I was a flutist…

… that is, I used to play flute.

(I would have been 20 or maybe 21  in this picture, I think.  Yikes, that’s over 20 years ago!! So young! So THIN!!)

From the age of 4 when I first started piano lessons, my parents spent thousands of dollars on piano lessons,  flute lessons, musicianship classes,  sheet music, exam fees, music camps, and so on.  They drove me to theory lessons and concert band, and rehearsals for local theatre shows.   They sat patiently through hours of other people’s kids playing so they could hear me play.  (Thanks, Mum and Dad!) My brother and sister spent holidays in places they didn’t want to, just so I could go to music camp.  My Dad put up with me taking over his flute and eventually getting better flutes than he had.  The whole family (and neighbours!) heard me practicing the same scales and pieces over and over and over  ’til it must have nearly sent them mad.

I really, REALLY enjoyed playing flute.  And I was pretty good at it.  I thought it was going to be my world.  I loved playing in the  orchestra for the local Gilbert and Sullivan productions.  I loved playing and marching on Anzac Day with the concert band.  There wasn’t a day that I didn’t have a flute in my hands.

[clicky for biggy]

(This was from a Gilbert and Sullivan tribute show called “Savoy Story”, in Wagga Wagga in 1984.We were being very serious on purpose, it was meant to be a Victorian style portrait.  Craig Hill is now a star musician – well he was back then, too  – guesting with the Australian Chamber Orchestra; Stuart Beed is teaching somewhere I think;  Jeff Willey (not pictured here) is still teaching at the NSW Conservatorium High School, I think.  I didn’t know the other two very well, I think they were fellow members of Riverina Concert Band, though.)

Eventually, I developed over-use injuries, (and thought other things were more important) and I gave up my dream of being a professional musician.  I probably wouldn’t have made it anyway – flutists are a dime a dozen, and while I was good, I probably wasn’t exceptional.  I remember one of my friends from Border Music Camp who started as a flute player but came back the next year playing double bass – yes, more of a pain to cart around, but so much rarer and therefore easier to get into orchestras! (Andrea Green, I wonder where you are these days?)

The last time I seriously played was around 1990, when I played in a local concert band and also took part in the local eisteddfod.

After that, circumstances in my life were not conducive to playing.  I was in my early 20’s and very unstable in my relationships and where I lived.  Then I was sick, and in a relationship where I was actively discouraged from being creative.

So, for various reasons,  I didn’t play for around 20 years.  An odd moment here or there I would unpack the flute and play a few scales, a couple of tunes – and then pack it away again.

But in the last few weeks I’ve been attempting to play again.  My sight reading is still pretty good – it should be, after all the thousands of hours I’ve spent reading music.  I can get most of the notes “under my fingers” – that is, I can remember, without thinking about it, how to get the right combination of keys to make the note I want (mostly!) and I can play most of them without making horrible sounds.  What I’m lacking is speed and more importantly, lung capacity and breath control. And intonation – part of the problem there is that my flute needs an overhaul (ageing components, especially the fragile pads which create a seal to make the notes, are a real issue that I will have to work around); the other part of intonation is getting used to hearing the sounds the flute makes again. Re-training my brain to keep a note in tune.

I have no desire to get back into formal learning of music.  I just want to play for enjoyment.  Hopefully, play with others in a concert band again.  And  – wish me luck  – I’m going to an open rehearsal on Monday night to do that. I am sooooooooo looking forward to it!!

I watched the opera “Carmen” on tv yesterday afternoon –  (the  2003, Zefirelli directed version from the Arena Verona) and remembered studying and learning the “orchestral excerpts” required for my 8th Grade AMEB exams… I forget how much I enjoy music until something like this reminds me.  (The Habanera – “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” – has been a favourite ever since I saw an orange singing it on Sesame Street.  Really. )

It feels good to reclaim “Flutist” as part of who I am.  (And while some people may claim “Flautist” is correct, I go by what my great hero, James Galway, said: “I am a flute player not a flautist. I don’t have a flaut and I’ve never flauted.”)

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