27th March 2013 – No.44a: Learn to Play the Flute; Grade One Exam


I have always wanted to play the flute. There is just something about the instrument which appeals to me. As a child, of course I asked my mother for lessons but money was tight and in the end my mum signed us up for keyboard lessons from a friend, which was considerably cheaper. My twin sister Roisin immediately took to it and still plays the piano now. I did not enjoy it. No one wants to be forced into doing the same thing as their twin, especially when that twin is better at it than you!  In secondary school I tried again. This time I got saddled with bassoon lessons. A bassoon is about as far away from a flute as you can get. It’s enormous, heavy, cumbersome and sounds (to quote my youngest brother) “like a dinosaur in pain”.

It's not easy to take a picture of yourself playing the flute...:)

It’s not easy to take a picture of yourself playing the flute…:)

I resigned myself to waiting until I could sort it out myself. Then in the summer of 2011, my friend Ivan introduced me to Rosie, who plays flute at a grade 6 level.  Rosie heard that I wanted to learn how to play and offered to teach me for free; we have been friends ever since. She even found me a website where I could rent a flute for six months and then buy it from the company; I would have struggled to afford one upfront.  http://www.jspianos.com/hire/other-instrument-hire    I worked hard learning basic pieces, until one day Rosie said she thought I was ready for my Grade 1 exam. I booked it with ABRSM for the 27th of March.

I spent the morning of the 27th practising hard, before meeting up with Rosie and heading to my pianist’s house so she could drive us to the exam centre in the nearby town of Bexhill. As the exam drew closer, I still felt fine, perhaps distracted by the company. It wasn’t until my pianist was parking the car that I began to feel somewhat nauseated, however I passed it off as travel sickness and it soon faded. My nerves, on the other hand, were beginning to appear. I sat in the waiting room, filling out the slip of paper that I would hand to the examiner; detailing which tunes I was playing and the order in which I would be performing them. My fingertips began to sweat. My hands were slightly shaking. I could feel adrenaline rising in my stomach. I tried to persuade myself that this was no different to the excitement one might feel before boarding a rollercoaster. As I silently practised the fingering for the trickiest parts of my pieces, I was summoned to the exam room. This was it, the culmination of a year’s preparation, twelve minutes that would determine if I was capable not just of playing my instrument but of performing with it too. I handed my slip to the examiner and set up my music.

Me playing the flute

Me playing the flute

“Begin whenever you’re ready.” She waved her hand casually, not even looking.  I glanced at my pianist, who nodded to show she was ready, took a deep breath and began ‘Shepherd, Shepherd.’ It went perfectly, just as we had rehearsed. Too early, my body relaxed and sent floods of ‘it’s over’ adrenaline, causing my knees to wobble and my arms to shake. I felt sick. I barely managed to perform ‘Vielle Chanson’ and it was not without error –to raise notes an octave on the flute, frequently the technique is the same fingering and simply an alteration in the way you breathe; a feat difficult to accomplish when your mouth has gone dry.
After my accompanied pieces, my pianist left the room and I played ‘Study in F’, my solo piece. Fortunately, this went off without a hitch. I performed my scales with less confidence than I ought to have, making a couple of elementary mistakes which resulted in me asking if I could have a second try, which I was granted. Then the sight-reading component, which for those of you who have never taken a graded music exam, comprises a short piece of music you have thirty seconds to read and must then perform. This I thought went well and then it was onto the aural section, a variety of short tunes played by the examiner, who requested me to clap the rhythm, sing sections back and answer a few queries as to the content of the pieces. This is something I am reasonably comfortable with, due to having been a member of my secondary schools chamber choir.
And that was it, the exam was over. About three weeks later, I received my certificate in the mail, I passed!

Rosie and me with my Grade One certificate

Rosie and me with my Grade One certificate


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