eight notes from dreaming of joy during quarantine
A few months after quarantine began, I graduated from college. Suddenly, I had no flute lessons to practice for, no rehearsals, and no concerts. Nor did I have any gigs lined up.
With no one to hear me, I played bits of music that came to mind, anything that sparked excitement or a beautiful memory.
Over the course of months, I kept returning to the same melodies, maybe ten or twelve of them — music that awakened my joy, no matter how many times I played them.
A month ago, I had just finished recording for my chamber group. Then I remembered, my housemates would return from winter break in two days.
Something about four girls in one house makes a recording project — or anything requiring 2+ hours of silence — a complex arrangement.
So on a whim, I recorded these melodies, most of which I hadn't played in weeks.
Originally, I wanted these recordings to be brief, but polished. Now, it makes sense that they turned out as they are. Without performances, this is how I've made music over the past year: unpolished, intuitively, and completely from memory.
To me, these recordings express the truth that my playing has entered a stage of slow, non-linear growth. When it might end — or where it will lead me — I am uncertain, but hopeful.
For each melody, I've shared a short video, notes on the memories & emotions I associate with the music, and a theme in one word.
I was thirteen when I first heard this piece, "Image" by Eugène Bozza. Mesmerized, I dreamed of being good enough to perform it.
Seven years later, I performed "Image" in college. My flute professor said it was one of the best performances he had ever heard of the piece.
In 2019 and 2020, I performed the opening of "Image" as an interlude for Pittsburgh-based artist Molly Rice's theatrical piece, "Khūrākī." In "Khūrākī," I would always end just before the music became jarring & disorienting.
Now, whenever I play the rest of the piece, it's startling how effortlessly the fragmented nature of this piece unfolds.
This is one of those pieces I've known for so long, it seems to live in my breath & my fingers.
A traditional Afghan wedding song, "Ahesta Bero" translates to "walk slowly" from Dari. I learned this music in 2019 as an interlude for "Khūrākī."
"Khūrākī" featured five actors, chosen by five women of Pittsburgh's Afghan refugee community to represent their experiences.
In one scene, a woman recalls how her parents arranged her marriage at fourteen to an older stranger.
When I first heard "Ahesta Bero," I found it strangely haunting for a wedding song.
But the more I rehearsed & performed in "Khūrākī," the more it made sense. Not all weddings celebrate love as the ultimate expression of agency.
Sometimes, they are a site of a woman's submission to social customs, to her family's will, an act of surrender.
Johannès Donjon's "Élégie" is one of the few stereotypically "flute-y" pieces that I love playing. I learned this etude last summer, after noticing many flutists recording it for social media.
Its popularity comes from being so "flute-y." To me, this means French, lots of fast notes, & full of sentimentality.
I consider this type of music stale & overplayed. Yet what draws me to "Élégie" is the sense of freedom & total abandonment within those cascading lines (making them so easy to rush through!).
This is the opening melody of "Sonata for Flute & Piano" by Bohuslav Martinů.
It is one of the warmest, most welcoming lines I know. I love the lightness mixed with sudden shadows in this piece.
This music brings me back to my freshman year of college, when I first studied it. Back then, there was no angst of realizing I'd have to enter the "real world" soon. It was enough to be a student, enough to be making music.
In the spring of 2016, I heard the San Francisco Symphony perform Gustav Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" ("Song of the Earth") live with Michael Tilson Thomas.
After the concert, I wrote in my journal, "I feel like I just heard life itself. Life with all its bitterness, wonder, and sweetness."
Since then, I've loved playing the flute solos that intertwine with the singer in the last movement, "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell").
It's hard to express how much this music means to me. When bitterly lost, I've played this. To play this feels like being held & comforted by beauty.
In high school, I was obsessed with the soundtrack of Hayao Miyazaki's movie "Princess Mononoke," composed by Joe Hisaishi.
From this soundtrack, Hisaishi wrote a symphonic suite, where this flute solo appears as a suddenly imaginative escape from the heavier, darker music that precedes it.
Though fragmented (I learned it by ear), I've performed this music once.
In November 2018, after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, CMU's School of Music hosted an open mic to raise money for Tree of Life.
So I wrote & read a poem about the vulnerability of live performance — how the connection it encourages is a form of collective resistance against violence. Then, I performed this.
I learned J.S. Bach's Sonata in E Major during my undergrad. Here's my dusty memory of the second movement.
Playing this, even if it's for the first time in months, feels like home. There's something refreshingly coherent in the phrasing & harmonic development.
Similar to the Martinů, I've never performed this piece, which simplifies my relationship with the music.
In 2019, I performed Béla Bartók's "Suite Paysanne Hongroise" with pianist Vahan Sargsyan as the last piece of my junior recital.
A 1.5-hour-long program, my junior recital left me burned out with the mental & physical strain of preparing & delivering so much challenging music.
In contrast, this moment is about lightness. It begins as pensive & dreamy, then blossoms & takes flight.
While playing this, there's a sense of expansiveness — like anything is possible, like the unfolding of dreams is only a matter of time.