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Flute favourites

11 months ago

Flute teachers and students have plenty of inspiring pieces to choose from in our 2018-2021 Flute syllabus. Here, two of our consultants, Alison Uren and Carol Green, give a snapshot of what’s on offer, highlighting some favourites along the way.

Alternative pieces – what’s new?

Alison Uren 

With a new syllabus it’s tempting to look through and see if all your old favourites are still there! I do it myself. Then you heave a sigh of relief when you see Telemann’s Suite in A minor, Alan Bullard’s Fifty for Flute, the Poulenc Sonata, the Mozart Concerto in D and so on, all of which you have in the cupboard. But I’m going to try to persuade you to look at some of the music which has never been set before, focusing on pieces not included in ABRSM’s Flute Exam Pieces books.

When Carol and I were asked to contribute to the Flute syllabus, we were inundated with new editions, anthologies, arrangements and compositions, and it was an enormous and exciting task to go through them, picking out the ones which would make good exam pieces. There were many criteria to bear in mind: pieces have to be the right length, in a suitable key, appropriate technically, musically interesting, not too hard for the piano at low grades, not too expensive and so on.

Making the most of a book

We have both been teaching for many years and still have flute and piano pupils of all ages and standards. We know how annoying it is to buy a new book but only use it once, so wherever possible we made a point of selecting pieces from the same book several times, sometimes in the same grade – Winner Scores All for Flute (Brass Wind), Harlequin, Book 1 (Cramer) – and sometimes across several grades – Hartbeat (Brass Wind), 20 Fantastic Flute Studies (Spartan Press), Skilful Studies for Flute (Anglo Music).

Just for List C

There are three new books which are well worth investing in, as pieces from them appear in List C at every single grade! 

42 More Modern Studies for Solo Flute (Universal)

The first is a book of studies by James Rae. All the pieces are imaginative and well-crafted, so we were spoilt for choice with this one. Two of them actually appear in ABRSM’s own Flute Exam Pieces books, at Grades 1 and 5. Although with Grade 5’s Syncopation Rag the rather fast metronome mark is not compulsory and you may prefer a more relaxed tempo.

In the alternative pieces at other grades, there is the enjoyable Little March of the Soldier Ants (Grade 2), which is a good exercise in crisp articulation. Contrast that with Suede Shoe Blues (Grade 4), a slow blues piece needing colour, style and a strong sense of underlying pulse.

Rocket Science will keep Grade 8 students busy, with energetic semiquavers in the outer sections and a cantabile section in the middle to show off a beautiful tone. 

More Graded Studies for Flute, Books 1 & 2 (Faber)

The second two are books of studies selected by Paul Harris and Sally Adams. To mention a few examples, at Grade 1 you have the choice of the Klosé Study in G, marked andante and largely legato, or Under the Rainbow (A J Mears) in F major at a bright swing tempo.

In contrast, there’s the attractive and tranquil traditional Chinese tune Jasmine Flower at Grade 2. At Grade 6, there’s Cavallini’s Theme and Variation – a graceful andante theme, with a variation in triplets requiring rather more agility. 

For a student with a well-rounded tone at Grade 7, the Prill Study in D minor would be very suitable. Or for someone who enjoys humour and speed, try Paul Harris’s new Presto ‘humoroso’.

List B for beginners

Ten Top Pops for Flute (Kevin Mayhew) includes pieces on List B at Grades 1 and 2. Surely your Grade 1 players would love learning the Wallace and Gromit theme – in F major with places to breathe neatly every two bars?

Then at Grade 2 they could move on to I have a Dream, a little more complex in rhythm but also very manageable in terms of breath control. Importantly, the book is full of other pieces they will enjoy too, when not studying for an exam: Walking in the Air, Take Five, My Heart Will Go On and many others.

Next steps on List A

For List A, how about Classical Music for Children for Flute (Schott), for the strongly rhythmic Trumpet Tune at Grade 2 or either movement from Eisel’s Divertimento at Grade 3?

This and the other books mentioned are also full of other interesting repertoire to explore or use for sight-reading practice.

Top alternatives from List B

I’m now going to pick one piece from the alternative pieces on List B for each grade, and explain why we felt it just had to be in the syllabus.

GRADE 1 

B6: Alan Haughton, Budgie
Fun Club for Flute, Grade 0–1 (Kevin Mayhew)

It’s cheerful and chirpy with brief manageable phrases and displays control of lower and second octave notes up to A. You could also choose the gentler, more flowing The Secret Garden from the same book; a Grade 1 player could be forgiven for not managing 4-bar phrases in one breath here, so 2 bars would be fine. 

GRADE 2

B5: Phil Coulter & Bill Martin, Puppet on a String
Winners Galore for Flute (Brass Wind)

Lively and popular, this is a tune to keep parents happy – they are an important audience! Maybe they would enjoy singing along with Sandie Shaw. Also, your adult students would love it.

GRADE 3

B8: Mark Tanner, Gerbil’s Great Escape
Creature Comforts, Grades 1–3 (Spartan Press)

An irresistible title, for a start. There’s a scurrying first section, with semiquavers up to top F. Then an expressive middle section (the gerbil must be hiding) and then he makes a rapid escape. It’s good fun!

GRADE 4 

B4: J Garland, In the Mood
What Else Can I Play? Flute Grade 4 (Faber)

Famous for the dance band version by Glenn Miller, this is a hugely enjoyable piece in fast swing style, needing good articulation and finger coordination to perform successfully. Encourage your students to listen to the original!

GRADE 5

B9: Popp, Spanish Dance
Romantic Miniatures for Flute, Vol. 1 (Schott)

This is a lively waltzing piece, suitable for an extrovert student who can enjoy the rhythms, contrast the dynamics and bring out the Spanish flavour. Incidentally, there is a beautiful Grade 7 piece, La flûte de Pan by Wachs, in the same book. 

GRADE 6

B4: John Frith, Arabesque (Emerson)

A subtle and sensitive piece, requiring an expressive tone, a wide dynamic range and particularly good control of the soft high notes.

Grade 7

B5: Fauré, Andantino from Fantaisie (Chester or Schott)

This is just the introduction to this well-known piece, and it is challenging to play well. It requires musical imagination, excellent tone and intonation across the range of the flute, and very good breath control to make sense of the phrases. (The Allegro section is set for Grade 8.)

GRADE 8

B6: Paul Lewis, Sérénade populaire (Schott)

This is an attractive showpiece written in 1943 which would go down well in concerts. It begins Andante espressivo con rubato so this part requires a thoughtful approach and some flexibility. The second part is Allegro spirituoso and becomes increasingly exciting and colourful until the end.

Exploring the Flute Exam Pieces books … plus Grade 8

Carol Green 

My task, in contrast to Alison’s, is to look at the Flute Exam Pieces books for Grades 1 to 7. The convenience and economy of working from these books is obvious. In addition to the clearly printed editions, complete with suggested ornamentation, background information, words of guidance and audio downloads, the books for 2018–2021 include new commissions unavailable elsewhere. I’ll also mention a sample of Grade 8 pieces which haven’t been set before.

Focus on ABRSM Flute Exam Pieces

GRADE 1

The popular, catchy La donna è mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto (List A) gives opportunities for varied articulation, while Joplin’s toe-tapping The Easy Winners (List B) needs a strong rhythmic sense. Mark Nightingale’s Click Here (List C) written in swing style and mimicking the use of a computer keyboard, requires a good sense of underlying pulse, including the rests. 

As with all grades there is plenty of variety to help you pick the right piece to suit each pupil’s strengths.

GRADE 2

This grade is full of well-known melodies, several in new arrangements. Both Offenbach’s Can-Can and the traditional O Soldier, Soldier feature in List A. These are lively arrangements giving opportunities to show off a broad range of articulation and dynamics. They contrast well with another new arrangement on List C, the folk song Loch Lomond, which gives scope for an expressive and flowing musical line. List B features other popular melodies in new arrangements. Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? from My Fair Lady is full of musical detail, while Troika from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite comes with timing and tonality challenges.

GRADE 3

List A includes new arrangements of Mozart’s Alla Turca and The Irish Washerwoman. Although stylistically contrasted, both require finger dexterity and a developing embouchure. In List B is Paul Desmond’s Take Five, providing an opportunity to familiarise students with an irregular time signature and swung rhythm.

GRADE 4

There is much tried and tested repertoire here but a couple of lively new arrangements are likely to compete with these for popularity. Peter Gritton’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Mirlitons from The Nutcracker (List A) requires crisp articulation across the registers to convey its light dance-like features, though in the middle there is a brief opportunity to show off a warm lyrical tone. This should appeal to any dancer, as should The Mexican Hat Dance (List C) with its lively rhythms, detailed articulation and wide-ranging dynamics.

GRADE 5

Much of the new repertoire in these books is derived from well-known classical or popular works written for other instruments. Grade 5 is no exception, including attractive arrangements of Beethoven’s Bagatelle, Op. 119 No. 1 (List A) and Mozart’s Andante and March from The Magic Flute (List C). In contrast, several new pieces are written in jazz style. Nikki Iles’s Jive Talk (List B) is a new composition requiring a strong sense of rhythm, fluidity of dynamics and a real feel for the idiom.

GRADE 6

Richard Michael’s Twisted Tango (List C) is rhythmically less complex than Jive Talk, but still demanding with its jazz inspired chromatic twists and turns. In List B is Paul Hart’s City Life 2. While slow with a gentle, almost lazy atmosphere, it has much rhythmic detail. This needs finger dexterity as well as a warm expressive tone and control of dynamics.

GRADE 7

Continuing the jazz theme, at Grade 7 (List B) is La Parisienne from Jeremy Norris’s Jazz Suite. A jazz waltz combining swung and straight rhythms, it conjures up a picture of youthful confidence and elegance and develops the stylistic techniques seen in earlier grades. Lyrical and expressive melodic lines with tidy finger work are needed. A contrasting List B piece is Blaž Pucihar’s beautifully evocative Moonlit Blue. Careful work on tonal command in all registers, to control the wide-ranging colours and dynamics, will be well rewarded.

NEW FOR GRADE 8

At Grade 8 there are some well-loved favourites in all three lists. However, there are several pieces which have never been set before. One of these in List A is Rossini’s Andante and Polonaise, a contrast to the usual Baroque and Classical repertoire which is traditionally the cornerstone of this list. Both sections contain pure melody, the first requiring a warm singing tone and good breath control to maintain a strong sense of line throughout.  The second is a showpiece with real panache. To communicate its sense of fun it will need a strong embouchure and clear tonguing to manoeuvre the extremes of the registers with a variety of articulation.

List B is full of variety, with two transcriptions in the selection. The melody line of Chopin’s Waltz in B minor will require a strong command of rubato and dynamic control, but once again it will appeal to the player who loves a good melody. Also from List B is Sevilla by Albéniz. This has a real Spanish flavour and a confident player will enjoy creating its flamboyant character. It requires a solid finger technique and strong sense of rhythm to paint the colours and spirit of this music.

Finally, on List C there is Pan Overheard from Christopher Ball’s Invocations of Pan. This has some rhythmic similarities to Roussel’s Pan (List B) and the same feel of ebb and flow, but in many ways it is quite different. It has much speed variation and rubato and, being unaccompanied, relies heavily on the player to take command of these timing intricacies. Controlling the numerous dynamic details will be essential to convey its evocative atmosphere.

 


Carol Green is a flautist, teacher and choral conductor and was a senior advisory teacher for the Voices Foundation. She has her own teaching practice and is a PGCE tutor for Buckingham University and an ABRSM examiner.

Alison Uren is a flautist, teacher and music reviewer. She was chairman of Worcester Competitive Arts Festival for many years and a mentor on the CT ABRSM course. Alison is an ABRSM examiner. 

Learn more about the 2018-2021 Flute syllabus along with information on supporting books, recordings and apps.

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