Ten Weeks Out from Wye

I have been meaning for a while now to write a reflection on the Flute Studio course with a bit of distance. There was meant to be one after a month, then after two, and now I find myself at the point of ten weeks after finishing. Life has certainly taken on a different pace, and flute practice is now once again one of many things I’m doing. Nevertheless, I think it’s a good point to reflect on what I’ve taken away from the course and where I’m headed now.

At the beginning of April, once the course had ended, I went to France with mum for two weeks, then up to Grimsby to visit my family. While it felt odd to suddenly be catapulted back into ‘real’ life and not to touch my flute for two weeks, I think it was really important to leave it alone for a while. As I’m sure some of my final posts show, I finished the course rather frustrated, and more likely to be nervous and anxious about my playing than to be enjoying it. The break gave me time to reset, to think about other things (including a fair share of other arts and culture) and remember why I wanted to play flute for me.

In my final months in the UK, I’m doing a part-time internship as well as working on flute. Despite this, I’ve been sending off some audition CDs/DVDs, taking lessons with Carla Rees and preparing for the SoundSCAPE Festival in July. It’s busy, but I’m enjoying having the diversity of musical activities again. I’ve also been doing most of my practice in the local church, which is a lovely space with no distractions (apart from the odd visitor) whatsoever.

I’m still structuring my practice in the way that we were taught at the studio. Tune first, then moving into Reichert and technical exercises. Playing tunes in the church is great as I really need to play with a big sound to fill the space. Though there isn’t always as much time to spend on technical work as there was in Kent, I’m finding that the break actually helped a lot of it! All the exercises I memorised are still there, and even some of the ones I struggled with on the course are now improving a lot. I do, however, need to be more diligent with fitting in finger exercises each day. They often get left out in favour of more urgent things.

I do still need to remind myself to play really expressively and with a big dynamic range. Particularly when I’m a bit tired, I tend to regress back to mono-dynamic, less expressive (it’s not expressionless, and I don’t believe ever was) playing, and I do need to keep a check on that. Recording myself a lot has also helped with this – if it isn’t happening from the back row of the church, the it isn’t enough!

In terms of studies, I”m now working through the Boehm Op. 26 Caprices. Mostly, they’re not as note-heavy as the Andersen studies, and I’m focusing on expression and attention to details. I’m also revisiting some of the Moyse 25 as needed for specific areas of weakness. In particular, I’ve been having a bit of a crackdown on double and triple tonguing.

Intonation and vibrato are the two things that were specifically pointed out to me in our final feedback session. I’ve been trying to come at intonation from lots of different angles: interval exercises with a drone (the Maquarre book is great here), playing sections of pieces with a tuner, recording myself a lot. I’m also finding that a return to singing and playing is helping. As for vibrato…it’s still a work in progress. For my first week back at practice, I played straight tones only, and it almost drove me insane. Then I started doing exercises varying the number of oscillations per second, which is also a recipe for insanity. I think my awareness and control of vibrato is confusing, but I do find that it is still going haywire when I get tense for some reason. So still some work to do in that department.

Most importantly, I am enjoying practising again. At the end of the course, it worried me that the six months had killed my enjoyment of playing the flute, and it most certainly hasn’t. If anything, everything else I’m doing means that I now value my practice time a great deal. I’m looking forward to all the things that are coming in the next few months, and enjoying playing everything from Bach to Boulez.

Day 139 – February 16th – Studies and more studies

Once again a mixed bag in studies class today. I started out by accidentally modulating in the warm-up tune The Ash Grove, which wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm but got through the rest of the morning unscathed.

Rather unusually, I ended up playing last in the day. They Moyse studies were ok but not fantastic, and Trevor spent quite a bit of time analysing my articulation. On the up side, it was analysis along the lines of making my tongue move faster and not solving rhythmic problems. Andersen No. 14 went down quite well, and while I thought it was a bit harsh to say that it was the “first time in four months” I’d used dynamics, at least they were heard. Altès No. 23 started off too slowly, which was a pain. The Altès studies are duets and Trevor plays the second part. I spent most of the first two pages trying to push the tempo to the one I’d learned it at, but clearly wasn’t communicating this well or something, so then got a ticking off about starting too slowly.

Finally, the Drouet studies. No. 6 was fine, then No. 7 a disaster because I started out too slowly and Trevor was decidedly unimpressed. Things went downhill from there, and while I was allowed to play both No. 7 (at the correct tempo) and No. 8 (another slow study) everything was commented on venomously.

As always, I have to learn from the mistakes and comments, and also work with renewed vigor on my articulation this week. However, it is a little disheartening when I know I’ve done a lot of hard work, and the final impression of the class is once again a negative one.

Day 111 – January 19th – Tunes and more tunes

I haven’t left much time to write tonight’s post, and should be heading off to be ready for another trip up to London tomorrow. This time we’re off to William Bennet’s masterclass for the day, and I’m hoping to gain as much inspiration from it as I did at the London Symphony Orchestra’s concert last night!

Today’s class has a few ups and downs. A distinct down was when we were talking about practice schedules, and Trevor honed in on my playing of tunes. I’m starting every day with a tune, and no matter what he may think am working to play it expressively and with feeling and dynamics. All of a sudden in class I had to stand up and give him a demonstration. And another, and another. I think I ended up playing seven or so different tunes, most of which he seemed to quite like. It just so happened that the one I started off with he didn’t know, and then the next one that I landed on I wasn’t as sure of the notes as I wanted to be! So then he went off on a tangent about me trying too hard to play from memory! It got to the point that I felt like no matter what I did I couldn’t win, and I just wanted to sit down and let him focus on someone else for a while!

Once we got past that, I ended up playing quite well. My first B in Debussy’s En Bateau was flat, and earned a bit of a lecture, but otherwise the excerpt went quite well. I also played the second movement of Lennox Berkeley’s Sonatina, in a way that earned the comment “very nice, lovely control”, which made me quite pleased.

I can’t let these rants get to me!

Day 69 – December 8th – Phrasing and rhythm

I had been steeling myself for another day of not being able to do anything right in class today, but things ended up going surprisingly well. My goal was to always play with the biggest dynamic range I could possibly muster, but otherwise to not think too much about rules and just enjoy the music. The results were:

Moyse #16: C#s are too sharp, then a couple of picky comments about phrasing when I did sections of it again. The variation wasn’t quite so good, added the high C#s was a need to bring out the first not more clearly.

Moyse #17: Started too fast, and so had the pleasure of repeating strings of chromatics for the class for five minutes. Then played it fine, and Trevor conceded that I’d just started too fast.

Moyse #18: Yes, I ended up playing three… I need to work on staccato low notes, which wasn’t news to me at all. Double tonguing needs to be louder.

Andersen #8: Good, I just need to play staccatos shorter. This was my big win for the day – I had really put a lot of time and thought into the phrasing, dynamics and make sure I didn’t clip phrases. Yay for improvement!

Altes #9: Some parts nicely phrased and expressive, others a bit flat. Yes…those bits were where there were lots of notes!

Moyse 50 Variations on Bach A minor #2: “Perfect” when I played it a little under tempo (yay!) but then when I upped the speed a little I wasn’t playing my semiquavers totally evenly.

Jazz Study #1: I don’t remember the composer of these, and my photocopy doesn’t have the name. I ended up making a bit of a pig’s ear of this, as I didn’t realise there was a backing track, and so hadn’t quite practised it fast enough. Trevor didn’t comment on my rhythm here, but I need to hold notes longer before glissandos, and make sure to observe staccatos.

Later this evening Trevor sent me an email about other things, but finished off with this comment:

“I thought the phrasing of your studies was better, and it improves each week.
Just fix the rhythms and it will sound much nicer.”


Day 55 – November 24th – A change of outlook

For a few days now, I’ve been mulling over some feeling of frustration with myself and the course. Some of them are unavoidable, but frustrations with my lack of progress in some areas of classwork need to be changed and I think I’ve worked out the solution.

I think I’ve had the idea in my head that by the end of my time here all aspects of my playing need to be ‘perfect’, and as a result am really down on myself if I don’t see improvements from lesson to lesson. The reality is that in an environment such as this I am going to improve a lot, and already have. However, music is never perfect and nor should it be. By thinking in this way, I’ve failed to see some of the changes that have already taken place, and probably played worse in class on several occasions as well.

So today I went into class trying to keep this in mind; I’ve improved a lot already, I’m working hard, and I’m also on a path for which there is never really an ‘end’ per say. Some things still weren’t amazing, but I was surprised by how much a positive outlook did improve things. Reichert still needs work, but I got through the major/minor scales plus shortened Reichert quite well at Trevor’s brisk speeds. My sequences were congratulated on being much improved since last week.

Unfortunately Altès studies still need a bit or work, with the dotted rhythms in no. 6 still giving me a bit of a headache. However, the Andersen study went well, and I now have a much clearer idea on how to fix the Altès. After focusing on expression in Moyse Little Melodic Study No. 13, the exercises instead became about dynamics, with Trevor asking me to play it fortissimo. Point taken, I still need to remember to play with a bigger dynamic range!

This evening the temperature dropped to around three degrees, and our walk back from the Old Dairy was chilly even with scarves and gloves. The sky, though, was stunning – cloudless and expansive, it twinkled with a patchwork of stars, and the Milky Way cut a streak right through the centre. It reminded me just how little of it I’ve seen living in Melbourne, and just how much there is beyond that isn’t visible to the naked eye.