Editor’s Note: Words of Wisdom offers snippets of interviews with international artists. This conversation with Belgian flutist Aldo Baerten took place at the 2008 National Flute Association convention in Kansas City. Baerten is principal flute of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, and he teaches at the Royal College in Antwerp and the Utrecht Conservatory in Holland. You can view his numerous solo recordings and publications at http://www.aldobaerten.be/index.php.
“I think it is important for professional musicians to remember that we can teach young students, and we can learn a lot from them as well. We can learn from their spontaneity and natural way of being. They have no preconceived ideas. I enjoy teaching children and do so two nights a week at a small music school right near my house. They come to you for that first lesson, and maybe they have never heard a flute before. It is the start of an incredible journey for them and for you as their teacher.
“We start on the headjoint. If that works well, then we can add the body of the flute very quickly. If they are very small, I try to have a little flute with a curved headjoint so they don’t have to stretch too far. I have lots of students who started this way with me who are now professionals.
“You establish a kind of family with former students; they come back to visit sometimes. You see them from time to time, but not often, and sometimes you actually get to play with them. I enjoy the mutual respect my former students and I have very much, because the human side of teaching is very important.
“We can teach students about more than just flute playing. They are open for so much more. We can teach them to be good musicians but also encourage them to remain open to new ideas, to go hear other musicians perform, to ask questions, and to have good contact with colleauges, all of which are important.”
Physical Fitness for Flutists
“Being in shape, both with your body and your instrument, is extremely important because you want to be able to play for a long time. Doing something physical every day is good for our physical balance and heart rate. When we are active, the heart rate goes down, which means that we cope with stress much better. The flute is a physically stressful instrument, because it is held in a funny position; we need exercise of some kind to find and maintain balance.
“I tell students that they have to move – ride a bike, run, or swim. Those activities are easy and inexpensive. You don’t need a fitness membership at a spa. You can go and run in the park for free. I also think that the air is free when the body is free to move.
“My teacher in Munich, Phillippe Boucly (principal of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and one of Rampal’s last Paris Conservatory students) said there are three important things for flute players. Eat well. Sleep well. Do sports. I asked, ‘What about practicing?’ and he said, ‘That is less important.’ I think he’s right, because we can only practice effectively when we are in good physical shape.”
Lessons from Peter Lukas Graf
“I was just 19 when I studied with him at the Basel Music Academy. He was working on his book Check Up at the time, and he would bring in parts of it for me to try out.
“He played the accompaniment for every piece we brought in to lessons. You get a different insight into the music that way. He is a very disciplined man and still practices regularly. He never wanted you play something unless you understood what you were doing. A phrase was played in a certain way, not because you felt it that way, but because you had thought it through and because the composer wrote a certain harmony or particular structure. You had to play the composer, not yourself.
“Peter Lukas Graf was a very strict man but in a friendly way. He wanted you to do the best for the music, and if you didn’t do that, then he got angry. It was a very good lesson for me at an early age.”
“It is important that orchestral flutists do something outside of orchestral playing to stay balanced and fresh. It is easy to hide cetain things in your playing in an orchestra that you can’t hide when playing somewhere else. So it is a good exercise to be in the spotlight from time to time.
In the Future
“I’d love to take some free time in the summer and have that free feeling I had when I was a kid. Nothing to do. I am working on a book of warmups for children and a series of flute and piano C.D.s of music school repertoire. Often students lack an example of the pieces they are working on.