It's a well-known fact that music teachers have the ability to tell exactly how much practice you've done between your last lesson and the current one. You can't fool us. You don't need to make the guilty admissions that you "haven't done much practice" because we already know. Even on those days when you know you've done loads of practice and it feels like it's not showing when you play in front of your teacher, we can tell.
Well, OK, we can't tell precisely how many minutes of practice you've done, but generally, teachers can tell if there's been some work since last week. We can tell because we have done and still do go through the process of practising ourselves. We're familiar with the satisfaction that comes when that structured, gradual work pays off, and the frustration that you feel when you know you've put the work in but the desired result hasn't materialised yet.
At this time of year lots of people have been making resolutions to practise more, take up a new instrument or return to a neglected one. And we seem to be bombarded with quotes intended to inspire and motivate us. The two above have popped up in my view just this week. Some words can be helpful in spurring us on, but I'm not sure about these ones.
Both of these give the impression that what we're aiming for in music is 'perfection'. That you can never be a professional unless you can do things without any mistakes. Yes, it's a good thing to aim to keep improving your playing, and if you want to perform a piece, you want it to feel as secure as possible, but these quotes suggest that you're not 'good enough' if you're not perfect, and that can be quite demotivating. I think this sort of pressure can lead to unhealthy stress - feeling like you can never 'get anywhere' with music if you're still making mistakes. Of course professionals still get it wrong! And how would you even begin to agree on a definition of perfection?
A more useful piece of advice I read recently appeared in this blog post by The Self-Inspired Flutist: "realise that practising is the point". In other words, as a musician, you're going to spend more time practising than any other activity, so if you can learn to love it, that will go a long way to enjoying making music. That doesn't mean that it will always be fun and sound lovely - the point of practising is to deal with the bits you find difficult, to make the mistakes and find out how to fix them. It can be frustrating and downright annoying at times, no matter how many years you've been doing it for. But if you can find satisfaction in that process, I think that can make a big difference.
I'm playing in a concert at the beginning of February, and I reckon on the day I'll be actually physically playing the flute for about fifteen minutes. I haven't kept track of how long I've practised the pieces for (especially as I've played a couple of them before, so the initial practice was a while ago and I'm now revisiting them), but I can tell you that it has definitely been hours. Then there's the general ongoing practice of improving tone, technique, breath control etc which will contribute to playing these pieces. Seeing the outcome of all these things in a performance is of course fulfilling, but getting absorbed in the process is also a wonderful thing. Finding out what your mind and body can do can be quite amazing - from the beginner who starts to train those tiny muscles around their lips to make a sound on the flute, to the advanced player who discovers a small tweak to their hand position which improves their technique.
Things you do other than actually playing your instrument can help your music-making too. Lots of musicians turn to meditation to help with nerves and concentration, and to exercise for fitness and stress-relief. I've recently re-started going to the gym, and the fact that I know it helps my playing is always a big motivation. Some achy muscles led me to reading about recovering from workouts, and everything I saw emphasised the importance of rest. One article I read said that fitness doesn't happen in the gym, it happens in the times between, when your muscles are recovering and rebuilding - and practising an instrument needs those times in-between too. You are using both muscles and mental energy, and those need to be rested. So this is why I won't tell you to practise every day, but most days, and to do enough but don't overdo it. Take rests, have a cup of tea, have a day off, go and listen to your pieces rather than playing them, go and listen to something completely different, lie on the grass and stare at the sky for a bit (though maybe not at this time of year). Of course you won't always do all of this, and sometimes you'll give yourself a hard time for not being perfect, for playing the wrong notes, or for not practising enough or for doing too much (and sometimes I need to be reminded to follow my own advice). And that's OK.
It's difficult to sum that up in a snappy quote though.
I signed up to Seth Hanes' email list a while ago, after coming across 'The Musician's Guide to Hustling' through a Facebook group. Seth is a musician and a marketing consultant, having realised before graduation that he needed to know about marketing and entrepreneurship and throwing himself whole-heartedly into getting to know all about it. He now advises artistic clients and businesses such as the Pennsylvania Philharmonic and The Conservatory of Musical Arts. I was impressed by how he'd combined his musical and marketing knowledge.
So when an email came through from Seth asking for beta-readers for his new book 'Break Into the Scene', I jumped at the chance to combine my own skills - a musical background and editing/proofreading - and offer my help (plus, I have to admit I was really curious about the book, and this meant I got to read it early!).
When the book came out a couple of months later, I ordered a copy - in fact, it was the first thing I used my new student status to get a discount on! I read it (again) on the train back from a day at Uni - it's about 160 pages, so a quick read if you want to sit down to it in one go, but also written in easily-digestible sections, so you could grab it for ten minutes at a time and still get plenty out of it.
The book is part myth-busting and part practical advice. Essentially - yes, you need to practise your instrument to get good at it, but that alone will not get you work - the gigs will not 'magically' come to you. Certainly when I was training, the myth of 'discovery' was quite powerful. If you worked hard and got really good, someone would come and find you and propel you to stardom. Maybe that happens on very rare occasions, but the vast majority musicians need to put some effort in to 'getting themselves out there'.
Seth uses his marketing knowledge to set out steps that you can take to get in touch with people and make opportunities for work as a musician. Yes, he uses the word 'networking'. This is a word that always makes me cringe a bit. But I like Seth's take on it - he quotes his friend and mentor Charlie Hoehn: "The best networkers don't call it networking.... they call it being friends" and says that "actively trying to network with people almost always comes across as fake... it should always start from a place of creating authentic relationships". This rang huge bells for me - having friends who share your experiences in different areas of your life is utterly invaluable (in my case, musicians, academics, people who are self-employed in different fields - although of course I have friends who aren't any of those things and I don't value them any less!). And the best, most enjoyable work, I find, is with people who you really get on with.
But of course you need to make contact with people in the first place. Seth's take on this is a bit different from the usual advice. The biggest surprise for me in this book was the advice not to bother with a website. Since I'm writing this on my website, and my website is where a lot of my work comes from, my immediate reaction was to reject this... but actually, he's not saying never to bother with a website, just that it (along with professional photos, social media, etc) isn't vital to start with. Instead, Seth offers an email template for getting in touch with people and offering whatever it is you have to offer. And while you might want to tweak the wording to suit your own style, the basic premise of 'putting yourself out there' and the guidance for taking the first steps is what I think really makes this book. It's like a reassuring voice saying, it's OK, you can do this, I know it's scary, but I've done it, other people have done it too, and here are the good things that can happen. Some of the 'good things' described really made me smile - as well as being success stories, they sounded like a lot of fun!
There's some excellent practical advice on what to do when you get work too - the 'Skills That Have Nothing to Do With Talent' chapter contains some 'rules' which are aimed at freelancers, but can apply to most musical situations - in fact, a lot of other situations in life too. These fall broadly into practical skills (timekeeping, replying to messages, being prepared) and social skills (be friendly, offer help, "don't be a whiner"). All common sense really, but well worth a reminder.
It can be easy when reading books like this to come up with reasons (excuses) why you can't do these things, why your situation is different, why that wouldn't work for you. Seth is in the US, so some of the systems and organisations he described don't exist in the same way elsewhere (I'll admit to still not quite understanding how the US high school band system works), but it doesn't take too much of a leap of the imagination to think of alternatives in your own area. And of course, not every bit of someone else's advice is going to be right for you. I still felt some resistance to the 'marketing' language (I can't imagine myself sending an email saying "I wanted to reach out" but again that's probably a bit of cultural difference, and the need to adapt things to suit you!). But if you need a quick dose of motivation, along with lots of straight-talking advice and some virtual hand-holding, I think this book strikes the right balance.
The People's Orchestra, based in Birmingham, are looking to expand their unique orchestra model into other areas of the country, including a South Yorkshire group based in Sheffield, hopefully starting early next year. I've been working with them to find interested musicians in the South Yorkshire area - I'm sure you're out there!
The People's Orchestra is a bit different - there are no limits on numbers of any instrument (so no waiting lists for you woodwind players... saxophones included too!). The repertoire is an exciting mixture of classical, film music, show tunes and more. There's some flexibility around rehearsal attendance (they realise that people have different working patterns and commitments). They offer bursaries to those who need them, and the organisation also supports volunteers to gain valuable experience and find work.
If you'd be interested in playing in a big, friendly orchestra and being there at the start of something very exciting for classical music in Sheffield, please fill in the Expression of Interest form at http://www.thepeoplesorchestra.com/eoi
It's that time of year that feels like another 'new year', and this year I feel like I've had a succession of them. Back to a full teaching timetable after a quieter summer - some new flute students, some new online theory students. Hearing about my students' new schools. And then the University students descended on Sheffield for the start of the academic year and the place was busy and buzzing again. And finally, this week, I started my PhD. That is, I've spent one day so far at Lancaster University, where I'll be studying part-time/ distance learning. The first week is mainly taken up with induction and registration events, and I've been impressed so far by the care that's gone into making sure we know where we need to be, what we need to do, and how to find out things. But more than that, by the emphasis on making sure we're OK - how to look after ourselves in the process of doing a PhD, and where to get help if we need it.
There's a lot of crossover between things that are useful in musical training and work, and those that help you on the way with a PhD. The concept of little and often - whether that's reading and writing (I'm taking the advice to write frequently and writing this blog post!), or practising your instrument. Making use of small stretches of time - I can practise a tricky phrase for ten minutes while my lunch cooks (obviously making sure it doesn't burn!), I can read a quick article on the train. Making notes to refer back to about what you're working towards. Planning - your aims for your research, or for a practice session - but equally being aware and prepared that things won't always go to plan, and being adaptable. Realising that there will be times when nothing seems to be going right and you want to pack it all in!
Of course these are useful in many aspects of life. As is stationery. One of the joys of a new school year was always shopping for a new pencil case, rulers, a protractor. I haven't bought any of those this time (and can't actually foresee any use for a protractor any time soon), but after much quizzing of other people about their PhD note-taking and filing systems, I have invested in some hopefully useful equipment. I bought some nice pens, which are comfortable to write with. I've tried making notes electronically, but it doesn't seem to work as well for me for processing information - so apart from using Evernote on my phone for quick reminders to myself, handwriting seems to be the way ahead. I have a lot of post-it notes of assorted sizes, for both PhD and musical projects, small ones for quickly tagging things and larger ones for more extensive notes on books and articles (and yes, they have small animals on them, thank you Paperchase):
I spent a while pondering what the ideal notebook would consist of. A few friends mentioned that they'd had notes all over the place when doing their research, and this was something I found I was already suffering from. At the same time, I was reading about different organisational systems, and came across Bullet Journals. The short explanation of these is that you use one notebook for everything, generally just using the next blank spread of pages for whatever you want to write next, and indexing these in the front so you can find everything. This sounded pretty ideal for note-taking where I'm likely to be writing about different aspects of my project, but want to be able to group themes together at some point. So my plan is to use these A4 notebooks with punched holes and perforations:
To start with I'll be using the next blank spread for whatever I make notes on next, and indexing it Bullet Journal style. However, as my work progresses, the perforations and punched holes allow me to detach sheets and file them in ring binders in the appropriate category, to refer back to. That's the plan anyway - I'll report back on whether that actually works!
I realise this is not exactly a 'research' blog post - but organisation is possibly one of the biggest challenges of a PhD (and also of freelance music-making and self-employed teaching, which I'm doing at the same time). As far as actual research goes, I'm currently reading about theories of adult learning, and making notes for a summary of how each of these relates to music education. And trying to get plenty of sleep!
Last night BBC Four showed the first episode of All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge. Like Bake Off for musicians, this is a series where we follow several amateur orchestras through various rounds until a winner is decided (and gets to play at Proms in the Park). I wrote of my reservations about the idea when it was first announced, so it was with some hesitancy that I switched on last night.
I have to say I enjoyed most of the programme - it was lovely to hear the stories of the orchestras and some of the individuals who played and conducted them. It was particularly great to hear about how being part of the groups had enhanced people's lives, made them feel part of a community. It was fascinating to see how they worked in rehearsals, and responded to the professional coaching and intensive mentoring sessions, to hear them talk about practice (or lack of!) and the challenges of playing at a certain age, or when you've got long working hours and family to consider. Seeing/ hearing the different styles and characters of each group was really interesting, as was seeing/ hearing the progress they made over a month with the pieces they'd been challenged to learn.
The competition element was kept fairly low-key, until right at the end, when each group performed their piece and there was the typical "we have to say goodbye to someone" line-up. I agree with this review from theartsdesk.com that this felt tacked-on, 'tacky and unnecessary'. Could we not have just followed the progress of all these amazing people across a few months? Could they not have all played in a concert at the end, celebrating amateur music-making and their achievements? Maybe that wouldn't have provoked as much interest as a competition.
Classical music has been in the news for other reasons connected to competitions too. After the Olympics, there were questions around why there is so much more funding for sport than there is for the arts. Why 'elite' sport is seen as a good thing but 'elitism' in music isn't. That particular question grabbed my interest as a linguist - my initial thoughts are that it is in part down to the different usage of the terms. You just don't really hear anyone talking about 'elite' musicians in the same way as they do about elite athletes, even though the process of training is not actually that different or any less intense. Where the term is used, it's negative, around classical music being 'elitist' or for 'the elite' (although I have also seen some discussion about certain sports suffering from 'elitism' - debates around lack of access to particular sports to people coming from state schools, for example, which could also apply to music education in some areas). I think this is something that could make a good corpus linguistics study, to get some data around the usage of the words - maybe I'll set aside some time for a mini research project!
I do wonder, though, if there is any connection between these views (and funding levels) and the fact that sport is generally competitive and music is generally not - not in quite such an obvious way, anyway. Music competitions exist, but the usual way for people to experience music is a performance/ concert, whereas the normal way of experiencing sport is to watch a competitive match or race. Do people just like the structure of competition, the tribalism of supporting a team? Is musical performance 'elitist' in a way that sporting competition (whilst involving an 'elite') is not?
This photo has been doing the rounds on the flutey internet recently (I don't know where it originates from, so apologies for the lack of credit). These are some of the best flautists of the last couple of hundred years, and in particular these are their embouchures - the shape they make/ made with their mouths when playing. If you'd like to look at lots of other embouchures, there's a web page full of them over here: http://www.larrykrantz.com/embpic.htm. The point is that there are all sorts of differences between them - how much lip is above/ below the flute, what angle the lips/ flute are at, all sorts... and of course their lips are naturally very different in the first place.
I saw one of the above flute players at the weekend - at the British Flute Society 'Flutastique' Festival, which was celebrating the links between British and French flute playing, and William Bennett's 80th birthday. Looking around the event was a perfect demonstration of the idea that one size doesn't fit all! Watching the performers' recitals - all wonderful players with fantastic, but different, tones - you could see different embouchures, different ways of holding the flute and using the fingers, different ways and degrees of movement when they played. And then there were the hundreds of attendees - on the Friday morning we had a great warm-up session with Katherine Bryan, and although we were all aiming at the same thing, 'good' relaxed posture and playing a nice clear 'B', a glance across the room showed numerous permutations and combinations of posture, hand positioning and embouchure. The same variations were in evidence at the manufacturers' stalls where people were trying out different flutes and finding that some worked for them and some didn't.
When you watch someone playing the instrument you play, it's natural to analyse what they're doing (especially if you admire their sound or technique). If they sound that good, they must be doing it right! But seeing so many players in close proximity made it really obvious that there is no one 'right'. Trying out things that other people do is a great idea, but we have to work out if they work for us or not. We probably have to borrow bits and pieces from different people, rather than copying any one person's complete technique (unless they're your identical twin, in which case, it might work). It was fascinating to watch players on stage with some of their own students, and see the things that were similar but also those that were different.
Through all this, it's worth considering that even if someone is really, really good, they might still be doing things that aren't ideal, even for themselves! They might have habits that they'd like to break out of but haven't quite managed to yet. They might have to work round issues such as fingers that don't quite do what they'd ideally do. I find hands fascinating - they vary so much, and trying to get a good playing position on the flute is a case of careful work between the student and teacher to find something that works for them (and then may need to be adjusted as they grow - a few of mine seem to have had finger growth spurts recently!).
And what about attending a flute festival? That's not something that's going to suit everyone - it's pretty intense listening to, talking about, trying out, playing, thinking about flutes for a few days. If you're the sort of person who likes throwing themselves whole-heartedly into a subject for a weekend, then definitely worth it (it's not cheap, so whilst it's not a bad idea to miss the odd session to clear your head, you want to make the most of it). Not something I'd want to do every weekend, but every couple of years - definitely!
The little badges below were my souvenir of the weekend - what a lovely varied bunch they are too!
I was doing some updates to my website this morning, and I came across this wonderful, slightly chaotic photo from one of my student workshops/ concerts. This is a collection of my students and flute choir members, getting ready to perform to their family and friends. What I love about this photo - other than the fact it contains lots of people who I really like - is the communication between people, the concentration, the variety of people. I love that you can see players helping each other out with getting their music ready to play, supporting each other. And all the friends and relatives ready to hear the outcome of the lessons they might pay for (or keep out of the way in another room for), the practice they overhear/ endure (I know listening to someone embarking on a new octave can be less than tuneful), the enthusiastic ramblings about flute playing that they kindly listen to.
I've also been using the quieter time over the summer to sort out my home office/ sheet music library. I've finally got a pin board to display the cards that were propped up on my desk and kept falling down the back. These are from friends and students and people I've worked with. They have some lovely pictures on, but it's also a lovely boost to open them sometimes and re-read the messages. Some of them tell me about the things that really helped them and remind me how important it is that students get the support they need, not just from me, but from all sorts of people. There's an African proverb that "it takes a whole village to raise a child" and I think the same is true of raising a happy, successful musician. Students doing exams, performances or auditions don't just need lessons. My students don't just need me! They also need opportunities to practise performing (e.g. student concerts - where the other players and the audience make a huge difference). They need good accompanists who can work with them on developing their pieces into a conversation between the flute and the piano. They might need support with other aspects of exam preparation - for example, asking their accompanist to do some extra sessions on the aural tests too. I teach music theory to some students who have instrumental lessons with other teachers (they might not have time in school lessons to fit theory in, or the teacher might just not enjoy teaching it). Students might benefit from different views on an aspect of technique (sometimes just having something explained or demonstrated a different way works wonders), so workshops with other teachers and players can be really valuable. Coming to the student workshops or to a group like Flute Choir can provide different viewpoints, a chance to exchange thoughts and tips with other players, an opportunity to put skills like sightreading into action, and most importantly, encouragement from other people. When it comes to exams or performances, having people around who are calm, organised and positive really helps - good exam stewards, for example.
Then there's the supportive friends, family, parents, partners, housemates, etc, mentioned above. It makes a huge difference to have people who are on your side when you're working towards a goal. One of the findings of my Master research was that adult learners really notice their support network (or lack of it) - that support can also encompass things like social media and online forums of people doing the same things, sharing their experiences of lessons and exams. And for younger students still at school, having support there is brilliant - opportunities to join groups, play in school concerts, teachers who are interested in their musical activities. I've had students who were doing a school project on a particular country ask to learn pieces from that country so they could perform them to their class - what a fabulous idea!
It can be hard to be entirely happy and fulfilled in your music-making if one of the pieces of the jigsaw is missing. It's not impossible, but it's more of a struggle. Whenever I sit in an exam waiting room, with my students, their parents, their accompanist and the exam stewards, or whenever I look at these photos of lots of flute players together, it reminds me of that musical 'village' and how well it works when it all pulls together.
In my last post, I talked about the value of taking different approaches to playing musical instruments, and trying them out to find the best ones for you. In a way, the tendency to try to find 'one size that fits all' is one of the things that led me to want to research adult music learners. It was the attitude that I'd sometimes come across that "adult learners are... X". One of the first results that came up when I searched online was a quote from a music teacher saying that "adults are notoriously difficult to teach". My own experience suggested that wasn't necessarily the case, but it did start me wondering about whether adults learning did have many common characteristics, or whether they were really quite diverse (my 'work in progress' answer to that, from my research so far, and from teaching increasing numbers of adults, is probably 'both'!).
The PhD is starting to feel even more of a reality now - I've told all my students about it, I've got the dates for registration week in October, and I've got to take a photo to upload for my student card! I'm already thinking about how I'll manage my time and the conflicting demands of PhD, work and life - I often feel that the PhD experience is geared towards the typical full-time student (dare I say a 'one size fits all' approach?), and negotiating my path through it as a part-time student who is also committed to a teaching and playing career seems like it will be a challenge at times.
In the meantime, I'm starting to shift up a gear from 'reading bits and pieces' to actually planning my literature review. I'm excited about delving into research from all sorts of areas - music education, education more generally, adult learning, linguistic methods. My initial dipping into adult learning literature is bringing up issues around what exactly that constitutes - the research I've looked at so far tends to focus on 'basic skills' education or, to a lesser extent, retraining, which is quite a different sort of experience to learning an instrument, although clearly there will be overlaps in the basic issues around 'learning'. But it has got me thinking about where music education sits in all this - there are plenty of debates around how important it should be considered in schools, but what actually is music education for adults? Certainly it's rare, though not impossible, for someone to take up an instrument in later life and become a professional musician - setting aside for now how we define a 'professional musician' because that's a whole other can of worms! - so it's not, generally, 'retraining' for a new career. Is it a hobby, or leisure activity? It does feel somehow different from hobbies where you perhaps attend a term of evening classes, or go along once a week to a club (and I always feel the word 'hobby' has a sense of casual interest, which doesn't quite fit how some adults treat their music - or indeed other non-work activities). Perhaps that's something I need to ask adult learners as part of my research - how do they characterise their music playing/ learning? And perhaps I also need to look into literature around leisure activities?
I do think that music teachers need to take account of those different attitudes - what someone needs from lessons does vary depending on what they want out of them. Some adults seem to start with a clear idea of what they're aiming for, whilst others don't so much, and that's also part of our job, to support them in finding out what that is and as it might change along the way (or maybe never quite finding out exactly, but enjoying the process). Some of my Masters research found adult students being pressured down the exam route by teachers, and maybe that's an example of trying to use the same approach for everyone.
I've also read some discussion this week about how long it should take learners to reach certain stages on an instrument, and I think that's definitely a topic for a future 'one size fits all' post, which seem to be turning into an accidental series. More soon!
The world of music is full of attempts to get the ‘right answer’. Just thinking about flute playing…
What’s the right way to play Bach on the flute? What’s the best make of flute? How do I play high notes quietly? What angle should I hold my flute at? Where do I put my thumb? How should I breathe?
I belong to a few Facebook groups and online forums, and whenever anyone asks a question about any aspect of flute playing, strong opinions are expressed. You should definitely do it like this, hold it like this, blow like this. This make of flute is the best.
People go to teachers or to masterclasses and are told to do things a certain way, and do their best to follow the instructions, and don’t understand why it’s not working for them. You buy a tutor book and it says “you must do it like this” and “you should not be doing this” (with my linguistics head on, the language of tutor books fascinates me - there's another research project in there bursting to get out one day).
I am generalising here of course, for there are voices out there saying “try this”. “This works for me, so you could try it, but also you could try these different ways”. “Go and try lots of different flutes and see which one feels best to you”. Experiment.
Some people go to one teacher and take what they say as gospel and never question it. Some people read everything they can on the subject, go to workshops and masterclasses and hear about many different ways to do the same thing. This can be overwhelming and confusing – who are we supposed to believe? Or it can be a springboard for experimentation, finding out what works best for you.
I’ve worked on flute playing in detail with quite a number of teachers, from extended periods of lessons to one-off masterclasses or courses, so I’ve come across quite a variety of views on the way to do things. None of them, I would say, have been wrong, but some have worked better for me than others.
I look at my own students and I see such variety. As a flute teacher, you spend a lot of time looking at people’s lips and hands, and there are incredible differences (thumbs, in particular, fascinate me – so many different lengths and angles they’ll bend at!). I see my job less as telling people the ‘right answer’ and more as giving them as many possible ways to try as I can. I can show you how I hold my flute with my short thumbs and my hypermobile fingers, but that won’t necessarily work for you if you have long thumbs and your fingers bend a different way. I can help you try different ways of holding it and see what’s happening with your hands when you can’t because they’re stuck out to the side of you. I can suggest a range of different ways to ‘blow’ or to position your lips, so you can try them out and see which one sounds best for you. And I understand the tendency to want to sound like someone else, flute players you admire whose sound you love, but you are you, and even doing exactly what they do (if that was possible) is unlikely to make you sound exactly like them. Your sound is made up of your physical attributes, your particular technique, your flute - and that's a good thing. If you like something about someone else's sound - the richness, for example - then play around to find out what brings about richness in your own tone. There's no 'secret' that anyone can tell you that will magically make you sound the way you want to sound.
By extension, that means me reading about different approaches to playing, going to events to find out what other people are doing, and learning new things myself. For me, it also means helping flute players have access to other players and teachers, because with all the will in the world I can’t know everything or be able to demonstrate or explain everything. It’s one of the reasons why I arrange flute days. I run workshops and concerts for my students and flute choir members (pictured above just a few days ago), get-togethers where people can play in a big group, meet other players and share ideas (next one in August), and ones where I invite people with expertise in particular areas to share that with us. The next one of those is with Dr Jessica Quiñones in October – Jessica has listened to my rants, er, impassioned speeches, about the tendency to seek ‘right answers’ and has designed a day where we can “explore and experiment with a variety of methods” of approaching different aspects of flute technique.
It’s so valuable to be able to take ideas from different people and try them out for yourself. It's good to meet other players and hear about their struggles with the same issues, and the things that have worked (or not) for them. To see what they do and how they sound. A lot is said in music education about ‘independent learning’ – equipping students with the skills to plan their own development and practice – and I think that’s also as much about learning to experiment with and assess other approaches, to ‘pick and mix’ and find your own way.
Last week I found myself on the way to Leeds, twice. On Saturday I played with Yorkshire Wind Orchestra in the lovely surroundings of 'Arts@Trinity' - a hub of music and other artistic activity right in the busy centre of the city. We had a lively flute day with lots of visiting flute players, followed by an equally lively concert of 'Music from the Americas' inspired by the Rio Olympics. On Sunday, I felt as if I'd taken part in the Olympics (if flute playing was an Olympic sport, which after a session on the bass flute I felt it should be)!
A few days earlier, I headed over to the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama, an amazing community centre for music and drama lessons, headed by principal Tim Knight. I met Tim some time ago through the wonders of the internet, but we first worked together when he wrote the fabulous 'Steel City Shuffle' for Sheffield Flute Choir. We worked on the piece over a few rehearsals, then Tim came to workshop it with us - him telling us about his inspiration for the piece, how he intended it to sound, and us advising him on what is really quite hard to do on a bass flute! The result is this tremendously fun piece for flute choir. The flute choir will be joining one of Tim's (singing) choirs, the Heritage Masterworks Chorale, for a concert in Rotherham Minster this September, and I expect the 'Shuffle' will get an outing there.
This week I visited YCMD in Leeds to play through and record some of Tim's works for flute and piano. The College was a hub of activity, being the local ABRSM exam centre - and such a buzzing, welcoming place. I lost count of how many different music groups and lessons they have going on every week!
Lots of Tim's work seems to be inspired by the British landscape - we played Celtic melodies, his Lakeland Suite and Moorland Suite amongst others. Being a Scottish person who spent many happy holidays in the Lake District, and now enjoys a wander out of Sheffield to the moors, this felt a bit like a musical journey through different stages of my life. The Lakeland Suite in particular makes me think of childhood holidays with my grandparents, sadly no longer with us, and of my grandad's paintings of the scenery of that area (one pictured above).
You can hear some of the results of a really enjoyable morning over on Tim's YouTube channel and copies of the sheet music are available from Spartan Press.
Flute player and teacher blogging about playing, learning, teaching and researching music.