At that point, I had recently left my post as principal flute with the local amateur symphony orchestra. I was grateful for the wonderful experience I had had there but wanted to establish myself firmly as a professional musician in the public eye, and most importantly in my own mind. I had already been a professional flautist all of my working life: doing freelance performance work, running my own teaching practice and being involved in many professional music projects. But in my mind, I still wasn’t worthy of the title ‘professional musician’. My experiences over the past 15 months have affected me profoundly and changed my relationship to my flute, to music and to the wider world.
As soon as I joined EOTW I discovered a worldwide community of flautists – really good flautists! It made me have the realisation that
a) I wasn’t special
b) Of course I’m special
It was simultaneously a comfort and a challenge that there were so many people out there who were kind of like me, that I wasn’t alone. It was comforting to be part of community who had similar hopes and fears and loves and talents. But what was I going to do with my hopes, fears, loves and talents? That was the challenge.
The structure of doing one etude a week and sharing it online inspired me to perform one unaccompanied programme every month and share it online and also directly with my local community by doing a recital from my music room. I did this for 5 months from February to June, and then a final one in December. I was pleased to have a structured approach to work with and in January 2018 I also started having regular lessons (almost monthly) with my wonderful friend, colleague and mentor Susie Hodder-Williams. My mother was in the late stages of dementia at this time and she sadly died on 13th July 2018. Susie helped me to realize how connected my emotions are to my physical body and how connected my physical body is to my flute playing. Her lessons and support were invaluable.
The things I discovered with Susie in my lessons were reinforced by people I discovered in the online flute community (all through EOTW). I discovered Lea Pearson and her wonderful knowledge of body mapping. I discovered Jolene Harju Madewell with her wonderfully clear explorations of technique, and life-affirming love of colour, and I am currently enjoying her shared experiences of Alexander Technique. And there was much to be learned simply from watching other people’s videos. It helped to clarify my own approach both to my own playing and to my teaching.
Etude of the Week is an egalitarian group. From me, to a teacher in Russia, to a student in America, to a flute technician in Norway, to a symphonic flautist in South Africa, to an internationally touring flautist – we are all working on the same etudes every week, we all face similar challenges and we are all people who love the flute! There is no hierarchy. I can genuinely find inspiration and something that astounds me in every video I watch; whether it’s a note-perfect-memorised-expressive-performance or a first-try-brave-upload or a one-and-done-this-is-what-I-have-today-offering.
Discovering Jolene Harju Madewell led me to take up her scale game challenge (using the scale game by Michel Debost) which I completed during Sept – Dec 2018. I created an Instagram account in order to follow Jolene’s account. On Instagram, I found the 100-days-practice-challenge and I started doing that! Videoing myself has made me into my own teacher and I have changed and improved my posture, my sound production and my self-esteem. This was a journey, however, and a lot of the time I was very low and lacking in self-esteem throughout. My strength to keep going, to stay curious, to stay challenged, to hold on to the love of playing was found through my community. And this community, and my perspective, has been significantly widened through the Internet.
The Internet has been a catalyst for me crafting my own performance degree, if you like… (HONESTY ALERT!)
15 months ago:
1) I thought that the Moyse 24 little melodic studies were too simple and never really properly practised them.
2) I would struggle to play through a whole Boehm (or similar) etude. It was physically and mentally a big strain which I would undertake very occasionally and mistakenly feel like I’d achieved something.
3) I had never had a regular scales and arpeggios routine.
4) I had never had a daily practice routine. I practiced (sometimes a lot) – but no routine. My relationship with practice was fraught with a sense of guilt and lack.
1) The Moyse studies have become friends to me. There is so much complexity in simplicity. But the ultimate aim is simplicity. I use the melodies in my practice on most days. I use them in my teaching. They are so useful and lovely.
2) I have learnt and recorded 73 etudes over the past 15 months. I have had to develop physical and mental ease to do this. This has had, and continues to have, a profound effect on me.
3) I am intimately acquainted with Taffanel and Gaubert daily scale and arpeggios exercises and they are a touchstone of my daily routine. They are something I can do if I feel out-of-sorts, or if I don’t know what else to do. It will level me out, or will set me off on practising something else.
4) My relationship with practice is (mostly - nobody’s perfect!) healthy and regular because my understanding of myself as a flautist and what that means and how valid it is has been deepened. Practice is my friend, a constant.
Over the course of this 15 month period, although my technique was clearly improving – I experienced frequent despair about not being good enough. I have always felt this, and I think the death of my mum heightened my sense of lack, of loss, of not enough, of futility - whilst also challenging me to live fully. Inwardly, I became deeply unsatisfied with my playing to the point where I couldn’t enjoy playing with other people and I would even be jealous of other musicians, their ability or maybe their appearance of satisfaction, or ease. I was horrified with this despondent voice that was growing in me. I desperately wanted to change and grow (even though I already was…) and decided that I had to do the postgraduate music course that I had never done. I did a wonderful summer course at Harlaxton Manor with Carla Rees (a week after my mum had died) and decided that I wanted to do postgraduate study with Carla at Royal Holloway University.
I was determined to see this through, and make my family and work fit around it, as it was the thing I had never done and had always wanted to do and it was the answer to my insecurity. About two weeks ago, I had a deep realisation that I could keep chasing the idea of being good enough all my lfie and never be happy. Or I could be good enough and be happy. I have so much to be happy about. I decided not to do the postgraduate course. Dropping this idea of the-thing-that-I-never-did has been a big relief.
The idea of being ‘good enough’ is not a passive thing. It is a joyfully active thing. It requires my engagement every day. And I can only be productively engaged if my desire comes from a happy place.
From a young age, I have been a good sight-reader and have been able to communicate through my music. This is a great gift, but one that I subconsciously took for granted. I needed someone or something else to tell me that I was special because I didn’t really think it was special myself. I now understand how special it is and every day I actively participate in something which deserves my love, care and attention – and that is incredible. Most importantIy, I have an inkling of just how special we all are, and I am, whatever our endeavours or achievements are. I could give up playing the flute tomorrow and I would still be special. There is something about community, communication, the fostering of love, of a listening space, that helps us all to thrive. I am very lucky to access these things through my flute playing, but it is not the only way.
Thank you to all my friends in ‘real life’ and online, for helping me to be both serious and light.