My flute-playing now vs. 5 years ago
I've finally completed a big recording project!
As part of the Iris Music Project, my chamber ensemble records weekly music videos for the residents of a senior home in Pittsburgh.
For next week's video, I had the option to play an orchestral excerpt within the theme of love songs. So I chose the flute solo from Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2," one of the most famous flute solos in the orchestral repertoire.
If we weren't in a global pandemic, I would have performed live for the residents, rather than recording. The isolation of recording shifts my focus from how music engenders human connection — heedless of how "good" it is — and places a harsh light on the technical & expressive merits of my playing.
While practicing this solo in the past few weeks, I never looked at the sheet music. For one, the sight of all my notes scribbled over the sheet music would trigger anxiety; but also, this music was so crucial to my early development as a flutist, I know it by heart.
As a girl, the opening of "Daphnis" was the most evocative, beautiful soundscape I’d ever encountered, seconded by the incredibly vulnerable moment of this solo.
In high school, I had the rare opportunity to perform "Daphnis" with orchestra. Although this opportunity — one most flutists only dream of — came at a time when my playing was still relatively immature, I grew from the courage it takes to perform that solo. You're supposed to enter with a difficult ascending run, when all you can hear is the soft, low, ringing pizzicato of the string bass section, the hushed breath of the orchestra and audience.
The isolation of recording shifts my focus from how music engenders human connection, and places a harsh light on the technical & expressive merits of my playing.
A few days ago, I found this recording of the solo I made five years ago — a video audition for a symposium hosted by Carnegie Mellon University’s flute studio.
With that recording, I received a full scholarship to attend, performed in a masterclass for my future flute professor, and left Pittsburgh convinced Carnegie Mellon was my dream school.
That was in October 2015, my senior fall of high school.
On a whim, I’ve interspersed excerpts of that recording with excerpts of my recording this past weekend. It’s interesting to compare the two.
In theory, the difference should be linear — my playing this past weekend should be unquestionably better than five years ago.
What’s linear is, my approach to expression has matured. I’ve developed more intentional phrasing, become more thoughtful about how to convey meaning with every detail.
However, the line blurs when it comes to my sound quality — which, for years, has been the heart of my identity as a flutist. Disappointingly, my upper register doesn’t have the ease & flexibility that I hear in my high school recording. In general, I haven’t been happy with my sound over the past few weeks. (For reference, the recordings I posted in July-August represent my best sound.) Another area of ambivalence is rhythm, intonation, & breathing. In college, I deepened my approach to expression, but wasn’t focused on anchoring fundamentals (always juggling too much).
Though it isn't my best, I’m grateful I challenged myself to create this recording. I could have easily picked a simpler piece.
Moreover, after shamelessly posting videos of myself practicing & making mistakes, it’s the first time since graduating that I’ve challenged myself to produce a “real” recording. However, I’ve dreaded the all-too-familiar pressure of delivering something polished, eager to retreat back into messy videos of my practicing. Some musicians thrive under this pressure. For me, it isn't so simple.
In the end, this comparison shows me that growth as a musician & artist is more sinusoidal than linear.
The key is to embrace how I sound in the moment, and to have the humility & determination to shape this into something more expansive & more controlled.
(Shout-out to my dad for making me look so much more professional in high school than I looked this past weekend, recording with a phone in the living room. The earrings in the 2020 video were made by Blessing Baubles Co.)
If you'd like to watch the complete video I recorded for the senior home, here it is — but please mercifully skip over my awkward introduction to 0:36. I pulled a classic, irresponsible-classical-musician act & put zero preparation into the speaking portion.