Archive for December, 2014


I was rather hoping that we have at least some sort of New Year celebration at the flute studio, but Trevor has decided to go for routine instead! So New Year is “cancelled” until Friday, and we instead have class tomorrow with Roussel’s Joueurs de la flûte and the flute solo from Beethovens Overture ‘Leonore No.3’ on the menu. I’ve played the Roussel before, and we’re each only required to prepare two movements, so I’m feeling a bit more relaxed about tomorrow than in some previous weeks. Though I haven’t worked on the Beethoven in years, it’s not too bad as excerpts go, and hopefully I’ve targeted the things that Trevor’s most likely to pick holes in!

That left me freer to practice a lot of technique and studies today, and I feel like I’m making some progress with the notes in my two Altes studies for next week. The main criticism of the two I played on Monday was that they were too slow, and I’m keen for that not to become a theme. I am noticing some big improvements with speed though: my Taffanel and Gaubert-style scales this morning were much quicker and more even than a few weeks ago. When I think about the phrase shape rather than the notes, I tend to make fewer mistakes.

Mental practice today was focused on the dreaded Bohem study no. 1 (from Trevor’s Complete Daily Excercises), which I am trying to memorise. The problem now is that I know the pattern quite clearly, but tend to forget to make the descending half of the second bar diminished, and then fall over myself when it becomes a dominant 7th in the third bar. Once again, it’s about getting it into the fingers and not thinking too much about it. I’ve been trying to really focus on the physical sensation of playing the arpeggios, and am even imagining myself doing it in my usual place in the studio room as an extra barrier against nerves. I’m hoping that slow and steady will get there eventually – I can play it slowly from memory on my own, but it needs to be faster and more secure.

Since it’s the final hours of 2014, I feel like I should take a step back and reflect on the year. I’ve crammed quite a lot in:

Way back at Easter, I competed at the Aussie marathon kayaking championships, winning a bronze medal in the ladies open K1 and coming fourth in the ladies open K2 with my lovely sister…

…submitted the final copy of my thesis to the Melbourne University library…

…finished off my Masters degree with an epic recital in late June. A new commission from my lovely friend Andrew Aronowicz, Jolivet’s crazy flute and four percussion concerto and much more besides. For the music, but most importantly for the people I was honoured to be able to perform with, it’s a concert I won’t forget in a while! …

…packed up my lovely flat and life at St Mary’s College, and headed off to Europe with a very big backpack…

…spent an amazing two weeks at the SoundSCAPE Festival in Maccagno, Italy playing wonderful music with fantastic new friends…

…traveled round Europe for ten weeks, visiting seven countries, attending the wedding of my wonderful friend Lucia, catching up with friends from my year in Helsinki, visiting my grandparents, hiking barefoot up mountains, cycling in the Loire Valley, trying to speak Italian and German, eating wonderful food and sleeping in nineteen different beds in two and a half months! …

…and arrived here in Kent to Trevor and his flute course.

So 2014 has been a busy one. At the beginning of the year I had no idea where I’d be at the end of it, and I still can’t believe just how much I’ve managed to fit in. As 2015 dawns, I’m still not totally sure where I’ll be in three and a half months time, let alone the end of the year. But I have many musical dreams, some of which are becoming clear goals, and wonderful friends and family who believe in me even when I err. Bring it on.

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I’m not sure whether it’s the cold or that everyone’s been around each other a bit too long, but things are starting to feel a bit uncomfortable here and there. I was the only one in my dairy that practised today, and for myself was feeling energised and excited to be back into it after the Christmas break. I’m not sure what’s up with the other two, though do wonder whether they might be struggling a bit with the winter weather. Trevor was certainly in a bad mood this evening, giving a stern talk about signing books out properly (one that he wants has gone walk-abouts), and then declaring that he didn’t want to walk and would just drop us home. Decidedly odd.

After a chilly shopping trip this morning, I had quite a productive day. My new goal is really getting to grips with mental practice, as I think it’s the key to improving my memory and confidence for all the technical exercises. The plan is that for every hour of practice that I do with the flute, I now do 15 minutes of slow mental practice – visualising myself playing through a passage or exercise. It’s quite tiring, especially since I haven’t been in the habit of doing it regularly. For now, it’s very slow, but I hope that with a couple of weeks it will really help me to get things going a bit faster and more easily. I managed three lots focused mental practice, but by later in the afternoon was loosing concentration.

On January 11th we have a piccolo masterclass with Patricia Morris, and so today I also started work on some studies and excerpts for that. Trevor has suggested a couple of the Moyse 24 Melodic Studies, a study from Patricia Morris’s book, and a few excerpts from the Piccolo Practice Book. I’ve chosen some good studies, but am still deciding which excerpts to do.

We woke this morning to a heavy frost and deeply frozen puddles. On the walk to Trevor’s, the fields and paths lay glistening before us, iced in an ever-so-slightly spiky design. Look closer, and each fallen leaf was individually decorated and embellished, frosted round the edges and along the veins. Here smoky and dark, there crystal clear, the ice warped and cracked under my feet. In some, pockets of air had slipped in under the ice to create an ethereal marbling that foretold the rapid melting to come.

Class itself, and I was starting to feel like I might be getting my aunt’s Christmas cold, which wasn’t great. Trevor was keen to talk about things that we still need to work on over the coming months, and I earned a good list: playing expressively from the beginning, playing loudly, shorter articulation, not waving my flute around and not cutting the ends of notes. Despite these things and my feeling decidedly under-prepared (or maybe because of them?) I ended up playing quite well.

Moyse 25 Melodic Studies no. 1 was too slow, but otherwise make the mark for playing expressively and with good phrasing. Or almost – it took a while for me to play one phrase with the loudest point in the right place!

I then took a bit of a gamble and sight-read no. 2 in the same book. The notes aren’t hard, it’s just a lot of staccato semiquavers, and I did a pretty good job of getting them short. The only problem was that I was unnecessarily accenting the groups of four in the process. Overall, I still need to work on maintaining an even staccato across all dynamics and the entire flute range.

Andersen no. 10 was my low point for the lesson, which I was well and truly prepared for! There are just a few too many notes to cram in a short time. When Alyssa played earlier in the class Trevor asked her to play faster and “make it sound easy”, so I knew I wasn’t going to get too far. The first three lines (relatively accidental-free) were ok, but sure enough I feel apart a bit come the next few. Trevor seemed pretty happy with how the start was sounding though, and my request to spend some more time on it for next week was taken quite well.

Altes no. 12 and 13 were both pronounced fine but too slow, which I was well aware of. No. 12 is double tonguing hell, and to be honest I was happy just to get through it at all. Like Andersen 9b, this is a study for life rather than for just a weeks practice. I also still need to watch C#s here, as they were “horribly sharp” to begin with and I should have pulled the headjoint out before being told rather than after.

As for the impending cold, I’m really hoping that my sinus headache and general grogginess will go away with an early night and keeping warm. Fingers crossed.

I was rather hoping that today would be back into it, but of course it took me a while to get back from the Dunks’. We all had a lazy morning – I played with the cat and went for a walk down the frosty garden – and brunch, so it was past midday before I got to the station. There were still a few delays getting into London, but three trains, a bus and a lift from Wye station (thank you Sue!) later I finally made it back to my dairy.

The Dunks' garden again - this time frosty with a frozen pond.

The Dunks’ garden again – this time frosty with a frozen pond.

It’s certainly cold back in Kent, though my room isn’t as chilly as I was expecting. My Christmas jumpers are already coming in handy, and I have a feeling that the big woolly cream number that grandma passed on to me is going to become a favourite.

As for flute practice…I don’t feel terribly prepared for tomorrow’s lesson but then everyone will probably be feeling that way. I’ve ordered my copy of Moyse 25 Melodic Studies, and am ready to dive back into Trevor’s classes. I’d just prefer to have a few more hours practice first!

Another short one as I’m well and truly ready for bed, but suffice to say that today didn’t quite go as planned. Up at 7:30am, I went for another lovely run with my uncle, and then we had a relatively quiet morning taking stock after Christmas and farewelling Grandma who was heading back home. The Johnson grandparents rang to say that Kings Cross station was closed, but a quick check online showed that I could still get to Finsbury Park, and then use the underground to make my connection.

Though there was no hint of it in Barton (where my uncle lives), there had been snow in the north. Into Doncaster and then much of the way down to Cambridgeshire, my view out the window was of dusted fields and sparkling villages. English Christmas perfection.

Then we stopped at Peterborough, and it seemed like there were no more trains going further south – there was just too much congestion around London. All of a sudden there was total chaos, and no clue as to what was actually going on. After boarding and then getting off two trains that were cancelled, I decided to phone a friend, and the Dunks were kind enough to come to my rescue and picked me up from Huntingdon. A glass of wine and an evening of post-Christmas downtime, I was relieved not to be spending my night on an unknown station far from anywhere, and incredibly grateful they could come to my aid at a moment’s notice. Thank goodness for friends!

Up at seven, My uncle David and I decided to tackle the Humber Bridge on our run this morning. Though we made it both across and back, I have to admit that five and a quarter miles still feels like a long way.

We had my aunt’s Auntie Heather and cousin Paul round for a jolly lunch. More wine, more flute carols, then an afternoon of scrabble with grandma. We each won a game, though I was a little miffed to loose became I couldn’t get rid of both the Q and J at the very end of the game!

Back down to Kent and flute practice tomorrow.

It’s been a bit of a marathon: croissants for breakfast with the Johnson grandparents, off to grandma Hilditch’s for tea and a mince pie (mine of course), then off to my uncle’s with grandma in tow for (lovely, vegetarian-friendly) lunch. Mini flute recital, wine, presents, Queen’s speech, afternoon walk, more wine, Doctor Who Christmas special, skyping Australia…

Grandma and I digesting Christmas lunch!

Grandma and I digesting Christmas lunch!

Making mince pies...

Making mince pies…

Christmas Eve, and my ‘Christmas Day’ celebrations with the Johnson side of the family. We skyped with all the Australian family this morning, catching them rather tipsy near the end of Christmas catch-up dinner. Then I made mince pies under the watchful eye of grandma. Though I do know how to make pastry, I think she was just quite anxious that I get it all right, and kept wandering into the kitchen to remind me of what to do next! With our combined efforts, though, the mince pies tasted fantastic – not quite like mum’s, but also not far off! I had so much fun that I really didn’t mind too much how they tasted, and was pleasantly surprised that they turned out so well. Yum.

....and the end result!

….and the end result!

As for the afternoon, we had a bit of a relax, some presents and I played some Christmas carols. I now have a huge supply of chocolate-coated ginger, some warm socks and another jumper. Christmas time is family time, and it feels so lovely to be up here spending time with my grandparents. Round two begins tomorrow!

I arrived in Grimsby late last night after a long train trip, and am now staying with Grandma and Grandpa.

A trip into Grimsby this morning to finish off my Christmas shopping and get a few warm jumpers (I’ll need them come January), and dinner out at a fish and chip restaurant in Cleethorpes were the main events of the day. I was rather decadent and had double helpings of mushy peas. We also called in at a relative’s (I think she’s a second cousin?!) for coffee and a pre-Christmas catch-up. At 4:20pm it’s dark, and much warmer inside then out. Time for a good book and a relaxing evening I think!

Today was our final class before the Christmas break, and I have an hour to finish packing before I’m off on the train to Grimsby to stay with my grandparents. As ever, the class had some ups and downs, though not quite the ones I was expecting!

I fared quite well with warm-ups – it seems that Trevor was being a bit kinder to us because one of his former students was visiting for a few hours. As I’d guessed, he did get us to play scales, and for some reason I’m much better at that than all the exercises we usually play.

Then can feedback on our projects, and Trevor was not happy with mine in the slightest. It turns out that he doesn’t like academic papers, and went on a small rant about how verbose mine was and how tables aren’t accessible to young students. Fine, but maybe if he’d told me beforehand that the project was supposed to be written for fifteen year olds I could have chosen my language more appropriately! He couldn’t find much I was missing in terms of content, though wanted me to talk more about how the instruments sound rather than their construction, and thought my pictures were lovely. So next time I just need to write it in a different style, which I probably should have guessed anyway. Oh well, I learned a lot about flutes and flute history, which is the most important thing in the end.

As for playing, we all agreed that Moyse 24 Melodic Studies were the only things we’d go through today. Mine were “rather good”, I just need to keep remembering to be expressive from the start rather than warming into it after five minutes. And my high Ds are still flat. Anyway, I have ‘finished’ the 24 Melodic Studies and will be starting on the 25 Melodic Studies (more of the same thing, but more notes and look harder) after the break. As I said a few days ago I need to keep revisiting the 24 as well – there is still a lot I can learn from them.

Right now, though, I need to go and finish packing. My flute is coming along with me, but mostly to play Christmas carols. For the next five days I’m officially on holiday, and will not be tempted to go anywhere near a scale!