Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday!
Today’s blog is a bit different than most of my other blogs. There are no Top 10 or Top 20 lists today. No practice tips or teaching suggestions. No product recommendations. No stories about stage fright or strategies for dealing with anxiety. Today, I am simply on my soap box.
I received a comment on my blog last week criticizing me for offering free resources about flute playing on the internet. This person suggested that a dentist, for example, does not give away their procedures for free, so why would a flutist write about trick fingering secrets in the same way? Their opinion of my blog, and others like mine, is that we are endangering the flute teaching profession by making tips and tricks readily available for anybody to learn without having to take flute lessons from a professional. I have been thinking about this comment all week and feel that I must address these issues for the integrity of the blogging community as well as fellow flute teachers throughout the World thriving in the present digital age.
The classical music industry has changed drastically over the past 30 years. Traditional modes of teaching have been replaced by newer, more efficient, mixed-media platforms that use technology to enhance the studio environment. Unfortunately, this new technology is not always embraced by older generations of musicians who invested a great amount of time and effort to achieve their goals in a pre-internet age. These musicians followed the rules to a T, enduring long hours in the practice room, adhering to the overwhelming demands of numerous conductors, and taking lessons from every master musician under the sun to build sustainable careers as performers and teachers. To say that this path is commendable is an understatement. Yet, to say that the same path works in today’s impacted society of struggling musicians is false. The Gen X/Millennial generation of performers are vying for only a handful of opportunities for sustainable orchestral positions, and an even smaller handful of teaching opportunities for which they are competing against an unprecedented number of fellow struggling musicians, who were all promised several years ago that if they just “work hard” they will surely achieve all of their goals. The older generations of musicians are remaining in their positions longer than the previous generation due to an unpredictable economy. Changing positions for virtually anyone receiving a steady paycheck is also a very risky venture. Younger generations have turned to the internet and social media to build their own personal brand. Becoming an entrepreneur in today’s society is now almost a requirement. Entrepreneurship, however, has had very powerful results that have promoted new, inventive, creative ideas and have helped bring performing “secrets,” which were previously only available to the few, to the masses, encouraging a new type of collective knowledge. By using platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, online journals, and blogging sites, we are creating a more inclusive environment where we can share ideas about performing and positively promote our fellow musicians. To say that this is a negative thing, in my opinion, is upholding the traditional right vs. wrong ideals that simply do not work anymore. I do not believe that music should be kept behind closed doors. My blog is intended to make learning, teaching, and experiencing music accessible for struggling musicians around the World and not the nerve-wracking scenario of trying to thrive in the “No” environment of yesteryear. My blog encourages others to instead say “Yes.”
In regards to offering free resources, I must direct everyone’s attention to the successful mega-business of YouTube. YouTube is a free resource that has helped numerous independent contributors share their ideas with the world. This has also resulted in the expansion of product lines for several businesses and collaborations between YouTube contributors and product designers (if you follow any beauty guru on YouTube, they will likely have a product that they have designed in conjunction with a known supplier). As it pertains to music, we no longer need to search through stacks of CDs to find a recording of the San Francisco Symphony performing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony or beg our teachers for notes from their 1978 flute masterclass with Jean Pierre Rampal. These are all available to us at our disposal for FREE (Thanks YouTube)! Free resources like those found on YouTube promote our industry, and likewise help students learn more about the flute and music making in a shorter, more efficient, amount of time. They also help us promote new, useful products designed by our fellow musicians, encouraging that newfound “yes” attitude I mentioned earlier. A blog is the written version of a YouTube video. Blogs offer the ability to share quick tips and tricks much like videos on YouTube, and the content of a blog is easily searchable from a Google search box. Our new culture of technology-based learning is founded on the abundance of easily accessible knowledge. To keep that knowledge hidden does nothing to sustain the current industry and, rather, leads us down a very lonely and fading path.
I feel strongly about offering free resources to the World due to my own childhood experiences in a rural, low income environment. Back in my day, the internet was just emerging as a resource but, as a poor kid, I only had access during school hours and did not really know how to use it effectively. My parents scrimped and saved to pay for a used Bundy model flute and weekly flute lessons with a local flute teacher. Anything I learned about the flute was through school band programs (aka free community resources) and my flute teacher who was absolutely invaluable to my development as a musician (Thanks Rhonda!). I often think about how much further I could have gone with my career if I had had access to online recordings, a list of trick fingerings, suggestions for repertoire and exercises, and, when I began teaching flute lessons at the age of 16, helpful pedagogical tips to use in my emerging studio practice. Like my parents, I wish to give my students all of the things I never had when I was a child. That is why I do what I do. I want to pass along the knowledge I have picked up over the years with the World. I believe knowledge is something to be shared, not something buried in a closet somewhere or a commodity that is actioned off to the highest bidder. I want my posts to reach kids with incredible talent living in low income areas without access to thriving musical communities. I want those looking hopelessly at an overwhelming stack of music to stop saying, “I can’t,” and start saying, “I can.” I want anybody reading this to feel encouraged and empowered rather than terrified and disheartened. That is what I want to give to anyone reading my blog posts.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to stress that my blog, and other blogs like it, are absolutely not, in no way whatsoever, intended to serve as a substitute for private flute lessons from a qualified teacher! You could review all of the free resources on the internet, practice all of the trick fingerings, learn all of the tips and tricks for playing Bach’s Sonata No. 4, but that alone will not lead you to be a great flutist. Learning to play music requires that you study with a good coach if you intend to advance to the next level. A football player may watch thousands of YouTube videos on various plays and fancy footwork by the greatest quarterbacks in history, but until he learns to develop his own individual skills and strengthen his unique weaknesses with a talented coach, he will not be a football star. Another analogy: We all look up our symptoms on WebMD when we are feeling sick, but we still go to the doctor for a proper diagnosis and an action plan to heal. Private flute teachers, like myself, are necessary in your journey as a flutist as they will address your playing on an individual basis. We are not all the same. Some of us are talented technicians but struggle with air support. Some of us have beautiful vibrato but struggle to play our runs evenly. A flute teacher can identify these strengths and weaknesses and develop effective action plans for each student. Online resources provide supplemental information to help a student along their way. They may also help a new teacher set up a studio practice if they are new to teaching and do not have a lot of “how-to” guidance, but, again, a talented flute teacher will be able to assist new teachers struggling with unique challenges. Please use this blog, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, online journals, and any other free online resource as a supplement to your flute lessons because you cannot truly become a master flutist without the individual guidance of talented teacher.
Thank you for letting me explain my blogging philosophy. I really appreciate the time that you have spent reading this post and hope that some of my thoughts resonate with what you have come to expect from this blog. Although I understand if your opinions and/or philosophies differ from my own, I must ask that you please keep responses to my posts respectful. We can agree to disagree if done professionally and thoughtfully.
Thanks again and happy fluting!