Day 167 – March 16th – Tricky bits

No class again today, as Trevor’s cold doesn’t seem to be getting any better. This afternoon we had another rehearsal for our concert and talk at Bodsham Primary School on Wednesday. The pieces are sounding quite good, though without the feedback of Trevor’s rather critical ear they’re not quite as polished as the Christmas concert ones were. For talk, we’re showing a little of how the flute works and then introducing the modern flute family as well as some more distant relatives. It should be good fun, and I hope the kids will enjoy it.

As we’re not sure what’s happening with classes, I’m in a sense of limbo with what to practice. This morning I did a good long session of technique, changing from the Practice Book 6 exercises to Moyse’s 480 Daily Exercises. I also finally got all the way round the circle of fifths for Taffanel and Gaubert-style scales with descending mordants in one sitting. It wasn’t amazing, but is certainly getting there. I’m finding a particular set of notes in the third octave tricky: G – A – G – F – Eb – F – Eb – D. The mordants happen on the G and Eb, and both use trill fingerings that don’t sit well under the fingers. For G – A, it’s left hand first finger and the first trill key, and for Eb – F it’s both second and third fingers of the left hand. For whatever reason that combination doesn’t sit well under my fingers at all!

In the afternoon I decided to focus on studies. While I spent some really productive time on Andersen and Drouet, I was probably a bit too tired by the time I got to the Altes. Oh well, with no classes in sight until at least Thursday there’s still time.

Day 97 – January 5th – Quartets

As always, class today had its ups and downs, though for once warm-up time was one of the ups! It seems that the mental practice as well as all the repetition of the various exercises is paying off, as I was able to play many of the exercises at speed without getting flustered or making too many mistakes. The two Reichert exercises felt almost easy – a wonderful sensation after spending so long getting annoyed with my inability to play them! The Boehm study wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t look at the music and got through it without loosing my place. Thought it might seem like small steps, I’m happy that the fast memory work finally seems to be getting somewhere.

Trevor had another set of devilish finger exercise for us today, this time Moyse’s Scales and Arpeggios: 480 Exercises on the Major and Minor Scales and Arpeggios of 3 and 4 tones. We read through the first three exercises, the first one in all the major keys. I have come across this book before: my teacher Sylvia gave it to me when I was about 17 and I diligently played through of the exercises according to the plan proposed on the first page. I remember them being challenging, even though I was probably doing them at a fraction of the speed that Trevor would like! One of the things that was pleasantly surprising during our read-through today, however, was how agile my pinkie finger has become. Though the sequences with low Cs, Dbs, Ds and Ebs weren’t always comfortable, I could playing them at the tempo without too many problems.

The rest of the class was ok, though tied myself in some knots with the Moyse melodic studies. I had spent so long trying to get the staccato in no. 3 nice and short that I wasn’t thinking enough about even rhythm. Then, when I played with even quavers, I wasn’t playing expressively enough. It really does all need to come together rather than one bit being good and then the other not. My long studies were generally good, with Andersen no. 10 being pronounced “quite musical and nicely phrased”, and Altes no. 15 coming across well despite the speed. No. 14 wasn’t as good – I was holding the ends of 3/4 bars when I should be cutting them, and started out too slowly. Trevor really does seem to want speed above all else in the Altes studies, which I need to keep in mind for next week’s selection. The Moyse articulation studies (Bach variations) were also a case of not everything coming together at once. I could play the rhythm in no. 5, but then was doing some funny things with phrasing as a result. When I fixed the phrasing, the rhythm wasn’t as precise. Nos. 6-8, all alternating slurring and tonguing, were quite good but all needed to be faster!

This evening we did a group dinner and then spent an hour sightreading flute quartets. Reica and Furstenau were on the menu and were a lot of fun. After all the sightreading that I’ve been practising, as well as the sheer volume of music that we have to learn for the course, the notes themselves were easy to play and I could focus on the interaction between various voices in the ensemble. It’s a pity that some of the others were tired – I would have gone on for a few more hours!

Day 91 – December 30th – Frayed tempers?

I’m not sure whether it’s the cold or that everyone’s been around each other a bit too long, but things are starting to feel a bit uncomfortable here and there. I was the only one in my dairy that practised today, and for myself was feeling energised and excited to be back into it after the Christmas break. I’m not sure what’s up with the other two, though do wonder whether they might be struggling a bit with the winter weather. Trevor was certainly in a bad mood this evening, giving a stern talk about signing books out properly (one that he wants has gone walk-abouts), and then declaring that he didn’t want to walk and would just drop us home. Decidedly odd.

After a chilly shopping trip this morning, I had quite a productive day. My new goal is really getting to grips with mental practice, as I think it’s the key to improving my memory and confidence for all the technical exercises. The plan is that for every hour of practice that I do with the flute, I now do 15 minutes of slow mental practice – visualising myself playing through a passage or exercise. It’s quite tiring, especially since I haven’t been in the habit of doing it regularly. For now, it’s very slow, but I hope that with a couple of weeks it will really help me to get things going a bit faster and more easily. I managed three lots focused mental practice, but by later in the afternoon was loosing concentration.

On January 11th we have a piccolo masterclass with Patricia Morris, and so today I also started work on some studies and excerpts for that. Trevor has suggested a couple of the Moyse 24 Melodic Studies, a study from Patricia Morris’s book, and a few excerpts from the Piccolo Practice Book. I’ve chosen some good studies, but am still deciding which excerpts to do.

Day 28 – October 28th – Bizet and Griffes

Dark evenings certainly make a difference, it’s 8:50pm and I already feel ready for bed! On the other hand, I did go for a lovely run this morning, so not all bad.

We went to Peri Court Farm as part of our shopping trip today, so I was able to get some dark chocolate-coated ginger as a reward for my practice. Yummy!

Practice itself went quite well, especially scales! After a few days of them sounding and feeling utterly shocking, today suddenly worked. Several possible reasons why:

– We switched back to Moyse finger exercises this week (and I only did them at crotchet = 96 today to iron out errors)

– I had lunch and a break between Moyse exercises and scales, which may have given the muscles a chance to recover

– I’ve been practising and it’s paying off!

I’ll have to see how things progress tomorrow, but hopefully this is a permanent improvement.

Yesterday Trevor added another set of exercises to our list, Daily Exercise No. 1 by Marquarre, which can be found on page 40 of Complete Daily Exercises. I had to sightread it solo in class yesterday and found it really hard! The first bar in the C major version is C – D# – E – G, and I could not get my fingers to follow the pattern. Trevor did confirm that this is exactly the point of the exercise – to make us play something unexpected and non-scalic – but I still need to do some work on it. I also spent a good solid 10 min on the Pinkie Polka today, and can now play it at crotchet = 63.

Our repertoire for this week is the Griffes Poem, and the orchestral excerpt the Menuet from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No.2. I haven’t played the Griffes before, and so have rather got my work cut out learning notes, but have found it to be a lovely piece. I’m quite keen to program it for something further down the track if I get the opportunity.

As for the Bizet, well it’s just such sparkling, stunning music, like having a warm hug without it being too overpowering. I’ve been listening to the Berlin Phil/Karajan recording on Youtube, which is bubbly and delightful. The flute solo starts at 5:22, but why not listen to the whole thing and feel inspired?

Day 26 – October 26th – Dark evenings

The clocks changed today, and I was reminded of just how dark it gets in English winters when the sun set at 5:30pm. Looking on the bright side: it’s now lighter for my morning run, and as yet nowhere near as cold or dark as the year I spent in Helsinki!

I wonder whether my scales might be suffering from happening the hour after Practice Book 6 exercises? These last two days, with the exercises at a faster tempo, the hour of scales has felt sluggish and below par. The exercises, though, have felt good. Tomorrow we switch back to the Moyse interval exercises.

I spent a lot of time today on Andersen Op. 15 No. 4 – it’s hard! There are three things I’ve been trying to focus on:

– A really clear staccato, but always expressivo as Trevor says it should be.

– Internal dynamics, so making sure that the low notes are equally as loud (and resonant) as the higher ones. As a result, the lower ones have a bit more oomph in the staccato, while the higher ones are shorted with a bit more ping.

– Large-scale dynamics, played fully and as if it were my last ever performance (c.f. Davies book from yesterday). Fitting this in with the other two points is tricky.

Despite my work, I’m quite prepared to be asked to present this study next week as well, and in some ways would quite like another week to really get working properly.