Day 63 – December 2nd – Cold

With the start of December it has suddenly started to get cold in earnest. I can’t quite believe that on the weekend I was in London and Cambridgeshire walking around in a light jumper, and now I’m snuggled up in my room trying to convince myself that another layer (I’m wearing four, one of them thermal) is not yet necessary. Alas, I think part of the problem is that my room is not as well-insulated as the rest of the dairy. I’m just going to have to develop a thicker winter skin!

Though we had out weekly shopping excursion this morning, I feel like I’ve had a productive day. I tried to shake my practice up a bit in two ways, with the first being more astute with my Complete Daily Exercises routine. I tried not to repeat any of Reichert No. 2 or 4 unnecessarily. Rather, I tried to start out each key in a tempo that I thought was achievable, and play through without scaring myself into mistakes. If it was super easy, I repeated it at a brisker tempo, if it was super hard, I went for a really slow, deliberate version. I’ve still got a bit of a way to go trusting myself with no. 2, but was pleasantly surprised how no. 4 is coming along.

I also spent a bit of time playing exercises in thirds the way Trevor showed us in class yesterday, though just majors for now. The exercises is like Taffanel and Gaubert No. 4, beginning the scale from the tonic, mediant, dominant and finally leading note, though rather than following this pattern back down the final descent is two octaves long. A nice variation is playing little moon the way on the way back down, though I only tried this if I was feeling relatively confident with the rest of the pattern.

As for sequences: I am no longer scared of them, I can play them, they just need to keep getting faster.

With all my various studies, excerpts and pieces (and there are a few) I tried not to work on anything for more than five minutes at a time. Most of this time, this meant that I isolated one element of a study that I felt needed work and focused on it for that time. With things like Andersen No. 9 (single and double tonguing) this worked really well. With others, such as Mei, it didn’t work so well since I was trying to think in bigger chunks. I ended up instead by prompting myself to move on from things if I didn’t get them within one or two tries. As a result, I know very clearly what still I need to work on with it tomorrow, and can hopefully target areas the way I was with my studies.

Day 58 – November 27th – Thanksgiving

I was surprised to find myself the only one practising at the new dairy today, but got on with it anyway – I tend to find days after class are the most productive! I still need to keep reminding myself that the goal with Reichert exercises and sequences is improvement not perfection. Some of the keys in Reichert No. 2 were fast and accurate the first time round, which is improvement. Others still need work!

I spent quite a bit of time on Altès studies this afternoon, particularly making sure that the rhythm in no. 5 is accurate. So long as I’m disciplined and practise the study in small bursts over the weekend, I should be ok.

Trevor trying to take credit for Dot's yummy cake!

Trevor trying to take credit for Dot’s yummy cake!

This evening we celebrated Thanksgiving for the American girls, giving Trevor an excuse to have us round for dinner. I had my misgivings about the whole thing – everyone’s descriptions of typical Thanksgiving meals seemed to suggest that the whole thing was a celebration of excessive eating. While we did end up with a lot of dishes, though, the evening turned out nicely. Trevor had some wine for us to taste, including two bottles of very nice Penfolds from South Australia, and everyone had contributed a dish to dinner. I roasted parsnips and carrots, and we also had ham (for the meat-eaters), twice-baked potatoes, sweet potato, salad, and both pumpkin bread and an amazing meringue cake (made by Dot) for dessert. All was very yummy, though I’m also very glad that we walked afterward.

Off up to London and Hilton tomorrow, first to vote in the Vic state election and then to spend the weekend with some friends. I can’t wait for the break!

Day 52 – November 21st – Back into it

After the mini-holiday yesterday, today was back into practice. If anything, I felt a bit sluggish after the rest day, and was surprised by how quickly my embouchure seemed to tire. I still need to develop a better approach to Reichert No. 2 and 4 so that I’m not always frustrated with trying to memorise them. However, the sequences were a lot better today. It seems that I play them best when thinking about the tonic of each arpeggio but then leaving my fingers to deal with the rest of it.

The sight-reading material I was prescribed on Monday isn’t easy! It may be “nineteenth-century crap” (Trevor’s words, I agree), but it’s full of turns, sequences and little catches for the unwary eye. I need to work at not stopping when I make a mistake, the ability to plough on is key!

The two Moyse melodic studies I’m preparing this week are both melodic and very lyrical. My focus with them today (of course) was playing really beautifully and expressively, but I’m making sure to pay attention to wide dynamics, intonation and the ends of phrases in aid of this. It would really make my Monday if I could play them in a way that’s expressively satisfactory!

Day 49 – November 18th – Frustration

My frustrations from yesterday’s warm-up session carried over into my practice today. While I realised this from the first few minutes, I didn’t do much about it in the morning practice sessions, and so was probably wasting my time playing things over and over again when I should have thought of a more intelligent solution.

Later in the day I managed to get back on track, and really tried to cement some of the sequences that I’ve been struggling with. I decided that the only way to get them right under pressure is to play them with the metronome at increasing speeds, and so spent a good half a hour on that. Though they were better in yesterday’s class, there is still quite a way to go.

As for Reichert Nos 2 and 4, these were the exercises I was getting particularly frustrated over. Though I have been playing them almost daily, I still can neither play the yucky keys (Ab maj, F min, Db maj, Bb min, F# maj, D#min) from memory nor at the speeds required in class. After my unproductive hour this morning, I’ve decided that I have to work on memory and speed separately, for the moment prioritising speed, or else I’m going to get nowhere.

Tomorrow we have a special class on accompanied pieces with Juliet Edwards, for which I’m playing the first two movements of the Poulenc Sonata. I’ve still got a bit of work to do with the piano score tonight, but am feeling pretty confident with the flute part. Hopefully I’ve thought about it expressively enough.

I’m currently doing one of my listening projects for the week, and have selected the CD The Ocarina is No Trombone. Very tongue-in-cheek, it’s a collection of ‘virtuoso ocarina’ arrangements of popular tunes, and is good fun to listen to! La Dona e Mobile for ocarina and accordion, a veritable orchestra of them playing Offenbach’s Can-Can, it’s a good antidote for the frustrations of earlier.

Day 47 – November 16th – Sequences

I’m still struggling to memorise the sequences that Trevor proposes in our warm-ups, and so today played them in each of my hours of technique practice. Hopefully the focus will make them stick a bit more, because I’m a bit sick of getting flustered in class as soon as the tempo goes up at notch. On the other hand (as I was reminded by a friend in Australia the other day), it’s not about learning it all right this minute, but about the improvement – if I can play them a bit faster in class tomorrow then I’m getting somewhere!

This week’s etudes are something of a mixed bag. I’ve done a lot of work on Andersen No. 6 before, and ended up winning the open study section of the Lesile Barklamb Scholarship (Victorian Flute Guild) with it in 2011. I feel like it’s come back together relatively easily over the past few days, but that Trevor will have a lot to say about ornaments, trills and expression. I’ve been trying to play grace notes and mordants as fast as possible, and to make sure that all dynamics are observed. After last week comments, I’ve also spent some time thinking about the large-scale picture, of harmonic direction and the overall structure of the piece.

I am, however, finding the Altès studies less appealing. I was asked to repeat the central section of No. 5 at the correct speed, which hasn’t been too difficult to achieve. Moving on to No. 6, and I can play both the articulation patterns, just not for three pages at the given speed! No. 7 is a similar story. I’ve been trying not to get too frustrated with these studies, and to embrace the challenge of maintaining the clarity of articulation, but definitely find them less appealing to practise than the Andersen.

Today I had my first experiment with the slow cooker, and was really happy with the result. Leftover sweet potatoes, cabbage, parsnips with veggie stock and some herbs came out five hours later tasting absolutely fantastic!