Video transcript
The Swans of Lir

>> Back to video

[intro music]

SUSAN: We're going to play now 'The Swans of Lir,' which is a piece that we originally played for a festival a number of years ago, and it was a real favourite. So this piece is, actually, written for recorder ensemble and string ensemble by Stephen Chin. And we are using it again to teach for this year. So in 'The Swans of Lir,' I'll be playing the discant 1 part.

MICHAELA: I will be playing the discant 2 part.

HANS: Here is the treble 1.

PRESENTER 1: And treble 2.

PRESENTER 2: And the tenor part.

PRESENTER 3: And, finally, the bass recorder.

PRESENTER 4: And I'll be playing the piano melody.

SUSAN: So because this piece takes off at a very cracking rate halfway through, we're going to play a very slow version of it for you. But just as a little bit of background, 'The Swans of Lir' is a folk tale about a group of children who are turned into swans by a wicked witch, of course. There's always a wicked witch in these stories.

And they're sailing around on a lake. And then, predictably, they're woken up, and they turn back into the children that they once were. And that's the second half of the piece. So that's the rejoicing.

So we're going to play the rejoicing now at a very, very slow rate-- in fact, half the speed that it will go, eventually. So you'll hear that it sounds a little bit-- loses a little bit of its character, and we may find it dragging a little bit. But this is just a slow version for you to practise along with with your students.

[music - stephen chin, 'the swans of lir']

So for the discant 1 part in 'The Swans of Lir,' everything goes along swimmingly. And we are playing in unison with the discant 2's quite a lot of the time until we get to section R, and that's quite tricky. So from R to S, we're playing up in the high register of the recorder and playing a line down quite quickly and also C-sharps.

So I'm just going to play that section for you because this section should be isolated and practised in isolation to all the other parts and slowly for the discant 1's. So this is letter R, and I'll do it slowly.

[playing notes]

F-sharp.

[playing notes]

F-sharp.

[playing notes]

So you can give that section to your students as a practise point and give them the challenge of learning that and perhaps even recording themselves playing it back to you for reinforcement of those high notes crossing the break from the high F-sharp to E to D across here.

[playing notes]

Bit tricky. The children should be able to manage it, but it will need special practise. Also, at letter M, that's when we start introducing the high notes, so--

[playing notes]

High G, high F-sharp, high E, always remembering to vent the back hole, not pinch. Just open the back hole the smallest little amount. Tongue firmly, and those notes should speak quite well. Good luck.

MICHAELA: Now, looking at the discant 2 part, as Susan said, we are playing in unison a lot of the time with the discant 1's. So one thing that we can be careful about is to not overblow. There's no pressure to create a lot of sound from the discant 2's because we have the support of the discant 1's, as well. So, yeah, one thing to really focus on is not overblowing.

We will also look at R because that's a tricky spot, similarly to discant 1's. We have syncopation here. So we are starting with a quaver beat on the downbeat. So that's a little bit tricky.

And one way to teach it to your students might be through aural learning-- so clapping the rhythm and singing it rather than talking too much about the theory behind it. It's good just to get a sound of it in your ear and teaching it that way. So I'll play that for you.

And if we just look carefully at the third bar of R, we have an accidental C-sharp. So that's like an A, and we take our thumb off. So have a listen to R.

[playing notes]

And other than that, everything's very repetitive. So once you learn something once, it comes back many other times, which is really helpful for teaching your students.

HANS: Thank you, Michaela. Treble 1 part-- it's quite difficult in terms of achieving a smooth breath. So you need to be very careful, A, of course, to get everybody to sit still and to breathe well and to hold the breath all the way through those beautiful phrases.

I use a technique which I call the stand mullet technique, which is, you take a very quick breath and you hold very still. And from that stand mullet moment, it's very easy to actually breathe out calmly. So when you get to the first part--

[playing notes]

--it should be easy to get through. One point for breathing, after letter B in the fourth bar, which is bar 16, I prefer to breathe after the first B.

[playing notes]

So you make that note a little bit shorter and breathe after that. The same would happen after letter J. The rest is fairly straightforward. Make sure that you don't play the notes full length, especially if there's a minim after a crotchet rest, for example, at letter E. 1--

[playing notes]

1--

[playing notes]

1--

[playing notes]

So, again, it pays to actually take a breath on that crotchet. For the solo after letter G and, also, for the fast part, The Rejoicing, when you get those low notes-- those high notes to play-- sorry-- then make sure that you, yes, you vent the thumb, but absolutely do not press the front fingers because then you won't get the notes out.

If you keep the fingers really loose, almost as if they are leaking, it's very easy to play.

[playing notes]

Whereas if you squeeze--

[playing notes]

--they're really hard to get. OK, for The Rejoicing, mainly what we are dealing with is repeated notes. So it's not a matter of moving your fingers fast, but moving your tongues fast. So you basically play--

[playing notes]

And then you repeat.

[playing notes]

If you just think of the slower version where you hold a low E and then go to these notes, E, A, B, then it's much easier to do. Also, when you get-- and remember the loose fingers to the high D in bar 31.

[playing notes]

I would practise--

[playing notes]

--before you play all the notes. You probably saw me opening my mouth.

[playing notes]

Which is good to keep smooth and relaxed. When you then speed it up--

[playing notes]

--you can play really beautifully-tongued fast notes without getting tense, and that's the main problem here. The rhythm at R needs a bit of attention.

[playing notes]

Again, the syncopations work best if you don't play the notes too long so that you don't drag--

[playing notes]

--but keep it nice and relaxed and short. That's it for treble 1. There's a lot of challenges in there, but don't be afraid. Play the repeated notes as long notes, and they won't be half as scary.

PRESENTER 1: And for the treble 2, lots of what Hans said, actually, for treble 1 applies to treble 2, also. So when you've got some faster notes, some quavers at letter C, for example, it's a good idea to practise those as longer notes, as well, before adding your tongue in.

At letter E, there is a section at letter E where we have a C-sharp accidental, which on alto is these two, these two, and we need a half hole down here, just for tuning. So when you get there, watch out for that C-sharp. And then in the following bar, it turns back into a C natural. So just keep an eye out for that.

And then in The Rejoicing, I wanted to mention that in letter N, where we have two bars rest and then some music, we're actually playing with the discant 2 part. So listen out for the discant 2's, and they will be playing with you. And there's a nice swapping thing that happens there with treble 1 and tenor and treble two and discant.

There was one more thing. So we also have that rhythm in the second half of R. So at bar 57, we want to make sure that we've got a quaver on that first beat in that syncopated rhythm. So that might be a good four bars for the treble 2's to practise by themselves.

Other than that, in the last couple of lines, we have lots of repeated notes. So when you have repeated notes that are quavers, especially, just separate them a tiny bit just so we can hear the rhythm so from bar 81--

[playing notes]

--just that little bit of separation. So we're not accenting them like a staccato. We're just separating those notes a little bit so that we can hear that they're different notes. And that's it for the treble 2 part.

PRESENTER 2: In the tenor part in The Rejoicing at letter P, we have a part where we go from A up to high E. And this also happens at the end when we go from E to B.

So just be careful just to roll your thumb back like that so that that makes that nice-- that transition from our top E to A or top E to B-- sorry-- top E to B nice and smooth. And you could practise that very slowly.

[playing notes]

Or from the E to the B.

[playing notes]

And it's just a very nice, gentle roll there. You get the melody, tenors, at letter Q, so make sure you practise that part. That's really nice for the tenors to get the melody for a change.

And we do have the question and answer part at letter N, which is really nice. So you get the answering. And, also, at letter F, you get the melody. And I think that part's with the discant 1, as well.

So just remember that C-sharp fingering that we've all been talking about. Looks like A, but take your thumb off. So make sure you learn that part at letter F because that's a really nice legato section. And that's your little feature, so enjoy it.

PRESENTER 3: And then for our bass part, your lungs are going to get a good workout with all of your long notes in, especially, the andante section or the first half of this piece. And I want you to try and aim to see if you can hold your breath and play a four-bar phrase without taking a breath.

So definitely don't take a breath on each bar because then you're going to find that it starts to sound choppy because you've got a very long melody line. So if you start breaking up every note, it's not going to make sense. So first try and see if you can get through two bars in one breath, and then try and aim to get through four bars in one breath when you're playing.

You have a little C-sharp that pops up in letter E, so make sure you are putting down 1, 2 on the top hand-- 1, 2 and half. So try and make sure that this finger comes down because, as we mentioned before, with both G-sharps or C-sharps, depending what instrument you're playing, it does make the instrument go out of tune if you don't put that finger on.

So you've got C-sharp to B, so it is a little bit of moving there. Don't think you need to take that finger off to go down to the B. It slides down. So you've got C-sharp, B.

So that's in the third bar of letter E. So that might be one little fingering there that you need to look at. And, finally, just on your articulations for letter P, you have a (SINGING) A, E, A. Make sure that the E doesn't pop out too loud, because it's easy because it's a nice comfortable note to make it loud. So keep that nice and soft so it doesn't stick out.

And then you have accents in letter R, which is where we want to play nice and strong. But it's on your weakest note-- on a B. So you might have it-- think of a nice, strong tongue, but don't emphasise it with your breath because it's just going to make a crack or a squeaky sound. So, yeah, so control your breath all through that.

And when you're taking a breath, make sure your diaphragm-- or feel like your tummy is coming out when you take a big breath. [inhales]. If your shoulders come up, we're not using the right part of our lungs. So when you take a breath-- and this goes for everyone-- feel if your tummy is popping out. And then we know we're taking nice, deep breaths, and we're not going to get all tense in our shoulders.

SUSAN: We hope that these teaching points have been useful for you and that you use these videos that we're making to reinforce your teaching with the children. The children will be able to look at themselves at home, too, and play along with the teaching of these pieces. And we really look forward to hearing your feedback about how you're going with teaching this music to your students.


End of transcript