Jaimie Lee Mendoes - flute expert

How to play Syrinx by Debussy

Learn a basic, yet powerful approach to the famous flute piece by Debussy

In this video, our flute expert Jaimie Lee Mendoes, gives you a useful and easy-to-understand approach to the most known flute piece by Debussy: Syrinx.

Released on May 4, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello everyone, this is Jaimie Lee Mendoes, the flute expert on Virtualsheetmusic.com. Today, we are going to talk about Syrinx by Claude Debussy.

This is one of the most popular pieces on flute players not only because of its beautiful melodies, but also because of the convenience of not needing a piano accompaniment.

A couple of year ago, I performed this piece at a beautiful church here in Los Angeles with great acoustics and beautiful stained glasses.

At that time, I decided to perform this piece off-stage since that's how Debussy wanted this piece to be performed, and that's how it was performed in his time.
I programmed this piece as the first piece of the second half, and so I started the second half behind the stage, performing this piece.

Later on, I got great feedback from a lot of people who were in the audience. They said they were just mesmerized by the piece. They didn't know where the sound was coming from.

So the enchanting aspect, the element this piece already has, I think was enhanced by that kind of staging.

If you have any chance to perform this piece in the future, I suggest you try something like that. Debussy actually hated the fact that people thought he was an impressionist. He also didn't like the fact that a lot of people tried to interpret his music withtheir likings.

So he was very diligent about putting a lot of tempo markings and specific directions as to how to play his music.

I think as a performer, it is very important to honor what the composer had envisioned for a specific, for each piece that he wrote.

Let's talk about the tempo first, the beginning tempo. It says, "Tres modere." It means with a moderate tempo. Now, a moderate tempo could mean something different for everybody. But I think it should be something that has room to be sped up or to be slowed down, because we have a little faster and rebuttal section coming up later.

So, I would pick a tempo something like this.

To me, that is a moderate tempo with a little bit of a flexibility to play with.

Think about what's a good tempo for you. I think what's important is, it shouldn't be too slow or too fast.

Another thing about Debussy's music is that even though he was French, he really didn't like how French people played his music. He wanted his music to be just very straightforward. Nothing too weak or too air-y sounding. So don't be afraid to play his music, especially the Syrinx, which is unaccompanied piece, with full power, full vibrato and that luscious and rich sound.

Now, we have the next section which says "Un peu mouvemente" with "mais tres peu" in parenthesis.

Now that means moving a little bit, so speed up just a little bit. But in parenthesis, it says, "Very little." So don't speed up too much, but just a little bit.

I think that would mean something like this. Let me demonstrate just a little bit before this section so you know what it means by speeding just a little bit.

I hope that was clear, and I hope that you caught the fact that I actually did a lot of ritardando the major before this section. Because there is retenu marking there, which means holding back. So you want to think of it as fermata or ritardando marking there.

So you move that way. To me, that section symbolizes Pan, the god of wildlife. Pan chasing down Syrinx asking for her love, and Syrinx running away from him because she wasn't really interested in him.

Then, we have that "cedez" part, and it goes to rubato. You want to slow it down a little bit there, and then of course rubato section, we want to really take advantage of that tempo and bring out that rich and a bold sound there.

Play with the tempo as much as you like, especially in this section. Then we have these trills, and then we go back to the original tempo. So there is a move, that marking.

Then in parenthesis, it says tres modere. Basically, he wants that beginning tempo, tempo one, basically.

Then, important thing is actually the end, the very end. It has some interesting markings.

Here we have, in the very last system, here we have, "Hold back until the end." Retenu jusqu'a la fin. Please don't mind my French, but it basically means, "Hold back until the very end." So that means from then on, we want to resist the fact that we want to maybe go faster or we want to go, go, go and then end the piece.

It almost has to have a feeling that you don't want to end this piece. Then of course, it goes to tres retenu, means, "Hold back very, very much. A lot."

So you want this to be something that's very, very slow process, of gradual diminishing. Not only in the volume, but also in the feeling as well. So that it maintains that mysterious vibe that this piece has throughout.

Well, I hope it was a helpful video for you, and at least, I hope that this video helped you to think just a little bit differently about Debussy and this piece, Syrinx.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave down below, not on YouTube, on Virtualsheetmusic.com website.

Also, you can also reach me on my website, Mrsflute.com. Then I hope you have a great May, and I'll see you in June.
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Andy * VSM MEMBER * on May 27, 2016 @12:36 am PST
Thank you for this,I enjoyed your representation of Debussy as a rigorous individual. Do you have any comments about Edgard Varese' solo "platinum" flute piece?
Liz MacDiarmid * VSM MEMBER * on May 4, 2016 @4:02 pm PST
That was really helpful I learnt a great deal from it and enjoyed listening to your sensitive playing. Thank-you.
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