Borrowed from various American Indian traditions of “courting flutes,” FLUTING AROUND is a modern concerto for flute and orchestra. With a bit of humor, FLUTING AROUND celebrates the American Indian courting flute traditions, especially in the third movement, and illustrates that a challenging flute concerto can be both exhilarating and fun for audiences of any culture. FLUTING AROUND was funded in part by Margaret Cornils Luke in memory of her aunt Gertrude Cornils and in part by the College of Visual and Performing Arts of Northern Illinois University. Thanks to Pat Haran for providing the wooden flutes.
1) GOLDEN FLUTE. The movement’s title alludes to the orchestral flute that is made of metal. The movement follows a loose sonata form, with its classic orchestral opening, followed by two solo flute expositions, a development and recapitulation, a cadenza, and a final coda. What makes the music unique is the Native American musical ideas, such as the traditional descending melody line. Throughout the movement, the basic shape of the primary melody starts on the uppermost pitches, gradually falls to the lower ones, and finally rests on a repeating series of lower notes. In the first movement, however, the pace is quicker than the often soothing American Indian flute melodies, highlighting the versatility and virtuosity of the orchestral flute. The concerto opens with the timpanist and three percussionists simultaneously pounding on a single snare drum using powwow drum sticks, as if to signal Native American dancers into the powwow arena for “grand entry.”
2) WOODEN FLUTE. In movement two, a Native American wood flute (tuned in C minor), sings out a melody very reminiscent of a traditional indigenous song, with its customary falling melodic shape. The orchestration
is generally light and sparkling, interwoven with several moments of excitement to blanket the wooden flute in a warm supportive sound. A compelling focal point, toward the end, is the use of tree branch drumsticks on four big drums. Three bass drums (turned sideways) encircle the orchestra, along with the largest 32-inch drum of the timpani, to create a family of four big drums. This family-of-four symbolizes the “four directions” of many American Indian cosmologies, and alludes to thunder beings stomping across the clouds while engaged in a giant game of lacrosse as they hunt the great sky bear. In this quiet movement though, the four drums are played tenderly using tree branches that fall against the drum heads with a ceremonial swishing effect.
3) HONEY FLUTE. Movement three salutes the Indian “love flute” traditions employing a synonym of “sweetie” or “darling” for the monikered title. The flute soloist musically interacts — or flirts — with many instrumental suitors, including the horn, trombone, cello, tuba and piccolo. This humorous movement alludes to the concerto’s overall title, which nearly slips off the tongue as “flirting around” or “fooling around,” but in this instance is more accurately expressed as the irreproachable “fluting around.” As each flirtatious orchestral suitor vies for the soloist’s attention, the duets grow ever more passionate, leading to rivalries, jealousies, and the amorous quoting of established romantic refrains, such as Tchaikovsky‘s Romeo and Juliet Overture, Bizet’s Aragonaise from Carmen, and even a yearningly doe-eyed rendering of Chaminade’s Concertino on the G minor wood flute. A musical brawl almost erupts when the four big thunder drums start pounding out an escalating series of sonic booms. In a flash, the flautist grabs the reigns with a dashing run from the Concertino, taking command over the runaway performance. With most of the lovelorn challenges now resolved, the soloist and suitors pair off with an amicable dance of duets leading to the concerto’s final cadences.