creativity as well as develop his or her fundamental technique – technique that serves as an expressive palette of tools used for the effective communication of artistic intention. Students achieve a state of complete musicianship when they master the ability to effectively communicate in performance. Most importantly, it is my hope that my students become their own teachers, each having connected to his or her authentically individual artistry. In order to achieve this, I have found it helpful to emphasize three guiding principles: Listen, breathe, sing.

When I encourage students to listen, on the most practical level, I emphasize that they must always be listening for their best quality sound. This not only demands a significant level of concentration and engagement, but it also develops a sense of individuality and confidence. Listening for a particular sound establishes a connection with our idea of that ideal sound, as well as our creative instincts. In other words, listening connects us to our inner voice. I have found that this connection serves students well, not only for the development of a strong and individual sound, but for a sense of confidence when making artistic decisions. The act of truly listening for our own voice means that we are constantly connecting to our authentic selves and developing as artists.

The breath is central to flute playing. I approach the study of breathing as a technique; a step-by-step process, much like I teach articulation, vibrato and phrasing. Breathing, however, is the most important technique to master because it serves every other aspect of flute playing. When students master the process of supporting the sound with the breath, they are able to phrase more effectively, their intonation improves, articulation is clear and supported, and the tone quality is vocal and resonant. The symbolism of drawing in inspiration as we inhale is a further expression of the importance of breathing mindfully, one which serves to connect students with their creative instincts and results in a centered, thoughtful approach to musicianship.

We instrumentalists are all in imitation of the human voice. The idea of singing is crucial because it implies a natural, outward expression of an intimate creativity. When I ask students to “sing” with the tone, I am really asking them to take the connection they have made to their own inner voice (through listening and breathing), and to turn it into an artistic, communicative statement for the audience. Marcel Moyse emphasized the effectively direct expression achieved by using the image of singing in flute playing; this is fundamental to my own artistry and to my teaching philosophy. When students listen, breathe, and sing, they are turning their creativity into a vehicle of communication and expression – a gift for the listener, full of meaning, alive, true. When students listen, breathe, and sing, they become artists.

© 2014 by Martha Councell-Vargas. All Rights Reserved.

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