Archive for November, 2014

Beautiful autumn colours in the garden at the Dunk's

Beautiful autumn colours in the garden at the Dunk’s

Today I headed back down to Kent after a lovely weekend with the Dunks. I’ve had a lovely time, with wonderful company, conversation, food and wine, as well as some little trips down memory lane. However, there were also a few amusing twists and turns along the way, and today didn’t quite go as planned…

This morning, Ali invited me along to the children’s choir rehearsal at church, since there was a little-known Australian carol on the rehearsal list. The plan was to be there for the rehearsal, then for us to sneak off before the service proper so that I could practise and Ali could work in her garden. But then Ali realised it was the first Sunday of advent, and that she hadn’t done the advent wreath, so there were the two of us frantically constructing and decorating this wreath as the service was going on! Once we’d finished, brought it out and lit the first candle, escape was impossible, and we stayed for the rest of the service.

So a morning of practice turned into an hour before lunch. I was surprised how much I got done actually; though the Reichert exercises aren’t exactly raring along quite yet, they are increasingly fluent, and all from memory. Sequences, I’m proud to say, now sound quite good and are across the whole flute range.

Then came getting home. The plan was trains St Neots – St Pancras – Ashford – Wye and then a taxi from Wye to Elmsted as five miles was a bit too far to walk in the dark. But it turned out there were train-replacement buses from Ashford to Wye and that the next one wasn’t for another fifty minutes, so I buddies up with a few other travellers and caught a group taxi to Wye with them before carrying on to Hastingleigh myself. For som reason, I then thought it was a good ideas to get some exercise and save a bit by walking from Hastingleigh back to Elmsted. While it was a nice walk, and still quite mild, I probably should have just caught the taxi all the way and done a big more practice. Though what I have got done today has been focused and perhaps more productive than some days, I’m still feeling somewhat under-prepared for class tomorrow!

Can I take him home?

Can I take him home?

Ali and Kieron who I’m staying with in Hilton have a new kitten – Horace. I had meant this post to be a little more detailed, but Horace is currently sitting on my lap demanding attention, and I’m more than happy to oblige.

Today hasn’t been a heavy practice day, but I got in about three hours around craft activities and general lovely times with Ali and Kieron. I’m not sure whether it’s the change of location or just the previous weeks of practice paying off, but technical work went really well today. More was happening from memory, and a lot faster, which is all good! Studies were nit so fantastic, but I came up here for relaxation rather than practice!

Horace - my shadow for the weekend

Horace – my shadow for the weekend

As for Horace, he doesn’t approve of flute practice!

Outside Australia House in London

Outside Australia House in London

Just a short one today. This morning I caught the train up to London and voted in the Victorian state election. I had tried to organise a postal vote, but for a number of reason ended up going to Australia House and voting in person. I’m glad I did in the end, this election has meant the most to me since the first federal election a few months after I turned eighteen. Australia’s system of compulsory voting (technically compulsory attendance at the ballot box, but that’s a technicality) really is a privilege, and the smiling faces I met at the high commission today confirmed that for me.

I spent the afternoon in London, rather enjoying just wandering around Christmas markets and shops rather than sightseeing, and then caught the train up to stay with my lovely friends the Dunks this evening. It feels like being with family, and I’m all set for a bit of a relaxing weekend! Lovely food and wine, good conversation, and even a new kitten to cuddle – heaven?!

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!

Today’s class went well enough from a repertoire point of view. It seems like I’m generally alright with orchestral excerpts, and managed Strauss’s Salome without too much negative feedback. The main point, as always in Trevor’s excerpt sessions, is an incredible precision of rhythm, along with a knowledge of what’s going on in the orchestral parts beneath.

I also felt that my Minuets I & II from Bach’s C major sonata were well enough prepared and thought through that we could engage in a discussion of the music rather than my failings as a flautist! We discussed duration of notes, placement of slurs, and methods for ornamenting the repeat. Trevor’s advice on the final one was to be a bit cheeky or cunning; plan something out but not necessarily in the way that one would expect. It certainly shouldn’t sound like it’s been practised, and the best way to arrive at good baroque ornamentation is often to improvise to the extreme and then take away the bits that sound too much! This does, of course, mean that one needs to practise improvising though.

The rest of the class on Bach was really interesting, and I genuinely felt much better equipped to tackle a sonata by the end of it. I’ve tended to steer clear of Bach in recent years, as it always seems such a minefield of opinions and musical dos and don’ts. Trevor didn’t talk so much about ‘performance practice’ as what can be gleaned from looking at the facts of the score and using our own musical judgement. He also stressed the importance of a clear tempo relationship between all movements of a sonata – if an allegro movement can’t be played in good relationship with the andante then the andante probably needs to go faster!

Trevor quite likes picking a way of stirring someone (often me) a bit, and today chose the fact that Roya and I have masters degrees as his prodding point. Every other comment was followed by “but the masters will know this already” or a pointed question in our direction. This one though, I didn’t mind too much – he didn’t actually bother to ask until lunchtime about what my masters entailed, and when I went through my recital programs he did listen without any snarky remarks about new music. By the end of the day, the master-ness or lack of (Trevor didn’t go to uni/college at all) had grown into a joke for everyone.

Our repertoire for next week is Fukushima’s Mei, which I’m excited about working on. It’s a lovely piece, and I’ve been wanting to have a look at it for a while. Though performing contemporary music for Trevor will leave me wide open for cutting remarks, I also hope that I can apply some of what I’ve learned over the previous months to music that really inspires me.

Rechiert exercises continue to be a pain, but I am slowly improving with both memory and speed. I can get through the whole cycle of Reichert No. 2 without looking at the book, though often loose confidence the first time through in a key. However the second (or third for harder keys) time through I can play it quite quickly, so I think part of it is now developing confidence in my memory rather than getting the notes in.

Today was a bit of a juxtaposition of musical styles. I started off the day with another good stint of traverso practice in preparation for playing in class tomorrow. The allegro movement of Telemann’s Fantasia No. 6 in D minor isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely sounding a lot better than a week ago. Some passages might almost come across as fluent. I think I unknowingly picked quite a tricky fantasia to learn; D minor has F naturals, B flats and quite often C naturals as well! Then there’s the odd G sharp thrown in for good measure whenever the music heads for the dominant! I’m looking at it as a good thing though – picking a piece in D or G major would have meant that I avoided most cross-fingerings. It shows how much I’ve learned that I could actually sightread the C major fantasia quite well this morning!

Later in the day, I Skyped a friend in Australia to put the finishing touches to an application for the New Music Miniseries (run by the New Music Network) next year. We’ve put together a concert of flute and bass trombone music, along with some potential new commissions to expand the currently rather slim repertoire. Who knows whether we’ll get the New Music Network’s support, but either way I really hope we can make the concert happen.

I then finished off the afternoon back in the Baroque, learning the minuets from J.S. Bach’s Sonata in C major BWV 1033 for class tomorrow. Trevor has assigned everyone different movements of the C and E major sonatas, with the aim to discuss Baroque style in general and get a good idea of how to play Bach. I’m quite happy to have fewer notes than usual to learn – more time on technique and studies!

I suppose my little gem of wisdom from today is that diversity is wonderful, and that it must be relished. I have the opportunity to engage with, play and dream about beautiful music from so many different eras, as well as (hopefully) to help in the creation of more. Vlve la différence, vive la musique!

For a few days now, I’ve been mulling over some feeling of frustration with myself and the course. Some of them are unavoidable, but frustrations with my lack of progress in some areas of classwork need to be changed and I think I’ve worked out the solution.

I think I’ve had the idea in my head that by the end of my time here all aspects of my playing need to be ‘perfect’, and as a result am really down on myself if I don’t see improvements from lesson to lesson. The reality is that in an environment such as this I am going to improve a lot, and already have. However, music is never perfect and nor should it be. By thinking in this way, I’ve failed to see some of the changes that have already taken place, and probably played worse in class on several occasions as well.

So today I went into class trying to keep this in mind; I’ve improved a lot already, I’m working hard, and I’m also on a path for which there is never really an ‘end’ per say. Some things still weren’t amazing, but I was surprised by how much a positive outlook did improve things. Reichert still needs work, but I got through the major/minor scales plus shortened Reichert quite well at Trevor’s brisk speeds. My sequences were congratulated on being much improved since last week.

Unfortunately Altès studies still need a bit or work, with the dotted rhythms in no. 6 still giving me a bit of a headache. However, the Andersen study went well, and I now have a much clearer idea on how to fix the Altès. After focusing on expression in Moyse Little Melodic Study No. 13, the exercises instead became about dynamics, with Trevor asking me to play it fortissimo. Point taken, I still need to remember to play with a bigger dynamic range!

This evening the temperature dropped to around three degrees, and our walk back from the Old Dairy was chilly even with scarves and gloves. The sky, though, was stunning – cloudless and expansive, it twinkled with a patchwork of stars, and the Milky Way cut a streak right through the centre. It reminded me just how little of it I’ve seen living in Melbourne, and just how much there is beyond that isn’t visible to the naked eye.

I seemed to get an incredible amount done today, probably because all there was to do was stay indoors and practise! I chatted with my parents and a friend in Australia in the morning, as well as sending in my Hatched application, but still managed all my practice hours before dinner. Had it not been raining, I would definitely have gone for a mid-afternoon walk, but alas this is England in November.

One of the things I haven’t written much about yet is my written project on the history of the flute, due just before Christmas. Essentially, this is part one of two, and we’re supposed to cover both the history of the flute to 1700 and ethnic flutes. The ‘paper’ (I don’t tend to use this word, but oh well) is 30-35 pages long, and we’re allowed to include pictures. Trevor gave us an example of one that he liked from a few years ago to have a look at, and this is where my inner academic kicked in. The example had no references or bibliography, wasn’t really formatted at all and didn’t reference any of the pictures that had clearly been copied from published documents. I was a little surprised that such a piece of writing passed muster, but then I need to remember that Trevor hasn’t been through the university system, and probably doesn’t consider that sort of thing as important as simply learning about the flute’s history. For me, I will write my paper to my own academic standards, partly because it matters to me, partly because it feels natural to write in that way.

As for how it’s coming along – I’ve done all the reading that I probably need to on early, renaissance and Baroque flutes, but still need to do a more research on the ethnic ones. Trevor has an impressive collection of books, and finding resources hasn’t been at all hard. The best selection of resources on ethnic flutes are a set of publications entitled Flûtes du monde, and their being in French means I’ve got them all to myself. I’ve made a start on typing out a first draft, and will easily make Trevor’s 30-page minimum. At the moment, I’m actually feeling that the problem may be keeping it below 35 pages!

I also had another big traverso practice session today, and am getting there with my Telemann Fantasia. The dolce movement is sounding quite presentable, and I’d be happy to play it in class tomorrow if asked. The allegro sounds good at an andante speed, and some of the runs are actually happening quite fluidly. We have our second class on Wednesday rather than Thursday this week, and I’ll definitely be able to play it by then!

Today I achieved a somewhat strange feeling of contentment. It struck me that I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in recent weeks frustrated with this or that element of the course (isolation, Trevor being overbearing, social tensions). However, all the musical friends I’ve chatted with via Skype or email all express their jealousy that I’ve got this time here to just focus on flute and not worry about all the other things that life throws at us. Though everyone seemed to be keeping to themselves for the day, I embraced all the time I had, got a lot done, and throughly enjoyed it!

I noticed a small improvement on the Reichert from yesterday, and tried to take pleasure in it rather than dwelling overly much on what still needs work. A friend suggested I try some flute-free visualisation with the exercises, so I spent a bit of time on that as well.

In the afternoon, I spent some time comparing a cylindrical and conical bore piccolo (from the list of instruments we have to borrow out), as well as learning the Fantasia No. 6 in D minor by Telemann on traverso. The slow movement is coming along quite well, though I’m still not totally on top of notes like Bb, C and G# in both octaves. The D natural is very sharp on this instrument, and I’m having to adjust a lot of notes to get them in tune. As for the fast movement…I’ll get there! It’s great fun playing the traverso though, and I’m already wondering how I might be able to get my hands on one in the future.

I also spent a few hours finishing off an application for Sydney-based Ensemble Offspring’s 2015 ‘Hatched’ program – a year-long mentorship for composers and performers interested in new music. I have no idea whether I’ll get in, but am trying to use this time to apply for a whole lot of opportunities next year. I hope that at some point, either by getting into something or getting a job, I’ll have a clearer idea of which side of the world I want to be on come April! This sort of program would be ideal, as it would give me some structure and guidance while I go about my own thing (hopefully) working and playing.

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!