Day 170 – March 19th – Half-cooked

Today we were all back to practice, having been a bit here and there in the past few days. Class tomorrow is going to be orchestral excerpts and studies, and I’m rather hoping that I’ll play quite a few of the former and very few of the latter.

I’ve rather shot myself in the foot with studies because I haven’t been terribly consistent practising them over the past few days. I’ll do some good work one day, then leave them and do other things like writing my paper and sorting out things after the course the next. So I have quite a lot of studies that are half-cooked and just about nothing that is going to sound really polished in class. Good lesson – don’t bite of a lot unless I plan to chew it properly!

A part of me wishes that our time here had ended after yesterday and the school concert. It would have been good to go out on such a positive note, and to remind ourselves of the greater purpose of music to communicate to audiences. I’m struggling to stay in the mindset of life here, and am certainly ready for my upcoming holiday!

Day 154 – March 3rd – Playing Slowly

I can’t admit to having done terribly much practice today, only about three hours. After a gloomy, wet morning, the spring sun can out and was beckoning me outside. I went for a run after lunch, and did the whole loop round to the church, up into Hastingleigh and back to Elmsted. For weeks now I’ve been on the lookout for daffodils, and up in Hastingleigh one or two are just starting to flower. There are great banks of green stalks poised and ready, so very soon there will be a sea of little yellow trumpets. The sights of daffodils evokes really strong memories of my childhood here in England, and I’m excited to see them all flowering again. The others probably think my enthusiasm is a bit crazy!

Rather than play through all the technical exercises at speed, I decided to back off the pace today and work through fewer things really slowly. Trevor always advocates learning things quickly. His preferred method for the Andersen studies is learning small fragments at the correct tempo and then putting them together, rather than learning the notes slowly and then increasing the speed. I can see the logic in this – we’re working on sightreading and musicality at the same time as learning the notes, whereas slow note bashing can often sound rather wooden.

However, today I was playing through technical exercises that I know I can play much faster. I wanted to refocus a bit on sound, and on playing strong, clean notes rather than always sitting on the edge of what I can manage. I wanted to have time to notice things about my playing. The exercise worked; while I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of technical work, I really enjoyed the practice.

What did I notice?

I noticed that my sound, though rather varied of late, has become much bigger. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether it’s going backwards and becoming less focused, but now I think that might be part of the process of it opening out a bit more. I noticed that I’m still tending to cover the embouchure hole more that I should in the low register, particularly when I’m descending from something higher. I think this feels safe and produces something that sounds big from my perspective, but sounds weaker to a listener.

I also noticed that my fingers feel cleaner when I play slowly. I don’t lift them as high as six months ago, nor do I move them about nearly as much when they’re in the air. I noticed that my sensitivity to intonation had improved a lot, thought it’s still not where I’d like it to be. I still tend to think of out of tune notes as having a different colour rather than sharp or flat – which is probably why I often struggle with identifying them as either sharp or flat to correct! However, I also noticed that I’m intrinsically correcting them more, probably because the tendencies of certain notes have been drilled in so consistently!

It’s definitely a different sort of practice to what I’ve been doing lately, and one that I think needs to happen more often. If not here, then when I have some time after Trevor’s course. It’s also much more intensive in its own way, and I found that my concentration wavered after only fifteen or twenty minutes. Plenty to think on!

Day 150 – February 27th – Copland

Just a short one tonight as it’s all of a sudden late and I’m tired. We had our masterclass with Juliet Edwards today, and overall I was quite happy with my playing. Not perfect, but definitely a reminder that proper preparation and practice is much better than faffing about! I recorded the class, and need to make sure I find time to listen to it in the next couple of days.

Next week has suddenly¬†become quite busy, and so there isn’t much time off in the coming days. Better get some sleep!