Saturday, January 05, 2008
The Swiss Shepherd
Tonight I picked up my flute again, and because the music was in my head, and has always been in my heart, I picked up, "The Swiss Shepherd" by P. Morlacchi. And played it.
I still remember the first time I heard this piece; I was so entranced that I knew that I MUST possess it and perform it...perfectly. It spoke to me of haunting beauty, of lilting laughter, of running water, and effortless amusement.
So today, although it was halting, I played the music, I stuttered, I stopped, I repeated passages, I omitted the highest notes because I couldn't figure out what they were, but more importantly....I REMEMBERED a great deal. Or, at least, my fingers and memory working together remembered the runs, the trills, the arpeggios, and the grace notes. There was staccato and triplets to keep me moving. It was an ongoing adventure as I remembered this music, and still fought to play it.
I don't think the flute is a lost cause for me. Playing "The Swiss Shepherd" has in fact reminded me of the pure joy of the music. While my embouchure is in terrible shape, meaning my transitions are sloppy and occasionally squeaky, moving to low notes is "windy", and occasionally I'm sloppy with the breath support, there seems to be some hope even there. But Don't REALLY get me started on my embouchure. [For non-flute players, "embouchure" means: "The application of the lips to the mouthpiece of a wind instrument, and the position of muscles, lips, jaws, and teeth necessary to hold that position. In French, this also means the mouthpiece itself"]. It really is quite depressing, in spite of a glimmer of hope.
But as I played, even though it was no longer effortless, I detected that same sweetness that used to be there. It is dusty from lack of use, but a little polish and some spit-shine should make it work. The indescribable beauty of music well-played speaks volumes...and the fact that even a tiny glint of that mercurial edge of the occasional pure note still trembles like a crystalline snowflake even from my instrument...well....I'm speechless.
I still remember when my music teacher/church choir director placed this score in front of me, knowing how much I desired to play it. I'd been BEGGING her for this music. So one evening she placed it on the stand and I IMMEDIATELY began to play, struggling through the passages, pushing on, desiring so much to possess it that the mistakes I was making did not deter me.
Not longer after I began, my teacher snatched it off the stand and told me, "Not yet! You're not ready."
I wasn't ready. She was right.
She didn't give it back to me for another year or so, and to this day I am thankful for her vigilance. Had I tried to play it when I wasn't ready, I would have garnered bad habits, I would have gotten frustrated that I could not play it like she did, and in the end, I would have hated the experience and the score would have lost its shine. She knew this piece for what it was; my own personal Holy Grail. My Unicorn. My Pearl of great price.
Instead, she made me build up the necessary skills for that piece, which covers the entire range of abilities. Her goal was to emphasize my strengths and build up my weaknesses, knowing that, in light of what she knew I desired to perform, it would be best to use it as the goal and reward.
Indeed, I took this piece to State competetion my Senior year of High School...and Starred. It was a flawless performance. I also performed it for the Arts Banquet (I believe I still have the program), and for my audition for the Big Nine (our conference) Band. Well, I didn't succeed at the latter, but it was my sight reading that took me out, not that score!
Tonight, I called a friend of mine who happens to be the director of a local school orchestra. And she also plays violin in a community orchestra. I didn't reach her directly, but asked her if she knows of any good, inexpensive flute instructors, especially those versed in sacred music. (Seriously...I MUST have a goal here!). And if not...if she'd be willing to help me out. She expressed in the past that she doesn't know a lot about the flute, but I found my fingering chart and she could likely assist me with basic musical and disciplinary points.
So...I really do want to play again. Practice used to be a great way to relieve stress, because I could let myself go especially with music I knew well. In the beginning it will be very difficult, but perhaps I can once again attain the expertise I once enjoyed. And perhaps, yet, God has use for my flute? Could it be? Even after so many years?