My notes on flute playing

This section is dedicated for students and hopefully with my straighforward and truthful approach it will be helpful to both the amateur and professional alike. I will continue to add to this when I have time.
My Own Introduction to the Flute.
With so many tutor and study books on the market full of informative techniques and methodology one must surely wonder why I feel there is a need for more ideas on flute playing!? . The great methods of Taffanel and Gaubert and the inate patience and understanding of Marcel Moyse who painstakingly spent hours scripting their ideas and creating marvellous studies surely should be enough to keep one occupied for a lifetime?
I believe these methods are absolutely imperative to ones development on a daily basis and yes, these methods are truly wonderful and my words cannot and will not replace their existance or importance, nor is that what my notes are about. However, it is in the approach, understanding and personal interpretation that I believe seperates the men from the boys amongst the art of flute playing today, and although we are fortunate in modern times to have many wonderful flute players, I have noted that good honest and genuinely helpful teachers are becoming an increasingly scarse commodity and certainly in relation to my own personal experience I had to seek these special people out for information and work out whose interpretations of this methodology and pedagogy really worked. It was a world apart from the protective environment as a rather naieve child growing up in Northern Ireland where playing the flute was a fun thing to do and looking forward to the Wednesday evening band practice where I was surrounded by happy encouraging folk and whilst they considered themselves amateurs, the standard was pretty good. Again, unfortunately the bands are diminishing and the characters of the past are dying out. I imagine there is just more to do nowadays and things like internet are starting to take over people’s time. I have many good friends also within the brass band world and many of them agree the same is happening there too.
This band tradition was perhaps the fundamental that shaped me as a player and that has stuck by me for so many years. It was an environment where I could directly seek advice and help from the people whos playing  impressed me and they were only too glad to be of help genuinely wanting the best for any young talents and nurturing their best interests. Of course I have to mention that I was also receiving great tutelage from Billy Dunwoody MBE who became a grandfather like figure in addition to one of the most influencial teachers I ever had. Billy had this precious knack of getting his students to start making music first and foremost and sculpting their sound which would carry them foreward and found their basis without it ever seeming difficult. In fact his whole attention was directed to making a beautiful tone even throughout the registers and playing ‘comeallye’s’ (tunes one can whistle) as he liked to put it. I believe his method was a disguised version of Marcel Moyse’s tone development through interpretation book in a very Northern Irish way! He used to get me to spend much time with the headjoint alone in front of the mirror urging me to create a perfect round shape or opening between the top and bottom lip for the middle register. Once I could create that with ease with my lips and hold a long and singing ‘B’ it was time to move onto the next note which was B flat. The emphasis was always on a singing and beautiful tone.’Without that what is the point’ he always said. The real art of what he did was to make all this a really fun process and the promise of buying me a burger and chips in the Ivy Bar where I occasionally had my lessons if I had practiced what he had told me was a great incentive for an 11 year old! The Ivy or the office as he called it was a tiny public house just off the Donegal Pass in Belfast. In fact our band room was just across the street so the pub had kind of become the headquarters in some respects. In fact the landlord was also president of the band. ‘Sing, sing sing’ he used to say. ‘Play with the inside of the top lip’ and     ‘Keep your throat open and allow the air to fill your mouth’.  He would get me to immate him singing and sometimes he would open his mouth and a beautiful sonorous sound would come forth and I would try to immitate that, then he would sing a rather Florence Forster Jenkins type note! For those of you not yet acquainted with Ms Jenkins, I suggest you give her a listen! You see, the emphasis was always put on fun from the word go. This is so important in teaching and equally the correct approach with ones students and knowing how to work with each personality. To dedicate onesself to the art of teaching I believe can be equated to teaching a young fledgling to fend for itself in it’s preparation for leaving the nest. I had had a great start and although Billy considered himself as an amateur I can truly say he knew more about teaching and approach than some of my teachers that were to follow and a few of them were in the ‘professional playing world’.  Billy Dunwoody was one of those rare special gentlemen who dedicated their life to teaching and who genuinely wanted the best for any talented student that passed through their hands. He was like the grandfather I never had and his untimely death just a few months after my actual Grandmother’s death crushed me in a devestating manner. I was due to audition for Music College in Manchester where he thought I should go, and the morning before I went to do the audition my parents got a phone call to say Billy had died suddenly sitting in his living room at home. I was devestated, and didn’t want to go to do the audition. His wife Irene who was also a great supporter of Billy, his teaching and the flute world in which he dedicated his life urged me to go. And so, I flew to Manchester, did the audition and got a place to enrol the following September at the college.
I was 17 years of age and through Billy’s connections had already been introduced to truly great flute players and already had lessons from such as Jean Pierre Rampal, Sir James Galway and Edward Beckett who was the Nephew of the playwright Samuel Beckett. He always had the knack of getting things and making them happen. Whether it was a pound of saussages which came from his Ivy Bar connections or a lesson with Derek Bell who was the harpist from the famous chieftains or  even a lesson with Jean Pierre Rampal he could somehow make it happen!

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