The process of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.
As Duo Sequenza, we are musicians who promote the work of living composers. This means that we perform works by composers who are writing today’s classical music. It also means that we occasionally have a very special experience as musicians: commissioning a piece of music. This means asking a composer to write something specifically for us, and it’s a unique journey of collaboration we undertake together.
Before we share what it’s like, we want to address a stereotype. When people hear “today’s classical music,” they sometimes grimace. They’re either thinking it’s old school and stuffy, or they’re already bracing themselves for something that sounds a lot like “noise.”
Neither is true. Today’s classical music can be beautiful, lyrical, and completely enjoyable to listen to. This is at the heart of our mission to bring new audiences to classical music, and we do it through what we call “wickedly great” repertoire.
We’ve always leaned toward working with Midwestern composers because we’re an ensemble based in the Midwest. Many people think that New York City is the classical music capital of the country; the reality is that there are terrific composers writing beautiful contemporary classical music right here in our own backyard. Let us share a couple of stories.
Duo Sequenza’s first commission
Our first commission was Rondo Caprice, Op. 35 by Easley Blackwood, composed in 1992. At the time, Easley was on the University of Chicago faculty (Midwest, see?). While he’d been writing in a microtonal style in the 1970s and 1980s, he was returning to diatonic (tonal) works, and we thought he’d write an interesting piece. We called him up, told him we were in the market for a commission and planned to debut it at the Bar Harbor Music Festival’s New Composers program in Maine. We shared one of our recordings to give him a sense of our playing.
Easley wrote a one-movement theme and variations in traditional rondo form. It’s very tonal with a fresh, unique harmony throughout the piece. His inspiration was Franz Schubert, who was a fan of the guitar—so Easley wrote it as he felt that Schubert would have written for flute and guitar, had he lived another 30 years. As Easley composed, he sent us sections, and we even went to his apartment to rehearse the piece during his writing process.
Duo Sequenza’s South Shore Suite commission
Fast forward to 2016. It’s the early days of our return to concertizing, in Indiana’s Bicentennial year. We had the idea that we needed a work to mark this special occasion, a signature piece to spark local interest in our ensemble. Because it was Indiana’s 200th birthday and we are an Indiana-based ensemble, we thought our composer should be from Indiana, too.
So, we started to do some homework. We compiled a list of Indiana composers and we listened to some of their work online, largely so Paul could hear how they handled writing for the guitar (which can be tricky).
This led us to Jorge Muniz, a native of Spain who had been in the US for many years and was on the composition faculty of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend. We approached him and described our vision for a signature piece with geographical flavor. The result is South Shore Suite, a six-movement work written in October 2016 and premiered in January 2017. While we were not involved in the composition process as we were with Easley, Jorge had attended a few of our concerts at the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso, so he knew our programs were thematic and had a good sense of our capabilities as performers.
About South Shore Suite and the commission, Jorge shared, “There is nothing more fulfilling to me than a close collaboration with performers in the making of a new composition. The conversations with Duo Sequenza as my South Shore Suite was being designed were fundamental in shaping this new work. It is wonderful for a composer to have such talented and expressive musicians at my disposal. It makes the process of composition a deeply enjoyable one!”
A word about world premieres: we’ve never been truly happy with our first performance of new pieces. The music changes and grows the longer we keep it in our repertoire. Audience reactions to new works also develop the pieces musically. When commissioning a composer, we try to give ourselves eight to 10 weeks to learn a piece and rehearse together, but even that can feel rushed.
Other world premieres
Even when we’re not specifically commissioning, we get unsolicited manuscripts from composers. Some have sent them out to multiple duos, and whoever secures a venue first gives the world premiere.
Sometimes we also find our way to interesting collaborations, as with Andrea Clearfield, who composed Farlorn Alemen, a piece we’ve included on our next album. We reached out to her after hearing one of her pieces for the woodwind quintet and asked if she’d ever written anything for flute and guitar. She’d written a song cycle on commission for soprano and piano that she had begun to imagine as a song without words for flute and guitar. After playing the piece in progress, we shared our insights and collaborated with Andrea for a final version. The biggest change was my (Deb’s) idea to transcribe it for alto flute. This wasn’t a commission so much as a collaboration that started with the composer’s inspiration and grew with ours.
Of our collaboration, Andrea said, “Duo Sequenza premiered a new arrangement of my work Farlorn Alemen for alto flute and guitar. I met with Debra earlier and was impressed not only by her beautiful tone and naturally musical playing but her dedication to excellent preparation and embodying the music's intent. The duo's interpretation was sensitive, intelligent, and deeply moving.”
Are there any commissions on the horizon? All we can tell you right now is, stay tuned!
It’s 205 years old. It’s made of glass. It only has four keys—and I (Debra) needed to learn how to play it.
What are we talking about? The Laurent crystal flute, of course! This unique flute has become a special guest in our performances—and we’ll feature it in our 2022 recording project for our third album, Yes, It’s a Fragile Thing!
The Laurent crystal flutes inspire more mystique than any other flute. Flutists dream of owning one; history buffs dream of hearing one played. There are perhaps only 140 examples of this type of flute worldwide, many of which are in museums like the Library of Congress. Few are actively played; in fact, we know of only four. This type of flute is therefore rarely heard. We’d like to share more of the backstory and history behind this special flute to bring it (and our performances) to life.
What’s a Laurent crystal flute?
Let’s start with a brief flute history lesson. Claude Laurent was a master flute maker to the French aristocracy. He was also a skilled glass fabricator. An innovator at a time when flute playing was popular in all levels of society, Laurent began making flutes in glass in 1806 in Paris. At this time, flutes were still made of wood. The introduction of the metal flute would come later, around 1838 (and cause its own stir). Laurent patented his glass flute in 1806 and won a silver medal that year at the Industrial Exposition in Paris. Laurent flutes quickly became the ultimate status symbol. They were owned by emperors, kings, and other royalty and aristocrats. They were also given as gifts to, among others, President James Madison.
Laurent made his flutes until 1848, and they became sought after for their ornate designs, including cut-glass and gemstone crowns (the piece on the very top of the flute). With just four or eight keys, depending on the model, these flutes were somewhere between the wooden one-keyed flute of the Baroque era (17th and early 18th century) and today’s modern, keyed flute made of precious metals like sterling silver or gold.
This was a period of political and geographic upheaval in Europe and the United States—Napoleon Bonaparte was emperor of France, and the British and the US had gone to battle in the War of 1812. It was also a period of rapid innovation in many different areas, from arts to industry. As time passed, the Laurent flutes fell out of favor as the modern keyed flute made popular by flutist Theobald Boehm became dominant. (Today’s flutes are based on the Boehm system.)
Yet in the last 50 years, the Laurent flutes have become sought-after again. After all, it’s fascinating to own and play a piece of history.
Finding a rare flute
I (Debra) first became enchanted with crystal flutes in 1987 on a trip to Washington DC, during which my husband and I met with Robert Shelton, then the curator of the Dayton C. Miller Collection at the Library of Congress. Mr. Shelton graciously permitted me to handle several Claude Laurent flutes, including the one that belonged to President James Madison. My husband decided that I should own one, and secretly put the word out with several antique instrument dealers.
In 1997, flute historian David Shorey acquired this flute at an estate sale in Florida. My husband bought it from him and surprised me with it. I was completely intimidated by the idea of playing it, as I had never attempted a historical flute, much less one made of glass! The flute remained safe and sound in its case with an occasional visit from me until winter 2014 when a flutist friend pointed out that 2016 would mark its 200th year—so, she said, I had a moral imperative to learn to play and perform on it.
Making my mind up to play the flute was one thing; actually accomplishing it was another. I had to start by figuring out the pitch of the flute, so I used an app recommended by Michael Lynn, a leading world expert on historical flutes and a professor at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. Playing the flute with the guitar is ideal because Paul can tune down to the instrument’s pitch. Beyond this, I had to learn some different fingerings for notes than what is used by modern flutists today. You can find many fingering charts for simple-system flutes and work through scales and simple exercises to learn them—but applying them to music that you’re learning on a new instrument is a matter of putting in focused hours (and hours and hours) of practice.
The flute is made of lead crystal and is in unrestored condition. It is pitched at A=430, below today’s modern pitch, which means that Paul and I make special adjustments to play together. Made in Paris in 1816, its crown contains a large, faceted quartz crystal. The keys are sterling, the bore frosted, and the exterior decoratively cut.
I have a few rules about playing this very special flute. First, I only take it out when I’m well-rested and energized, because dropping it will break it. Though I usually stand while practicing, I always sit while playing the crystal flute, so that if I do slip, the flute falls into my lap. I also never have anyone else in the room with me during practice—except, of course, when I’m rehearsing with Paul. Lastly, I put a large sheepskin over the feet of my metal music stand as an extra layer of protection.
I have loved playing my Laurent crystal flute and I hope you enjoy hearing it too, in person or on our upcoming recording.
Our upcoming crystal flute album
As we plan for our 2022 album recording, we’ve issued a Call for Scores for crystal flute and guitar. What’s a Call for Scores? Think of it as a formal invitation for composers to pitch us their ideas for new music. Thirty-two composers from around the world have thrown their hats in the ring with forty interesting ideas for pieces. We’re in the process of reviewing their ideas now to choose the five or so who will join composer Gary Schocker, who has already written Crystal Healing (2016) specifically for us to celebrate this flute’s 200th year.
We’ve noticed that our performances with this flute have consistently drawn larger, more diverse audiences. Because of this, we believe this recording project is an important strategy for our audience development mission, and we look forward to bringing the beautiful sounds of this historic flute to life through the creativity of living composers. We can’t wait to share it with you.
Commission Distributes $834,000 in American Rescue Plan Act Funds to 278 nonprofits
Valparaiso-based classical flute and guitar chamber music ensemble Duo Sequenza is proud to announce that it is one of 278 nonprofits across the state of Indiana selected as recipients of American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Indiana Arts Commission announced this week that it has distributed $834,000 statewide through the agency’s Arts Recovery Program with additional National Endowment for the Arts Funds through Arts Midwest, Indiana’s regional partner.
Based in Northwest Indiana, Duo Sequenza is an internationally lauded concert artist chamber ensemble featuring Debra Silvert, flute of Valparaiso, and Paul Bowman, classical guitar, a native of Chesterton. Duo Sequenza will use its funds to support marketing efforts, integral to its strategic audience development for today’s classical music.
“As we look toward recovery and the return of live concerts to the stage,” flutist Debra Silvert said, “it’s essential to the future and vitality of our ensemble that we continue to connect with our audiences and build our marketing efforts. We are deeply grateful to the Indiana Arts Commission and Arts Midwest for their support.”
“We are proud to partner with the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest to support the arts organizations across Indiana that are playing a key role in the recovery from the pandemic,” said Lewis Ricci, Indiana Arts Commission Executive Director, in the commission’s release announcing funding. “This funding is a recognition of the value that the creative sector provides to the economic and social health of our state and nation.”
These funds are intended to support arts organizations through what has been a very difficult period for artists. Funds support salaries, fees and stipends, costs associated with health and safety equipment, and marketing and promotion costs. Before funds were awarded, nonprofits were evaluated for their ability to advance the arts, provide relevant activities and access to the arts, and operate through June 2022. Duo Sequenza was awarded $3,000 by the commission.
“We are so excited to get back to live music performances,” said guitarist Paul Bowman. “The Indiana Arts Commission’s support of our state’s artists and communities is incredibly powerful—and as musicians with Indiana roots who love performing in this state, we couldn’t be more appreciative of the support.”
“I don’t know what to listen for.”
“It’s not for me.”
“I’m no expert.”
There are many reasons for people’s dismissal of classical music. It can seem the most intimidating of all the art forms, taking place in stuffy concert halls with high-priced tickets and concertgoers quick to “shush” anyone not schooled in their ways. You’re not sure how to listen, or if you have the “right” knowledge to listen. You’re worried about doing something “wrong.”
For many, though, classical music is one of the great joys of life. Skilled musicians passionate about the art form bring the pure beauty of music to life in a moment in space and time. In a world that is more hectic every day, the hush and dark of a concert hall can be a place to soothe the body and soul. After all, it’s one of the last remaining places where you’re actually asked to silence your phone.
We think of music as an experience, a journey to be shared. And we’re devoted to sharing it with you, as well as new audiences in every venue and community we visit. In the spirit of sharing, we’re all about opening minds. This is why we’ve put together a list of some of the questions you’re burning to know the answer to but are maybe too afraid—or too polite—to ask.
Is classical music really for everyone?
We believe that the only requirement for listening to music of any genre is to have two working ears. That’s it. If you have ears, and they work (even with assistance of any kind), you can listen to classical music.
Despite this, classical music audiences today seem to consist largely of people with some sort of formal background in music. The belief is that you must have studied an instrument or listened to many hours of recordings to “get it.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. You already get it—you just don’t realize that you do. In fact, nothing more is required of you than an open mind and a willingness to try something new. Most people don’t think twice about buying a ticket to a movie they’ve never seen or trying a new restaurant. Bring the same open-minded curiosity to our concert and you’ll be surprised.
What if I don’t like it?
There is always the risk that you won’t like something you’re trying for the first time—whether we’re talking about movies, restaurants, or classical music. This shouldn’t stop you from trying it.
Some classical music is full of melody and harmony; said another way, it’s singable. Some of it is less easy to follow. Some of it is jazzy. We know not every piece is for every listener, which is why we work hard to put together concerts that have a lot of variety in a single program. We like to say we perform “wickedly great” music, so there’s something for everyone.
If you don’t like it, that’s ok. You can say so. Art, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. Again, all we ask is that you bring an open mind.
How should I listen at a concert?
Some pieces are “about” something; they have a theme, or they are inspired by a story. Some don’t. Either way, we the artists and you the listeners each bring our own experiences and selves into the music. This creates something altogether new each time. As musicians, we each have a new experience of the music with every performance—we don’t know quite what to expect.
Bring this same openness. Close your eyes if you like. Watch our movements and communication. Read the program. Hold the hand of the person who came with you. Let go of the stress you came in with and simply be in the moment with us.
Does a live audience really matter?
Yes! You do! Music is art created in a moment in space and time. As musicians, Paul and I are deeply honored by your presence in our concert hall. This tells us that you’ve decided to trust us to guide you on a journey of sorts. It’s a big responsibility. For the most part, you don’t know where this journey may lead. You may not even understand why you suddenly find yourself embarking on such a journey. It’s our mission to join with you as together we transcend the mundane. The starting point of the journey is the music the composer has written to try to capture something about our human experience that simply cannot be communicated in words. You are part of the magic we’re creating. (This is especially true after the recent lack of live performances).
When should I clap (and how will I know it’s time?)
Audiences familiar with classical music know that there is an expected time to clap, and times when clapping isn’t expected. Go to any jazz or rock concert, though, and you see a much freer attitude toward clapping.
Clapping is a form of spontaneous appreciation for the artists and the music. We welcome it. We do ask that during very quiet and delicate passages in the music, you refrain from applause. Not sure when to clap? Watch the other audience members and follow their lead. Not sure we’re done with the piece? Watch for us to lower our instruments and acknowledge the audience with our eyes and bodies.
Why do classical musicians dress up?
Simply put, it’s a form of respect—for you and for the music itself. Orchestral musicians have traditionally worn black to look like an ensemble—a cohesive group. As a chamber music duo, we have more creative latitude (for ladies, that means sequins and sparkles). It’s also fun to dress up, especially after the last 18 months we’ve been through.
Why don’t we see more diversity in classical music?
The national conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to the arts as well as to the rest of our society. There is no easy or short answer to this question, but there are some themes that are relevant. A major one is access—to the arts, to training, and even access to the resources necessary to study classical music. Consider that renting or purchasing an instrument can be a financial barrier for many families. Audience development and diversity is central to Duo Sequenza; we see part of our mission as bringing new listeners to classical music, and this includes a diversity of listeners.
Do you ever get nervous?
In short, yes! Nerves are the body’s response to new or intimidating situations. Nerves also mean that something matters—in this case, the performance for you. After a lifetime in classical music performance, though, we’ve learned to use nerves in positive ways. Nerves can enhance our focus on making music in a moment in time and on our connection with the audience.
Do you ever make mistakes?
Yes again! Many of our pieces are musically and technically demanding, which means they require fast fingers or long periods without taking a big breath. They’re not easy to play. This is where hours of practice come in, though. As we practice, we’re learning the note patterns and fingerings we need to bring the music to life from printed marks on the page. We’re putting it together like pieces of a puzzle. Yes, there can be times when we make a mistake, like when we miss a note or don’t end exactly the way we rehearsed—but it’s probably more apparent to us than it is to you. Musicians are humans, after all, and humans are imperfect.
How do you make a living as a musician?
Many of today’s classical musicians are entrepreneurs and small business owners. We play concerts in small groups, as soloists, and with orchestras. We teach students, sometimes at the university level and sometimes privately. We make recordings, which are sold on CDs and streamed via streaming services.
Now that you know a bit more about classical music—and us—we hope to see you at a performance soon.
The old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We believe it also takes a village to create a classical music recording. From choosing music, commissioning composers to write new works and booking recording time, to production, marketing, and distribution, each album is a major undertaking. Because the royalties on classical music recordings are heartbreakingly small, recording an album is also an investment that takes a community.
We feel deep appreciation for everyone who has supported Duo Sequenza along the way, and we’re excited to share information on our two active fundraisers for our 2021 and 2022 albums in the effort to garner additional support.
Two worthy projects
We’re thrilled to announce our 2022 project, Yes…It’s a Fragile Thing! We’ve invited composers to an exciting collaboration: an album of new music for flute and classical guitar that will showcase a very old and rare flute, a Claude Laurent crystal flute made in 1816.
Laurent crystal flutes inspire more mystique than any other flute. Many flutists dream of owning one; history buffs dream of hearing one played. Many were owned by royalty and people in power, including the Bonapartes and President James Madison. There are just 150 existing Laurent crystal flutes in the world, and two-thirds are in museums. Perhaps as few as four are actively played, so this is a flute very rarely heard.
This is a flute I (Deb) needed to learn how to play, as it’s wildly different from today’s modern keyed flutes. In fact, there are just four keys on the flute. We’ve noticed that our performances with this flute have consistently drawn larger, more diverse audiences. Because of this, we believe this recording project is an important strategy for our audience development mission to recruit new listeners for today’s classical music.
The Call for Scores we issued in January resulted in 32 composers from all over the world throwing their hats in the ring for the opportunity to write new duo music for this historic flute and classical guitar. We’re now in the process of evaluating the proposed ideas to choose who will ultimately be featured in this recording. Those selected will join composer Gary Schocker, also a world-renowned flutist, who wrote Crystal Healing in 2016 specifically for us to celebrate this flute’s 200th year. Gary has composed over 300 works, many of them featuring the flute, and they have been played by musicians and groups all over the world.
Support our 2022 album fundraising to help us make this historic project a reality. You can also find a link to a recording of Schocker’s Crystal Healing to hear what the rare Laurent crystal flute sounds like.
Our fundraiser on our 2021 album is still open for your support as well. Yes…It’s Still a Thing! has been in production during the pandemic. Scheduled for release in late 2021, this recording emphasizes the vast sound palette of textures and colors available to flute and classical guitar in eight world premiere recordings.
Composers Nicole Chamberlain, Andrea Clearfield, Frederic Hand, Kent Holliday, Katherine Hoover, Deirdre Lynds, Gary Schocker, and Harvey Sollberger artfully demonstrate that even the smallest chamber ensemble can pack a big musical punch!
Now that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel for a difficult period in our world, we need music more than ever. Music brings us together, soothes our souls, and helps us express the deep human emotions that transcend words. Consider supporting our current project.
Why your support matters
Supporting our recordings is a powerful way to help bring the works of living composers to today’s audiences. The arts bring great value and vitality to society, beyond the value typically represented by the economics of the market. This has been the case for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. You can see it in history, in the musicians at European courts and in the commissioning of great works of visual art and theater. You can see it in the tradition of government, public, and private support of arts and culture today. As supporters, the friends of Duo Sequenza join a long, honorable tradition of giving to the arts, which lifts us all up.
You can also help us make another, more specific impact. Through commissioning the works of living composers, we expand the repertoire for our instrument pairing. We also bring the vital voices of living composers to audiences in what we’ve often called “wickedly great” repertoire—real music, by real artists, for real people. We would love nothing more than to be able to offer at least an honorarium, if not a full commission fee, to each of the composers who will be writing for the crystal flute album. Several of our candidates are international prize-winning composers with distinguished careers who nevertheless are so enthusiastic about this project that they are willing to compose for it gratis. Commissioners on new works receive prominent acknowledgement on their published piece as its commissioner.
What’s in a name?
The name of our first recording is Yes…It’s a Thing! Released in 2019, it’s an album of world premiere recordings that has received airplay in nearly a dozen foreign countries and is approaching 100,000 streams and downloads. The name comes from an interview in which we were asked, “Is flute and guitar really a thing?” It’s the perfect sassy title for our recordings. Raymond Tuttle of Fanfare magazine says of this album, “..lovely and intimate...strong musicality that makes you forget how technically accomplished Silvert and Bowman are....It's a GOOD thing."
Indiana Arts Commission Recognizes Duo Sequenza with Fifth Consecutive Grant Award Supports flute and guitar duo’s “Project Listen Up!” for South Shore communities
With live concerts on the verge of returning to state stages, the Indiana Arts Commission has awarded classical flute and guitar chamber music ensemble Duo Sequenza an Arts Project Support Grant for the fifth consecutive year. Based in Northwest Indiana, Duo Sequenza is an internationally lauded concert artist chamber ensemble featuring Debra Silvert, flute of Valparaiso, and Paul Bowman, classical guitar, a native of Chesterton.
The grant goes directly to support Duo Sequenza’s “Project Listen Up!”, which brings the ensemble’s artistry to South Shore communities with vibrant performances in non-traditional venues. Performances with themes such as Chamber Music on Tap, Bach's Lunch Hour, New at Noon, Plumbing the Depths, Road Trip, Once Upon a Concert, Musical Curiosities, Le Salon Concert, and the Hair(?!?) Salon Concert are matched to specific unusual community venues to create awareness and stimulate public interest in today's classical music.
“We are honored to receive an Arts Project Support Grant for the fifth consecutive year,” flutist Debra Silvert said. “This support is integral to bringing real music, by real artists, for real people to venues in our home state of Indiana, in the South Shore as well as the rest of the state. It’s especially meaningful as we look forward to our return to live music-making and the incredible connections we can make with our audiences.”
The Indiana Arts Commission's Arts Project Support (APS) grants provide funding to Indiana 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations and public entities for specific arts project and arts activities. The grant program is intended to enhance general public access to quality arts activities, with special attention to underserved communities and to provide support for local or Indiana artists who are a vital part of Indiana’s economy and community life.
“We’re inspired by the purpose of this grant, as it aligns with our purpose as a classical ensemble,” noted guitarist Paul Bowman. “We like to say that as a duo, we perform ‘wickedly great’ music while reaching out to new audiences—and performing here at home on the South Shore is especially significant to us.”
The Arts Project Support Grant will support “Project Listen Up!” performances into 2022.
Every musician has a few favorite pieces, ones they look most forward to playing and sharing because of a special connection to the music itself or to the composer.
We have many. As a duo, we perform what we like to call “wickedly great” works from our repertoire featuring living composers. A few come with fantastic backstories, and we’d like to share them. This way, when you listen, you might have something extra to listen for.
Crystal Healing by Gary Schocker (2016)
This piece by flutist-composer Gary Schocker is truly special to us, because it came directly from my return to music. In 1992, Duo Sequenza performed at the Bar Harbor Music Festival in Maine. The next year, I (Deb) went back alone and performed Gary Schocker’s Regrets and Resolutions for flute and piano while on crutches after having had hip replacement revision surgery. There, I connected with Gary.
A note on Gary: A gifted composer and flutist, Gary has written music for many instruments, with almost 300 works in print—half of them including flute. Many of his compositions are part of the standard flute repertoire. Gary is also a wunderkind who made debuts with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra at 15. Today he teaches and performs around the world.
After 1993, life circumstances dictated my stepping away from concert performances—for 21 years. Those 21 years without concertizing were incredibly painful for me. In 2014, I attended the National Flute Convention and was inspired by reconnecting with friends and colleagues. I began to contemplate a return to music. While at the convention, I happened to pick up a biography of Gary Schocker, which included a certain familiar reference among his “significant events:” my performance of his work in Bar Harbor in 1993.
I couldn’t help but think it was a sign. Upon my return home, my husband encouraged me to track down Paul to ask if he’d be interested in bringing Duo Sequenza back together.
Yes, he was.
Our reunion and return to concertizing coincided with Indiana’s bicentennial. Yet there was also another 200th birthday to celebrate: that of my crystal flute, an 1816 Claude Laurent four-keyed flute— which I had no idea how to play (but would soon learn).
What came next was the perfect convergence. I reached out to Gary and told him about the flute, which he termed the “crystal beast.” He was so inspired by the idea of composing for it that Crystal Healing was in my inbox two weeks later. Because our connection in Bar Harbor had been during my recovery from surgery, and the composition marked our duo’s return to the stage years later and the restoration of my sense of purpose, Crystal Healing was named as an acknowledgment of the healing power of time and music. It’s a piece written expressly for the tonal qualities of the crystal flute as a duet with guitar by a masterful composer.
Duo Sequenza premiered Crystal Healing in January 2017. We have since recorded it for what will be our third Navona Records album, featuring the Laurent crystal flute.
Gazzedolphylloni by Harvey Sollberger (2008)
This jazz-inspired duet is a meeting of the minds between Italian flutist Severino Gazzelloni and American jazz alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist, and flutist Eric Dolphy—written by pre-eminent American contemporary flutist Harvey Sollberger.
Severino Gazzelloni was the principal flutist with the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Turin, Italy for more than 30 years and an inspiration to many composers of new music in the 1950s and 1960s. He also inspired many flutists, among them Harvey, who played with the Group for Contemporary Music in New York under Charles Wuorinen. Gazzelloni also inspired and taught flute to Eric Dolphy, who admired his style greatly.
The 1950s and 1960s marked a period of intense innovation and inspiration. Art, music, and life were all intertwined with each other. Gazzedolphylloni looks to capture the spirit and tension of this unique period. The guitar part invokes Gazzelloni with recognizable elements like angular staccato notes and large interval leaps that would be familiar to listeners of midcentury contemporary classical music. The flute part is largely an improvisation with extended techniques; in an eight-page score, five pages are open for improvisation with a few text directions from Sollberger, like “enter into a quiet duet with guitar’s sliding dyads” and “play hide and seek with the guitar.” And the parts where flute and guitar play together are mostly in a jazz style, leading up to the end as a wild finish where the instruments jam the theme to an exciting accelerando that lands on a funky jazz chord with a flute high F.
This is a very special piece. As Paul says, “I admire that Deb really took on the spirit of the improv. She wove a part with imitation that fits into the cracks between my part and stays in the tonality of the chords I play. It’s remarkable—and a joy to play.”
Four Romantic Songs by Kent Holliday (2014)
This piece was a joyful discovery we made through music publisher Cayambis Music Press. When we found it, we thought ‘wow, what a great piece of music!’
Yet we had no connection to Kent, a departure from our usual experience. Holliday is based in Virginia and was, until retirement, on the faculty of Virginia Tech University. His Four Romantic Songs is a beautiful, neo-Romantic piece in four movements with interesting rhythmic treatments and beautiful expressive passages for both instruments. Each of the four movements explores a mood in a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern: Pensive, Passionate, Nostalgic, Reflective-Determined.
One of the most interesting parts of this piece from a flute perspective is that Holliday wrote several indications of espressivo and legato, words usually connoting the use of slurs but with a conspicuous absence of slurs actually written in the score—leaving the player a bit of a puzzle for interpretation. For flutists, so much of the character of a piece comes from how the notes are articulated, determining how they sound in relation to each other and whether they are connected (slurred or in a legato style) or highly separated in a staccato style. I had an especially fun time creating different articulation styles that honored the composer’s desire for a legato feeling, freely exploring the many possibilities available to the flute.
Four Romantic Songs has become a staple of Duo Sequenza’s repertoire and is included on our second album, "Yes...It's STILL a Thing!" to be released in late 2021.
A few years ago, violist and radio commentator Miles Hoffman wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times about what he called the Classical Music Insecurity Complex.
He shared that many people distrust their reactions to hearing classical music—or dismiss listening to it entirely, recorded or live—out of fear that they don’t “know enough” or that someone more expert will disagree with them. People may feel that they don’t know what they should be listening for in serious art music. Listeners are bewildered or confused. They don’t want to look like they don’t “get it.”
This feeling is common; we see and hear about it all the time, which is why we’re passionate about explaining why YOU are so important to live performance. Listening is easier than you think. Let us explain.
The power of live music
First, music isn’t made of printed notes on a page any more than a journey is made up of a map. The notes are simply the instructions on how to get to where we’re going. Music is made in a moment in time and space.
As musicians, Paul and I each spend hundreds of hours practicing in solitude. When the music starts to emerge and come alive, my experience is that it just longs to be heard by another set of ears. This is why we are deeply honored by your presence in our concert hall. You’ve decided to trust us to guide you on a journey. It’s a big responsibility: it’s up to us to take you somewhere new together, somewhere beyond the mundane.
This is the true magic and joy of music: its power to take us somewhere that words cannot. Certain intangibles of the human experience are too deep, too beautiful or sad or exciting to be conveyed in words. When we try to translate them into words, something is lost. What you feel when you hear your favorite song is this power. It’s the music burrowing into your heart and soul and taking you outside the present moment.
Live music is even more special, because it only exists at the moment that you’re experiencing it. The art is happening right then, right there, right now. As each note is played, it lasts only for its indicated length, and then it's gone...never to be heard quite the same way again. As a musician, I understand that each note has a special purpose that only it can fulfill. It has relationships to the notes that came before it and after it, and it’s up to me to understand and interpret those relationships, and to bring you along on this journey.
Listen in new ways
With this in mind, there are a few ways that we recommend you can listen to live music, without self-consciousness and intimidation—simply for the pure pleasure of being part of a shared journey.
First, concert halls and performance spaces have been quiet for more than a year. Now we are just at the beginning of these experiences returning. There will be a special joy in simply being able to have the opportunity, should you so choose, to attend a live performance.
Second, a live performance can be a chance for you to leave our frenetic, technology-driven, schedule-oriented daily rhythm behind. Performance spaces are like airplanes—they’re one of the last spaces where (if you’re dutiful about silencing your phones), people cannot reach you in an instant. You can turn off the incessant demands for a time and relax into an experience that can take you and your mind to new and fantastic places.
Third, it’s all right if you don’t like it. Many people are afraid that they won’t, and this fear keeps them out of performance spaces. But you’d order something at a restaurant that you haven’t tried. You’d go to (or stream) a movie and openly share your opinion. It’s all right to try something and not like it. Bring this open-mindedness to the concert.
How to listen to classical music
Some pieces are “about” something: they have a theme that offers an entry point for the listener. Some don’t. Either way, we, as artists, and you, as listeners, each bring our own experiences and our own selves into the music, together creating something altogether new each time, even if you’ve heard the piece before. Even, in fact, if you’ve played the piece before, as musicians who attend performances understand.
The art of listening can be distilled down to the simplicity of this: openness. Regardless of my and Paul’s detailed knowledge of the musical score in front of us, we each revel in having a new experience of the music with every performance. We never know quite what to expect from the music, and here’s the key: Neither should you.
This bears repeating. Just as in life, in classical music, we should never know what to expect. We human beings are in a constant state of flux. We find ourselves in varying degrees of harmony or disharmony with the world around us. Who we are and how we are, in any given moment, is going to inform how we experience the music as we hear it. Focused, attentive listening, without expectation, offers a unique opportunity for us to become, for just 90 minutes in the concert hall, a real human being instead of a human doing. When it comes right down to it, listening and experiencing live classical music in the gestalt of time and space binds us together as a community, and enhances our common human experience. It’s sort of like meditating in a group.
Leave your cares at the door
We encourage you to leave your worries, cares and any Classical Music Insecurity Complex at the door. Bring your ears to the concert hall and open your mind and heart to partake in the nourishment of your whole self. Permit the sound to suffuse your soul to its deepest levels. Bring a special someone or your longtime partner or your date. Bring your friend. Bring your (older) child or teen and share a new experience. Make an evening out of it, with a dinner out before or after. Read about the music beforehand if you want. Don’t if you don’t want to.
When you do join us, you’ll be part of a long history of humankind coming together to hear something special. Live classical music performances were once the places to see and be seen. People played music at home, and they attended music performances together in celebration, out of shared interest, or because a performer or composer had attracted a following.
We can still channel this excitement today. Simply put, there’s no right or wrong of ‘what or how’ when we speak of listening to classical music. The only wrong way is to not listen at all. At the core of it, there’s only our common experience as human beings. Bring yourself to the conversation. It’s three-way: between the composer, the artists, and the listener. We need you to make this special thing we call music. After all, if great music is performed by passionate artists, but no one is there to hear it, has any music been made at all?
Ask any working classical musician what the most difficult part of their work life is, and you’ll rarely hear about the music. In some ways (but not all), the music is the easy part. It’s the business of music that’s the hard part. This is because a working classical musician is much more than a professional performer. We’re entrepreneurs juggling multiple priorities and projects at once. As we like to say, our professional lives are where musicianship meets entrepreneurship.
Practicing is one part of the day
As students and young musicians, we think practicing is going to be the focus of our days. Here, the old saying “there are no shortcuts to the top” rings true: you simply have to put in the time to learn to play your instrument and to reach a level of mastery where the physicality of the instrument becomes secondary to your ability to express the music through it.
This takes years and years of solitary practice, of auditions and lessons and rehearsals and performances. And even once we attain mastery, we have to maintain it, which takes dedicated hours each day (a minimum of three for Debra and five for Paul). When we add rehearsing and teaching into our days, we might have our instruments in hand for seven, eight or even more hours.
Entrepreneurship in classical music
Classical musicians choose a number of paths to make a living in this profession. Some of us win jobs in symphony orchestras or opera orchestras. Many more of us, though, have built careers where we’re doing a number of things at once, from touring to teaching and recording, all while scanning the horizon for more opportunities—for next season and the future. This is when musicianship meets entrepreneurship, because being entrepreneurial is all about seeing an opportunity and putting yourself (and your music) in the right place at the right time. But it doesn’t happen alone. It takes careful observation and research, and lots of networking and creativity.
Sometimes opportunities find us, through referral or a past connection, but more often they come because we go out seeking them. Because of this reality, a day in the life of a classical musician starts to look a bit more like a day in the life of a sales and marketing professional. We’re looking for opportunities (in marketing they’d be called leads), and then we hope to strike up a conversation with the presenter or the performing space or the event director. We want to make a meaningful connection to the market that the presenting organization or event serves: the audience. Because a working classical musician lives in the present as well as in the future, this kind of activity is a constant for us. We’re living through today but we’re well into planning what’s on our schedules later in this season, the next, and the next after that.
We’re also juggling the day-to-day chaos as our schedules shift—something familiar to any entrepreneur. In non-COVID times, this might be because a student needed to move a lesson, or a rehearsal got rescheduled, or the sound check at a touring venue needs to be pushed back, or because our session at the recording studio was changed. Even the most organized among us can’t completely control the chaos, no matter how hard we try.
In addition to managing our daily and long-term schedules, we have to make time for marketing and communications (email inboxes, social media channels), administration (like reviewing contact details or negotiating payment), and planning (selecting repertoire, commissioning composers, and choosing the pieces for our next recording project).
Nothing compares to live music
Of course, this is the familiar rhythm of a life in music before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. For the last 15 months, though, we haven’t been able to be together with our listeners. The pandemic has silenced the world’s concert halls and opera halls. It’s emptied our performing spaces and put us all on Zoom. Simply put, the catastrophe of COVID has hit the performing arts, especially classical music, in devastating ways, from the loss of livelihood to the lack of human connection on which we musicians thrive. While today’s technology makes human connection in the time of COVID-19 possible in so many ways, it’s just not the same for music. You simply do not have the same experience as hearing music live, in a hushed and darkened concert hall.
This is what we live for, the moments of transcendence and magic that we can only share with our audiences live, in a concert. It’s what we wake up thinking about each day, and what we keep in mind as we work through the business of being a classical musician. It’s what we hope to share with each of you as we emerge from the last year into brighter days ahead. What’s the one thing about the last year we might hope to hold onto? More time to practice.
"You just had to BE there!" When words fall short to describe the experience, that's often what we say. How much more so when we're talking about classical music!
As the least tangible of the arts, music is truly gestalt. In a concert situation, it's all about the present! It's happening; the art is happening right then, right there, right now. As each note is played, it lasts only for its indicated length, and then it's gone...never to be heard quite the same way again.
When I practice, I like to strive to never play any one note the same way twice. Each and every note that appears in the score has its own raison d'etre...a special purpose that only it can fulfill. Each and every note has a unique relationship with its neighbors; those nestled beside it in the melody, and those supporting and surrounding it in the harmony. It's my job to discover the nature of those myriad relationships. My purpose is to give every note the life its composer imagined for it. That being said, how I understand the composer's intent is always going to be colored by my own mood, my own ideas, my own experiences. If I'm really able to be true to myself, I'll be in touch with all of that while remaining fully present in each musical moment. My moods, ideas, and experiences are always changing...and that's why my playing is always changing. Finally, when I have practiced sufficiently to feel I'm in some sort of meaningful communication with my composer, I have the awesome privilege to share that communication with yet another someone...my duo partner, Paul.
As musicians, Paul and I each spend hundreds of hours practicing in solitude. When the music starts to emerge and come alive, my experience is that it just longs to be heard by another set of ears. This is why it's always so exciting for Paul and me when we first start rehearsing a new program. It's the first time either of us have had the opportunity to share what's been happening in our respective practice rooms for all those many hours. Rehearsals present us with an altogether new experience of the music. Synergy emerges in all its glory. Because our pieces are so thinly scored, each of us has the opportunirty to express our own artistic experience of the music with a great deal of freedom. This new, three way conversation between composer, flutist and classical guitarist adds a whole new dimension that we discover and develop together at this stage. But while our rehearsals can be very musically satisfying, it's simply not meant to stop there.
The whole of any chamber music piece is far more lovely and profound than the mere sum of its parts. What audiences rarely realize is that they become an integral part of the musical experience specifically by virtue of their presence in the concert hall as listeners. Make no mistake...as performers, we are deeply tuned in to your energy at that moment in that space. There is a feedback loop of sorts that comes into play in the concert hall, creating a four way communication between the composer, each of us and you! The more of you that are present to listen, the more communication there is going on...yet, miraculously, while everyone hears and relates to the music a little bit differently, creating many kinds of "conversations," what ultimately emerges is a harmonious experience...a rich consonance that binds us all together in that time in that space. We care if you listen because you enhance our experience of the music, making it continuously fresh. We believe that for the listener, an audio recording serves merely as a reminder of the gestalt of the live concert. And when we record, we have to do so without benefit of your input!
Just two weeks ago, it was announced that scientists had at last beheld actual evidence of a gravitational wave, the existence of which had been predicted by Einstein's theory of relativity. This evidence has rocked the physics world, and is likely the most significant discovery in astronomy since E=mc2. This evidence was NOT visual...it was HEARD across the vastness of the Universe. In writing about this, Michael Daly of The Daily Beast wrote, "The cosmos are more fully heard than seen; sound tells you more than sight; the listener, not the beholder, is supreme." I think he makes a great case for the importance of listening to classical music! Ultimately, we can all be connected to one another, and to the Universe in all its vastness, in those moments of time spent together in the sacred space of the concert hall.