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Tom Ottar Andreassen

Following the article in the Pan Journal on the development of the Classical music business in the virtual world and on social networking sites our amazing editor Camilla Marchant (who is also an amazing flute player), Pasha Mansurov (the engineer behind the website and the videos) and Michael Cox wrote this article on how Principal Chairs is helping to bring the Classical music industry into the 21st Century.

Flute student at the Royal College of Music, London.

Like most students, I often find it difficult to keep my practice productive when I have not had a flute lesson for a while, such as over the long summer holidays. Many teachers have suggested listening to recordings of my repertoire by different artists, or following a structured scale and exercise regime such as that of Marcel Moyse. I have had some success with these methods, but after a couple of weeks I sometimes find myself lacking the inspiration that drives us all. As part of the Principal Chairs team, I have been trialling the site as part of my practice sessions and I have found it a much more interactive and engaging alternative that you may also wish to try. Principal Chairs is an online educational resource that provides in-depth video masterclasses with internationally-acclaimed orchestral flautists on essential audition repertoire. During the summer months it can provide a more affordable alternative to summer schools which allows you to work at your own pace, wherever you are, over a prolonged period.

I personally found Principal Chairs extremely helpful in the weeks and months prior to an orchestral exam as it helped me feel thoroughly prepared, especially regarding the context and orchestral setting of the excerpts. The videos have also proved helpful in preparing me for freelance orchestral concerts, the repertoire for which I had to prepare independently and in addition to my college work. I believe it can help many students like me to sustain their motivation and encourage focused practice with a determined direction when teachers may not be available to assist them, as well as providing a wealth of additional information to supplement regular tuition.

In the U.K we are fortunate enough to have a wealth of highly experienced and distinguished flute players to aspire to. However not everyone has access to the high level of tuition that these flautists can provide. When a single lesson with a top flautist can cost upwards of £100, a price exacerbated by travel costs, this type of education is simply not even a possibility for many of us. I personally struggled with this dilemma and prior to attending RCM was only able to have one flute lesson a month. Through online resources such as Principal Chairs, this coveted expertise becomes attainable for many more aspiring flute players. For a small annual subscription you gain access to the library of over 100 videos! The relatively low cost means that this resource is readily accessible for many more people. Principal Chairs has certainly opened my eyes to a world of new ideas that I would not have been able to afford to seek out independently. It has been a privilege to work with Michael for over 40 hours of recording sessions over the last few months, and to be able to help him document his vast orchestral knowledge has been a unique experience. It is only because of Michael’s generosity with his time that Principal Chairs can offer such a high level of tuition for such an affordable rate. I, for one, will take full advantage of this wealth of information and I hope that many others will wish to do the same.

Freelance Flautist.

For those of you who are, like me, hoping to break onto the orchestral scene, the internet is an essential for keeping you in the loop regarding orchestral vacancies. Indeed Principal Chairs will help you to keep in mind the purpose of your hours of excerpt practice thanks to its comprehensive Jobs Page with links directly from set audition repertoire to relevant videos. We all know that it is essential for orchestral applicants to know the orchestral context, the harmony, the setting, and the meaning of the excerpt that they are playing in order to stand out from the crowd. Yet still for many of us, practice takes priority over this fundamental research. This type of information has been readily available for decades in libraries of scores, recordings, composers’ biographies and analytical papers, but seeking this information can be time consuming. I have found it incredibly useful to now have all of this information at my fingertips on one website. In the video-masterclasses on Principal Chairs the artists go into great detail over the harmonic setting of the excerpts and share both their own opinion about the implied characters of the pieces, and the composer’s intention. In the increasingly competitive industry of classical music, giving a harmonically, structurally and historically informed performance can give the performer a crucial advantage.

An intriguing aspect of today’s online tuition is the availability of a diverse range of professional opinions. I believe that one does not need to stick to one strict school of teaching, but can gather inspiration from various sources. Hopefully you will arrive at your own conclusion regarding the ideal performance of a piece, having been inspired by numerous artists. At present Principal Chairs has masterclasses with Michael Cox, Emily Beynon, Patricia Morris, Katherine Bryan, and will soon have videos with Andre Oliva, an outstanding Italian Flautist whom some of you may have seen performing in the Proms with the St. Cecilia Orchestra of Rome. With this eclectic mix of opinions I hope you will stay inspired too.

I would like to mention that this project would not have been possible without the relentless commitment and unwavering support of our Principal Chairs Artist in Residence and Co-Founder Michael Cox. We are extremely fortunate, as flute players, to have such iconic musicians and teachers ready to help us, but it is rare for an artist of Michael’s calibre to have the drive to commit the time out of their overloaded schedule, in order to help young flute players world-wide.

Michael Cox:
Principal Flute –
BBC Symphony Orchestra
London Sinfonietta
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Professor of flute –
Royal Academy of Music  

I spent my childhood in Africa and, perhaps because of this, I have always been particularly enthused by the idea of making good quality tuition easily available to everyone. The Internet provides the opportunity of doing this, not just in the developed world, but globally. We are really very fortunate indeed in having an extraordinary abundance of fine teaching in the UK. By contrast there is seriously limited access to high level tuition, or tuition that students feel fulfils their needs, in some of the countries that I have visited. Worse still is that there are plenty of places with no high level musical tuition at all.

It has been really heart-warming to be of some little help working with students both at home and in many different circumstances internationally, so when Pasha Mansurov floated the idea of setting up Principal Chairs as a wide-ranging and thorough resource of orchestral knowledge I was delighted to come on board as their frontman. It is very much typical of the ethos of the site that Pasha set the whole thing up (and dedicated months of work to it) not with the aim of financial gain, but with the hope of helping many people. It is the primary ambition and drive of all of us at Principal Chairs that an abundance of students will benefit and be enriched in terms of their playing, musicianship, outlook, preparation for auditions, and their musical career by the site. The incredible thirst for knowledge I’ve encountered on my travels is nothing short of humbling, so I am grateful to Pasha and the Principal Chairs team for giving me the opportunity to, in some part, help slake this thirst. It feels satisfyingly worthwhile work.

Often after masterclasses I feel a sense of a job only partly done. This is largely due to the inherent time constraints of the format. Teachers after classes will often be faced with eager-faced, young players queuing for answers, direction and cures. There is only so much one can cover in a masterclass, a lesson or even in a day, and so I often regret having to leave students without thoroughly full, complete answers. With Principal Chairs I now feel I can do my bit towards leaving them with a compendious body of information that can last them enduringly and, all being well, help to inspire and nourish all those bright and ambitious artists out there. While the site is obviously geared towards success in orchestral auditions, my contribution to the site includes as much information on my philosophy to all aspects of playing as it does to the excerpts it deals with, and aims to be both thought-provoking and musically challenging.

I cross my fingers that people find the resource as useful and excellent as we feel it to be. The initial response has been very encouraging! For one thing, subscription to the site seems almost ludicrously good value when compared to the price of a single flute lesson!

Try it for yourself and join the flute community at: www.principalchairs.com

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