Day 179 &180 – March 28th & 29th – Final Feedback

I didn’t manage a blog post yesterday because I ended up staying in Wye for the night with Mum and her friends. As there isn’t much fluting to report any more, I feel ok with combining two posts!

Yesterday morning was feedback class. To be honest, I was expecting some sort of pronouncement on whether Trevor thought we should continue with the flute or give up entirely, as there stories of that happening in the past. It was actually quite civilised and, by the flute studio standards, gentle. Not much was really said that we hadn’t heard before, and it was mostly us who gave each other feedback rather than Trevor.

My main points were:

– Fix vibrato, as it’s to fast and erratic. I’ve known this from the beginning of the course, and know that I need to go back to basics, starting with straight tones for a few weeks and then gradually adding vibrato back in. A few of us got this advice, and were told it would be some of the worst few weeks of our playing, but that the it would work to fix it. The coming months, when I don’t have performances but will have time to practise, is a perfect opportunity to do this, and it will be first on my priority list once I’m back into it again.

– Fix intonation, which is not consistent. This is an interesting one: I have always felt and been told that intonation is a weakness, but when I arrived at the studio in October no mention of it was made at all for the first month. When I brought it up one class, Trevor went as far as expressing surprise that I said it was a problem. Then it has gradually crept back into the feedback I get, and if late (as the nerves have escalated), it has been on the cards more and more. So, I think part of it is to do with nerves, and I need to find a way of controlling my intonation even when nervous. I also need to go back to some basics here, spend more time playing with drones and working on simple tunes and exercises, with piano wherever possible. I still see this as my biggest musical challenge, and the time here has helped to clarify that.

– Relax about things, which I definitely agree with! I play best when I’m a bit up but not terrified, and when I am nervous I do really stupid things like warming up in the wrong key and playing strange wrong notes. Hopefully moving on from this environment will help with the nerves, but I need to work on focused, mindful playing in a broader sense as well.

Otherwise, the feedback I received from the others was mostly positive. I was told I had improved a lot with expression and dynamic range, and need to continue along that path rather than going back to how I played before. I have stopped waving my flute around, and also stopped playing unevenly, which is also good. Interestingly, no other mention was made of rhythm, or at all of articulation. I know that these are two areas that aren’t totally solid, and still need work. Articulation in particular. I’m looking forward to returning to Moyse’s 50 Variations and really playing each variation well.

As for today, I’ve been packing and need to do some more cleaning. I’m still not convinced everything will fit in my rucksack, but am getting somewhere!

Day 177 – March 26th – Tim Tams

Another short one, as I’m getting a bit fed up with things to write long posts. Mum came bearing Tim Tams, which I shared with the class over lunch.

DSCN6274Otherwise, we got our projects back, rather earlier than expected. Surprise, surprise, Trevor was critical of mine, this time because it was “written for children”. Considering that for part one I wasn’t writing with children in mind, I would have thought this might be a compliment, but apparently not. Otherwise, information was good and the pictures were fine, so I wonder whether he was just finding something to say?

I finished the book of Altès studies in class, but felt like I rather limped over the line. I got through it, but with no finesse or enjoyment, and dropped notes because I was nervous. Despite really liking the Muthel sonata, I also played that nervously and with little enjoyment. I’m quite happy for today to have (hopefully) been the last day of playing classes, and am ready for the next step of my musical life.

On the up side, it’s now confirmed that I’m going back to the SoundSCAPE Festival in Italy this summer, which is very exciting. Bring on awesome contemporary chamber music!

Day 135 – February 12th – Mixed Bag

Class today has some distinct ups and downs, but I have learned something important. My nerves are definitely in relation to things that I feel aren’t solid, such as repertoire I’ve prepared quickly. When I’m confident in my abilities, I can overcome the nerves and actually use them to my advantage.

Warm-ups went well in terms of memory, but I struggled with a rather simple tune that Trevor played and then immediately wanted me to copy “with expression”. I panicked over the notes, and so didn’t do a crescendo as he wanted. Once he started berating my for failing to produce the crescendo, I got progressively more flustered.

Fast forward to orchestral excerpts, and I played both the Thieving Magpie and St John Passion excerpts expressively and without any mistakes. The only comment was that I needed to start my crescendos softer in Thieving Magpie. As I said in yesterday’s post, I worked a lot on both excerpts. But I can’t do that volume of work on everything.

The Godard Suite de Trois Morceaux was a similarly mixed bag. While I played the first two movements expressively and with a good memory for what Trevor had told others before me, I also played too many wrong notes and got flustered about relatively minor things. I didn’t play the movements one after the other, as several of us played each and then we moved on. After the Allegretto, I tried to calm down a bit before the Idylle, which was somewhat successful, but I still didn’t play it brilliantly. Neither movement is terribly hard, and by lunch time I was feeling rather frustrated with myself.

In the afternoon, I wasn’t expecting to play the Valse as well, but when few others volunteered I got up again. I’ve played the movement a few times before, but hadn’t done a huge amount of practice on it this week. So, as with Madrigal last week, I just played with my heart and tried to embrace the nerves. And the result was quite good!

So I think the question for contemplation this weekend is how to practice in a way that makes things feel more solid in a shorter time.

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 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.