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 181 – March 30th – Last Supper

Though tomorrow is the final day of our six months, my time in Elmsted and Hastingleigh has ended. This morning was final cleaning and packing (everything fitted into my rucksack!), then a quiet afternoon with a book. This evening we had our last supper at Trevor and Dot’s, though with a slight oversight about travel arrangements to get there. I had assumed that Trevor might pick me up with my big bag, but no, we were walking, and I can now say I’ve carried a 17kg rucksack from Elmsted to Hastingleigh! 

Dinner was jovial and Trevor wished us all well for our future careers. Now I’m snuggled up in bed at the New Flying Horse in Wye, and ready for a very early start tomorrow morning. Mum and I are off to Paris, Nice and Lyon on a well-earned holiday. 

I was told some while ago that Trevor’s flute studio is a cross between flute boot camp and finishing school. It has been both, and for now I’m just happy to have survived the whole thing and come out the other end. For now, my daily blog posts are at an end, and I hope the coming weeks and months will bring plenty of time for reflection. It has been an interesting ride! 

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 178 – March 27th – Cleaning 

Today ended up being a cleaning day because I was a bit scared of tackling packing! This morning we all put in a few good hours and got the kitchen (including fridge, microwave, oven and cupboard) looking sparkling. I have got my rucksack out, and started sorting through things, but am still wondering how it’s all actually going to fit in. 

In the afternoon I went off on a long walk round Spong Wood and across the fields. It was perfect spring weather, and I couldn’t have stayed in the woods for hours longer. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to go back again before I leave. 

This evening, Mum and I went to the Five Bells pub with the Boxalls, who have been so lovely while I’ve been here. We had a nice meal and great conversation. It’s the most English I’ve felt in quite a while! 

I’m still not sure whether class tomorrow is playing or just talking. We will see…

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!