Day 174 – March 23rd – Daffodils

These were always my favourite daffodils as a child!

These were always my favourite daffodils as a child!

I’ve been meaning to go and take some more photos of the beautiful Kentish Downs for a a few days now – spring is well and truly here and it is gorgeous. Today was stunning, and I took advantage of an early end to class to go on a long walk up across the fields to Bodsham. My strongest memories of England as a child were of spring, particularly the hoards of daffodils that covered the village. Today’s walk didn’t disappoint!

Class itself went quite well. I’ve always enjoyed the way that Trevor teaches Baroque music, and once again felt like I learned an awful lot from the lesson on the Telemann sonatas. We talked a lot about trills (which must always be measured), but also about ornamentation in a broader sense and relative tempos between movements.

DSCN6264Then came Syrinx, which we were all a little nervous about. We had heard some stories from past students about Trevor being rather picky with this piece, and not liking the way that anyone played it! So we had all been slaving away with a metronome to make sure that everything was correct. It didn’t turn out too badly, though the session did start with us each getting up one after the other and playing it through. My feedback was that I was “slurring all the way through” (so not articulating clearly), that I wasn’t doing all the subito pianos, and that my rhythm was wrong in the second theme. Fair enough, especially with the second theme. I was being rather too enthusiastic with my rubato, and the second and third beats of the bar were almost the same as the first. Whoops!

Trevor went on to tell us about the history of the piece, its writing for the play Psyche, and its performances by Louis Fleury and Marcel Moyse. Originally the piece was called La Flûte de Pan, but the publisher already had a piano piece by that name and didn’t want to confuse his customers.Trevor talked about the ideas he sees in the music, and the way that it reflects the story of Pan in Psyche – it is his last reflection before he dies, and perhaps a remembrance of all the pretty girls he has pursued! Then some of us got up and worked on it a little more. Once again, I felt I learned an awful lot from this session, and it has inspired me to work on the piece again in the near future.

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More lambs – they’re everywhere now. This pair were definitely twins. They moved as one, and were quite inquisitive.

Finally, we talked through Trevor’s method books for teaching beginners,and a little of our own teaching experiences. Though the topic isn’t top of my priority list, it’s all good to know.

Back to my walk, and in some ways I’m sorry to be leaving Kent just as spring arrives. While there have been many frustrations about my time here, I have also enjoyed the head space. Before coming away, I would rarely have gone on a long walk just for the sake of it, mostly because I just kept filling my time! Here, I have been on numerous long rambles across the countryside, exploring just about every road, laneway and footpath I could find (along with a couple of un-marked fields) in the area around Elmsted. It has given me time to think, and hopefully also to grow.

Day 151 – February 28th – Five out of Six!

The last day of February makes it five months down and only one to go. I meant to write a slightly longer reflection on how the past five months have gone, but then got caught up with my ArtStart reflection, so might save that for another day. The next month is going to go quickly; we have a little concert at Bodsham primary school on March 18th, our second flute history project is due on the 25th, Julie Wright is coming to give us a class on teaching this Wednesday and there are two more masterclasses to attend up in London. Next weekend, a friend is down from London, and we’re going to do some proper hiking either on the Downs or along the coast at Dover.

Trevor dropped off our parts for the Bodsham concert this afternoon, and there are a few notes to be learned there. I’d already spent two hours on studies by the time the parts came, so didn’t manage more than a quick read-through this evening, but will dive into them tomorrow morning.

Following yesterday’s class I was feeling a little flat again this morning. A long run (before the heavy rain started) helped, but I have found over the past week that I’m increasingly feeling the need for some flute-free time. Friends are wonderful, and several have reminded me that my time here is both a unique experience and a unique learning opportunity. Yes, it’s full-on, and certainly not easy, but I need to make sure I get the most out of the month I have left.

Day 140 – February 17th – Pancakes

I feel like there have been a lot of ‘light’ practice days of late! Today was no exception, though I’m sure I could have fitted more in if I really wanted to. After our Tesco and Wye bakery (it seems to be becoming a regular!) trip this morning, I did a rather reduced technique session before diving into the repertoire and excerpts for this week. As it’s Chinese New Year on Thursday, we have class tomorrow and then dinner at Trevor’s on Thursday. So I’m quite happy that I know Messiaen’s Merle Noir inside out and didn’t need to spend today cramming notes!

I played Merle Noir as the final piece on my masters recital back in July 2014, and it’s interesting to return once again to my very favourite piece of flute music. While my memory of the masters performance is one of exhilaration, there are bits of the recording that I’m retrospectively not terribly happy with. Why not have a listen? While it’s technically ‘correct’, and the faster passages are quite sparkly, the two cadenzas sound rather flat and as if I’m still thinking about the notes. I can certainly tell what Trevor means about dynamics – they’re not really there. Also, the fluttertongue notes don’t go anywhere, they just hang as a buzzing mass of sound. That said, I do rather like the way I played the presque lent, tendre sections (the ones with piano that don’t feel like they’re in a normal time signature) – I really wanted something a bit sparse, almost icy.

In my practice today, I focused on two things: getting the last section up to the speed it was in my recital (with all the grace notes nice and short!), and trying to achieve a more expressive, exciting rendition of the cadenzas. Hopefully I succeeded! I have a feeling that tomorrow’s topic for discussion in the cadenzas will be rhythmic accuracy no matter what.

As for the excerpts, we have Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide and Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, two incredibly different pieces of music. In the Rossini, I worked on getting everything really crisp and clear, with (hopefully) a nice bounce in the triplets. I spent a lot of time setting and maintaining a tempo, making sure that each bar was rhythmically accurate within that. And, of course, I made sure that all my dynamics were big and rich, and that I was being expressive and communicating something. Not much time to prepare, but hopefully I’m armed and ready for tomorrow.

In the evening, I walked up to Hastingleigh village hall with Shannon and Alyssa for pancakes! It’s Shrove Tuesday, and the village had a pancake party with three pancakes (and sweet or savoury toppings) for two pounds fifty. They were doing a roaring trade, and it was nice to have a chat with some of the villagers as well. We went for a short walk with a rather jovial Trevor afterwards.

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 51 – November 20th – Day Off

Sheep and a sunset from my run this afternoon.

Sheep and a sunset from my run this afternoon.

After a busy day yesterday, there seemed to be a general consensus that today was a day off, or a day off practising at least. Even at the best of times, I’m not good at doing total relaxation, and so still managed to fit in a long run, baking flapjack and doing some of my written project. This evening, we all snuggled up in the ‘old dairy’ for a session of knitting and sewing accompanied by some well-earned bottles of cider. It was great to have a day (the first in a while) that didn’t involve playing, and I have to credit the others for suggesting it. I would probably just have plowed on regardless! Hopefully the rest will make for some renewed vigor in practice tomorrow.

As for yesterday’s class with Juliet Edwards, I feel like I learned a lot from the experience and from working with her in such an environment. We had been preparing our pieces for a few weeks, but had mostly chosen works that we hadn’t studied or performed before. Mine was the first movement of Poulenc’s Sonata, and others prepared movements of the Burton Sonatina, Schumann’s Three Romances and Enescu’s Cantabile et Presto. Trevor warned us that Juliet would expect us to know the piano part very well, and I had spent quite a bit of time on it as a result. Some of the class struggled getting their work together with piano, and a lot of Juliet’s feedback was on rhythm and understanding why rhythmic integrity (and occasionally flexibility) was important.

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Somewhat hazy, but I’m still in love with these Kentish sunsets!

My main point was also on rhythm, as I’d decided to play the opening demi-semiquavers of the movement with quite a bit of rubato. Fine, said Juliet, if that was a conscious choice, but I need to do it in a way that allows me to arrive at the next bar in a clear tempo. We worked for a while on setting up the tempo, and arrived at an interpretation that involved slightly less rubato as a result! We also talked about the semiquaver rests in Poulenc’s score, which are almost like a comma in his phrases. Juliet asked me to take more time with them, allowing for some breathing space rather than always plowing on. I have to admit that, after so much pressure and criticism (mostly constructive) from Trevor in recent weeks, it was good to be told by Juliet that she thought me a good performer, and that I was communicating my musical ideas well. I really enjoyed playing with her, and it was good to get another opinion on how things are going!