Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Flute Diary

This past Sunday I played flute in three pieces at the Presbyterian Church in Orange. Two were at the beginning of the service with the ensemble and one was an obbligato part with the choir and organ (the music of which I got just two weeks previously).

I did fairly well, and got some nice compliments from some musical folks. About half the time I played as well as I can right now (with a tone quality I'm very excited about), and the rest of the time the slight cracks and the unintended vibrato here and there didn't seem to be disruptive enough to break the spell. 

For the piece with the choir I was up in the gallery with them, and the acoustics of the church are even more reverberant up there. It almost feels like playing a duet with another flute due to the sound reinforcement. The downside, which I discovered going up there and practicing by myself once, is that if you don't end a phrase beautifully and cleanly, that wounded sound will hang out there on its own for a while.

In practicing for this performance I again came up against something I've mentioned before. Having spent my childhood and adolescence plugging away at the piano, my brain is wired to think moving just one finger is all that's needed to move a step up or down. Notes like A flats and F sharps on the flute really hang me up if they're part of a run of sixteenth notes. Trying to concentrate enough to get them (because they're nowhere near automatic for me) can make me tense up, and that makes them even harder, whereas keeping my shoulders relaxed and letting that relaxed alertness spread all the way down to the fingertips makes everything easier.

It all reminds me of that Marvin Minsky(?) book Society of Mind and of the idea gaining currency with the neuroscientists that our brain works as a distributed network. One part of my mind knows I should keep the shoulders relaxed, but something I'm doing elsewhere in the network is having the side effect of making me tense them up if my attention to that issue lapses in the least.

Another factor in all this was my playing the horn off and on for three hours the previous day at a rehearsal for a cantata there at the same church for next Sunday. It may be that if I can build up my flute embouchure enough I can play it concurrently with the horn. Right now, though, playing the horn 24 to 48 hours before a flute performance leaves me feeling I have less motor control over the fine adjustments of the aperture needed to get good tone on each of the pitches played.

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