(Editor’s note: Here at Flute Journal we are flooded with information about flute masterclasses, summer schools and the like and we are enthusiastic supporters of these programs, convinced of their value, for both students and teachers. We are, in fact, moving into this area ourselves — more on that later. In the meantime, however, we were very happy to hear that one of our writers, Mike Chalmers, was heading off to attend one of these gatherings in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Mike divides his time between homes in the USA and the UK. He plays baritone saxophone with the London-based Cuban dance band Orquesta Estelar, and bass flute with the London Jazz Flute Big Band. Mike enjoys playing classical repertoire on the flute “when I think nobody is looking.”I asked him to collect some thoughts about his experience. The following is his report.)
I’m in flute recovery. And I found the cure in a hilltop village in Italy, by Mike Chalmers
“Having taken up playing the flute as an adult and progressed over the years through the UK grade system in both classical and jazz flute, I stopped having lessons not through any intention but because of…well…life. I carried on playing; I was aware that I would benefit from instruction and feedback but…well…life…
“Then something magical happened. I quit my job, or, more accurately my job quit me (it was an age thing) and I once again had the time to play the flute, but with ten years of lapsed study and bad habits to fix.
“So the next step was to choose a course to help me with my recovery. Of the various options available in Europe and the USA, I came up with a short list of three, and settled on Flutes In Tuscany – the two words flutes and Tuscany did it for me. Along with an impression – really, no more than an impression – that this would be a special week.
“And I was so right! Where to start? Well, the setting was enchanting, the Tuscan village of Tereglio with it’s single winding, narrow street and spectacular views over the valleys on either side. But this would do a disservice to the two course tutors, Elizabeth Walker and Sarah Murphy, who both had the ability to analyse one’s performance and pass on their insights without making one feel small for not reaching their high standards.
“Elizabeth and Sarah were joined for the first half of the week by Sarah’s own former teacher, the renowned Philippa Davies, who in turn clearly relished the relaxed atmosphere and magical setting. There were ten participants, fewer than in previous years, who divided equally between younger conservatory or pre-conservatory students and older adult students. The resident accompanist Sally Birkett was equal to any sight reading challenge, no matter how short the notice, while on some pieces we were joined by Tereglio resident and leading cellist Sebastian Comberti – baroque trios for flute, cello and (electric keyboard) harpsichord were a particular treat.
“I elected not to take part in the masterclasses – wisely, given the standard of some of the other participants – but I benefitted enormously from the individual lessons on offer. And, with ten years’ damage to repair, there was work to be done! For my first lesson, with Sarah, I had prepared an Andante from a Handel trio sonata, which I subsequently had the opportunity to perform in a lunchtime concert in the village’s chapel. As Elizabeth is a baroque specialist (check out her recordings of Bach and Telemann!) I stayed in that vein, playing the Sarabande from the J.S.Bach Sonata for Unaccompanied Flute – I took out my bass flute for this one. And for Philippa I had prepared Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga For Three, enjoying the chance to play it along with its rich piano accompaniment. I was struck how each lesson, whether by accident or design, seemed to be a continuation of the previous one. In addressing issues of posture, breathing, phrasing and interpretation, each of the teachers was both supportive and full of insight.
“Each day followed a format of individual lessons, master classes, ensemble work (quartet and flute choir) and evening concerts, culminating in a concert by the entire course. The grand finale was an ensemble performance of the Northumbrian folk tune “Bonny At Morn”, beautifully arranged by Mel Orris (See below). This was preceded by performances, by individuals and combinations of individuals, of pieces by Enesco, Haydn, Lily Boulanger, Gaubert, Scott Joplin, Debussy and (here I put my hand up) Cannonball Adderley – all in the ornate setting of Tereglio’s grand church.
“Were their any drawbacks? Not really – internet was hard to come by, apart from a small spot a few feet in radius on the village street which became known as the internet cafe. Rooms in local lodgings were comfortable but spartan. But these paled into insignificance when one considered the price, which included accomodation and three meals a day, and the quality of the instruction and performances. And what meals! Locally sourced produce, bread baked in the village, ricotta from the next village – the list goes on and on.
“So the verdict is in – I’m voting with my feet and can’t wait to go back next year.”
Our author, Mike Chalmers, is seen below, along with other participants, performing at the final concert of the 2019 Flutes in Tuscany course. Bonny at Morn – by Mel Orriss (Trad.) is based on a Northumbrian Tune. Performed live by: Solo flutes – Sarah Murphy, Elizabeth Walker, Alyse Faith. Orchestra – Nuala Imrie, Amelie Donovan, Krystina Gale, Kate Hunt, Sandra Halvarsson, Torsten Krebs and Mike Chalmers. Conducted by Una Murphy and performed in Tereglio, Tuscany. (Elizabeth Walker is performing on a Cantabile Pearl Flute. She is an Artist for Pearl).
Comments are closed.