Although the weather outside is frightful, the thought of programming spring recitals is delightful. Many of us have experienced the joy, stress, confusion, and panic of choosing repertoire for a recital. It was always helpful when a teacher guided our programming, but now that the decisions are all our own, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed. Personally, there are so many pieces that I want to play that decisions come down to programming and accompanist availability and willingness to work their fingers to the bone. There is no shortage of great works for piccolo and the ones featured here are just a few of
Three Sketches for Piccolo and Piano by Katherine Hoover was commissioned by the National Flute Association and was premiered by Walfrid Kujala and Walter Morales in 2004. The first movement, Dusk, is an extended cadenza in which both instruments work closely, sometimes with no specific meter. Hide and Seek, the brief second movement, also features close imitation. Danza completes the set with intricate syncopated rhythms, often tricky to coordinate between piccolo and piano. In one section, the pianist acts as percussionist, knocking out a rhythm on wood. This piece is fun to play and very approachable for most players. It could definitely serve as an anchor piece on a recital.
Sonatine pour Flûte piccolo et Piano by Jindřich Feld is a challenging, substantial work in a traditional format. It is physically demanding, utilizing the entire range of the instrument. Titanium lips are required for the first note of the entire work, a high Bb, followed by endless articulated passages. This piece requires accurate rhythm, and meter changes keep things interesting. The balance between the piccolo and piano can be difficult at times, but Feld negotiates the beautiful tonal nuances of the piccolo in all ranges. Sonatine was commissioned in 2005 by Carl David Hall (Principal Piccolo/Third Flute for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra), Jan Smith (Assistant Principal Flute in the St. Louis Symphony), and Regina Helcher (Charleston Symphony and Chair of the Piccolo Commissioning Consortium).
Death Whistle by Nicole Chamberlain, a newer work for solo piccolo, was commissioned by Dr. Elizabeth Robinson. Nicole Chamberlain is a fast-rising composer whose body of work is growing in popularity. Her works utilize contemporary techniques to explore the entire color palette available to modern players. She brings tongue-in-cheek humor and her highly developed sense of musicality to all her works. I am definitely a fan! This particular work pokes fun at the notorious instrument emphasized by the movement names; Ear Knife, Ballistophobia, #PiccolOhMyGod. I had the pleasure of performing on a concert at the 2018 NFA convention which included hearing this work performed by Dr. Robinson, whose performance was confident and humorous and completely embodied the spirit of the piece. This work is a must play for any serious piccolo player. If you have ever been harassed for intonation issues or been the center of a piccolo joke, this piece is for you! This work is difficult, to say the least, but I have no doubt it will become a regular feature of piccolo repertoire in the future
If you like a challenge and have never considered extended techniques on piccolo, (yes, on piccolo!) then Lachrymose for Solo Piccolo by Derek Charke is an incredible piece. I played this work on my final doctoral recital. I chose the work because after hearing my friend Christy Beard perform it, I was in love. I worried a bit about the audience reaction and how the piece would be received, but following the recital, it was by far the most liked piece on the program. This speaks volumes for the piece and the composer’s use of techniques and understanding of the piccolo. This piece was written for Chenoa Anderson, dedicated to Debbie Smythe, and premiered in February of 2006 by Chenoa Anderson. The piece uses “proportional notation” which allows the performer to adapt the performance to the space. Charke uses silence, singing and playing, harmonics, double trills, timbral trills, and utilizes the entire range of the piccolo. This work is not for the faint of heart but it is definitely worth the work. I am not a fan of many works that utilize extended techniques, but this is an exception for sure. I love this piece!
Duets are always fun to play and there is nothing I love more than collaborating with colleagues. I may be partial (I co-commissioned the work) but one of my all-time favorite pieces is Echoes of Narcissus for Two Piccolos and Piano by Melvin Lauf, Jr. This work is based on the Greek mythology of Narcissus, a hunter known for his beauty. He fell in love with his own reflection, and not being able to look away, wasted away and died. The important aspect of this work is the sum of the parts. Individually, the parts may not make sense but they fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The challenges of balance and tuning make the piece difficult but worth the end result. The effect and mood that the ensemble creates tell a beautiful but sad story. This piece was premiered on the “Yahtzee” concert at the 2012 NFA convention by myself, my co-commissioner Laura Benning and pianist, Dr. Joyce Wang.
If you are just looking for something fun to program that is always a crowd pleaser, I highly recommend any of the numerous polkas. Many of these polkas are from the Golden Age of the piccolo (circa 1890-1928). These tunes showcased the piccolo as a virtuosic solo instrument during the rise in popularity of concert bands like the Sousa Band. There are many of these tunes available in publication, but one of my favorites is The Wren Polka (La Roitelet) Eugene Damaré. Many of these polkas are available for piccolo and piano with parts available for piccolo and concert band. These are challenging but fun to play and audiences still adore them. They are wonderful pieces and a great way to end a concert or recital.
Repertoire choices can be some of the most stressful decisions we make, more so than the actual performance. We must find a balance between our passion, our desire, our ability, our time and in some cases, meeting degree requirements. I encourage everyone to explore repertoire, both new and old. We spend hours and hours searching out pieces to perform. Step out of your comfort zone and open your mind to the possibility of something new and different. Just remember, sometimes the piece chooses the player.