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 166 – March 15th – Tongue

I haven’t been feeling the best today, and wonder whether it might be my turn to come down with a cold. Hopefully not, and an early night tonight will certainly help.

I did get a few hours of practice in earlier in the day, and had something of an ah-ha moment with tonguing. I’ve been working quite a bit on articulation of late, and am still finding some things (maintaining a really clear, quick staccato; clear double tonguing) tricky. Often, it’s better when I don’t think about it, and I know that standing up in class I tend to tense up a bit.

The ah-ha moment was with double tonguing. I’ve finally worked out how to turn of the slight twitchy movement in my throat that was accompanying my double tonguing and clearly the source of its muddiness. I think it’s a combination of my work on using only the front part of the tongue, and drawing my tongue in a little bit when I double tongue. Still nowhere near perfect, and I can’t maintain in for very long, but it did feel like a substantial step forward after a few weeks of quite frustrating practice.

This evening I’ve been working on my history project, which is almost done. I’ve been working my way through all the different nineteenth and twentieth century flute designs, and have now arrived at the Kingma system – a relatively recent innovation for playing quartertones. All I’ve got left to do is a couple of section that Trevor has dropped in during class conversations; things like flageolets and mechanism options on modern flutes. If anything, I might have to do a bit of cutting down in the end to get it under 35 pages.

Day 148 – February 25th – A bit of civilisation

Only a half day of work today, as we headed into Canterbury in the morning for a bit of shopping and free time. I took the opportunity to finally get my hair cut, and feel much tidier with my newly-restored bob! I spent some time wandering round Waterstones and the market, and took the rare opportunity to find some coffee! Living out in the country certainly makes me appreciate these little pleasures.

In the afternoon, though, it was back to practice. I’m pretty happy with how the Copland is sounding, and feel that my score study yesterday is quite effective. There’s one run that’s really annoying me – precisely because it shouldn’t be hard – which will get some more attention tomorrow. Mostly, though, I need to work on good intonation in my top register, where I still play sharper than the piano. Rather than just running through the movement tomorrow, I need to pick out passages for careful, productive practice so that I really get the most out of Friday.

The other focus today was preparing the final studies of Moyse’s 25 Melodic Studies, which I’d like to finish off on Monday. There are five left, along with the final two variations of no. 20. These variations are particularly tricky – triple tonguing but with the change of note offset within the beat. I can get through a bar or two of each, but then fall apart, and need to keep doing a bit every fifteen minutes or so for the next few days.

Day 146 – February 23rd – Andersen No. 15

Today was a good day, as it seems I’ve finally broken my streak of very negative classes. The Moyse studies, while not perfect, were definitely improved. I still need to focus on tonguing at the front of the mouth rather than doing funny things further back. However, the end is in sight with the 25 Melodic Studies – I might even be able to finish then off next week.

My big achievement for today was Andersen No. 15. I can’t quite believe that I learned it in three days and managed to play it in class to that standard. I’d really focused on the feeling of the piece, showing the dynamics, chord changes and colours. Trevor seemed pretty impressed, and even say it would “stick in my memory”. I just needed to iron out the wrong notes. I wish I’d recorded that lesson now, then I could play it on repeat for the next month to remind myself I can do things right occasionally!

Altès and Drouet studies were mostly ok, definitely nothing like the outburst of last week. It’s the first time in a while I’ve felt really positive after a class, though I am quite exhausted. This evening was declared a no-work time (despite earlier pledges of working on my project), and I’ve spent the last few hours doing very little. Ching Ting made some yummy sushi, and I think after out walk I’ll be early to bed.

Day 145 – February 22nd – Stormy Weather and Motivation

As I sit writing this there is one big storm going on outside. It started just after 4pm, just as I’d decided to go for a walk, and looks set to stay for the night. Hopefully my room won’t get too cold with the wind.

After the very late arrival home last night, I had a bit of a lazy morning, helped on by some Skype chats with friends in Australia. To be honest, I could have done with a day off practice all together, and if we didn’t have class tomorrow would certainly have been tempted to leave the flute in its case and go on a very long walk! This lack of motivation to practice seems to be a problem in recent weeks – I feel ready for a break to properly relax and digest all the information I’ve received. I think most of the others feel the same way too, as nobody seems terribly enthusiastic about class! However,  we still have five weeks to go, and so the holiday will have to wait a bit longer.

I decided today to cut the technique practice down a bit and make sure that I had plenty of time to work on studies. The Moyse 25 Melodic Studies still feel hairy, and I know that with more time I will continue to improve on all the various aspects of articulation. For now, I know I’ve worked hard on it for the past week and that I’ve improved, with I need to keep in mind whatever the feedback tomorrow. By contrast, I’m rather surprised and pleased that Andersen No. 15 feels quite good. On Friday I probably would have said it couldn’t be ready in time, but with quite a bit of work yesterday and today it’s sitting quite nicely. Hopefully it’ll sound good in class tomorrow, and my ability to learn things quickly is improving.

Though I spent most of the day lacking in motivation, a CD I listened to this evening has reinvigorated my musical passions. My listening topic for this week is Barthold Kuijken, a baroque flute specialist. One of the CDs I borrowed out is of a live concert recorded in Rome as part of the Flautissimo series, and features Kuijken playing three of Telemann’s Fantasies for solo flute. The performance was beautifully rhetorical – every note had a meaning and the music was just stunning. Then the next track was of Mario Caroli playing Ferneyhough’s Carceri d’invenzione IIb! A wonderful contrast, and testament to the diversity of the flute. It’s the Telemann, though, that will be playing through my dreams tonight.