My second year at university I decided to take flute lessons. I hadn’t played flute much since junior high, and I was eager to add some funky flute to the folky jams I found myself in occasionally. I also decided to take some classical guitar lessons to make some progress on my main instrument.
I had lots of friends who were music majors. I saw the tremendous pressure they were under, even those who were majoring in music education. I loved playing music, but I knew that I was a crappy musician and could never make it in the music department. I had no private lessons growing up, and I had some teachers at school who did a lot to discourage and disrupt my development as a musician. So the farthest I could venture into the university’s music department was to take some flute and guitar lessons.
The guitar professor was kind and encouraging to me. He explained technical points clearly and gave me exercises that fit my skill level perfectly. I saw him yell and curse out some guys once for being loud and obnoxious in the hall outside his studio, but he was always gentle, supportive, and instructive with me. I think that those first months with him showed me that I could play guitar very well in time if I would only put in the work.
The flute was another story. I had a professor who was skilled and who explained technique to me very well. But she was very irritable and frustrated almost every time I went for my lesson. If she wanted me to play a passage more quietly, she would bark, “Quieter!” Those barks and moods would make me tense and jumpy. One afternoon she wanted me to relax the pressure between my lip and the flute’s mouthpiece. She put her hands on my flute while I was playing and tried to pull it a bit off of my lip. My body tensed, and i squeezed harder on the flute. “Relax!” she blurted out. “Relax!”
My flute skills improved during those months of lessons, but it was a relief to be done with them. I was playing in the university’s flute choir that semester, and I remember a collective exhale when this uptight professor became ill and couldn’t conduct our concert. We had a friendly, laid-back guy conduct us instead, and I felt totally different under his direction.
Not sure why I am thinking about these experiences from the eighties. I have great memories of other teachers and conductors since then. Hopefully my students will not think of me the way I think of that wound-up flute professor.
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