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 172 – March 21st – Syrinx

Today was a bit of work and a bit of relaxation time. This morning, Trevor rang to see whether anybody wanted to go to the market in Wye, and I was happy to get out of the house. Not the biggest market, but there was some nice organic produce, and so I’ve got some bags of fresh apples and carrots to cook with.

The final week of the course is mostly repertoire, with studies only if and when we want to play them. On Monday, we’re playing Debussy’s Syrinx and Telemann sonatas in F major and F minor. Then on Thursday it’s Murtel’s Sonata in D and Suite – Spring by Vasilenko. I spent quite a bit of time today working on  Syrinx, as it’s one of those pieces I know, should be able to play quite well, and am hoping not to get torn to shreds over! Most people play this with far too much rubato, and all the rhythms are distorted. I don’t have any past recordings of myself playing it, but my first read through suggested that I’ve definitely been quite liberal with the rhythm myself in the past. So it was back to the metronome, making sure that everything is exactly in time and as written on the page before I start trying to do anything fancy.

This evening, I spent some time making thank you cards for all the people here who have lent a helping hand over the past six months. I’m beginning to sort through things in my wardrobe and work out how everything is going to fit back into my backpack. Almost the end…

Day 141 – February 18th – Le Merle Noir

Today was a reminder that there are wildly different ideas about music, both its interpretation and how we share it with others.

As I mentioned yesterday, the repertoire piece today was Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir, and I was genuinely surprised at some of Trevor’s ideas on the piece. He started off with some valid comments about my attention to rhythms in the opening cadenza, were I was taking a bit too much liberty with semiquavers in relation to the quicker note values. However, I was surprised how quickly Trevor conceived of the cadenzas – there was very little room in his interpretation for space in the musical line, and the cutting that I’d been trying to avoid yesterday was actually quite well thought-of. Rather, Trevor wanted expression through loud and soft playing.

The presque lent, tendre section was where our ideas differed the most. I’ve always tried to match the piano tone here, playing quite a stark, clean line. It’s been suggested a few times that I play it senza vibratio, which I don’t like, but I also don’t think of it as overly romantic or anything. Trevor, however, said it was a “big romantic tune” and made me do some quite big crescendos and diminuendos. It made for a very different piece. The final section, vif, was pronounced “almost there”, I just needed to aim for tighter grace notes and really clear articulation even when notes are repeated. Overall, though, it felt like everything had to be played very fast.

After the playing part of class, we has a general skills session on the topic of chamber music. Once again, I was a little surprised. Rather than talk about creative ideas for chamber playing, Trevor wanted to talk about the easiest ways to form a chamber group for the greatest variety of repertoire, and I felt that the conclusions he reached were a little one-sided. The logic was that too many players is too hard to organise, so wind quintets aren’t a good idea and neither are bigger groups. Suggestions of flute and guitar were greeted with some rather scathing comments of guitar players, and flute and percussion was considered “too boring” (I feel like this was only in reference to flute and marimba though). Flute, viola and harp has a “limited repertoire” (I bit my tongue here), as does anything including voice. So the conclusion was that the best chamber group to form is either flute, oboe and piano or flute, cello and piano, as that has the broadest range of standard repertoire. It might also be a good idea for befriend a string quartet in case they need a guest to play some flute quartets occasionally.

On one level, fair enough, it was practical advice for forming a core group with some staying power. On the other, where is the sense of adventure in that? We certainly shouldn’t all be going and playing 18th and 19th century repertoire in trios with oboes, cellos and pianos, because everyone will be utterly sick of it! Alongside that, we need musicians that are willing to be a lot more daring, to drum up the numbers to play new works, exciting works, and works that are going to define our generation of composers in the future. We also need people that are prepared to go delving into archives, breathing new life into chamber works from the past for more obscure combinations. I think diversity of music is such an important thing, and that was what was missing from today’s discussion. I didn’t dare mention Pierrot ensembles!

On the bright side, and to sum up a long post; I did learn a lot from today’s class even if I didn’t quite agree with everything I heard. This evening I made sweet potato and sage risotto with some of the others, and on our evening walk the dark sky was bursting with stars.

Day 122 – January 30th – Snow and Frustration

Snowy downs

Snowy downs

This morning I woke to the first proper snowfall; white fields and hedgerows. Despite the cold, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk to class and could almost have passed Trevor’s house by and carried on!

I rather surprised myself in the warm-up by getting through almost all of the proposed exercises from memory without slips. Of particular note, I was asked to play ‘solo’ scales round the circle of fifths (C major, A melodic minor, F major etc.) with Trevor beating a rather brisk time all the way. Only two slips, and interestingly neither of them in tricky keys! I also managed the arpeggios on page 96 of Complete Daily Exercises all the way up to Ab without any significant slips, and it was playing them once through as well.

Snowy downs

Snowy downs

However, my performance in the masterclass proper didn’t go brilliantly. I started the Taffanel Andante Pastoral too slowly, and despite feeling like I’d put a lot of work into the character of the piece, was told that I was playing in quite an insular, nervous way. By the time we got to the Scherzettino, I just wanted to sit down, and dropped quite a lot of notes. Apparently that was better, though, because I was feeling the rhythm more! I recorded the class, and so need to sit down in a couple of days time and process all the information again.

There was a general sigh of relief this evening, as we’ve made it to the end of a very hectic two weeks. Though there are studies anew to prepare for Monday, we had a bit of a night off, watched some truly awful American TV and played the board game Frustration!

Day 69 – December 8th – Phrasing and rhythm

I had been steeling myself for another day of not being able to do anything right in class today, but things ended up going surprisingly well. My goal was to always play with the biggest dynamic range I could possibly muster, but otherwise to not think too much about rules and just enjoy the music. The results were:

Moyse #16: C#s are too sharp, then a couple of picky comments about phrasing when I did sections of it again. The variation wasn’t quite so good, added the high C#s was a need to bring out the first not more clearly.

Moyse #17: Started too fast, and so had the pleasure of repeating strings of chromatics for the class for five minutes. Then played it fine, and Trevor conceded that I’d just started too fast.

Moyse #18: Yes, I ended up playing three… I need to work on staccato low notes, which wasn’t news to me at all. Double tonguing needs to be louder.

Andersen #8: Good, I just need to play staccatos shorter. This was my big win for the day – I had really put a lot of time and thought into the phrasing, dynamics and make sure I didn’t clip phrases. Yay for improvement!

Altes #9: Some parts nicely phrased and expressive, others a bit flat. Yes…those bits were where there were lots of notes!

Moyse 50 Variations on Bach A minor #2: “Perfect” when I played it a little under tempo (yay!) but then when I upped the speed a little I wasn’t playing my semiquavers totally evenly.

Jazz Study #1: I don’t remember the composer of these, and my photocopy doesn’t have the name. I ended up making a bit of a pig’s ear of this, as I didn’t realise there was a backing track, and so hadn’t quite practised it fast enough. Trevor didn’t comment on my rhythm here, but I need to hold notes longer before glissandos, and make sure to observe staccatos.

Later this evening Trevor sent me an email about other things, but finished off with this comment:

“I thought the phrasing of your studies was better, and it improves each week.
Just fix the rhythms and it will sound much nicer.”