Day 124 – February 1st – Spong Wood

Another day without an evening walk as Trevor is’t totally sure he’s over his laryngitis. I took advantage of clear skies in the afternoon to go off on a cross-country de-stress ramble, and came across Spong Wood quite by accident down a winding track. Carol, my landlady told me about the wood way back in September, but never told me exactly how to get there. Though terribly wet and muddy, it’s a lovely little pocket of English woodland magic. The trees (are they hazel?) grow outwards from the base, creating a dense and twisted canopy even in winter, and the ground was covered in moss and fallen leaves. The path would open out into clearings before plunging back into the foliage, and I was certainly the only person there. Sheltered from the wind, I wandered about happily for an hour, though always with half an eye out for something to leap out of the trees (and perhaps a fairytale!) at me.

Tomorrow marks a return to the Practice Book 6 exercises in our rotation of finger exercises, and as usual I gave myself a day’s head start. I was quite surprised to find that exercises A to D were speeding along much more quickly than last time I practiced them. The last metronome marking I’ve got cross out in my book (I write them in a line above the exercise) is crotchet = 126, and my memory if it a month ago was one of decided discomfort. However, when I turned the metronome up to 128 today, the exercises still felt easy!

Studies are less wonderful. Both Altes no. 20 and 21, as well as Andersen no. 13 are getting there and by the end of a twenty-minute session sound good. The problem is that I when I come back to them, my fingers have forgotten some of what I’d done previously. I need to keep working on methods for really getting them into the fingers for good, but it’s tricky when there is such a quick turn-around time.

January ArtStart Reflection

I think it’s a good idea to write a short reflection each month on what I’ve achieved with my 2015 ArtStart grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. While my main focus for the moment is the flute studio course, I’ve already started the ball rolling with a few other things as well:

– Most importantly, I submitted my application to the Bang on a Can Summer Festival on January 15th. A trip to the US in July/August to attend the festival, take some lessons and attend the National Flute Convention was a central element of my grant proposal. I was happy with the application, but can never know who else is applying. I find out whether I’m going in early March.

– I started work on my website, which is very exciting. So far, I’ve done most of the written content and had a bit of a play around with design. My lovely friend Matt has been doing some of the trickier bits. While we’ve managed to embed a twitter feed, we’re still working on getting this blog as part of the website, as well as sorting out bits and pieces of back end design. I also need to go back over my performance videos and recordings to decide which ones I really want to put up. Rather than just making the website about my flute playing, I’m keen for it to reflect the range of things I do in music, writing and radio.

– I joined ArtsHub for the year. I put this on my application both to look at the range of arts jobs available and to have access to various resources and articles on work in the arts industry. The jobs board hasn’t been amazing so far – more targeted towards arts admin jobs – but the articles have been interesting.

– I’ve downloaded Max 7, a program which allows me to generate electronics patches. Following the Blackbirdwhich was written for my final MMus recital by the lovely Andrew Aronowicz, used Max for the electronics component, and I’m keen to use it further in creative and collaborative projects. But firstly, I need to learn how to use it… cue tutorial videos!

– I’ve looked into the small business management course I want to do following my time here in Kent. Still need to book though.

– And finally, I’ve made trips up to London to attend masterclasses and concerts. Once my budget was all planned out, I had about $120 left over, and so decided that it could support travel up to London while I’m here. While my 16-25 railcard is a big help, trains in the UK are still expensive!

So far I feel like I’m on track to complete all my ArtStart grant activities, though there is a lot of work ahead. More importantly, though, there is a lot of artistic growth to look forward to.

Day 123 – January 31st – Two Thirds

The last day of January marks two thirds of the way through the flute studio course! A little more if we’re splitting hairs, since February is short. After a rather turbulent January with classes being shifted around, lots of trips up to London and then a particularly crazy last two weeks, today was a good moment to stop and collect myself a little in preparation for the remaining two months. In aid of that, I took myself off on a long and blustery walk across the Downs this afternoon. It was chilly, and the melted snow made for very soggy ground, but there is something wonderful about squelching through mud. I got back just as it began to snow again, and had a lovely practice session while watching the farm outside turn white!

After the last few days of particularly noticing nervousness and tension, my goal today was to practice well and without tension. I think that in my panic to get things prepared this last week, I’ve tended to note bash, learning in mistakes and then tension associated with them. Not good at all. Anyway, hopefully now that I’m a little more aware of what I’m doing, I can stop doing it an practice a little better.

I’m preparing Andersen No. 13 for Monday, which is a chromatic study with the odd whole tone put in for good measure (to trip us up!). After doing so much practice of patterns and scales, I am noticing that much more of these studies falls under the fingers easily. I suppose that’s why this one feels so devilish – I fall into the pattern and then it changes.

I’m supposed to be doing Altes No. 20 and 21 for Monday, but keep jumping ahead and practising no. 22 as well. It’s a duet arrangement of the Mendelssohn Scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I really enjoy playing it. Getting through the whole thing is a tongue stamina challenge rather than (apart from one or two tricky passages) any problem of notes. The first flute part (which I play) doesn’t get the main solo until the very end, after seven pages of double tonguing, and the challenge is to make it still sound fresh, clear and bouncy. I’d like to think I can manage all three studies for class, but we’ll see how things go tomorrow.

Day 122 – January 30th – Snow and Frustration

Snowy downs

Snowy downs

This morning I woke to the first proper snowfall; white fields and hedgerows. Despite the cold, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk to class and could almost have passed Trevor’s house by and carried on!

I rather surprised myself in the warm-up by getting through almost all of the proposed exercises from memory without slips. Of particular note, I was asked to play ‘solo’ scales round the circle of fifths (C major, A melodic minor, F major etc.) with Trevor beating a rather brisk time all the way. Only two slips, and interestingly neither of them in tricky keys! I also managed the arpeggios on page 96 of Complete Daily Exercises all the way up to Ab without any significant slips, and it was playing them once through as well.

Snowy downs

Snowy downs

However, my performance in the masterclass proper didn’t go brilliantly. I started the Taffanel Andante Pastoral too slowly, and despite feeling like I’d put a lot of work into the character of the piece, was told that I was playing in quite an insular, nervous way. By the time we got to the Scherzettino, I just wanted to sit down, and dropped quite a lot of notes. Apparently that was better, though, because I was feeling the rhythm more! I recorded the class, and so need to sit down in a couple of days time and process all the information again.

There was a general sigh of relief this evening, as we’ve made it to the end of a very hectic two weeks. Though there are studies anew to prepare for Monday, we had a bit of a night off, watched some truly awful American TV and played the board game Frustration!

Day 121 – January 29th – Nerves

I didn’t have a great day today. Little by little, I feel like I’ve been becoming more nervous in classes, and this week it’s been particularly bad. It’s frustrating, because I know that I’m improving in the practice room and what I can do there, but can’t seem to reproduce that in front of the class.

Things started out quite well, and for the first time ever my starting tune was passed without criticism. But then Trevor went off on a tangent on intonation for a while, using me as the teaching demonstration. This unnerved me, and I ended up playing both my orchestral extract The Banks of the Green Willow and the Faure some way below par. In the Butterley, the nerves manifested themselves as shaky vibrato and wandering pitch, and in the Faure a lot of missed noted. I feel like I need to find some time to chat with Trevor about the nerves, because I don’t think they’re helping matters at all, and at the moment he’s making me feel like I can’t do anything right no matter how much I practice. However, he keeps cancelling our evening walks, and the opportune moment isn’t presenting itself.

Hopefully after tomorrow’s masterclass I can relax a bit more.