August 2017 Convention
Minneapolis, MN

Masterclass with Marco Granados

Abby Easterling, Marco Granados, and Jenna Marie Warfield.


Marco Granados taught one of two masterclasses featuring winners of the Masterclass Performers Competition. Three of the six winners performed with pianist Dianne Frazier in an engaging and informative session. Granados was calm, gentle, and kind as he worked with the performers, and his comments tended to focus on more abstract aspects of playing such as support, using the air, and interpretation/phrasing.

Nicholas Buonanni played “Ballade” by Reinecke. Granados’s initial comments were “beautiful sound, beautiful spin, beautiful phrasing,” but he suggested that Buonanni could expand the dynamic range and improve his support. “Support is a structural thing,” Granados said. “Because of the open-ended nature of our instrument, what are we supporting? The steady air flow, not the air pressure.”

Granados connected the idea of support with using the air to expand the dynamic range. He included concrete, practical things we can do to create better air flow, such as the position of the tongue and the size of the aperture. “The tongue is right in the middle. We have to be aware of that. Get the tongue out of the way for forte. When we play soft dynamics, we think we have to be small and be more closed. Try slowing the air so you don’t have to close so much.”

Granados made an interesting comment regarding the marking of dynamics in music. “When we look at a piece of music, we are looking at a suggestion, because it is impossible to mark every second we are playing.” In other words, the dynamic markings are there as a guideline, but we must fill in the spaces between the markings. There will be subtle ups and downs as the music evolves and moves through the phrases.

Closely intertwined with support, use of air, and dynamics is the use of vibrato—an expressive tool but merely a fluctuation of air. “Like in singing, when you commit to being more open and expressive, what is happening?” Granados asked. “Vibrato. Adjust vibrato to match the dynamics.”

Granados referred to size of aperture. “When we play soft dynamics….adjust vibrato to match…feel more supple. When you open and play louder, what should happen with the vibrato? Get slower.” His final statement tied everything together: “Technically, by following the aperture and controlling the air, the intonation is controlled and gives a proper musical experience.

Abby Easterling played the third movement of the Franck Sonata in A Major. Granados noted that she had a nice sound, good gauge, and flexibility with her embouchure.

He then asked her, “What things come to mind for this piece? Ideas?” Easterling noted that that there is sadness, intensity, passion in the sadness, and remembrance at the end. Granados’s purpose here was to focus on what is going on musically that needs to be projected in the performance. “When we practice, acknowledge what is actually going on. Then we can begin tweaking and working on things.” Granados acknowledged the difficulty of changing old habits: “Sometimes when we tell our brains not to do something, that is what we end up doing…like little kids.”

Nicholas Buonanni with Granados.

photo by Brian Covington

Granados worked with Easterling on breathing and “engaging her core” to achieve longer phrasing, better (and softer) breaths, and better sound.

“When we engage our core, the breath is lower and softer,” he said. “The sound is more focused, rounder, has more ring, and is more grounded. Without engaging the core, the breath is noisier and higher.”

The Franck is full of long, slow lines and phrases that require lots of air. “How do you manage phrasing over long, slow lines so that the air doesn’t get away from you? Engage the core, breathe, then follow with the core through the phrase.” Granados’s final suggestion to add the last finishing touch was to tailor the vibrato to the color itself for a musically satisfying performance.

A performance of the first movement of the Liebermann Sonata by Jenna Marie Warfield rounded out the class. Granados approached his work with Warfield a bit differently than with the other two. He listened to the opening and then stopped her to work on a few areas, primarily the use of air, size of aperture, and use of dynamics, all of which are connected and dependent on each other. He commented that “the flute is a ‘flow-based’ instrument rather than ‘pressure-based’. The oboe and clarinet are pressure-based. On reed instruments, they gauge their sound a lot by the reed. On the flute, the sound is gauged by the amount of air going through the flute.”

Granados encouraged Warfield to move chunks of air—lots of air—through her flute. His goal was to elicit bigger fortissimo in her playing. To do this, he said she needed to be more open with the embouchure. He also recommended at one point that she tongue a little farther back to slow down the air a bit and to keep from closing up.

As with Easterling, Granados also worked with Warfield on engaging her core as she played. “Flute players are like singers,” he said. “Engage the core, follow the core, and, like singers, keep the rib cage expanded. Do not squeeze or collapse because that creates tension.”

Granados asked for assistance from someone in the audience and had her place her hands on each side of Warfield’s rib cage while standing behind her, just barely touching. As Warfield breathed in, her rib cage expanded so she could feel the hands. As she played, Granados asked her not to let the rib cage collapse, but to keep it engaged.

Granados’s low-key teaching style was refreshing and created a relaxed, positive atmosphere. Performers were well-prepared, NFA pianist Frazier was impeccable as always, and Granados’s positive and constructive comments were well-received by audience and performers alike.

—Rebecca Hovan