Dr. Christine Potter is well known to low flutes enthusiasts, both students and performers. An internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso, she holds a Doctorate in Flute Performance from SUNY Stonybrook where she studied with Sam Baron. Her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were with Fulbright scholar Frank Bowen at the University of New Mexico. She also attended numerous masterclasses of Marcel Moyse and William Bennett. She has performed at concert venues world-wide and at many conventions of the National Flute Association as well as British Flute Society. Chris spent five years as Chair of the National Flute Association’s Low Flutes Committee and developed the low flutes portion of the annual NFA conventions with numerous performances, world premiers and workshops. She directs a low flutes choir at the James Galway Festival in Weggis, Switzerland, where she is also the flute choir coordinator.
Having edited and published a number of works for low flute, as well as a series of flute method books, and aware of the extreme paucity of teaching and study materials for alto and bass flutes, Dr. Potter has now developed and published method books for both of these instruments. These beautifully prepared books are essential for those wishing to develop their skills in this area.
British low flute expert Carla Rees writes: “The alto and bass flute require different playing techniques from the C flute if you are going to get the most out of them. That means that no matter how good you are on the C flute, it is always worth treating yourself like a beginner on low flutes.” Potter’s new books are designed to aid with this transition, with carefully chosen exercises supported by other vital information and advice.
Among other useful information, the Alto Flute Method includes sections on tone development, improving breath control, low flutes scales, etudes for tone and technique, alternate fingerings, recommended repertoire, performance aids, and links to a list of repair people.
The Bass Flute Method includes sections on tone development, improving breath control, setting up the curve, how to hold the bass up more comfortably, low flutes scales, etudes for tone and technique, alternate fingerings, recommended repertoire, performance aids, tips for purchasing a bass, and, again, a link to a list of low flutes repair experts.
I have been known to praise certain publications as being valuable additions to their field. In this case, however, Chris Potter has essentially created the field — these books are now virtually all there is available for low flute studies that we are aware of. The only other book worthy of note is Trevor Wye and Patricia Morris’ The Alto Flute Practise Book (Novello & Co Ltd./Music Sales). Available since Jan. 2000 this publicationis promoted as “. . . the first book of its kind, a helpful guide that covers all aspects of the alto flute. Includes historical notes, useful technical information, a comprehensive repertoire list and orchestral extracts.”
This is fair enough, and it is an excellent publication, but Trevor Wye is the first to point out that this is a distinctly different kind of book. Although it does contain a great deal of useful information, it is not a method book as such. Its main feature is the selection and publication of orchestral extracts for alto flute. Very useful, and highly recommended. All of these books are essential, in fact, but alto flutists are advised to work through Potter’s method book before tackling the orchestral excerpts, which are by such composers as Stravinsky, Holst, Boulez and Tippett, and not for beginners. As for the bass flute, Potter’s new book is all there is.
It is encouraging when everything available in any field is also of very high quality, but that is the case here. If you play alto or bass flute these books belong on your bookshelf and your music stand.
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Flute Journal contributor Mike Chalmers, himself a bass flutist with Penn Flutes and the International Jazz Flute Big Band, among other groups, has also been working with Chris Potter‘s Bass Flute Method. He submitted the following review:
Over the years, I have noticed a marked evolution in reactions to my bass flute. At first, the response of onlookers to the instrument when it came out of its case was usually a disbelieving “What is THAT?’, occasionally accompanied by rather strained comparisons to plumbing and exhaust pipes. With time people became less disbelieving, instead querying if it was really a flute and asking what key it played in – which is actually a sensible question. Nowadays I am rarely the only low flute present at ensemble rehearsals, and the reaction is generally informed, slightly envious and (occasionally) something along the lines of “that’s so cool…”
The transition of the bass flute from musical white elephant to coveted niche instrument is partly due to the advocacy of Christine Potter, whether it be through her NFA presence, her summer low flute retreats and her numerous publications. A recent addition to her body of work is her Bass Flute Method, which is joined by a companion Alto Flute Method.
So the first question is, why would the bass flute need a method of its own – is it really that different from other members of the flute family? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” First, there’s the question of size, and Christine addresses issues of balance and embouchure, along with a discussion of thumb crutches to combat right arm fatigue. Then there is the question of breath; as Christine points out, the instrument “uses more air than C flute or alto flute” and she includes general advice in this area along with musical exercises targeting the larger instrument.
Subsequent chapters look at articulation, double and triple tonguing, and tone with a combination of musical exercises and studies in various styles – Handel, Dvorak, Theobald Böhm, Joachim Andersen and Debussy all make an appearance, along with Scottish and irish folk songs. Again, I found the exercises and studies nicely adapted to the needs of the bass flute – for example, the book addresses trouble spots such as “the E and F that tend to crack easily, the stuffy and sluggish E♭” and considers the characteristics of the different octaves. Some exercises are challenging: the upper register passages, for example, did an excellent job of taking me out of my comfort zone.
Particularly useful is the chapter on alternative fingerings – as Christine says, “the bass flute has unique response and intonation issues” and there are a number of fixes here to help out with the troublesome third octave. Christine also makes the excellent point that “the loudest dynamic is equivalent to mf on the flute” and I, for one, would appreciate more guidance on how to manage the instrument’s lack of volume. The book ends with discussions of various topics, including repertoire, buying an instrument, switching between instruments and travel. A lot of questions are answered – the message is that you’re not alone out there!
Overall, Chris Potter’s Bass Flute Method is, quite simply, the ideal “go to” introduction to the bass flute. While the price of $24.95 may seem steep, I can see myself benefiting from mine for many years to come. Highly recommended.
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