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Elision: Caught in the Middle

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In my previous house I saw starlings in my yard now and then. According to Wikipedia, these are "...small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Sturnidae." At the time I didn't know what to call them, but I saw them all the time. Later I learned they were "starlings."

The same is true with "Elision." This is (among other things) a musical term, and it refers to a note that is shared as the last note of one phrase and the first note of the next phrase. For a piece written for strings or piano, there is no problem with breaths, but for wind instruments we usually need to grab some air between phrases. In arrangements/transcriptions the editor may have taken care of this for us already by leaving out a note in a place where it seems (to the editor, anyway) to cause the least harm to the music.

Above is a two-measure example of elision from my arrangement of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata. The blue arrow points to an F that is the last note of a phrase and the first note of the next phrase. For the performer, there is not a great place to take a breath. A couple measures before or a couple measures after the elision there is are places to breathe, and a player with very good breath control might be able to make it between those places. I could not, so I had to decide what to do. My decision was to ritard slightly during the triplet, then catch a short breath before the barline. That is not the only choice, but it was the most comfortable one for me.

When you encounter a passage like this where your air is not sufficient to carry you straight through, you should look at all the possibilities. Practice each one many times and make it work as well as you possibly can. (Sometimes when you first try the breath, it will seem awkward, but you may be able to perform it musically if you practice it.) Then choose the one that does the least harm. You also need to look at the whole piece and make this decision based on what will be the most consistent with the rest of the music and your interpretations.

Don't be discouraged if the answer is not obvious at first. There are a great many ways to approach these challenges, and finding a good solution is part of the path for our musical growth.

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