Further flute adventures

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Currently working through the second study in Köhler, Op. 33, Book 1.

The last in-person rehearsal of the band I joined in January was March 5. The director cancelled our March 10 and 12 meetings, and, of course, by the end of the following week, well….

For the seven weeks I participated, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Developmentally, it was exactly where I needed to be, and the flute teacher who led the sectionals not only was as credentialed as my private lessons teacher but had also performed with her.

In April and May, the band director gathered us via Zoom once a week. Although the meetings were strictly social in function, many of us did contribute to at least one of those collage performances that became ubiquitous in the early weeks of the shutdown. The quality of both our playing and the videos was dubious, at best, and eventually, participation waned. But, to my delight, flute sectionals continued. Rather than meeting as a group in Zoom, though, the sectionals teacher delivered individual lessons via FaceTime, a process my regular teacher and I had mastered by week two of the shutdown. Throughout the spring, then, tedious Zoom meetings were the small price I paid for excellent and unexpectedly abundant additional private instruction.

In late April, I also worked on a video performance of the first movement of Handel’s Flute Sonata in G major (HWV 363b)), my contribution to the annual recital my teacher hosted in mid-May.

Weekly band meetings continued into the summer, but despite the addition of stretching, warm-ups, and some playing, they remained, for me, simply a pathway to sectionals. In June, I suggested to the other flute players that we work on something as a section, and we eventually landed on the lovely “Sarabande” by Claude Debussy, with the goal that the director would dovetail the videos of our individual performances as he had for the collage performances of the band. The deceptively simple Debussy piece and tone and scale work were the focus of my remaining sectionals.

In my private lessons, we have continued to focus on P. Bona’s rhythmical articulation studies; Robert Cavally’s Melodious and Progressive Studies from Andersen, Gariboldi, Koehler, and Terschak for Flute; my new solo, “Morceau de Concours” by Gabriel Fauré; and a weekly duet. You probably already know that it is impossible to play or sing together in Zoom or FaceTime. Well, each week, my teacher randomly selects a piece from the Rubank collections, notes the metronome setting, and within two days forwards me a recording of her playing the second part. During an in-person lesson, she readily adapts to my tempo issues, reading errors, etc., but a recording is a merciless duet partner, which is an unanticipated  benefit of virtual lessons: I have vastly improved my duet work.

I hope to bring that improvement to my recording of “Sarabande,” which the flute section has rescheduled for the spring semester. In late July, I indicated that I would not return to band until then. Although there have been murmurs about in-person but socially distanced rehearsals later this fall, it seems unlikely: All but two band members are over fifty; more than half are in their sixties and seventies. Much as I have adored the additional private instruction, I am through with Zoom “rehearsals” until January at the earliest.

My current daily practice schedule remains much as it was in early January, then:

— 20 minutes: long tones and scales
— 20 minutes: Melodious and Progressive Studies
— 20 minutes: duet
— 15 to 20 minutes: rhythmical articulation
— 15 to 20 minutes: solo

In July, the music program with which my teacher is affiliated sponsored a series of free, multi-week seminars, and the one she led featured the scales and études high school musicians must prepare to audition for regional and state ensembles. She invited me to attend as either a participant or a viewer, and I chose the latter, which was both wise (those students are terrific and didn’t need this old woman slowing them down) and edifying (the scale work alone has added a new dimension to my practice). They also spent time working through “Dr. Sánchez’s Epic Flute Warm-up.” My teacher had introduced me to this a while back, but in the seminar, she reviewed every bar, and the benefits became more readily apparent to me. Now, once a week, I substitute the warm-up for long tones and scales.

Another change I’ve made to my practice is punctuating each of my first four practice sections with five minutes on a stationary bike — nothing overly exerting, just a bit of movement before carrying on with next bit. I’m not the sort who can abide exercise equipment as home decor, but we scored an incredible deal on a sturdy, folding model that I put away after practicing.

Studying music has ameliorated some of the isolating effects of this pandemic. I remain so thankful to be able to continue.

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