Thursday, July 29, 2010

Circular Breathing, Human Qualities, and Not Bugging Your Listeners

Martin Schuring, Associate Professor of Music, Arizona State University (2007)

"Circular breathing is an essential part of oboe technique. Everyone who has learned the technique will never give it up. However, circular breathing is regarded with suspicion by some, who regard it as a virtuoso party trick that distorts the natural human qualities of music. So, it is important not to use it in that way. Circular breathing is not really intended to increase the distance between breathing points. Rather, it is a wonderful technique that can enhance playing and increase comfort. Increased comfort gives increased endurance, more stability, better tone quality, and less tension.

"There are two elements to the technique. You must be able to "spit" air through the reed rather than blowing. And, you must be able to breathe in and out through your nose while spitting the air in your mouth...."

I see circular breathing - sustaining a note with air stored in the cheeks rather than direct from the lungs - as a difficult-to-master technique which enhances a performance.

I'll admit to a bias. I've sat through a fair number of recitals with a whole lot of "natural human qualities." Like the pianist who grunted on roughly every third note: loudly enough to be heard ten rows back. The fellow with a woodwind who vocalized each time he inhaled. Not so loudly - but imagine Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" punctuated by an inhaled "AAAAH!" every few measures.

I'll take my music without quite so many "human" elements, thank you.

Still, Schuring has a point: any technique can be misused. Including keeping time and playing on-key, I suppose.

Here's another page on circular breathing, from the same institution, but by a different person:

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