Archive for October, 2014

I made it to the end of my first month! It at once feels like I’ve been here a long while and no time at all, and it’s still a bit strange to think of this little dairy and village as home. Now seems a good time for a bit of reflection on what has happened so far, so here goes:

– Trevor’s major criticism of my playing a month ago was that I didn’t play expressively. This has been a point of quite a lot of tension, as I was struggling to realise just how much I needed to project my musical ideas and dynamics, while Trevor was often insisting that I failed to understand the music. I had a turning point with Andersen Op. 15 Study No. 3 almost two weeks ago, and am now slowly counting up the classes I go without negative comments on that front. Hopefully it will continue that way!

– I’ve changed my posture somewhat to have a bigger space between the flute and my right arm/shoulder. This does feel more natural, and I’m not sure how the more closed posture had crept into my playing.

– Along with aiming to project musical ideas more, I have had to push my dynamic range out to a much bigger ff and a pp that is almost nothing. These extremities still need a lot of work, and I still have a tendency to go flat when playing very quietly. I am, however, now happy to play with a pp that is almost nothing, whereas earlier this year I would have sacrificed the dynamic for feeling safe with intonation.

– I’ve learned the importance of ending notes beautifully – essentially every one needs a diminuendo, they just vary in length.

– Thanks to all the hours of scales and technical exercises, I can certainly feel a different in the agility and precision of my fingers. Looking in the mirror, there is so little movement now when I play scales. It’s quite amazing what focused practice can do!

– I think that one of the big focuses of the coming month is going to be articulation, aiming for a really clear, short staccato and well-articulated beginnings to notes. This will be a lot of work, but also something I’m really keen to master.

– For the first time in my life, I feel like my body has finally become comfortable with running! I’ve got into the habit of going out about four mornings a week, and am slowly increasing the distance with an aim of five miles by Christmas. I’m really enjoying running (this still seems so strange to say), and am sure it’s doing some good for my playing as well!

I still need to keep reminding myself that I’m here for me and my flute playing, to go with the flow even if it’s not what I would choose myself. I need to take Trevor’s feedback on board, no matter how harsh (or occasionally bizarre) it seems. Yes, there are some things that he doesn’t need to know about, but he is a great teacher and I can feel the difference that this past month has made.

Today was Halloween, and while I’m not particularly into the idea of celebrating it as some sort of festival, I did contribute a yummy vegetarian chilli for dinner. I’m much more excited about bonfire night next week!


Today started off Skyping with my little sister, who I haven’t spoken with in three months! It was absolutely wonderful to chat and have a virtual tour of her new house, and I felt ready for just about anything that Trevor could throw at me in class.

As it turned out, I got off quite lightly today. Nothing is perfect, least of all my playing, and before coffee time Alyssa was required to give me a 20-minute ‘lesson’ on practising long notes in tune. However, it seemed that Trevor intended it as a pedagogical experience for both of us for various reasons, and it helped me to clarify a really key point: what sounds the best for me doesn’t sound the best out in the audience. We experimented with bending the note up and down, increasing and decreasing resistance in the air column. Trevor pointed out that the sound we tend to aim for is the point at which resistance is equal to air pressure, thus creating a harder, ‘purple’ sound. However, by closing off less of the embouchure, we reduce the resistance but maintain the same air pressure, thus achieving more of a ‘yellow’ tone that is more penetrating and, importantly, has harmonics that are more in tune. So step one is finding this tone, and then step two is practising long notes with a diminuendo from ff to pp.

As today was the last lesson of the month, Trevor wanted to check on those who’d been issued with recorders and the traverso, but Shannon and Chin Ting had forgotten theirs and were sent running home (a half-hour walk!) to get them. Luckily Dot persuaded Trevor to go and pick them up, but I think the point was made and all will be careful to do their extra homework in the future!

I’m counting my performance of the Griffes Poem as a success. It certainly wasn’t perfect, and I was actually ticked off and told that I “hadn’t practised” the fast bit. However, I got through the first page and a half with Trevor only making stylistic comments, and was complemented at the end of them for my new-found expressiveness. This week, I’ve been trying to worry less about getting everything ‘right’ in my class performances, and more on simply communicating my love for music. It seems to be paying off, and hopefully I can add to that more correct notes in the fast sections of the piece next week.

We finished off the evening at the ‘Old Dairy’ (I live in the ‘New Dairy’), where Chin Ting and Yi Yin made dumplings. It was nice to cook and eat all together, and I made a note of Chin Ting’s vegetarian dumpling recipe because they were yummy!

Despite having a productive practice day, I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts. Some of it is probably the weather (low cloud and light drizzle), some also that I’m still not fitting in terribly well with the other students here. With five months still to go, thought, I think it’s better to focus on the positives:

– I had a lovely Skype with a friend in Australia this morning
– Wet weather just makes me want to drink more tea, and I bought some green tea with cranberry this week, which is wonderfully warming
– I made more progress with scales today, and even the melodic minors are starting to sound fluent. Eb melodic minor, the bane of my practice last week, is now sitting really well under the fingers.
– My room smells nice – I’ve been burning the rhubarb crumble scented candle I won at whist a few weeks ago!
– In my humble opinion, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of the Griffes Poem in preparation for tomorrow.
– Next week is bonfire night!

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?

Mixed success in class today, though no excruciating moments. I started out well, getting through the Moyse 24 Melodic Studies nos 5, 8 and the variation of no. 4 (carried over from last week) with pretty good feedback. In the variations of no. 8, I still need to work on totally equal triplets, as well as good phrase endings (not chopping) and clear re-articulation of repeated notes. Most importantly, though, I didn’t get one negative comment about expression.

Then came the trickier part in the form of Andersen no. 4, which opened up the can of worms that is articulation. The main feedback for the study itself was that notes weren’t staccato throughout, with other additional comments being made about the relative dynamics of notes and evenness, which I knew still needed work before I played it!

Articulation has never been a strong point, and this study rather highlighted my inability to maintain a short, light staccato, let alone one that allows me a good control of dynamics. It’s my own fault, I have never been a consistent practiser of articulation exercises for single tonguing, and have tended to work on it only when required. Along with re-doing the study next week (as expected!), I have been prescribed work on Trevor’s Practice Book 3 which deals with articulation. Lots of tongue-free abdominal muscle work in store for me! I need to make sure not to move anything when doing these exercises, not my lips, mouth, shoulders or flute. Challenge accepted.

My bash through Altès no. 2 was mostly fine, although there is a rather tricky high sequence in the middle that I hadn’t done enough work on. Interestingly, the class said that the articulation was better when I played it faster. In some ways I shot myself in the foot with this study, but I really had no choice. Everyone else repeated Andersen no. 3 from last week and didn’t have to do battle with no. 4, so had more time for Altès. Oh well, hopefully I’ll be able to redeem myself on that front next week.

Finally, I played the first two movements of Handel’s sonata in F major in the recorder, which Trevor approved of. So I’ve ticked that box (with very minimal practice) and can hopefully get the Baroque flute next month.

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.

Mostly a quiet practice day today, and with a good sleep last night things were better than yesterday.

I upped the tempo for the Practice Book 6 exercises to crotchet = 120 because Roya said she had and I didn’t want to be left behind. 116 would probably have been a safer bet, but I got through them. Major scales and all my arpeggios felt really good, but the melodic minors are still driving me up the wall. I think some of it’s that I worry about the turn around at the top, then of course I chicken out! Andersen No. 4 is tricky with all the leaps – at the moment I feel like it’s all the notes, a clear staccato or speed. If I can get two working together by Monday I’ll be happy!

Two little pieces of inspiration I found today:
1. My running circuit, which is still three miles long, but which I accomplished in 25min. We live at the top of a hill, and so my circuit involves going both up and down a hill. At the start of the month, I turned right out of the dairy, going round anticlockwise, and dying every time I reached the hill to come back up because it’s really steep. By the end of the first week I was making no progress, so started turning left out of the dairy and running clockwise round. There is still exactly the same amount of hill to go up, but it’s spread over a longer distance, and I can now run all the way without stopping (or feeling like I’m going to die!). Lesson: looking at things a different way can often make a huge difference!

2. I picked up a book at Trevor’s on Thursday, Becoming an Orchestral Musician by Richard Davis. I mentioned a while ago that Trevor had given me a book called The Handbook to Higher Consciousness in the hope that it might help me to play more expressively, and while I have been reading it, I certainly haven’t been enjoying it. The Davies has a chapter on performance philosophy, which talks about a number of points, specifically giving music that je ne sais quoi. Three ideas were given: playing as if it’s the last day of your life, playing as if it’s the first time you’re experiencing the music, and finally the importance of always taking your audience on a musical journey. Nothing I haven’t heard or read before, but refreshing to read again. And tonight on our walk, I plucked up the courage to tell Trevor I’m not getting along with his choice of reading material!

For dinner, I made a yummy aubergine and courgette soup with plenty of garlic to stave off any looming colds. Final lesson of the day: cooking is relaxing.

Trevor being a great tour guide.

Trevor being a great tour guide.

This morning we had a group excursion to Canterbury to visit the cathedral, do a bit of shopping and re-acquaint ourselves with a bit of civilisation. The cathedral is stunning, a great sprawling building that just seems to keep going and going. As with most large English churches, the ‘choir’ cuts the interior in half, and so it’s hard to appreciate the sheer size when walking around inside. However, the space behind the choir was enormous, as was the crypt underneath, and we spent a good two hours looking round. Trevor proved to be a good guide, telling us bits and pieces of history mixed in with stories of his musical work with the cathedral and choir.

Afterwards, we were let loose for a while to amuse ourselves. I took the opportunity to buy some jeans (the two pairs that traveled round Europe with

me are starting to look a little sad) and heels (so that I’m not going to see the London Symphony Orchestra next week wearing hiking boots!), and to wander longingly round the food department of M&S.

Back to practice in the afternoon. I was rather tired today after a couple of late nights, and it was really interesting to see what did and didn’t go well considering that:

– First hour, playing tunes, Taffanel and Gaubert No. 4 and Reichert No. 2 was good in terms of memory, though my lips didn’t feel terribly responsive.

View of the cathedral from a little back-street.

View of the cathedral from a little back-street.

– Second hour, playing the advanced technical exercises on page 12 of Trevor’s Practice Book 6 was great – I playing A, B, C and D at crotchet = 112, and just about survived Q! Other exercises that followed were ok.

Then my Grandma rang for a chat, which was a lovely surprise!

– Third hour, playing scales, was rather hit-and-miss. At the tempos I outlined on Wednesday, some went really well (arpeggios felt fantastic) and some were awful. My lips were not at all happy with high notes.

– Fourth hour, working on Andersen Op. 15 No. 4 was a bit of a fight against fatigue. I had a really clear idea of what I wanted to do musically, and so spent a lot of the time playing everything really slowly, with beautifully clear staccatos and (hopefully) good dynamic relationships between all the notes despite horrendous leaps!

I also took the time this afternoon to read an article by Alex Ross on the opening night of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer at the Met, and it’s definitely worth a look. I’m totally for this opera being performed – it’s really important to engage with relevant material through such a powerful medium. It would seem that some people want opera to stay firmly in the realm of fantasy, but I don’t understand why. As with theatre and film, music and opera that gets people talking and thinking is exactly what we need.

Now time for an early night!

The last 24 hours has been interesting. As I said in yesterday’s blog, we were about to head over to Trevor and Dot’s for dinner, and the evening turned out to be quite an eye-opener. Away from the studio room, and after a few glasses of wine, Trevor was an incredibly jovial host. There was a stunning and very fancy dinner: an entrée of crab paté followed by mini pancakes with salmon, quail eggs, ginger, caviar and sour cream (of the make-your-own variety). Then came an amuse-bouche of lettuce with walnut oil, fresh walnuts and a pinch of salt (messy but oh so yummy) and a cooked banana dessert. All washed down with plenty of wine and liqueurs to finish off. After dinner we watched Jean de Florette, an old but stunningly-shot French film set in Provence. The whole thing was a bit surreal, especially when it came time to walk home along the little footpaths!

This morning, thought, it was back to Trevor the teacher. My rendition of the Aus liebe obbligato from Bach’s St Matthew Passions was pronounced un-expressive, though by the end of my time out the front I think it had improved somewhat. I did better in the afternoon with Dopploer’s Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy, which I knew well enough to really go for in terms of expression and style. The problem is that I need to be confident enough to do this with every piece, even if I’m not totally on top of the notes! I ended up getting through quite a bit of the Doppler and having a really constructive lesson, and we were able to talk about a variety of things in my playing rather than just the one, so I left class much happier. I like Trevor’s approach to the piece: play the written rhythms because Doppler took an awful lot of time to write them all out! Yes, there is some flexibility of tempo, but never at the expense of what’s actually written on the page. Compared to some of the recordings I’ve heard, I find this stoic logic very appealing.

Our other activity in class today was taking a pitch perception test. Melodic transcription have never been my forte, and so I was relieved to find that it was a simple case of comparing pairs of pitches and identifying which ones were higher or lower. There were 50 tests, in sets of 10, and as we progressed the pitches got closer and closer together. Starting at a quartertone, by the end there were only one or two cents difference. I surprised myself by doing quite well, with only two wrong (and let’s face it, I’m sure the last one was actually just the same pitch twice), which according to Trevor puts me in the 96th percentile. He then went on to tell us that he believes the ability to perceive pitch in this way is fixed from the age of seven, giving the proof that conservatoire students will test almost exactly the same at both ends of their degree. Interesting food for thought, though I hope that my ability to perceive the pitch of my flute continues to improve!

We’re off to explore Canterbury tomorrow morning, which I’m rather looking forward to. Hopefully my sudden late-night desire to practise will carry over to the morning with similar vigor!

Flapjack with glacé ginger!

Flapjack with glacé ginger!

It would appear that the worst of the Hurricane winds are past, and I managed to go for a nice but rather cold run this morning. At 7am it was 7 degrees and still rather dark – I’m looking forward to the clocks changing this weekend so as to keep my schedule going for a little bit longer at least! When it did happen, the sunrise was beautiful: long swathes of pink and orange woven through light blue, all hazy and a little surreal. Still not quite cold enough for frost, but I’m sure it will come.

I noticed a distinct improvement in playing the Reichert exercises from memory today. Still not perfect, but I getting somewhere. I got all the way round the circle of 5ths playing a Taffanel and Gaubert-style one-octave scale, followed by a short version of the Reichert No. 2 (first bar and a half). Then I managed to play through quite a few keys in both Reichert Nos. 2 and 4 without peeking at the music.

Following on from my scales yesterday, I now have a list of tempos that everything sounds good at, so that I can gradually push them faster. For each set, I’m starting from B and working up by semitones (rather than round the circle of 5ths), the range is low B to top D, and I’m using the long fingering for Bb.

– Majors followed by broken chord: crotchet = 96

– Minors (melodic and harmonic) followed by broken chord: crotchet = 76

In practice, the harmonics can go quite a bit quicker, but I’m really focusing on trying to get the melodics at a better speed!

– Arpeggios: crotchet = 96

– Dominant and diminished 7ths: crotchet = 84

– Augmented and diminished arpeggios: crotchet = 84

– Whole tone scales: crotchet = 88

That’s all Trevor has asked for so far, though I’m sure that scales in thirds, fourths and fifths are next round the corner.

We’re all heading over to Trevor and Dot’s for a fish-themed dinner tonight. Though we are under strict instructions not to bring anything, I thought it would be nice to say thank you in some way, and so made some flapjack that I’ll take for class morning tea tomorrow. I used this recipe with glacé ginger to give it a little bit of spice. All went well, though I should probably have left them to cool a little longer in the baking tray before trying to lift them out, as a couple of corners crumbled. They still taste good though!