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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.

Badly.

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?

13 comments:

Melody said...

When I first saw the title of your post I thought it was going to be something about your dog (well, "Swiss Shepherd" is pretty close to "German Shepherd", right?)
I'm sure you will enjoy getting re-acquainted with your flute!

Adrienne said...

melody - If we now have Goldendoodles why not Swiss Shepherds??

Keep playing, Adoro

"If only the most gifted bird sang, the forest would be a quiet place."

angelmeg said...

After I had been slogging along trying to play through a refresher book on my own and realizing I needed help to get any better I began praying for guidance in finding an inexpensive teacher.

I came by my instructor in line at the tax preparer. She is the widow of the DRE I had when I first moved to town, and I remembered that she played the flute and gave instructions in piano, so I ventured to ask if she also gave flute lessons. She does, and I began with her the very next week. She also helps with Liturgical music whenever I have a mass coming up because she has played at Liturgy.

Keep playing and praying on your own and God will provide an instructor.

uncle jim said...

and we with lesser talents and giftedness will pray for your success and resurrection.

Angela M. said...

Who was it that said if something is worth doing, it's worth doing badly? At least you are doing it - somebody has to! And who knows where this will lead you! May God bless your efforts!

Adoro te Devote said...

melody ~ I'm sure it'll be fun...although once school starts my resolve will likely fall off again.

adrienne ~ You know, there's a difference between being gifted, and living up to those gifts! I USED TO be a very gifted flutist, but that ALSO involved a great deal of practice. So even being "gifted" doesn't come easy.

I will hold that those who aren't so gifted, or if they aren't living up to those gifts, well...they should not subject others to their...um..."offerings."

This means that no one is going to suffer from my lack of giftedness! LOL! Unless it comes back and becomes palatable to the human ear. :-) (Um...not sure how likely that will ever be. Seriously.)

angelmeg ~ Maybe He will, maybe He won't. We'll see. That's how I've tried to find an SD, also, but so far, although there's a possiblity, it might still not pan out. Sometimes we just have to go to our connected people and see if they can provide a connection. Since I have no money, even if I can find a teacher, I won't be able to pay for it. And I don't have the discipline to continue on my own. If I did, I would never have stopped playing.

But oh, how I miss it!


uncle jim & angela ~ We'll see what happens. Don't look for me to be headlining near you any time soon! LOL! :-)

Alice said...

Adoro, I can't believe it!

Every time I read one of your posts there's always something in it that I'm either thinking about or have done, and this is yet another one!

My primary instrument was the piano since I was 5, then I picked up the flute in my first year of high school.
My biggest problem with the flute was the same! That damn embouchure! I just couldn't get the hang of it!

I plugged on and completed my exams but then I had to give it up and concentrate on the piano as I only had enough time to practice one.

Even though I've sold my flute, I still ache to perfect (even though that's unlikely to happen) one instrument.

I had to temporarily have a break from the piano because we moved overseas and it's like missing a limb not being able to play. But I've never been able to get back to the standard I was before.....and it's annoying me! It's nagging, and I'm not sure what to do.

Good luck with your venture, or re-acquaintance with an old friend/foe (as our musical instruments usually are!)

adoro said...

Alice ~ You're right, my flute IS an "old friend" although I've never named her as some do.

Even when I was in the most dire financial situation, selling my flute never even crossed my mind, because, well, I might as well cut off my foot and sell that.

The Embouchure can come back with time. I'm actually surprised mine isn't worse, but that's not to say it doesn't need work! And as my music teacher says, "I gotta get my chops back in shape." I was TIRED after playing Saturday night!

Nancy said...

Good on ya!

I studied piano when I was younger but I never was really good at it - I could play quite well in practice, but when I actually had to perform in front of people my nerves would often get the better of me.

I do have a little keyboard I play on for fun every now and then, though.

Anonymous said...

What man has done, man can do. And since you've already done it once.... :)

Did you see that one story about the concert pianist whose one hand stopped working for forty years or so? And then it came back, and now he's back on the concert circuit?

It's not impossible. It will be a lot of work and a PITA, but that's not the same as impossible.

Hidden One said...

Angela - Chesterton, of course. :P

Adoro - God bless your flute-playing, and may He re-add to the ranks of a mankind an expert flautist as He so desires.

Sincerely in Christ,
A Friendly Clarinetist.

Stephanie Paulson said...

I also performed this piece for a state competition in high school. And I, too, haven't played my flute in a while...but seeing this music again makes me want to pick it all up again. I love this piece.

adoro said...

Stephanie ~ Me, too! It was when I came across it that of course I couldn't just put it away again. And here's my advice to you: pick it up again now, don't wait. I'm 33, and it's going to be real hard to bring my ability back, if ever. So...go play! :-)