Day 115 – January 23rd – Learning it quickly

One of the big things I’m learning as part of this course is how to prepare a lot of music very quickly. Last weekend up in London I was telling a friend about all the studies we have to play each week, and then added that Thursday is repertoire and excerpts. She almost fell off her a chair!

While it’s not normally comfortable preparing this much music each week, I’m definitely getting much better at it. This week, however, is another step up again. Not only is Trevor applying pressure to me in particular with studies, we have the Fauré Fantasie on Thursday and then different repertoire for the masterclass on Friday. I’ve played the Fauré before, and so my main worry this morning was the Taffanel for Friday – the Scherzettino in particular needs to be fast and fluid despite some tricky finger passages.

This afternoon, though, I spent 45min working quite solidly on the Taffanel and already feel a lot better about it. I think that I’ve learned to isolate the passages that really need work, and also the type of work that’s needed, rather than assuming I need to spend hours on every last corner of a piece. In the Scherzettino, I need to spend more time on articulation in the theme, as well as some fingering bits at the end. The Andante Pastoral isn’t as hard as it looks – there are a couple of demi-semiquaver flourishes at the end that need a bit more time, but otherwise it’s basically counting and making sure that my ornaments in the poco piu mosso stay in time.

The other big factor in learning all the music quickly is definitely all the scales and finger exercises – my fingers fall into the patterns so much more easily now! The studies, though, are another story. They’re meant to be hard, to challenge both our technique and our musicality. Looks like they’re what I’ll be working on after piccolo class tomorrow!

Day 107 – January 15th – Back to Class

Though we started a little later than usual, it was back to class today now that Trevor’s on the mend. Having had the extra few days to practise, I was quite confident that I could present something a bit more polished than usual. I’d also taken some more time to focus on my recurring weak spots – dynamics and sloppy dotted rhythms in particular. Overall, my playing was quite good, dare I say a step up from previous weeks. In a nutshell, the feedback was:

Moyse 25, no. 4 – Good expression, good dynamics, but accompanying line wasn’t always even when oscillating between C and D.

Moyse 25, no. 5 – I’d tried to learn the notes to play quickly, rather than thinking about “following each note with the lips”. Back on the menu for next week, along with its partner study no.9.

Moyse 25, no. 6 and 7 – In character and expressive, though a little on the slow side. When I get faster, I need to remember to accent the first part of the beat rather than the triplet in no. 6.

Andersen no. 11 – A few wrong notes here and there, but expressive and even. A little more diminuendo on the last semiquaver of each beat would be good, but at least I wasn’t cutting them!

Altès no. 16 – Expressive, with a particularly good cadenza. I need to watch my trills, which were too fast for the character of the piece, and make sure that my crotchets in the opening melody “disappear into the silence” like a lifted violin note.

Altès no. 17 – Fine, though could have been faster (yes, I know I need to learn to tongue faster – doesn’t everyone?!)

Moyse 50 Variations – Having spent a lot of time on these this week, Trevor seemed much happier about how I was getting along with them. After a few outings, no. 5 was finally passed (jump for joy!), and nos. 9 and 11 were “perfect”. No. 10 was a little harder, and it took a few goes for me to make the difference between the melody line and accompanying parts big enough. I need to keep remembering that for everyone else to hear a big dynamic contrast I have to be making a really huge, supernatural-feeling difference between the loudest and softest notes. Finally, no. 12 was “a bit unstable” and is back on for next week.

I was rather hoping for a bit of chamber music this evening but nobody else seemed terribly interested, so I’ve spent the time working on my new website. Though it’s nowhere near complete, it might be worth taking a look!

Day 105 – January 13th – Even more time!

Though Trevor was kind enough to take us to Tesco this afternoon, he still sounded very croaky and class has been postponed until at least Thursday. Shopping was a good reason to get out of the house, and I’m also glad that we’ve now replenished the stock of fruit and veggies – we’d got to the point of the fridge being rather bare!

On one hand, a break from the relentlessness of classes has been good, and allowed me to spend a little more time on technique without worrying about all the studies to prepare. On the other hand, it means that I’ve ended up working myself really hard now for five days straight, and am rather in need of a bit of down time that doesn’t involve flute playing! On the days that we have class, there’s a bit of a mutual agreement that we don’t practice, and often there’s a bit of a group dinner. I’m not sure what’s happened in the last few days – maybe everyone’s got a bit of the January blues – but nobody was keen to play chamber music yesterday evening and everyone has kept to themselves all of the time. It felt like our little outing today was the first conversation I’d had in a while, and even that was rather subdued!

Looking on the bright side, I have the perfect remedy lined up for tomorrow evening when I’m off to see The Theory of Everything with wonderful Sue from Hastingleigh. I’ll certainly be packing tissues, and am looking forward to it immensely. Beyond that, I need to remember that reading, knitting and even watching TV are perfectly acceptable ways to spend the evening when my lips and/or brain gives out!

I returned to the Eb scales and thirds today, and am pleased to say that they’re maybe 5% better than yesterday. A small improvement, but hopefully if I keep chipping away at it they’ll be flying along in a week or so. The Taffanel and Gaubert-style regular scales certainly are, though majors are still a bit faster than the minors. Another exercise that I’ve been practising a bit lately is the Perpetuum Mobile studies at the back of Trevor’s Complete Daily Exercises book. He’s taken a devilish little orchestral solo from Strauss’s work by the same name and written four studies which transpose the pattern of the excerpt through all the keys. Apparently one year he had two students who memorised the whole thing in a week and played it flawlessly at a really fast speed! I’m not up to that yet, but have been slowly edging the metronome up and the fluency is slowly increasing.

Though our piccolo masterclass with Patricia Morris was cancelled on Sunday, Trevor’s hopeful that it’ll happen in the next week or so. He asked us to prepare a few studies and some excerpts but left it open as to how much we work on – I’m assuming because there will be vary levels of competency with the piccolo in the class group. For studies, I’ve chosen no. 8 from Moyse’s 24 Melodic Studies as it has quite a broad range and requires seamless movement between the registers. I’ve been working on a few studies from Patricia Morris’s Piccolo Study Book, and will certainly be ready to play no. 3 (Furstenau) but am not so sure whether no. 7 will be ready by the time she comes.

In terms of excerpts, I’ve set myself a bit of a challenge. Though my excerpts in regular class are far from perfect, they’re usually quite good, and I seem to have a pretty decent knowledge of the orchestral repertoire. So rather than preparing one or two excerpts, I though I’d have a crack at the audition list for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Piccolo job which was up for audition in December. There were eleven excerpts on piccolo, to which I’ve added the Ravel Ma mère l’oye piccolo excerpts (there were also flute ones listed). Looking down the list, I was pleasantly surprised that I knew most of then, and had played all but two before in various contexts. A couple of them – the dreaded Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 for example – will need a lot of work to get them up to speed, while others seemed to fall back under the fingers very naturally. Perhaps an ambitious goal considering everything else that I need to work on, but it feels like a good one and for the moment I’m quite enjoying it.

Right now, though, it’s time for a cup of chamomile tea, a book and bed!