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An Extra Hour

Leonard Garrison | December 2017

    I wish each day had thirty hours, and each week had eight days, but that would require moving to another planet! There are many areas of my life that don’t get enough time – family activities, reading, listening to music, studying French, learning new skills, volunteering, exercising, relaxing, sleeping, and of course practicing. My practice time – normally about two hours a day – is more limited than in my carefree student years, when I could devote more than four hours daily, so I have learned to be more focused.
    If I had an extra hour each day, I would emulate James Pellerite, the great flute professor at Indiana University from the 1960s until the 1990s. He regularly practiced all of the material he was scheduled to teach. He relates, “I enjoyed playing for the students always, hoping to continually raise the bar for them, and myself, throughout their period of study. It did much for my own playing as I was on the spot daily.” That is real devotion to teaching at the highest level.
    Fortunately for me, most of my students study standard repertoire which I learned long ago and have taught many times. I can demonstrate adequately all but the thorniest passages. Occasionally, students challenge me with pieces I don’t know or which I have not seen in thirty years, and demonstrating presents difficulties.
    Here is an admission of guilt: I do not routinely practice scales and arpeggios. Taffanel and Gaubert absorbed much time in my student years, of course, and this is an important component of developing technique. Don’t get me wrong, I annually make New Year’s Resolutions about daily devotions to my favorite scale books – Walfrid Kujala’s The Flutist’s Vade Mecum and Geoffrey Gilbert’s Technical Flexibility for Flutists – but the next concert usually intrudes. I know that many busy professionals are in the same bind and rely on a storehouse of technical prowess built up earlier.
    Now someone might interject, “If you practiced scales, then you could learn your music more efficiently.” Fair enough, if my repertoire was purely tonal music, but much of the music I perform uses atonality and extended techniques, and the patterns in scales and arpeggios don’t translate to that material. Several years ago, I expended so much effort learning quarter-tone scales that I was temporarily unable to play a chromatic scale!
    Speaking of extended techniques, I should cover them every day, working out of Robert Dick’s excellent Tone Development Through Extended Techniques, but again am guilty of working on them on an as-needed basis.
    As a student at Oberlin, I learned the Baroque flute, which became a mainstay of my early career. I practiced as much traverso as modern flute. When I won an audition with the Tulsa Philharmonic, the Baroque flute was displaced by the piccolo, my main instrument in the orchestra. I no longer visit the piccolo daily – just when necessary. Along those lines, I should practice alto and bass flute regularly, but alas, they are neglected until a performance is imminent.
   It would be great to have time to play just for fun. I remember playing through all of Telemann’s Fantasies or Bach’s Sonatas without stopping – the compelling grandeur of that music!
I could devote more time to reading through my huge library of flute music, much of which remains unplayed. Surely, there are gems hiding there.
So much music, so little time!