Shelley Binder joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee in 1994 and is currently Professor of Flute. Known for her “rich, colorful voice” and teaching excellence, Shelley is highly sought-after as a guest performer and clinician. She has appeared in recital, performed as an orchestral soloist, and presented classes throughout the United States. Shelley’s recently-developed workshop on “Romancing the Tone” has drawn much attention and praise at numerous flute festivals in Spring 2012.
Dr. Binder attended North Carolina School of the Arts, the Cincinnati Conservatory, Virginia Commonwealth and Florida State University, where she earned her Doctor of Music degree. A student of Louis Moyse, Shelley recently finished writing his biography.
We had the opportunity to ask Shelley a few questions. Take a look at her thoughts on studying with Louis Moyse, the advantages and disadvantages of being a college professor compared to a full-time orchestral player as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. You were fortunate to study with Louise Moyse. What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned and in general, what was your experience like?
I’m excited to share that I will be travelling to Louis Moyse's hometown of Saint-Amor, France in the coming days to give a concert to celebrate 100 years since his birth!
I first met Louis in Canada when I was eighteen. I had just graduated from High School at North Carolina School for the Performing Arts and my parents found a two week masterclass with Louis at a University in Toronto, Canada. After my first performance for him he sat me down and asked me how old I was and what my training was. He was incredibly complimentary, encouraging and helpful. We just connected in a very special way and over 30 years he became like a father to me. After two years at college I wrote to him and said that I wanted to take a year off and come study with him in Vermont. I was amazed when I received a huge package in the mail with his distinctive 'European style' handwriting. It was a score to his newly written Malbororian Concerto. He agreed to teach me and asked me to premiere the concerto that summer at the Stowe Performing Arts Festival.
He was an amazing musician. He had degrees in both piano AND flute and always taught from the piano. He always accompanied students in lessons and masterclasses.
He NEVER watched the clock. He was incredibly generous with his time. Many lessons took all day and included a home cooked meal and a listening session where he would explain and gush about a singer or a new piece he had heard. He understood and loved music with every corpuscle in his being and his enthusiasm was intoxicating and contagious. There was something about him that made you want to try harder. He made it clear that he expected a lot and I never wanted to disappoint him. He loved puns and in spite of his rather serious demeanour in class he was witty and had quite a silly sense of humour at times.
As English was his second language, it usually took a little while for new students to learn to understand him. I always joked that his accent made him sound like a cross between the old French movie star Maurice Chevalier and the cartoon character Pepe Le Pew (a joke that never bothered him!). He had movie star good looks and was always the consummate gentleman. Later, I learned even more watching him teach my college students. He could take a chronic problem and fix it with one word. AMAZING!
He taught me the importance of learning to be 'Your Own Teacher!” He loved to teach but he wasn't snobby about it. I saw him give the same attention to little kids and big-name professionals. He only cared about one thing and that was that peopled really TRIED! I can still hear his voice encouraging someone to 'try dear, TRY."
When I was a Doctoral student at FSU he travelled to Tallahassee with his wife for a one week residency. He had just completed a transcription of Schubert’s Song Cycle “Die Winterreise” for flute and piano. He accompanied me on a recital where we played all 24 songs and his wife recited the poems. At the end of one powerful and moving song entitled the “Sign Post,” he allowed his hands to linger on the piano keys and hung his head down for what seemed like an eternity. Then he looked up with tears in his eyes and said, “G-D, what a privilege it is to be a musician.”
2. As an experienced college professor, do you have any advice for flutists interested in pursuing that path in their career?
Invest the time, effort and money to seek out qualified professional flutists that can give you an honest assessment of where your playing is and where it has to go in order for you to reach your goals. If your goal is to be a flutist in a regional orchestra then take lessons with flutists from similar sized orchestras tell them your ambitions and ask if you are on track and what you should be doing in order to meet those goals. The danger in aspiring to a career in music is to over-romanticize the profession and to underestimate the vast pool of qualified flutists you will be competing against. My goal is not to scare or discourage young musicians, but rather to encourage them to fully educate themselves to the rigors, demands and prospects for employment in each musical career, what obstacles they may face and what steps they need to take to have the best possible chance of succeeding.
3. How do you go about attracting fabulous students?
By performing and giving lectures and masterclasses around the country, receiving recommendations from my network of flute friends and teachers, word of mouth, former students and advertising my Graduate Teaching Assistantship at the University of Tennessee.
By the way, my current GTA, Kit Salo, made it all the way up to the National Round of the MTNA College Young Artist Competition this Spring! She plays a 14K Miyazawa. J
This Assistanship, a paid teaching position, will be open and available to qualified Graduate Students, Foreign and Domestic, for the school year beginning 2013. This appointment, coincidentally, will coincide with the completion of UT’s beautiful new State of the Art Music Building.
4. What are the advantages/disadvantages of being a college flute professor compared to a full-time orchestral player?
Well, I have done both and they are very different. In an orchestra, you have many hours alone in a practice room for few minutes of abject terror. And it takes a lot of dedication and confidence to make it to a job that pays a living wage. There can be a lot of rejection, but the people that are well suited for it would not settle for doing any other job.
College teaching generally requires a Doctorate and an ability to endure 9 months of stress, chaos and a lot of responsibility to care for others’ playing and development. Both are an incredible privilege and challenge, and both can be stressful and incredibly rewarding. They required vastly different skills, talents and personality traits.
5. What is the most important thing to teach an upcoming flutist/student?
To stay curious and never stop learning. Listen to new styles of playing and teaching with an open mind.
Make sure that you are being well advised by your teacher. Keep your teachers accountable and make sure that they stay current with their playing, teaching and knowledge of repertoire and new equipment. Go to local, regional, national and international camps, masterclasses and lessons if you can. Hear as many other fine flutists, vocalists, and others that you can both live and on the Internet. Try to find teachers and players that work in the musical careers that you may be interested in and take lessons from them. Ask as many questions as you can.
Make sure that you build a strong repertoire list. Competitions are good but not if the music is above your level. Be realistic – make sure that you have the desire, attitude AND aptitude to achieve success.
Be nice to everybody because music is a small world.
6. Your workshop, ‘Romancing the Tone’ has received great attention recently. What are some of the main ideas you present?
I think the best way to answer this is to share my notes from the workshop. They may be a bit confusing to read without the having the benefit of the lecture and demonstration, but they provide the essence of what I cover. If your school or flute club would like the full experience of “Romancing the Tone,” please contact me to set something up – I would love the opportunity and would be happy to also bring some Miyazawa flutes and headjoints to try!
“Romancing the Tone” was developed as a tool to help flutists work through the confusing and oft paralyzing process of developing consistency and homogeneity of the tone that they want by embracing the inevitable “bad” tone days.
There is no quick fix to developing tonal consistency. It involves listening to many live performances and recordings, attending many lessons, masterclasses and working, with an open mind, to develop YOUR concept of sound and that you MUST accept that sounding bad sometimes while practicing the correct way in order to build the muscle, confidence and consistency of position, aim and focus in order to build a dependable tonal product.
1. Absolute consistency of alignment of the embouchure hole in the headjoint relative to the second key on the flute body
You must be prepared to be organized, patient and try to avoid any extremes. The important thing is to mark a temporary position with a Sharpie pen and try this position for everyday a week, and then adjust slowly keeping notes on your progress. Once you are fairly certain of a position mark this in a more permanent way.
2. Consistent position of your head
a. Many people tend to bring their flute most of the way up to their mouth and then stretch their neck and head out the rest of the way to the flute. This will cause tension in the neck and create an extra unstable parameter.
b. Your head position MUST be established in a comfortable stable position-my recommendation is a conversational position. That way you can imagine speaking to a person directly in front of you at eye level.
c. THERE IS ONLY ONE MOVING PART ON YOUR HEAD—YOUR JAW!! If you roll your head and/or or flute up/down or in/out you are creating an unstable, unsustainable parameter that will negatively affect the homogeneity, pitch and volume of your tone in every register, at every dynamic level and your ability to play smooth legato intervals (slurred notes at various intervals and at various dynamics). This step of becoming comfortable and consistent with a relaxed conversational head position is necessary before moving on to learning other tone colors.
3. My teacher, Louis Moyse, used to say that flute is more like violin than piano in that the keys only approximate the pitch and that the embouchure is responsible for the fine tuning.
I often observe students in a masterclass with their headjoint pulled out a huge amount. To me anything more than half an inch will throw off the careful engineering of the flutemaker. If you setup the first three parameters then you are on your way to building a stable, sustainable platform for a consistent tone. Tuning one note to a tuner or piano just gives us a false sense of security and leads to frustration and bad habits when we try to “correct” pitch in the wrong way.
Again, you must work consistently everyday to develop your fine muscle memory so that you have flexibility and control to move effortlessly from every note to every note in every register and at every dynamic level in equal temperament or “Just” tuning. I think most people would agree that keeping an open throat and large oral cavity, with a dropped tongue and a lifted soft palette, are important aspects for effective breathing, large rich tone, and I submit, stable pitch and control.
4. Alchemy of Tone-Learning to Love your Obstacles-‘Bad’ sounds are clues
a. Whistle Tones and Flat pitch on Phrase Offs-angles of blowing
b. Learning to play The High Register Softly-‘Honest Air’-MISSING note, getting lower harmonic, then slowly moving jaw forward until all sound goes away (but keep gently blowing), keep jaw moving
c. Learning to match Vibrato to the Size of your Basic Sound
d. Learning to project Vibrato on Loud High Register notes-‘Breaking the Sound Barrier’
e. Throat Noises-Singing and playing
f. Dental Sounds-dropping jaw, lowering air stream
g. Airiness-matching embouchure hole in lips to width of embouchure hole in flute
5. Smoke and Mirrors-Advanced Techniques
a. venting open holes to adjust pitch
b. multiple fingerings for the same note (loud, soft, flatter, sharper, alternate fingerings, harmonic fingerings, trill fingerings)
c. tone colors-different tongue positions and syllables inside mouth
d. Spinning, living vibrato
6. FluteStrong Workouts ©-“If you build it they will come”
a. What and how to practice to build muscle and muscle memory
…and many, many others.
7. Why did you choose to play the flute?
I walked around the band room in sixth grade looked at all the instruments and thought that the flute case looked like a cute purse so I chose it. Truth!
8. What are your interests/hobbies outside of teaching and performing?
I grew up along the Virginia Coast where I learned to sail and swim. When I was at Cincinnati Conservatory (University of Cincinnati), I was on the sailing team. I also love horseback riding and recently started taking English riding lessons again.
I do a lot of crafts, especially beading. I make beaded practice abacuses for my students each summer and have a huge collection of beads. When they graduate they get to make themselves a necklace using any beads – I have no exceptions! They can even use the semi- precious stone beads, pearls and numerous silver prayer boxes and ornaments that I buy while I am travelling on flute trips. A popular necklace to make includes a silver box in which I write a poem that I always recite before performances and have taught to them:
You’ve got to shake your fists like lightning
You’ve got to roar like forest fire
You’ve got to share your light like blazes all across the sky
They’re going to aim the hoses on you
You’ve got to show them you won’t expire
Not until you burn up every passion
Not even when you die
Come on now you’ve got to try
If you are feeling contempt, then you tell it
If you are tired of the silent night then you yell it
Condemned to wires and hammers
Strike every chord that you feel
That broken trees and elephant ivories conceal
I also collect rare African Trade beads. I love to ballroom dance and last year I took belly dancing. I love to learn new things when I have time.
9. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
As a College Professor I often have the responsibility of helping my students chose a flute. Over many years and tons of experience I have learned which flutes are the most durable, consistent and the best buy for the money. Miyazawa has won my praise in all three of the categories and the vast majority of my studio plays on them. Miyazawa as a company has always worked with me to assure that my students and I are thrilled with our instruments. The people who I have always worked with at Miyazawa are great flutists themselves like Cathy Miller and Shivhan Dohse (In Sterio) and are experts at directing me and helping my students to find the exact combination of flute model, metal and headjoint that is perfect for them. If it isn’t exactly right at the beginning they work with you until you are happy.
I recently bought a new Miyazawa for myself and found a headjoint that I liked but was not completely settled on. After much discussion with Cathy about what I did like, what I wasn’t crazy about and many other questions that I had to really think about, she had a well-informed idea of exactly what I was looking for. She called me one day and said, “hey, I found a special headjoint that I think is what you’re looking for, and I’d like to send it along with a selection for you to try.” Well, as usual she was right and IT WAS MINE. I LOVE IT!! It is not often that you get this level of advise, care and pampering. But, she also does this for my students as well! Can’t beat it.
10. If you had one piece of advice to give an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
Don’t be afraid of the competition. Do the best that you can to know what is out there in the musical world and then find the best players, teachers and learn all you can from them. Try not to be defensive or petty. I always tell my students that sometimes you really will deserve to win an audition but won’t – and sometimes you will win and you didn’t deserve to. It all works out if you don’t let your defeats defeat you and you don’t let your successes go to your head.
You can learn something from every situation and person…even if the lesson you learn is that you don’t want to play, teach or act like someone in the future. Knowledge is power and is always worth it. The music business and the flute world in particular are very small eco-systems. There is a place for you if you know where you fit in, and it always pays to be nice and helpful. These gestures of kindness will always come back to you.
If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are willing to learn, no one can stop you.