(I originally posted this on my Quietwriter blog four years ago).
I played in a concert last night. No, concert isn’t the right word. Far too grand. A small performance to an even smaller audience. Did it matter? Not really. I enjoyed the coming together with my fellow musicians and hearing all our hard work successfully performed.
Audience size doesn’t matter, one person, a thousand, the true joy is in the preparation and smiles when we make it to the end of the piece without glaring mistakes.
I’m a flautist. Since 8 years old my primary instrument has been the flute. I took the grades, joined concert bands, and other small ensembles though not orchestras. My latest one is a flute choir. With little opportunity to play regularly, the couple of times a month we meet is my musical fix.
I chose the flute because my best friend at the time played one. It was a fortuitous choice I would discover many years later, but at the time it made sense because I was a competent player of the recorder. The transition to flute made easier due to similar fingering patterns.
My enthusiasm increased as I was exposed to more classical music my parents, visiting the Royal Festival Hall for concerts. The flute is a social instrument, so I learnt to cope with nerves and play in school concerts and regional concerts put on by county music schools.
Technically, I could call myself a grand-pupil of James Galway. My first teacher had been a pupil of his and always called him Jimmy. “I’d I seen Jimmy, yet?” she’d asked. I did, when I was about 8 or 9, in Devon on holiday. He came to a Dartington Hall to perform a concert and I sat on the balcony, peering through the wooden railings and it enthralled me. His eyes darted about the room – if you play from memory then there is nowhere to look playing the flute, the instrument is to one side and out of eyesight. I fix on a point or shut my eyes, if I play from my heart.
Later, another teacher would suggest I only bought recordings of his earlier performance ‘before he got really famous’, because they were less flamboyant in nature. I’m not sure what my teacher meant – wasn’t that the point, show off your prowess?
Of course, I’ve learnt that unembellished music is often the best. My preferred flautist is now very different – Guo Yue. A Chinese born flautist, who lives in England. He’s expertise is the bamboo flute and there are no keys, just holes to cover. The music he plays is not western in style, the notes slide, drift into each other, swirling. He provided the musical accompaniment for a Channel 4 documentary on China called Beyond the Clouds. It is haunting, melancholic. Beautiful. He’s also trained to play western flutes and music, but I stick to his origins.
I could never play what he does, I have a Chinese flute, but it is so different, so basic in structure, so difficult to play.
At our concert, we played popular pieces, Irish folk, operatic arias. Our small audience sung along in places. I don’t think they’d have appreciated Chinese flute music. But that is the wonder of music, what I listened to, isn’t necessarily what I enjoy performing, and what inspires me to play is often what I don’t want to actually play myself.
My next book involves three talented sisters, one of whom plays the flute. Will she tackle performing?