New Book Review: Mark Sparks

Mark Sparks, Principal Flute of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, just released TWO method books:  Orchestral Excerpt Practice Book, Volume 1; and Exploring Sound, Tone Development Through Orchestral Repertoire Volume 2.


The Orchestral Excerpt Practice Book: Volume 1 focuses on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica."  The book explores the Fourth Movement Excerpt, measures 172-200.  There are 4 kinds of exercises:

1) Tone

2) General Technical Skills

3) Fragments

4) Alternate Rhythms

For example, the Tone Exercises include playing piano to forte in the high register.  Also included in this section are the use of harmonics to build strength in the upper register.  There is a “Dynamic Contrast and Intonation Study” contrasting from the extremes: piano to fortissimo.

The Technical Exercises include playing with different rhythms, for example, first eighth notes, then adding triplets, then sixteenth notes, 32nd notes, mixing rhythms, etc.  Then there are highly detailed variations with fragments of the excerpt. This excerpt practice book includes a very comprehensive assortment of exercises to practice.

The Exploring Sound Book, Tone Development Through Orchestral Repertoire features Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 measures 11-63,  measures 83-133 and measures 405-429.  The book suggests playing the section in all the minor keys and the melody is printed in the different key signatures.

As the preface notes states, these books are intended to assist in "the flutist's development of artistic tone and phrasing through the playing of melodic passages from great orchestral works."  The selection of well-known pieces allows the focus to be on the development of the techniques and in the teasing out nuances that this allows.   For experienced flutists, these are the types of exercises that one might have been encouraged to do by a mentor when first moving up to a higher level, but without necessarily having explored each avenue that the books take you through.  If you have a particular area that you feel needs improvement, Sparks states in his Introduction that the book is to help you work on those areas without excessive and counter-productive repetition of the selections.  Having the work of transposing the pieces into different keys already done for you, is extremely useful, and provides you with insights that you would not pick up otherwise. 

Mark Sparks offers an array of incredible practice books.  The Orchestral Excerpt Books feature an overlook of the following:

Vol. 1 Beethoven Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”

Vol. 2 Rossini William Tell Overture

Vol. 3 Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3

The Exploring Sound Series offers the following:

Vol. 1 Brahms Symphony No. 4

Vol. 2 Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2

Vol. 3 Brahms Symphony No. 1

The Mark Sparks Practice Books are highly recommended.  They are meticulous, generous and thorough, offering wonderful suggestions on how to develop the different aspects of flute performance.  Mark Sparks offers creative suggestions for precise results,  specifically designed for the orchestra-bound flutist.  These books are exceptional for anyone who wants to hone their skills through the focus, depth, insight, and the invaluable tips that Sparks provides.

-Viviana Guzman

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