Notes 59.2 (2002) 354-356
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The Simple Flute, from A to Z. By Michel Debost. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. [282 p. ISBN 0-19-514521-6. $35.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.
Few flutists are able to boast such broad performing and teaching expertise as the acclaimed French flutist Michel Debost. Debost served as the principal flutist of the Orchestre de Paris under several revered conductors and as flute professor at the Paris Conservatoire. He currently teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Debost shares flute performance advice from his sixty years of experience in his latest work, The Simple Flute, from A to Z, drawing heavily upon his earlier French-language work, Une simple flûte (Fondettes: Van de Welde, 1996).
The Simple Flute serves as a selective encyclopedic reference, containing alphabetical entries for techniques, common problems, and other terms, as well as practical advice specific to the flute and flute playing. Each entry consists of definitions of relevant terms, Debost's guidance and suggestions, music examples to reinforce certain points, and occasional illustrations by Jeanne Debost-Roth. At the end of each entry there is a brief summary ("In a Nutshell") and a list of related, cross-referenced terms ("Please refer also to"). Each entry is approximately one thousand words, the "attention span of your average flutist" (p. 3). Debost does not expect The Simple Flute to be read from cover to cover, but used as a reference to look up specific terms or techniques when necessary. If a reader begins with a single entry, then follows through with each of the six to ten related entries listed, she is soon immersed in the complex web of the interconnected articles in this book.
The author clearly intends The Simple Flute for experienced flutists and flute teachers, and indeed it would not be satisfying reading for the flute afficionado or one writing a term paper. Debost uses language that is quite specific to flute playing—he even creates terms to refer to common tendencies that only trained flutists would understand: "jawboning," "slam-and-squeeze," and "turbo-sound," for example. Despite its title, this book is anything but simple. Debost introduces descriptive, often complicated techniques for breathing, blowing, and phrasing on the flute, and many of these will be useful even to seasoned performers. A few entries are aimed at younger players or their teachers, but the majority of the concepts and techniques described in this book are much too complicated for beginners.
Even if the reader is unfamiliar with Debost's background, it is apparent early in The Simple Flute that he was trained in France and is an advocate of the French school of flute playing. This is evident in his instructions for articulating as well as with every suggested etude or method book, including works by Marcel Moyse, Henri Altés, and Paul Taffanel and [End Page 354] Philippe Gaubert. Debost calls the methods by Altés and Taffanel-Gaubert the "gospels of flute playing" (p. 241). In his entry on the "Paris Conservatoire and the French School," Debost writes of the French training where "students' schedules are not cluttered with nonmusical topics—endless papers to write and so forth" (p. 174). Few American music programs advocate such a performance-centric focus, so this pedagogical approach may be new to many American flutists.
Throughout The Simple Flute, I found many techniques and concepts that would be advantageous for intermediate, advanced, and professional flutists. Debost devotes a section to dealing with physical symptoms of stress while performing. He frequently addresses concepts of efficiency, especially tips applicable to muscle groups, fingerings, and breathing techniques. For example, Debost advocates using the strong leg muscles, rather than weaker facial muscles, to affect pitch, dynamics, and quality of tone. He also puts forth a method of interpretation to assist in phrasing musical works. A few entries would be appropriate for nonflutist musicians, including the sections on "Accompaniment," "Appoggio" (a term originally used in vocal training), "Breathing," "Programming," and "Stress."
Some entries do contain advice for younger players and their...