Day 163 – March 12th – Lambs!

Spring in the woods

Spring in the woods

An extra day of grace due to cancelled class, I did a bit of relaxing and plenty of practice. In the afternoon I took myself off on a long walk down a path I haven’t explored before. It took me across the fields and through some lovely woodland, eventually joining up with the North Downs Way near Brabourne. Though I didn’t spot any daffodils (I think up on the hills it’s still a bit cold) but in the woods could see that things were starting to become very green.

On the way back I visited some of our farm’s lambs – suddenly there are so many! The oldest ones are already out in the field with their mums, and round in the barn there are pens full of them. With the window open, my practice has been accompanied by the call and answer of bleats for a few days now, but I was amazed to see just how quickly the numbers have multiplied. The lambs were gorgeous, white and fluffy with over-sized ears and feet. Most were full of energy, and already eagerly exploring both their new world and each other. For some of them, though, play was all a bit too much and a nap in the sun was more enticing.

DSCN6250I often find I have a really good practice day when class gets postponed, probably because all of a sudden the pressure is released and I can enjoy things a bit more. This morning, I returned to a technical exercise that has been frustrating me – Taffanel and Gaubert-style scales with mordants on the first and third semiquavers of the descents. I’m not sure whether it was the Altès mordant study I’ve been working on, or my greater relaxation, but the exercise has definitely improved. I’m playing it a lot faster, and most of the mordants are clean and correctly-placed – which just makes the errors more frustrating! If I slip up, I can feel my hands tense up in anticipation of another slip, exactly what I need not to do. Most of the problem areas are up in the third octave, where the trill fingerings aren’t second nature yet.

Lots of new families. The numbers are to match the ewes and lambs.

Lots of new families. The numbers are to match the ewes and lambs.

One of my big problems in class of late has been inconsistency of intonation. It’s something I need to fix, but also something that musicians aren’t terribly keen to talk about! Trevor isn’t being very helpful, just telling me to listen more rather than offering any suggestions for practice. While practicing with a tuner and recording myself (I’ve been doing both a couple of times a week) do help, I feel like this area of my playing has got worse since I’ve been here for two reasons. The first is that I’m now using a much bigger dynamic range and being more daring in my playing, rather than playing it safe. The second is that I’m rarely playing with other people, which I was doing a lot of this time last year.

I think one of the things I’m missing is that reference point of others to pitch off, and so have decided to do some practice with drones over the coming week rather than playing with a visual tuner. Rather than beating myself up about it, I need to work on finding a solution even when I’m not regularly playing chamber music.

Tomorrow we’re off up to London for the final Wibb masterclass of our stay, though I’ll try and go to a few more in the coming months if possible. Then it’s back to Hastingleigh for the final whist drive. Time does move on apace!

Bed time!

Bed time!

Day 157 – March 6th – Piccolo and the Pub

Another busy day and so another short post. This morning I was off bright and early to London to attend Peter Verhoyen’s piccolo masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music. It was great to watch, and I really felt like I learned a lot, especially about how to conceptualise piccolo differently to flute. The class finished at 1pm, and so I went for a wander down to Oxford St – more for a change of scenery than for any desire to go shopping! 

My friend Sherlock is down in Kent this weekend, and met me at Wye station. We had a walk in Wye nature reserve (chilly, but the view was worth it) before heading to the Three Bells Pub in Brabourne for dinner. All in all both a lovely and insightful day. There’s lots to practice tomorrow though! 

Day 129 – February 6th – Playing expressively

Quite a lot to write about what with yesterday’s trip up to London and class today, but now that I’ve spent a while on my review of the LSO concert it’s late again. I’ll try to keep things brief, get a good night’s sleep, and then write a longer post tomorrow!

Yesterday’s masterclass with Emily Beynon was really interesting, as much for just hearing some different musical opinions and ways of explaining things. It reminded me that I’m probably suffering a bit from Trevor fatigue, as in such an intensive environment his is the only voice giving feedback week after week. Emily Beynon talked a lot about musical story and character, and was adamant that every performer have a strong narrative in their mind for a piece. She wanted to be convinced by every note they played, and encouraged them to express their musical ideas verbally. I found her description of dynamics, vibrato and colour as being totally separate sliding dials quite useful.

Class today was back to Trevor, and as always had its ups and downs. As usual, I had a ‘solo’ turn at the warm-up tune, which Trevor made me play again and again asking me to ‘make a crescendo’. I was so tied up in the notes (yes, I got nervous again) that it took me several goes to get a suitable crescendo going. The thing that frustrated me was that he could see I was nervous, that that was the reason I couldn’t get notes and expression happening together, and yet he kept pushing. Clearly it’s all good training for more stressful future situations.

My rhythms in the first two movements of Dvorak 8 weren’t quite as solid as I’d though, and I earned a telling-off for totally re-composing the start of the solo in the second movement! Once I’d sorted the rhythms, though, I played expressively and eared some ‘very good’s here and there. Of the two repertoire pieces, I ended up playing the Gaubert Madrigal, which was also pronounced “some of the best you’ve played recently”. I still felt like a nervous wreck afterwards though, so calming down in class is very much a top priority.

Day 125 – February 2nd – Back on track?

After spending the weekend taking some time to de-stress and refocus, it was back to class again this morning. No snow, but the frozen fields and paths made the walk to Trevor’s much easier than when it’s wet and muddy.

I was expecting something of a tirade about my performance in Juliet’s class on Friday, but Trevor ended up being quite level-headed about it. We all had to reflect on our own playing and then give each other feedback, then Trevor went round and share his thoughts with us. He didn’t go into the nerves side of things (luckily I have some lovely friends elsewhere who are giving me some tips and ideas there), but did touch on the result of them. Yes, I had played some wrong rhythms, with some sloppy intonation, but he felt that the goal for me was still to focus on the music and being expressive rather than trying to be too analytical.

With that in mind, I launched into my offering of studies with beautiful music as the number one priority. Everything ended up going rather well, and apart from a few sharp notes my three Moyse studies were passed as “expressive and well-phrased”. The three Altes studies were also fine, and I was even a bit annoyed that Trevor made me skip bits of the Midsummer Night’s Dream arrangement – I’d practiced getting through the whole thing and then playing the solo beautifully at the end! However, I finished off by starting Andersen No. 13 rather too fast, and had to re-start at a slower tempo not once but twice. Better to do the Andersen studies solidly but a little more slowly, I think.

Some of us have now been prescribed yet more studies, this time by Drouet. Here, I’m really not sure what Trevor’s playing at, as they’re sight-readable and really rather boring harmonically. They were originally suggested for Shannon, and then Trevor dropped in an “oh, Naomi, you can do these as well, just power through them”. Challenge accepted, I’ll see how many I can learn for next week!

We don’t have another class until Friday, since we’re heading up to London on Thursday to watch the Emily Beynon masterclass at the Royal Academy, and then another LSO concert. I’ve tried to be good and get some of my flute history project done this evening, but am also thinking that Silent Witness in 15 minutes looks like a good wind-down.

Day 114 – January 22nd – Studies, studies and more studies

There were only five of us for class today, as it seems like colds are doing the rounds. So far I’ve been ok, and I’m hoping that it’ll stay that way!

As I said in my post yesterday, I was feeling a little trepidation about today’s studies, particularly the two Altès that I’ve spent a lot of time on. By contrast, I’d spent very little time on the Moyse studies, and (unfortunately) not as much as I should have Andersen No. 12! The results were interesting:

Moyse #5 and #9: Good following of notes with my lips, though both could have been faster. After no. 9 we talked a little about my needing to open up the tone in my top register. When I played the study again I did it with a lovely full tone, but need to be doing that all the time rather than just when prompted.

Moyse #8: “Lovely” – just get rid of a few wrong notes. I’d practiced this one a lot at the start of the week, but not in the last few days, and so just decided to go for it.

Then Trevor was a bit mean and made me sightread the next three studies so that he could show everyone what needed working on with them! It seems that he wants me to prepare all these in time for Monday which isn’t going to be much fun.

Andersen #12: Started out well but then I fell apart at the end of the B section where there were some particularly nasty leaps. Trevor didn’t seem terribly perturbed though, which was a bit strange. He just said ‘thank you’ and asked what was next – it seems he could tell I just hadn’t spent enough time on it. Looks like that’s back on for Monday, along with no. 13 which is a whole lot of chromatic scales.

Altès #18: “Some good things about this study, but you’re not bringing out the tune” sums this one up, and I agreed. I had spent so long on the notes and making sure that the articulation patterns were right that I hadn’t thought enough about musical direction. I need to play it again on Monday, which is a bit of a pain, but I do think I’ve learned a lot from this study.

Altès: #19: Fine, though I think Trevor would have liked it a little faster. I can play segments of it up to speed, but my tongue still feels like it’s going to fall off when I try to do a page of triple tonguing at crotchet =100!

Bach Variations #12 and #13: Ok but not tight enough…. I need to being doing little bits of this every day for a few minutes to get it tight enough.

Bach Variations #14 and #15: Trevor seemed quite pleased with these, but then tried to push and see how expressively I could play. The challenge with all these studies is achieving the articulation challenges as well as making them sound musical, and I was almost there with both. A case of attention to detail and then forgetting it and letting the music come through.

With regular class as well as the two masterclasses, we still have five to prepare for in the two weeks. Trevor’s solution to this is to set us even more work, and has asked us to write a cadenza for the first movement of Mozart’s G major flute concerto as well for next Thursday. Looks like I’m spending the evening working!