ArticlesDecember 2020EntrepreneurshipFeaturedInterviews

Paul Edmund-Davies and Simply Flute

Paul Edmund-Davies established his international reputation as flautist and soloist in the 20 years that he was Principal Flute of the London Symphony Orchestra and then the five years in the same position at the Philharmonia Orchestra.  Paul Edmund-Davies has edited and published more than 25 books of flute music. His ‘The 28 Day Warm up Book for all Flautists…eventually!’ is a best seller and has been translated into Japanese, Spanish and Russian.  In 2015 Paul launched his online flute education resource, Simply Flute. The site provides both free and subscription materials to help flute players and teachers on their respective journeys.


How did the passion to compose your Warm up and Daily Exercise Books evolve?

As well we all know, learning how to control and be consummately expressive on any musical instrument requires years of hard work, practice and dedication.

If we are to succeed, our periods of solitary confinement will need to start at an early age and over time, as we steadily improve, become increasingly longer and ever more intensive.

Our first teacher starts us off on the long and complicated road ahead, invariably using books and learning materials that came from their original flute teacher. This is wholly understandable, as an incredible amount of highly constructive and well thought through instruction has been put together by numerous flute players and teachers over the years.

At this point in the journey there is no cause or reason to question what we are being told. Improvements and progress will be taking place and as such we will be feeling reassured that everything is heading in the right direction.

This then becomes the pattern throughout our formative years with the instrument. Someone is holding our hands and we are eternally grateful for their input and care.

It was only after my formal studies were completed and I had been working in the London Symphony Orchestra for several years that I realised that even with a very solid flute education behind me and excellent tuition from Trevor D. K. Wye from the age of nine (at that stage he hadn’t penned a single book and just happened to be the flute teacher at my local school!), there were still areas of my flute playing that were less under my control than I wished them to be.

Why was this and where was I going wrong?

I firmly believe that on the one side, there are those who simply play the instrument and don’t really need to think at all about what they are doing, They have my utmost admiration!  Then on the other side, there are those of us who are highly analytical and want to know the reasons why things occur and have to get to the bottom of any logic involved. Only then can we find a method for working on the areas of our flute playing where we are dissatisfied. This is hardly a romantic approach, but for myself it has been a very solid way of working on my flute gremlins and then keeping them as locked away and in the background as possible!

There were four specific areas that bothered me.

First up was sound.

From the age of seven through to thirteen, I was a boy chorister in the choir at Canterbury Cathedral. The choir master was Allan Wicks, a brilliant organist, but also an inspiration and master of the long sustained musical line. Much of my approach to musicianship on the flute, comes from this man’s influences from those very early days.

It is comparatively easy to get a good sound out of a flute, but sustaining that sound throughout the three wildly different octaves of the instrument, is a very different matter.

However, my choir master’s approach to extending musical lines, would be the starting point for my own exploration of sound on the flute.

I realise that the following might come across as almost sacrilegious to many readers, but whilst Marcel Moyse’s ‘De la Sonorité’ is a fine book, the much used exercise of slowly moving a semitone, or half step at a time, has always left me feeling cold and uninspired.

If I am to be engaged, then a journey of more than two notes and of longer duration is going to be necessary. Otherwise I am afraid, my mind wanders and my focus swiftly shifts to thoughts of brewing the next cup of coffee.

Much of the music that we play consists of four, eight, sixteen, twenty four or thirty two bar segments and within these natural limits there are phrases and musical journeys. As a singer, this is something that had been imbedded in my being from a young age and if I was going to work out how to get a more even sound across all three octaves of the flute, initially at least, it was going to be as a result of that influence.

I then discovered that there were other flute players around who held similar beliefs, so it made sense to start writing exercises that might not only benefit myself, but could also help other flute players’ on their respective journeys with the instrument. 

Next up was finger work and once again, on the basis that so much of the literature available appeared to me to be constructive but not particularly engaging, I strived to write exercises that would bring greater discipline to my fingers but at the same time would provide musical stimulus. The journey for me has always been as important as the message.

Articulation on the flute is also a veritable minefield. With everything taking place within our mouths, we are working in the dark! It struck me that the language that we are born with, has a profound influence on the way that we articulate on the flute. Sometimes this can be helpful, but more often than not my tongue, working with the English language, was not providing the correct attack to serve the music that I was playing. Putting it simply, the tongue was too active and aggressive, with little in the way of variety.

I therefore set about the task of writing exercises with which to explore different and more flexible approaches to articulation, but once again with melodic line contributing in a major way to the overall experience.

And finally, I needed to work on being more confident when playing wide intervals (which I refer to as the gymnastics of flute playing). In this particular case, sadly I was finding that prayer alone was not sufficient to remedy the situation!

However, playing intervals for the sake of playing intervals was not on my agenda. If I was going to have greater control and success in this department, I would once again need to be musically engaged. As such, that all important musical journey was at the top of my list of priorities.

So far, out of all of this have come two books. ‘The 28 Day Warm up Book for all flautists…eventually’, was my first foray into these areas of flute technique and more recently ‘A Consequence of Sequences, Melodic Warm-ups & Exercises, Book 1’ was published. Book 2 of the latter will be out in 2021.

In all of these I have adhered to what I refer to as the Four Pillars of flute technique. Namely,

  1. Breathing and Phrasing (encompassing Sonority)
  2. Finger work
  3. Articulation
  4. Intervals

By working on all four of these areas regularly, I have discovered that not only have my abilities on and control of the flute been maintained, but that there have been steady and distinct improvements. This is a theme that runs through the Simply Flute website.

However, I now feel as though I am turning into Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“I am in blood (exercises!) stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning was as tedious as go o’oer.”

At least though, I can now reserve prayer for more urgent matters!

Which notation software do you use or do you hire someone to do this for you?

When I was younger, I was fascinated with the boom that was taking place in home recording. In the attic of my house in London was a Fostex B-16 multi-track reel to reel recorder and all the accompanying sound equipment that went with it, including what seemed like several miles of twisted wires and cables. When I wasn’t away from home earning money from playing the flute, this was my toy shop!

Over time though, with the seemingly never ending possibilities of MIDI, it became very clear that computers were increasingly going to be an important part of my set up. If I wanted a machine to play notes for me, I would need to be able to feed it information, so I invested in Cubase studio music notation software from Steinberg, which was aimed at recording set ups such as mine.

This served me very well until quite recently, when my requirements shifted more towards how the music looks on the page, rather than how it sounds.

When I started Simply Flute with Pasha Mansurov, more than five years ago now, I posted exercises using Cubase. However, in my publications (The 28 Day Warm up Book) Sibelius was being used (although I wasn’t actively familiar with it) and the print-off quality was vastly superior. I recognised that whilst I was very fond of Cubase and knew it inside out, I was going to need to move on to something that was more sophisticated in terms of how the notes would finally look on the page.

Sibelius folded and most of the team went over to Steinberg, who in turn created Dorico. This is the software I now use for all of the latest Simply Flute exercises and pieces. I don’t have a relationship with Steinberg of any form, but I am more than comfortable to say that it is absolutely brilliant and utterly intuitive. If you are thinking of investing in a music writing software programme, this is the one I would most definitely steer you towards.

I am very happy using this, but equally, with all of the titles passing through all keys, putting the information into a computer and then refining it to publication quality, takes up an awful lot of time. I have enjoyed using Dorico, but more of my day is now spent working on content for the website, so it is reassuring to know that I have some excellent help to hand.

Firstly, a very good friend of mine, Nigel Edmund-Jones, who has always been enthusiastic about all forms of engraving and has of late turned into something of a music software geek, helped me immensely by putting my most recent publication, ‘A Consequence of Sequences, Book 1, Melodic Warm-ups & Exercises’ together, taking the exercises through all keys, organising layout and making the book ready for the shelves.

His recently launched, www.fullscoremusic.co.uk offers a variety of flute, choral and piano sheet music, all of which is instantly downloadable for FREE. It’s well worth checking out as he has unearthed some highly interesting material.

Now, my partner Corinne, who is also a musician (a French Horn player), is involved. Since Covid-19 came along to pollute virtually every musicians’ life, making regular public performances something of the past (at least for the time being), she has devoted much of her time to learning the idiosyncrasies of Dorico, spending a large part of everyday creating templates and then putting notes, dots, slurs and dynamics into the computer, bringing them up to professional print standards. The great beauty of all of this, is that everything can be done at home!

Music setting really is an art form in itself. As you would expect, there is much to consider, from layout to note head size, to fonts, bars per stave, to thickness of slurs…the list goes on and on and the way the finished product looks is of paramount importance. However, whilst it fascinates me, as I am becoming older, I would prefer my time to be spent more on writing!

Can you tell us the evolution of Simply Flute?

Ever since the dawn of the internet and the ‘online’ world became a significant part of our lives, I have been fascinated by its potential, in particular with regards to the world of classical music.

My entire professional life, I have been a classical musician and over the years have been very aware of the fact that much of what I do would not stand up to scrutiny if analysed by sharp nosed people from the world of business. If you want to make serious money, the streets of  the classical music world are not exactly paved with gold! Of course there are exceptions, but these are few and far between.

Just consider the costs involved, against the possible returns, of taking the London Symphony Orchestra (as an example) to Japan for a series of concerts. Air fares (London-Tokyo-London), hotel accommodation for 100 plus people, per diems, fees (including those for conductors, but that is a whole different story for another time!) insurance, travel within Japan, far outweigh the income from selling a few thousand tickets. All that a businessman would see in front of him would be a large loss. He wouldn’t go anywhere near to such a ridiculous proposition.

How do you make a small fortune in classical music? Start off with a large one!

In the past, musicians would have been employed by the Church, the courts of Royalty and the aristocracy. Once this had faded, further philanthropy and sponsorship came to the rescue, playing an important part in providing this unique area of society with livings.

Unfortunately though, even throughout my professional life, areas of funding, which were once reliable, have been steadily fading away and the quality of life now available for most classical musicians has been most definitely in decline.

Whether we like it or not, the internet has changed the planet irreversibly and there really is no going back now. We could argue that we are the victims of this, but in a world that is increasingly dictated to by profit margins, it is hardly surprising that our complicated pocket of culture has started to become less important to many. We can either stand by and watch a slow but almost certain death taking place, or we can do something about it. We need to evolve.

In the 1990s, when the internet had arrived, it was incredibly slow, but was also gripping everyone. I was invited to take part in a project involving the London Symphony Orchestra and the European Space Agency, beaming up live content to satellites to transmit performances around Europe. Whilst at the time, this was done with cutting edge technology, it was ‘steam driven’ by comparison to what is possible today. The speed at which the internet has evolved and continues to do so, is both impressive and alarming.

We all now take Zoom for granted. But if it hadn’t been around at the start of the latest global pandemic, musicians would have been decidedly the worse off for it.

There is still a long, long way to go, but in the same way that digital recording brought new life to the world of classical music in the 1980s and 90s, the online revolution that is currently taking place, will eventually provide us with interesting platforms, through which detailed sound and visual expression will not only be viable but also quite natural. You may not be physically in the Musikverein in Vienna, but you will think that you are!

I met Pasha Mansurov, the co-founder of Simply Flute, several years before we decided to work together. However, it was clear from the start, that we both shared an enthusiasm for technology and its potential benefits. He is an accomplished flute player, but equally at home in the world of technology.

Over time we had various discussions about how we could collaborate and fortunately he shared my concept of an online educational facility to help flute players of all ages and stages on their respective journeys with the flute, but with the emphasis on creating original material.

Eventually Simply Flute was born and over the five and a half years of its existence it has grown significantly.

Starting off by editing and providing practice instruction to Köhler’s Opus 33, Book 1, Études or Studies, we then moved on to recording the second book of Giuseppe Rabboni’s Sonatas for flute and piano (he was the principal flute at La Scala, Milan from 1826 to 1856). This was a monumental task, as no piano parts for these beautiful pieces could be found. Fortunately, my long-time friend, colleague and go to pianist from London Symphony Orchestra days, John Alley, sympathetically and skilfully created the piano scores. Now you can play these Sonatas on the Simply Flute website with John accompanying you!

‘Resoflûtions’ is a further page on the site (please see detailed answer to next question), originally intended as a January ‘boot camp’, after the excesses of Christmas and the double whammy in the USA of both Christmas and the modest snack at the end of November, that is Thanksgiving! However, many flutists now use it as a dedicated regime throughout the year to brush off the cobwebs, when they feel that their playing might not quite be up to scratch. There are four weeks of exercises, a different one to work on every day.

Paul Edmund-Davies

I love your Resoflutions!  Where did the inspiration for this come from?

Playing a flute is a complicated activity and the various areas of technique that require our undivided attention are numerous. Whilst we might be able to focus on one topic at a time, adding the others into the mix and in tandem, is not without its potential hazards.

As indicated already, it would appear that most of us have similar issues to continuously address on the instrument, be it clumsy articulation, poor fingers or lack of air control.

One of my major frustrations when teaching at the various London music institutions was that once a long and complex journey of trying to make positive corrections with a student was started, invariably it would be abruptly discontinued. Mostly this was due to the fact that their other numerous commitments in the school schedule (orchestra, chamber music, theory, second instruments) meant that they simply couldn’t afford the necessary time to knuckle down and sort out the problem, or problems in question. Seeds were planted, but the soil they fell on was not exactly conducive to a productive and successful outcome.

Most active flute players would recognise that year in year out there are often areas of our playing which suddenly don’t seem to be as comfortable or as secure as they used to be. Working a busy schedule, we can’t always keep our eye on the ball!

Realising this and selfishly very much for my own benefit, ‘Resoflûtions’ was put together and subsequently found its way onto the Simply Flute website.

Utilising the ‘Four Pillars Exercises’ concept on the site and with a different exercise every day for four weeks, I initially started ‘Resoflûtions’ as a January 1st ‘boot camp’, for those wishing to get back into good condition early on in the year (certainly in the UK, January is a notoriously quiet month, when most musicians over here suffer from snow blindness looking at the blank pages in their diaries).

Whilst it is wonderful to be able to play everything fast, playing exercises slowly, but with focus and absolute control (in particular of dynamics) is in many ways the greater challenge.

In ‘Resoflûtions’ I wanted flute players to be able to work on something that on paper looked quite simple, but would also give them the time and space to take stock of the areas of their playing that were not quite where they wanted them to be. Much as we take a car into the garage once a year for a check-up and to find out if it is roadworthy (or not), we need to be able to have a clear idea from time to time, as to where we can make improvements in our flute playing.

‘Resoflûtions’, is a solid and methodical way of getting your playing back on target, and at anytime of the year!

Simply Flute by McKenna

If you have lasted this far in reading my article and haven’t fallen asleep, you most definitely deserve a medal.

All the set questions have been answered, quite possibly at length and as such, we should now be done and dusted.

However, before you finally escape, may I detain you that little bit longer to tell you about something recently that has taken place in my life and that is giving me great cause for happiness?

Last week, after more than 20 years of research and development, my concept for the design of a new style lip plate, was finally released into the wild, when a shop in London decided to purchase three head joints. The ‘Simply Flute by McKenna’ head joint is now officially for sale!

Here now is the background on how this all came about.

Historically, both flute players and flute makers have quite naturally been fascinated, intrigued and more often than not, totally obsessed with how a flute can be improved.

Aside from the obvious areas of scale and construction, the head joint has held a special place for those wishing to extend the possibilities of sound and articulation.

After all this is the source of sound or ‘our personal voice’, so it is justifiably important and warrants careful attention. Finding one that meets all of our requirements is considered to be almost impossible.

Much work has been done on head joint design and there are many views on wall angles, with numerous variations on types of cut within the riser.

However, I have for a long time been of the opinion that what happens on the outside of the lip plate is also of immense significance. The reason for this is very simple. I brutally tarnish silver flutes, turning them swiftly into various shades of black. I have a high degree of acid in my perspiration. Even on the lip plate, my air swiftly creates shadows and over a period of a few years, forms something that resembles a grey/black ‘V’ on the front outside blowing edge.

Looking closely at the more conventional head joints that I have worked with, this ‘V’ was never allowed to complete its journey, to arrive at its final lower point. The lip plate finished at the front edge and the air was effectively dropping off a cliff. In short, the life and energy of that air was being abruptly terminated, due to lack of a surface for it to travel along.

I was convinced that if this air was allowed to continue its journey uninterrupted, it would have a dramatic and positive influence on both sound and articulation.

Whilst an interesting idea, with the expenses involved in creating something yet to be proven, it was difficult to convince flute makers that this was an idea that was worth investing time and money in. Indeed, I approached two makers, only to find the door firmly closed!

Then along came the craftsman and head joint maker Chris McKenna. Well-known for his highly regarded work on both head joints and flute making in general, Chris not only believed in my theories, but also systematically thought through the possibilities of this project.

After two and a half years and several prototypes, the ‘Simply Flute by McKenna’ head joint, with its unique ‘wrap around’ lip plate design, is now available.

For the past year, I have been playing on these unique head joints and am loving the journey.

My most recent favourite is No. 6, which has a focused and centred sound, with noticeably less air noise, an extraordinary dynamic range, crisp and clear articulation and an evenness of tone throughout all three octaves.

Jonathan Myall, the owner of Just Flutes in London has described them as “incredible, with colour and core in the sound” and “remarkable gems”.

David Cuthbert, a prominent London flute player recently purchased one and on Facebook wrote the following: “ I can say with no doubt that this is the best head joint I have ever owned. A clear, resonant and strong voice. Stable and gives confidence to play. Dynamic range is amazing. From unbelievably quiet to a full sound that is not at all brash or shouty. And the legato!!!...”

In short, this is a head joint for the singer within you and I am finding it a constant joy to work with.

To date, I have played the Simply Flute by McKenna’ head joint on the following movie soundtracks:

‘James Bond – No Time to Die’, ‘Wonder Woman 1984’, ‘Blithe Spirit’ and ‘The Prom’.

For more information and prices on ‘Simply Flute by McKenna’ head joints, please contact the following:

Chris McKenna – mckflutes@gmail.com

Jonathan Myall – jonathan@justflutes.com

or               

Simply Flute – support@simplyflute.com

Until the next time…

Goodbye!

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