Ten Weeks Out from Wye

I have been meaning for a while now to write a reflection on the Flute Studio course with a bit of distance. There was meant to be one after a month, then after two, and now I find myself at the point of ten weeks after finishing. Life has certainly taken on a different pace, and flute practice is now once again one of many things I’m doing. Nevertheless, I think it’s a good point to reflect on what I’ve taken away from the course and where I’m headed now.

At the beginning of April, once the course had ended, I went to France with mum for two weeks, then up to Grimsby to visit my family. While it felt odd to suddenly be catapulted back into ‘real’ life and not to touch my flute for two weeks, I think it was really important to leave it alone for a while. As I’m sure some of my final posts show, I finished the course rather frustrated, and more likely to be nervous and anxious about my playing than to be enjoying it. The break gave me time to reset, to think about other things (including a fair share of other arts and culture) and remember why I wanted to play flute for me.

In my final months in the UK, I’m doing a part-time internship as well as working on flute. Despite this, I’ve been sending off some audition CDs/DVDs, taking lessons with Carla Rees and preparing for the SoundSCAPE Festival in July. It’s busy, but I’m enjoying having the diversity of musical activities again. I’ve also been doing most of my practice in the local church, which is a lovely space with no distractions (apart from the odd visitor) whatsoever.

I’m still structuring my practice in the way that we were taught at the studio. Tune first, then moving into Reichert and technical exercises. Playing tunes in the church is great as I really need to play with a big sound to fill the space. Though there isn’t always as much time to spend on technical work as there was in Kent, I’m finding that the break actually helped a lot of it! All the exercises I memorised are still there, and even some of the ones I struggled with on the course are now improving a lot. I do, however, need to be more diligent with fitting in finger exercises each day. They often get left out in favour of more urgent things.

I do still need to remind myself to play really expressively and with a big dynamic range. Particularly when I’m a bit tired, I tend to regress back to mono-dynamic, less expressive (it’s not expressionless, and I don’t believe ever was) playing, and I do need to keep a check on that. Recording myself a lot has also helped with this – if it isn’t happening from the back row of the church, the it isn’t enough!

In terms of studies, I”m now working through the Boehm Op. 26 Caprices. Mostly, they’re not as note-heavy as the Andersen studies, and I’m focusing on expression and attention to details. I’m also revisiting some of the Moyse 25 as needed for specific areas of weakness. In particular, I’ve been having a bit of a crackdown on double and triple tonguing.

Intonation and vibrato are the two things that were specifically pointed out to me in our final feedback session. I’ve been trying to come at intonation from lots of different angles: interval exercises with a drone (the Maquarre book is great here), playing sections of pieces with a tuner, recording myself a lot. I’m also finding that a return to singing and playing is helping. As for vibrato…it’s still a work in progress. For my first week back at practice, I played straight tones only, and it almost drove me insane. Then I started doing exercises varying the number of oscillations per second, which is also a recipe for insanity. I think my awareness and control of vibrato is confusing, but I do find that it is still going haywire when I get tense for some reason. So still some work to do in that department.

Most importantly, I am enjoying practising again. At the end of the course, it worried me that the six months had killed my enjoyment of playing the flute, and it most certainly hasn’t. If anything, everything else I’m doing means that I now value my practice time a great deal. I’m looking forward to all the things that are coming in the next few months, and enjoying playing everything from Bach to Boulez.

Day 83 – December 22nd – Christmas break

Today was our final class before the Christmas break, and I have an hour to finish packing before I’m off on the train to Grimsby to stay with my grandparents. As ever, the class had some ups and downs, though not quite the ones I was expecting!

I fared quite well with warm-ups – it seems that Trevor was being a bit kinder to us because one of his former students was visiting for a few hours. As I’d guessed, he did get us to play scales, and for some reason I’m much better at that than all the exercises we usually play.

Then can feedback on our projects, and Trevor was not happy with mine in the slightest. It turns out that he doesn’t like academic papers, and went on a small rant about how verbose mine was and how tables aren’t accessible to young students. Fine, but maybe if he’d told me beforehand that the project was supposed to be written for fifteen year olds I could have chosen my language more appropriately! He couldn’t find much I was missing in terms of content, though wanted me to talk more about how the instruments sound rather than their construction, and thought my pictures were lovely. So next time I just need to write it in a different style, which I probably should have guessed anyway. Oh well, I learned a lot about flutes and flute history, which is the most important thing in the end.

As for playing, we all agreed that Moyse 24 Melodic Studies were the only things we’d go through today. Mine were “rather good”, I just need to keep remembering to be expressive from the start rather than warming into it after five minutes. And my high Ds are still flat. Anyway, I have ‘finished’ the 24 Melodic Studies and will be starting on the 25 Melodic Studies (more of the same thing, but more notes and look harder) after the break. As I said a few days ago I need to keep revisiting the 24 as well – there is still a lot I can learn from them.

Right now, though, I need to go and finish packing. My flute is coming along with me, but mostly to play Christmas carols. For the next five days I’m officially on holiday, and will not be tempted to go anywhere near a scale!

Day 79 – December 18th – Enescu and Waitrose

And I ended up playing the Enescu Cantabile because I don’t like awkward silences and it was clear that nobody else was going to volunteer. More fool me as I didn’t play well at all – numerous wrong notes and rhythms, and it was clear I hadn’t spent enough time on the piano part.

Otherwise, Trevor’s feedback for the day was pretty good. I offered the carol Il est névas or warm-up tune, which went down quite well. By providing the tune, we then get to dictate most of the warm-up exercises, and so I was able to pace things in a way that avoided me getting too flustered with memory!

Similarly, my Dvorak Symphony No. 8 excerpt was generally approved of, though I need to be more precise with some rhythms and would need to be more expressive at the start of the excerpt in an audition context. Trevor talked a lot about breathing with this one, and suggested that we use some judicious cutting of slurs after the first quaver of bars near the end to mask where we take a breath. Though sight reading an excerpt from the Grieg piano concerto wasn’t fun, I found this part of the class really useful, and a good reminder of just how high the orchestral standard is.

After class, we went on an impromptu trip to Waitrose in Ashford, mostly so that Trevor could get Christmas supplies for those that are staying over the break. Left to my own devices, I had a pleasant wander round choosing a few Christmas treats for my family and marvelling at some of the things they had in stock.

Rehearsal tomorrow, concert Saturday and a short class on Monday, then it’s holidays!