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Interview with Raffaele Trevisani

Dr. September Payne, 2011, San Diego CA

September: Raffi, during Sir James Galway’s 1996 summer flute class in Weggis, we discovered how
similar our ideas were in regards to tone, embouchure, Moyse and the French school. I had the
opportunity to get to know your teaching and playing further as your invited assistant in your Milan
Summer class and through hosting your San Diego master classes. Your developmental musical path was
an interesting one.

Raffaele: Yes, my approach to the flute was unique, possibly unlike anyone else’s. Although there was
music in the house and I played piano at a young age, I didn’t start the flute until 20 years old. I enrolled
in a special school that offered a course for amateurs in Italy.  From that point, I began practicing all day
because I wanted to be the best. My philosophy was: if you want to play the best, why not study from
the best?

At the time, Jean-Pierre Rampal’s beautiful tone and his fantastic way of tonguing was the model. Then
Jimmy (Sir James Galway) came on the scene. For me, he had something more precise. Of course,
musically I liked Rampal’s playing very much. If you listen to his recordings, his phrasing is crazy
incredible but I liked Jimmy’s (Sir James) tone the best. I found Julius Baker’s tone interesting too. For
me, these are the great flute players and of course Marcel Moyse, but I did not hear him live as you did.

The first time I heard Jimmy (Sir James) perform was 1978. His musical presence and vibrant tone
shocked me. As a lighter player, I realized I had to change embouchure to get this tone quality. The
transition was not easy to impose on a developing career but I persevered and experimented to get it,
which is why I can automatically identify the problems with student playing.

To learn more, I following Jimmy (Sir James) across Europe, listened to his concerts and all the things he
had to say about flute and life. Even now as a professional, I still go to his summer class each year to
listen and play! Without a doubt I was (and still am) his biggest fan!

Even if you are a natural, this doesn’t mean everything. Jimmy (Sir James) is and Jean-Pierre Rampal was
a natural with the shape of the lips and they know what to do with the sound. This was also Marcel
Moyse’s philosophy. Talent by itself is nothing if you don’t apply yourself. If the sound is not right, even
if you have very fast finger technique, this is not good enough. You have to hear all the notes clearly.
One must develop the total package like Jimmy (Sir James); all the notes always in focus, all the time, in
addition to very fast fingers.

In many ways, I  consider myself lucky because I was not trained by anyone else so I was free to do what
I needed to embouchure-wise and to follow  Jimmy (Sir James) around the world, as you did
{September} with  Marcel Moyse. Although I went to Maxence Larrieux’s Geneva class, I never studied
repertoire in the way one does weekly, lesson after lesson. No! I trained myself on my own.

September: Some people say you sound like Sir James: 

Raffaele: I have my own style. Of course you can recognize the school of playing but I am proud to say I
don’t imitate anyone.

September: What’s the most important advice you have for flute students?

Raffaele: Learn the Basics! They are the foundation to be able to express music. Without proper
technique you can’t say what you want to say through your instrument.

September: What kinds of books or exercises do you recommend?

Raffaele: Marcel Moyse’s De la Sonorité is the only real book you need for tone, tone color, tone
volume, embouchure flexibility and intonation.  Moyse’s idea about sound is: once you get one good
centered sound, you connect the second sound with the same characteristics (centeredness, volume,
richness, intonation). In addition, the sound must connect smoothly between the notes as you switch
fingerings. Seems easy but it is not. Think about it-you only have one chance to make it right, the same,
but you have 1,000 chances to make it wrong! It’s cerebral! However, I don’t mean meditating. Don’t
zone out while playing these exercises like it’s some religious experience! You must be flexible and
attentive to any change you may need to make-from one note to the other and not remain rigid. The
embouchure is not the same from the top to the bottom of the registers and the air should be dynamic
as one moves from note to note. Moyse wrote more than one book about flexibility! Flexibility was
central to his teachings and life’s work. And, just because you own a Marcel Moyse tone book doesn’t
mean you have Moyse tone.

Going back to my statement about Jimmy’s (Sir James) tone being more precise than Rampal’s,  means
(for me) the sound is more active,  alive, powerful, yet always beautiful. As a teacher Jimmy (Sir James)
is always trying to get the best sound out of students. It’s like as you {September} know personally,
Moyse’s was doing the same thing in his teaching, always demanding more precision and insisting on it
when he would say “Again! Not enough, why do you play this way?  Go further with your tone, go
deeper.  Express something”! MOYSE Sonorité is active sound.

When you practice the Sonorité book, start with the first page of semi tones, then move to 2nds, 3rds,
and finish with the examples of intervals that go wider. Next, practice Moyse scales, slowly with
attention to the sound on each note and the connection from one note to the next. Every scale is a piece
of music, Sonorité!  Always play with nice focused sound and apply yourself. If you find your tone isn’t
working in your pieces, come back playing Sonorité, slowing down the connection between notes.
Of course another important piece of the tone puzzle is the position of the lips. One can play one hour
of Sonorité without a good embouchure position and you become tired. This is a dangerous way to
practice. People tell me they don’t like playing Moyse scales because they are difficult and too tiring. If
you are losing your embouchure after a few scales you are not flexible but tight and not doing it right! I
often get asked how I can play all these virtuoso pieces for hours –so many notes from top to bottom
with huge leaps and not miss the sound and hardly ever crack.  My advice is don’t squeeze the middle of
the embouchure, don’t press so much with the lips. Relax, don’t be tight, and keep the corners of your
lips down and no smiling embouchures! This is almost impossible to learn without a teacher because it
needs constant adjustment in the beginning until you get it. It’s better to do less amounts but very well
done than play all the scales with uneven sound. These are my ideas I learned by myself and following
Jimmy (Sir James).

September: How would you advise placing the head joint?

Raffaele: Put the bottom lip over the top; let the bottom lip it droop over, especially if you have thin lips.
Keep the cut of the embouchure hole under the red-“vermillion line’-down on the lip. Not too high on
the lip. Personally I prefer slightly left side too.

September: You have a sizzling fast, light tongue technique. Where do you place the tongue?

Raffaele: I say French-tu and du on the palette on the teeth but not touching the lip.  If you have a
stretched smiling embouchure the tightness will create a false syllable like “twah-twah”. Rampal was a
master for speed and lightness. You must tongue lightly and connected (more legato) to play fast. Try
the syllables le-le-le-le, de-de-de, ge-ge-ge, in an almost unpronounced, legato way. No accents. You
must single tongue all rhythms for hours, months, and years, then do double and triple tongue
Unfortunately there is no short cut. Moyse wrote another great book: 50 Articulations on the Allemande
of J.S. Bach.  It’s a real workout but not to be done all at once! Study a few rhythms at a time.

Double tongue uses the back of the tongue where the tongue connects to the throat.  The key is the
back part of throat, used as light as possible and only the little part of the tongue!  One other thing, to
get a really good detaché you have to have a very clean focused sound-so here we are again at the
importance of Sonorité. Detaché is sound production. If the sound is good then the articulation will
sound clear and strong. The better the sound the better everything is. Don’t reinforce the tongue in
detaché; not strong but incredibly light strokes- no hard syllables. Try leh-geh, leh-geh, then geh-geh,
geh-geh, then go back and forth -leh-geh-leh-geh until you can’t decipher between the two sounds.
Blow and play leh-geh in a flute position by putting your finger under lip to emulate a flute embouchure. 
Emphasis the “L” not the “E”.

So, to recap-play scales and Sonorité all day long because it’s the basics to the to understanding and
controlling the complexities of the flute

September: Anything about vibrato?

Raffaele: No diaphragm in vibrato. Use the throat.

September: You get unusual colors in your playing. Do you change vowels?

Raffaele: For color use I different vowels but not in the mouth I change the direction of air in the
embouchure hole-I play over and under, and a tiny bit more open without losing focus. I don’t use the
chin for color although it’s possible, it depends. Blow more in to the head or up. Jimmy’s (Sir James)
school is to blow more into the flute keeping about 1/3 to half open hole in head piece.


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