I remember seeing my teacher leave his instrument on his chair during intermission of a concert where he had a huge flute solo that began the second half. He was backstage chatting with his colleagues, enjoying the break, while I was sitting in the audience, staring incredulously at his flute on his chair on an otherwise empty stage.

After congratulating him on a beautiful performance, I had to ask, “How was it possible for you not to play the excerpt during intermission, just to make sure everything was in place before the solo?” He responded pragmatically, “Andrée, did you think I would forget how to play my flute in those 15 minutes?”

At that time, drilling problem spots in repertoire was inspired by my all-important daily regimen. I was religious about my routine, always playing the same exercises for the same amount of time. De la Sonorité was like a morning coffee, without which I didn’t feel like I could manage the day. I was taught to emphasize tone and technique over repertoire (a philosophy to which I still adhere), but that philosophy turned into ritual and then to obsession. Taffanel and Gaubert E.J. 4 and 12, Moyse’s Tone Development, 24 Little Studies, and Gammes et Arpèges are among the staples of our fundamentals, but for me they were a daily required rite of passage before practicing repertoire, making practice sessions much longer and less mindful than was healthy.

How do I help my students avoid my mistakes? I assign broad categories for work, allowing them to choose patterns that achieve similar goals. Breaking the routines in our practice rooms is crucial to keep listening (honestly) to our playing and to our bodies, something my teacher understood intrinsically.

 

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