Learning to play the flute

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by Jan Seides
Monday 15th June, 2009, 1:45am

Although everyone I know, including the man who claims to love and understand me the most, thinks I’ve lost my mind, I’ve bought a flute and am learning to play it.  Now, mind you, I have a lot of instruments already, and except for two of them, I can pull a tune out of them if I want to, but I have a deep-seated psychological reason for wanting to play my flute.

A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away. No. Different story…) someone I knew sold me their flute for a ridiculously low price. Even so, being a poor student, I made arrangements with him to pay it off in installments. I was so excited. I’ve always loved the sound of a flute, and I had James Galway, Jeremy Steig and Ian Anderson as evidence that it could be a very soul-satisfying endeavor.  Jeremy lived downstairs from me in New York City at one point, and I used to lie in bed early in the morning and listen to him practice. Ahhhhh!

I began to practice my brand-new used flute, and discovered that it was a lot more challenging than I was expected. It wasn’t just a case of knowing where the notes were. That was the easy part!  I had already played recorder, which is a fipple flute, so I knew sometimes the notes are not where it seems like they should be. But, like I said, that was the easy part. It took me two full weeks to be able to get anything you could seriously call a note out of just the mouthpiece.  The embouchure (Definition:   a.  The mouthpiece of a wind instrument – and – b. The adjustment of the player’s mouth to such a mouthpiece) was much more complex than fitting your lips around a fipple.  Flutes have a carefully designed little hole to blow through, and a “sweet spot” which it took me forever to find.

An odd thing happened while I was looking for it, however.  I’d never been able to whistle in my whole life to that point — a major failing, I always thought, and not for lack of trying.  While I was trying to get a note out of the flute, I suddenly was able to get a note out of my own lips, causing me immense satisfaction, and dooming all my friends to impromptu demonstrations whenever I could fit it into the conversation.

Eventually, I did learn to produce a note from the flute, and I went on to try to play a few little tunes, immediately stumbling on yet another obstacle. I could get about a third of the way, even through nursery rhymes, and then I would start to get dizzy from hyperventilation. No stand up playing for this girl. I had to sit to ensure that I didn’t fall too far to the ground.

At last, Eureka!, I could get through a whole tune before I was too dizzy to play.

My house, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, had 5 bedrooms and I shared it with four other people, two men and two women, all in the Fine Arts Department at University of Texas, and mostly other musicians. One of my roommates had a friend who was not in school, but was a guitar player and singer. Not that we didn’t all do it, but Danny loved to hang out in the local watering holes (preferably those with music and pool tables) and pick up strangers. One morning he brought over two “ladies” he’d spent the night with, and when they left, one of them had my flute. I kept staring at the place where it was supposed to be when I went to practice after they were gone, but there was an empty space, and it never changed into my flute. I was heartbroken, and mad, none of which brought my flute back.

So now it’s years later, and an old friend of mine suddenly offers me her flute, which I didn’t even know she had, for practically nothing! It’s exactly the same brand, also silver plated and even costs the same amount as the one I lost so long ago.  A sign from heaven if ever I saw one.  So I wrote the check and now I’ve had one lesson, bought a book, and have been putting in my 15 minutes per day (pretty much all the time I have for it).  I’ve encountered all the same obstacles, but this time I have a bit more faith. And no one I know picks up women in bars anymore, thank goodness. So I think it’s safe for me to have it this time.  As soon as I have some small expertise, I’ll treat you all to a video.

Category: Music

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