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Life Lessons: What Else I Learned from Louis Moyse

Rebecca Cochran | January 2009

    “Why wait?” he said. Those were the first words of wisdom I recall receiving from Louis Moyse.

    It was 1979 and I was a young flutist, out of music school only a few years, and lucky enough to have moved to Burlington, Vermont. Little did I know that I was about to become even more fortunate. I soon learned that the world-renowned French flutist, composer, and teacher, Louis Moyse also lived in Vermont.
    After days, if not weeks, of reluctance (downright fear, actually), I finally mustered the courage to call Louis at his home in Guilford. His wife, Janet, answered the call and then handed the phone to Louis. I introduced myself, saying that I was new to Vermont and asked if he knew of a reputable flute teacher in the northern part of the state. Louis’ answer, in a thick French accent, was, “I know a good teacher in Guilford, dear!”
    Guilford was in southern Vermont, easily a three-hour drive from my home in Burlington. Winter was also approaching, and this Florida native had great trepidation about driving in snowstorms. I had just weathered the famous Blizzard of ‘79 in Chicago, but that was sans automobile. I had gotten around on foot or by public transportation during my two cold years in the Windy City.
    More to the point, however, I had simply called Louis Moyse for a referral. I wouldn’t have begun to assume that he would accept me as a student. Accept me he did, however, and that was the beginning of my nearly 30-year friendship with the person who quickly became my mentor.
    When I asked Louis if he would be willing to begin my private lessons as early as the following month, his answer was, “Why wait? Let us start together next week!” So we started right away, and I made the six-hour round trip drive every other week for the following few years, narrowly escaping a major snowstorm or two.
    Throughout our long relationship, my flute playing improved dramatically. Most notably, he patiently worked to completely reconfigure my embouchure, which resulted in a tone that I am immensely proud of to this day. We also worked diligently and painstakingly on articulation and various other aspects of flute technique and, of course, on interpretation of the flute repertoire.
    When Louis and I began working together, little did I know that I’d be receiving much more than just a post-graduate music education. Louis Moyse was a master communicator, musically and otherwise. He had a special gift for relaying hidden messages to those astute enough to recognize them. His teachings were riddled with advice, not only about the music or the flute, but also about life in general.
    Many of his pearls of wisdom, cloaked in language seemingly pertaining to the music, are still fresh in my mind today:

    “This is your territory – mark it, dear!” Translation: Find your place in the world, and make the most of it!

    “Start from nothing. Then, allow yourself to grow.” (Bach C-Major Sonata, mvt. I) Translation: We all begin not knowing, but we should be on a lifelong quest for knowledge and self-improvement.

    “Don’t be a flutist; it’s much more important to be a musician.” Translation: Look at the details, certainly, but don’t forget to focus on the broader picture. Think strategically in life.

    “It may be marked ‘Grave’ but it’s not necessarily about death, dear!” (Handel E-minor Sonata, mvt. I) Translation: Don’t make things out to be worse than they really are.

    “You must learn to be your own teacher.” Translation: You are responsible for your own destiny. Learn from your mistakes and move forward with your life.

    “You need to suffer, dear!” (Gluck’s Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits) The first few times I worked on this piece with Louis, I was probably too young to understand it. Translation: With suffering and life experience comes understanding.

    “Be more free, like a sheep. Sometimes it helps not to have too much brains.” (“Pan” from Roussel’s Joueurs de Flute) Translation: Trust your instincts.

    “There is no such thing as instant flute’ You have to work at it!” Translation: Nothing worth having in life comes easily.

    “Sometimes, the most difficult thing is to do nothing.” (“Rückblick” from his transcription of Schubert’s Die Winterreise for flute and piano) Translation: Some things in life are better left alone.

    “Make it sound simple.” (“Sarabande” from Bach’s A-Minor Partita) Translation: Clear straightforward communication has a power all its own.

    My memories are filled with so many meaningful words and teachings from my long relationship with Louis Moyse. What began as flute lessons quickly became life lessons. Even today, whenever I’m tempted to postpone some important task, musical or otherwise, I recall his French-infused “Why wait, dear?” Usually, that’s just the nudge I need to accomplish my goal.
Louis Moyse passed away July 30, 2007, two weeks short of his 95th birthday.