Friday, December 17, 2010

Going Back to Basics

A Collection of Flutes: Modern, Renaissance, Quena

It is common to find ourselves disillusioned or jaded with an activity after some time due to difficulties or certain experiences that shaped our perceptions. Hence,  I often find it useful to revisit the reason why I started on a particular activity and I leave with a sense of inspiration and insight.

As my LCM Flute Grade 8 exam is around the corner, it means that I am at the height of practising for it. In the midst of my practice, I find it frustrating that I can't meet the standards of the examiners and thought that I should go back to basics to seek inspiration and encouragement. While it is awkward to conduct such a personal exercise in a public domain, I realise that it is also a good chance to share with my readers an activity that plays a large role in my life.

I first fell in love with flute or the idea of playing the flute for a childish reason. As a kid, I watched countless drama serials based on Chinese legends and pugilists. As such, I am often enthralled by the aspect of the mystical qualities of the flute in which one can summon animals, spirits or possess magical powers by playing it. Such a thought was definitely tempting and I pestered my mother to find a teacher for me. However, playing the flute was generally uncommon in those days and it was not until when I was 13 before I had my first lesson. In the meantime, my interest in the flute grew out of the childish notion and into a deep appreciation of its melodious quality and its earthy tones.

With youthful enthusiasm, I embarked on learning the flute and took various examinations and, in a flash, it has been 8 years since I had my first lesson. On hindsight, I often smile at the thought of my younger self and my wide-eyed wonderment with regards to this mystical instrument.

Having matured in character, thoughts and musicianship, this mystical instrument has evolved into a sensual as well as a spiritual one. The sensuality of the instrument stems not only from its earthy tones but the intimate relationship between the flautist and his listener. This is due to the fact the need for one's breath is a very personal aspect of oneself. Without breath, one cannot live and listening to the flute is akin to the flautist singing softly to you as you can feel the warmth of the flautist's breath on the nape of your neck. Furthermore, this idea is further enhanced by the idea held by many that the flute imitates the human voice.

My take on the spirituality of the flute is inspired by one of its greatest players, Sir James Galway. In one of his earlier biographies, Galway remarked that playing the flute is an act of paying homage to God; to play the most beautiful melodies in which the composer can only be inspired by God to be able to write such surreal music. What a beautiful thought! I was also reminded that as God gave life to us by breathing into Adam and Eve, I give life to music by breathing into the instrument and pay my homage to Him. Perhaps that is why the beauty of music transcends culture, language and time.

That is how I started my lifelong relationship with the flute.

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