Day 104 – January 12th – E flat

Today has been rather quiet, both because of our lack of class and because it’s utterly horrible outside. This morning I had grand plans of going for a run, but that was soon halted when I saw just how wet and windy it was outside. Instead, the large knitted jumper from grandma has come out, and I’ve spent the day practising, getting odd jobs done and drinking lots of tea. Last night, I finished one of my hand-warmers (or are they fingerless gloves?), which I’m very pleased with. The pattern I’m using is here. If this weather keeps up, the other one will be done before too long as well.

My first hand-warmer!

My first hand-warmer!

All the technical work that we’re doing makes me play round the circle of fifths multiple times a day, and as always there are some keys that sit better than others. When it comes to my least favourite keys, though, I’ve rather surprised myself if recent months. As a teenager and undergrad student, I always feared C#/Db and F#/Gb majors and Bb and D#/Eb minors because there were scary numbers of flats and sharps not matter how I thought about it. Maybe that ultimately made me practise them with more vigour. Now that I’m here at the flute studio, the keys that I’m most inclined to slip up on are Eb major, Eb minor and G#/Ab minor. I think one of the main things about Eb is that we’re not allowed to use thumb Bb for technical work, and so all of a sudden the fifth of the key is a awkward fingering. Reichert no. 2 becomes particularly treacherous because the fifth is in both the arpeggio and the dominant 7th.

Other exercises where I’ve noticed this are the Boehm study and Trevor’s scales in thirds. With the thirds, we start in C and play the scales in C major, harmonic minor, melodic minor and whole tones. Then we play the major, minor, second inversion minor (so F minor for C major) and diminished seventh of the next key (C#) all in broken thirds. The whole exercise then moves up a step to C# major and so on. In class we tend not to get too much further than D, as Trevor decides it’s time to move onto something else, but I’ve one of my goals to play through the whole thing. That was, until I got to Eb. The major is ok, but the minors are utterly awful! At this level, the aim is to erase weaknesses in tricky keys, and I’m of course going to persevere, but it could take a while to get past the Eb minor block.

In some ways, today was an Eb minor sort of day; dark and ominous. In the major, I quite like the richness of this key, and the minor can also be rich and velvety. It might be even more so if I could overcome my battle with it!

Day 102 – January 10th – Memory and Maquarre

In many ways today was very uneventful. This morning was both wet and windy, and I practiced all my scales and technique to an accompaniment of wild weather sounds from outside. I was really happy with how quite a bit of it went, particularly on the memory side of things. My Reichert exercises felt easy, even when I pushed the tempo, and compared to where I was a month ago with them I’m really happy with how they’re sounding. Some of the other exercises were also feeling good, and I’ve finally got the first page of Bach’s E minor sonata (half of the first movement) from memory.

There are still things that are frustrating me though, one of them being the Maquarre exercises. Given they’re written specifically to make us play the unexpected, but it feels like I can’t get them into my fingers! I’ve finally got the C major version of exercises one from memory, but can’t then transpose it to any other key with any ease. I think these could be the next candidates for mental practice.

The Moyse 25 Melodic Studies are quite a bit harder than the 24, and all of a sudden I need to spend time learning the notes as well as working on the meaning of the study. No. 5 is particularly frustrating, as it looks like easy arpeggio figures, but some of them don’t sit under the fingers well and then I tie myself in knots. Hopefully most of them will be unraveled in time for class on Monday!

I went for a run just as the sun was setting, and though it was still ridiculously windy made it round my short 2-mile circuit in almost record time. I felt like I could have run further, but forays off into the Kentish Downs probably aren’t a good idea when it’s getting dark.

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 76 – December 15th – Abnormal Mondays

Instead of class today, we had another practice day, a trip to Tesco in the afternoon and then a chamber rehearsal in the evening. I’m rather glad of the extra day – I’m feeling about as confident as I’m going to with all my various studies for tomorrow, and looking forward to the concert.

Following my chat with Trevor on Friday, I’ve thrown myself into all the technical work with renewed determination, and was particularly happy with Reichert No. 2 this morning. Taffanel and Gaubert-style scales (from memory) are feeling good in major, but I still keep second guessing myself in the minor keys and then falling apart. I good proof of how much I’ve improved in the last ten weeks though was that I played the Pinkie Polka at crotchet = 80. I haven’t touched it for a couple of weeks now, but wanted to see where I was at, and rather surprised myself! The first metronome marking I’ve got down on the page is crotchet = 56, so it’s been quite a good step up.

Lesson: Remember the bigger picture as well as the day-to-day.

Our flute history paper is due tomorrow, and I’m rather glad – I need to stop proofreading it and move on to other things! At this rate I’ll probably launch straight from this one into the 1700-onward paper due in March!

Day 71 – December 10th – Bach and bunnies

After my relatively slim practice yesterday I had a really productive day today. Though none of the warm-up exercises were exactly easy, that was because I was trying to push myself and play things that I couldn’t do rather than those I could. I’ve been practising Reichert No. 2 with either the first or second set of semiquavers in each bar at double speed, in the hope of convincing my fingers and brain that I know it and not to worry so much. So far it seems to be working, at least in the practice room.

I chatted with my little sister this morning and was introduced to her two gorgeous new rabbits – Rory and Danny. It rather makes me miss Horace from the weekend before last!

Tomorrow we have a masterclass with Rachel Brown, who is a flute and traverso player well-known in particular for her performance of Baroque works. I’m playing the C.P.E. Bach (originally thought to be J.S.) Sonata in Eb major. It’s been an interesting piece to prepare in that the notes themselves aren’t that hard but I still don’t feel terribly comfortable leaping into Baroque music from a stylistic point of view. Hopefully I’ve done a good job with this one – it’s really a trio sonata as the right hand part of the harpsichord is very important, and I’ve really tried to think of the way the flute fits into the ensemble.

Out walk tonight was cold and blustery, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the moon. A few nights past full, it sat fat and low in the sky with waxy, yellow glow. It felt like the setting for some Gothic novel!