My journey back to flute playing started at age 51. I had tried many hobbies after earning my MBA at Penn State in 2012. I needed something to occupy my analytical mind and Type A personality when I was not working in the software industry, where I had a 30-year career. I had tried running but experienced swollen ankles and scraped knees which left me hobbling in pain. Bike riding was lower impact, but I wiped out during a race, which left a piece of gravel embedded in my knee. Equestrian sports looked graceful but carried the risk of falling during a poorly executed jump.
One day, my father, an 83-year old Curtis-trained musician told me that it was time for me to play again. I replied, “I don’t have time for all that. I have my job, a husband, dogs. I volunteer. I don’t want to lock myself away in a practice room anymore. There’s laundry, cooking, and grocery shopping. I don’t find etudes relaxing!” My father responded that I did not have to be a perfectionist. I just need to play for my own enjoyment.
I recalled my first flute lesson with Dad when I was nine years old. I remembered the warm feeling of playing a well-executed piece of music. Then I realized that I had never injured myself playing the flute or sitting in an orchestra pit which was more than I could say of the other hobbies I had tried. Maybe it was worth a shot, but I had not touched my flute in 15 years.
Flutist Rescue & Recovery
I decided to apply my business skills to create a plan to fast-track my flute playing progress. I have had great success working as a project manager with strategizing, leading change, and helping teams of engineers reach their goals, so why couldn’t I do the same for myself as a flutist?
My goal was to recover my former level of playing ability and perhaps even improve upon it. I gave myself a year to execute my plan and a budget of $7,000 to cover lessons, sheet music, and potentially a new flute.
I created a top ten list of everything I could do to become a better flute player and got started.
- Find a group to play with on a regular basis.
- Find a teacher.
- Be a dedicated student to my lessons and practices.
- Increase my playing ability.
- Get a better flute.
- Join local and national flute associations.
- Buy tickets to orchestra, chamber, or solo concerts.
- Listen to my favorite players.
- Read about flute playing and musicianship and subscribe to Flute Talk.
- Join Facebook groups that are focused on flute playing.
While reading the local newspaper, I read about a community orchestra. I contacted them and was invited to their next rehearsal. Then I found a flute teacher through a recommendation of a local symphony flutist. I found her to be encouraging and supportive of my situation while still holding me to a high standard of playing, which was exactly what I wanted. When the teacher assigned one etude, I asked for two. At a local flute fair, I selected a pre-professional-level flute. I was on my way.
I became a member of the National Flute Association and the Flute Society of Greater Philadelphia. I attended events, made new friends, and found much inspiration.
Listening became part of my regimen. I attended local symphony concerts, purchased CDs, and searched YouTube for performances of flutists I wanted to emulate. My favorite is A Flutist’s Favorites played by Julius Baker. He covers songs I remember playing as a younger flutist, though he plays them with an elegance I had not previously imagined.
My reading material now included Flute Talk and books like The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and A Soprano on Her Head by Eloise Ristad. Facebook provided access to my favorite flute players, orchestras, instruments and Etude of the Week group. I found this filled my Facebook news feed with lots of links to good articles about music and flute playing, as well as videos of many excellent players from whom I could learn.
During the execution of my plan, my 50+ year old body had trouble adjusting to the new muscular demands. First, it was my hands that experienced painful stiff and sore muscles. After the first few months of daily playing, the pains in my hands disappeared. It was as if my hands had been rebuilt and were stronger and more flexible. Then came tension in my cheek muscles, followed by tension in my lip muscles. Things I did so easily in my youth became so difficult now that I was older, which was disheartening. I was undeterred and kept plowing forward.
Measurement & Assessment
I needed a way to measure my success. I came up with a list of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) against which I could measure my progress.
- Increased practice time. I started with 30 minutes a day but now practice an hour a day during the week and two to three hours per day on the weekends.
- Etude progress. After six months of lessons, I completed Book 1 of my etude studies and was ready for Book 2.
- Sightreading. With a constant stream of new music through the community orchestra and lessons, I am exposed to a wider variety of challenging music. I became more comfortable with things such as subdivision and feel more comfortable when sightreading music.
- Breathing. I started walking daily after lunch to increase my aerobic activity in hopes of strengthening my lungs and improving my breath control when playing flute. I was initially taking breaths every 2 measures, and now find I can play up to 3 or 4 measures before needing a breath. Gaining control of my air and volume in lessons has also helped me with my breath control.
- Master a concerto. My teacher and I selected Concertino, Op. 107 by Cecile Chaminade. With analysis and many hours with the metronome, I am finally able to play it, though still not perfectly.
- Attend events. I attended my first ever Flute Fair in March 2019 followed by the NFA Convention in Salt Lake City later that same year.
- New playing opportunities. I signed up to participate in an adult chamber music four-day program at Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where my Dad attended in the 1950s. I felt I was not really ready for a step this big but knew if I did it, I would come out having learned many new things. I left with a new appreciation for music, who I was, and who I could be as a musician.
- Enhanced performance. I started feeling more confident as a player performing in my community orchestra. I paid more attention to dynamics and blending my part with my section and other instruments.
According to my KPI rating system, I achieved 85% of my goal, which feels like respectable achievement. My estimated one-year project turned into a two-year project. Since it ran over time, I also ran over budget. It did not help that I spent more on my new flute than I had anticipated, and the events I attended were unplanned in the original budget.
I approached my playing like a project at work. I invested a lot of time and money to crash the schedule and quicken my progress, but at times, I think I am still falling short. I keep hearing flutists talk about things like tone, color, and playing every note beautifully. However, my teacher reminds me, “Music doesn’t work that way. It takes time. You’re trying to compete with people who’ve spent their whole lives doing this. Give yourself more time.” Now, I continue to play, using my new tools and skills, and look forward to what the future holds, no matter how long it takes.