Flute teachers who use the power of empathy can most effectively convey the magic of music and help their students appreciate the meaning behind the notes they play. That was a key message from the two veteran flute pedagogues who presented the Professional Learning Day at the Australian Flute Festival in Brisbane on June 30. Festival patron Margaret Crawford, a legend of Australian flute playing, and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music Mullen flute professor Leone Buyse entranced and delighted the 80 teachers in attendance with their collective wisdom and amusing anecdotes.
Rampal, Marion and Moyse
They began by reminiscing about their days as students together in Paris in the 1960s, working with Jean-Pierre Rampal, Alain Marion and Marcel Moyse. They spoke of how the French flute school profoundly affected flute playing around the world. Crawford commented that Australian flute playing was revolutionized when Rampal arrived in 1968 and gave the first masterclass in Sydney. “We had never had a masterclass here before in our lives.” After three people played, Rampal expressed dismay that “Nobody here has the detaché. C’est dommage! (That’s too bad!)” Buyse noted that American flute players at the time also had much to learn from the French, especially their articulation. “Americans had no idea, none at all. We were pronouncing words like bottle as boddle.”
Both described Rampal as inspiring in his joyful approach to music. Crawford said he was also forgiving, gracious and generous, recalling how, as a young Australian student travelling in Europe, she had run out of money but wanted desperately to attend one of his classes in Basel, Switzerland. The organizers said no, and wouldn’t let me in, but Rampal didn’t hesitate. He immediately declared, “She is my page turner and I got in for nothing!”
The Professional Learning Day topics included Learning to Listen, Finding the Meaning in Music, Fine Tuning Your Mozart, Elements of Sight-Reading and The Value of Empathy in Teaching. Buyse said fostering curiosity in listening and aural skills enriches students’ lesson experience, while helping them understand music foundations, produced stronger and more successful flutists. She said it was essential and relatively easy to include aural awareness training even in a 30-minute lesson by ensuring students analyze and truly understand keys, modulations, intervals, rhythms and other elements in everything from technical exercises to major works. Buyse advocated “ear to hand” work and insisting that students play material by ear, forcing them to listen, concentrate and to play musically and with understanding.
Crawford added that finding the meaning in music requires study of its historical context, conventions and composer connections as well as seeking clues from the notation to inform choices about communication in performance through phrasing, colors and expression. “I should have the music in my heart, in my ear and in my mind. It’s got to be sincere. All those choices are part of our everyday communication. What we think and feel is what the listener is going to sense.”
Buyse on Empathy
Buyse asked teachers to question why they taught: to earn a living, to share a love of music and passion for the flute, to contribute to society, to pass along the gifts of their own teachers, to learn, to keep growing. “Students offer us an opportunity to access our best selves. Each new student is a responsibility and a reason to dig deeper as we use empathy to solve problems,” Buyse said. “Our choice of words is always important. Find language that affirms and connects meaningfully. The goal is for students to be actively engaged in the process of learning, recognizing problems and being able to address them in practice. Empathy in communication with students allows there to be a shared mission towards realizing each student’s potential.”
More than 300 flute players, teachers and students gathered at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane for the Australian Flute Festival which was held from June 30 to July 3. International guest artists Julien Beaudiment (Lyon National Opera House), Leone Buyse (former Boston Symphony Orchestra flutist and Rice University professor of flute), and Michael Cox (flute professor at Britain’s Royal Academy of Music) joined 30-plus leading Australian performers in a packed program of recitals, concerts, masterclasses, panels and workshops. A Professional Learning Day for teachers, a Junior Day for young players, adult learner workshops, a 70-member flute orchestra as well as performance and composition competitions were among the highlights of the festival, which had the theme, Collaboration. The next AFF will be held in 2019.