Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday! I’m back! I took a bit of a hiatus from this blog for the past few months as my life spun recklessly in a few different directions, but your favorite flute blogger is back and better than ever. During my time away, I often struggled finding my musical motivation, whether it was for writing about music, practicing, researching, performing, or working on other musical projects. Sometimes it is difficult to look at the bigger picture – Why do we practice and perform? Is it just for us? Is it for an audience? Is it to build something resembling a “career” or a “hobby”? Or are we motivated by passion? While we are all different and may pursue music for different reasons, I realized that, at least for myself, passion is the greatest motivation. No matter how bad everything else may seem at times, our passions keeps us connected to our own personal life-force, making it all worthwhile. We often toss the word “passion” into our discussions about what makes a good artist, but I would argue that passion is so much more than that. It keeps us focused on something valuable in our lives. Passion represents a higher purpose to everything we do. It makes the rough parts of the road a bit easier when we know there is a field of tulips waiting just around the bend. In today’s blog, I will discuss some of the ways you may reconnect to your musical motivation and rediscover your passion, even if it has strayed under the distractions of the daily grind. Music can indeed keep you going when the going gets tough.
- Take a step back and just listen. Who is your favorite composer? Who is your favorite performer? Do you have a favorite group or a favorite style of flute playing? Immerse yourself in it! Block out some time in your schedule, grab some camomile tea, lock yourself in a cozy room, and have yourself a YouTube binge. You don’t need to have the score in front of you. You don’t need to hum along. You don’t need to take notes (unless that makes you happy – which, as a writer, I totally understand). Just listen. Watch the musicians connect to the music. Notice anything that makes you smile, makes your heart pound a little faster, draws tears to your eyes, or gives you a case of the goosebumps. You may hear something super inspiring that makes you want to try something new. You may come across a piece or an excerpt that you find exciting and wish to add to your repertoire list. Keep an open mind and a sensitive ear.
- Attend a performance, or two (or five). YouTube is great but, as we all know, there is nothing like the thrill of live music. There is often a pre-concert talk (particularly at orchestra concerts) where you might get to ask questions of the conductor or the other musicians in attendance. Take it all in. Look for new and different things in each performance. Listen carefully to the soloists – Is there something about their playing that you might want to emulate in your own? This is a great place to find new ideas about standard repertoire and also a good opportunity to listen new works or works you’ve never heard before. Immersing yourself in great music is an excellent way to rediscover motivation to create great music of your own.
- Audit a masterclass. Flute clubs such as the Chicago Flute Club still offer virtual masterclasses that you may attend from the comfort of your home, in your PJs, drinking Starbs. Masterclasses are a great place to gather new ideas and approaches to favorite pieces you may not have considered before. I just attended a masterclass last weekend where the flutist spoke about changing your tone color based on the silent vowel sound used. Mind blown! And now I have an interesting new concept to practice during my long tone studies. Whether you attend these virtually or in-person, a masterclass is a great place to ask questions about various techniques and connect with other flutists in the field.
- Talk about music with an old colleague. Sometimes musical motivation can be found in our own memories. Reminisce about fabulous (or infamous) past performances. Compare notes on the projects or performances that you are most proud of or ones that shaped your career. Talk about challenges you may be facing in your studio practice or performing life. You may be able to bounce ideas off each other and create a support system moving forward. You may also find some great ideas for collaborative music projects down the road (joint recital, anyone?).
- Practice new music. You may be in a rut because you are working on the same old repertoire and method books in the same way you have for years and are simply bored. Break the routine! Visit a music store or music library and pick up anything that looks interesting. You might come across a piece you heard in a recital recently that you really enjoyed. You may also find a new method book with an interesting way to practice in the high register or one that uses scales in less predicable ways than Taffanel and Gaubert. Try something new and breathe new life into your routine.
- Write about it! No – you don’t have to share your writings with the world if you do not want to. Journal about what you love about playing the flute. Write about your challenges and possible steps you might take to address these issues. Write about a piece of music that you love. Write about your first flute and what inspired you to start playing. Discuss your star student and what cool new techniques you are excited to teach them. Write poetry about the flute or music-making. You can often motivate yourself with a decent journal prompt.
- Window-shop new instruments. Perhaps your instrument itself is not inspiring you. Take a trip to your local flute shop or stop by an exhibit at an upcoming flute festival and just try out the latest models to hit the market. Do you have the budget to invest in a new flute? If not, perhaps opting for a new headjoint or fancy new crown would help you achieve a better, more vibrant sound. Even the shopping trip can help spark some newfound interest in the newest gadgets and gizmos.
- Improvise without rules. We often get so bogged down by the shoulds, need-tos, and musts in the Classical Music world that we forget that music, and the very heart of it all, is a communication device. Toss out the rules at the end of each practice session and just improvise. Play from your heart in any key that your heart wants to hear. If improvising sounds terrifying or way too un-structured for you, there are fabulous improvisation background tracks you can use on YouTube and through vendors such as Walter White. https://walterwhite.com/product-category/wwshop/walterwhitelongtoneaccompaniment/
- Read a composer’s biography. Who is your favorite composer? What is your favorite flutist? Do they have a biography or, even better, and autobiography? Read it! Mozart and Beethoven have a couple of very famous biographies on their life and works (Mozart: https://amzn.to/3wi3T95 , Beethoven: https://amzn.to/3wjofid) but we also have fabulous biographies on Taffanel (https://amzn.to/3XOtrGr) and Moyse (https://amzn.to/3HhBx57) on the market. Reading their stories might inspire you in your own flute life. Are there any lessons that you can learn from their careers and/or personal lives?
- Give yourself a flute challenge. Perhaps you need a challenge or a game to create new motivation in your practice routine. This could mean practicing a new Debost articulation pattern each day on your Taffanel and Gaubert Ex. 4 or it could be practicing one new Karg-Elert etude each day. Motivation for you may require concrete goals and super clear routines. For more ideas on flute challenges to add to your routine, please see my previous blog 30-Day Flute Challenges for the New Year.
No matter what trials and tribulations you face in your daily life or the disappointments you may encounter in the flute world, keep in mind that your passion to be a musician is the driving force behind everything you do. It can’t be taken away from you and its importance cannot be diminished without your permission. The most important takeaway I had over these past few months is that organizing your passion around your life does not create happiness. Organizing your life around your passion, however many boundaries it takes, is the key to motivation and bliss.
Have you ever fallen off-course or lost your motivation? What helped you get back on track? What inspired you when you found yourself stuck in a rut? Please comment below!