Pender Friday 1st July

I am sitting on the ferry leaving Pender Island and finally have some space to think of formulating words to discribe Friday. Each day we have been exploring some of the more important elements of human nature with Heather. It may seem out of place at a flute course, but it becomes increasingly clear that it is out of our humanity that we communicate music. So there must be an advantage in understanding ourselves and I have found it a worthwhile approach.

Friday morning was an extraordinarily intense experience as we all shared complements with each other. Not out of the interections we have had during the week, but in the spontaneity of the moment – it was a wonderfully honest, vulnerable, and revealing time. My experience was that many people expressed an incredible understanding of who I am, not based on surface experiences but based on my heart. It was also amazing to be so very real with each other, without hiding the emotions that each of us felt. It is hard to believe that many of us have only known each other for a week.

We also did what I would call a fire tunnel. This is a human tunnel of positive ‘energy’ that each person walks through. You could replace the word energy with unspoken ‘love’ I suppose. In the Christian speek that I am used to it would be called a tunnel of prayer. But whatever way you explain it, the impact of such an outwardly peculiar activity was astoundingly obvious within the group. I think I will be slower to judge weird activities as mumbo jumbo in future! The fact that this group of people, all coming from different lives, different beliefs, different understandings, could combine to all experience and contribute to a heart changing moment was incredible to be a part of.

Pender Thursday 30th

I’ve finally got the gist of our morning sessions all week!!! I got so excited to actually be able to put the concepts into my own words. On top of this today also included a very practically helpful class on technique.

What is the safe place we come from to be compasionate, caring and empathetic without becoming drained of energy? It is from being assured in our own identity. This allows us to be vulnerable with others, without become threatened or offended.

For example, part of my identity is that “I am loved”. This is a statement that I can hold onto in any situation. Even in being vulnerable this statement does not change. What a powerful place to come from! It also occurs to me that those outward actions of empathy and compassion come best when identity is secure. I know that this is something I recognise in people I admire – they are sure of who they are first and foremost.

Having a statement of “I am…” is simple a means of remembering my identy in more difficult situations when I feel that my idea of self feels threatened. A similar structural support is having a concious ritual in the morning and evening that is a reminder of my firm identity. For me, I have decided to choose to think of, or find, a relevant verse/phrase each morning before beginning the day. Because I know that I live in my head so often, I need to write it down – this will keep me accountable to myself as well. 

My evening ritual is mundane by comparison, simply brushing my teeth! I don’t want to go to bed with my head full of thoughts, so I am choosing a purely physical activity that I know I already maintain.

One other statement I would like to remember is a choice that I know I don’t make every day, but would like to: “I am going to start my day fully awake”

In hindsight, exploring vulnerability this week is so incredibly relevant to our craft as musicians. Every time we walk on stage, or work with a conductor or ensemble, we are being so vulnerable in sharing our intricately crafted voice. What a risk! There are those who will love it, hate it, built it, criticise it, encourage it. But ultimately we cannot get lost from our identity, or the message that we choose to communicate. 

Pender Wednesday 29th

“Today is a good day”

Today’s Mindful Musician session was on creativity. Wayne really demonstrated just how conditioned we are to think within the box; to expect one answer, to not ask questions beyond the obvious or logical, to disengage our imaginations and play by the rules. The challenge to us was to not sit in a place of conformity, but to question the answers, and be willing to be called a fool. 

It seems such a risk to take, especially at a young age. However, the presence of Wibb on Pender is such an obvious example of extraordinary creativity that it is hard not to be inspired to pursue a radical approach to creating. He breaks all the rules with relish. And yet has also refined such an artistry of sound. He is willing to experiment and to play with music – to be frivolous in finding the musical expression and technique. It seems to be the reason he can still pkay with such formidable skill at the age of 80!!!

I am now convinced that a part of my practice approach needs to include committing to hold lightly to the rules and to be open to more playful ideas.

The second important moment from today that I want to illustrate happened during the evening masterclass. For those unfamiliar with this sort of experience, I often think of masterclasses as one of the most unnatural playing scenarios. Between teach and audience, performance and lesson it is hard to perform music naturally with so much pressure. 

So it was special to be a part of a class in which such magical performances happened. To see Lorna bring out such easy expression from people I have been with non stop for several days now was a joy to witness. To move beyond the technical to the emotional it what its all about! And even a few tears were shed. It was so wonderful to hear. 

Pender thought

“That which I judge in someone else is that which I haven’t accepted in myself.”

An interesting observation that I have had to really think about. I’m not sure that it is universally true, but it offers a perspective on why judgements happen sometimes. And I realise that in my own life that I tend to place more judgement on things and people who I engage with less. 

Perhaps, conversely, it is possible to say that familiarity creates empathy. We often have less sympathy for things we do not understand, or that are removed from our lives. 

So really the solution to judgement is to encourage empathy instead.

Pender Tuesday 28th

Second day of classes and already there is far more information to process.

But first of all, did I wake up with gratitute? Well, not really. I had to remind myself to think with a mindset of gratitude. And it seems that my first thoughts in waking up are habitually more negative. What a strange challenge to have on such a beautiful island, with wonderful people and amazing flute playing and teaching. I had to regularly remind myself of these things to stay grateful. Of course, my mood and positivity are fine after a coffee, but what an artificial way of starting the day! 

Today included the start of the Moyse Meloduc Studies and Lorna’s approach to technique. I also played for Lorna and Gaby, combining masterclass with Alexander Technique session. What a difference this made to my playing!!!

So what is technique? Most flute players might mention scales and arpeggios. Or repetitive practice. Or being correct in coordination or tone. Or those dreaded ‘long toooones’. But Lorna’s approach is so very different.

Some of the aspects of technique included artistry, diplomacy, coordination (or cooperation), retaining perspective, no compromise, grace, freedom, crossing thresholds and active listening. 

But what I want to remember most is that technique is taking responsibility. This is offering a gift to the listener. It is saying, I have taken the time to thoroughly prepare this piece for your enjoyment. And in fact Lorna took it a step further, saying she saw it as selfish and vain to not have prepared the best technique possible. What a profound warning to always commit to our best. And what a powerful statement to always ensure that practice is done in the most generous, gentle, careful and engaged manner. 

Like the mindfulness session from Monday, technique came down to a mindful approach to practice as a whole, and to healthy thinking as a whole.

Pender Monday 27th

Wow!! What a day full of information. And not just flute information. Identity, group interaction approaches, Alexander Technique, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, energy sources…and that’s without even touching a flute!

Through the fog of facts what sticks out is some of the discussion on practice approaches. I find myself often stuck in a rut trying to recreate the sound or idea that I created yesterday. Yet no matter how much I do the same actions, the result is not the same. My realisation for today is that perhaps I need to seek the same mindful thinking space, rather than the same end result. I know that often I feel uneasily that my thinking is not as calm as it was when that perfect result occurred. But having the opportunity to discover ways of grasping hold of that productive mind state over the duration of this week will hopefully give me some tools to address this issue. I will try to remind myself in practice that not all results come from correct actions or reactions, but also from healthy mindful thinking habits. Also, some results come from choosing not to react (a bit of Alexander Technique strategy thrown in there!).

We were left with three mindfulness challenges:
1. To wake up with gratitude. To think of something to be grateful for and let it sink in.
2. To wake up the brain with a cheery ‘cross crawl’.
3. To notice what our mood is. If it is feeling down then a few jumping jacks ahould do the trick. I didn’t work out what to do if you feel up and jittery – it didn’t seem relevent for me at 7am in the morning!

*for non-US/Can friends reading this, jumping jacks are star jumps!

And of course there was the incomparable Wibb!! Or for those less familiar, William Bennett, patriach of the flute world. It has been one of my dreams to play for him and experience  his teaching first hand. Tick that off the bucket list now! I can now say I have played for William Bennett.

Pender thought

Every new group event starts with that dreaded get-to-know-you activity. Say one thing about yourself, say where you came from, recite your name…

PIFR (that’s the Pender Island Flute Retreat!!!) might have started this way. Except it didn’t. The introductions weren’t mundane, but instead leapt straight into the deep and personally. We were asked to answer two things about our life/flute playing.

The questons were:
What are you greiving?
What are you joyful/grateful for?

For me, I am greiving an innocence in performance. In the serious pursuit of correctness and perfection the joy of playing without worrying about what people think has gone.

I am grateful that flute teaching here, and other places, has embraced an holistic approach that includes body and mind awareness, not just the technical and musical elements. This is the reason I continue to be able flute and find joy in it.

Pender 2016: Sunday 26 June

Well, this is the start of a week long flute course on Pender Island in B.C. Canada. I have just arrived on Pender, a beautiful island off the coast between Vancouver and Victoria. In fact, beautiful is an understatement! Warm weather, forrest, sea, sun, a gentle breeze blowing….


This is also the start of a series of blogs I will post on my own discoveries over the week. Rather than a ‘Dear diary, today I…’ type musing, I want it to be an insight into what I get out of learning from several of the very best teachers in the world. It will also reflect my interests in the holistic focus of the course; healthing thinking and healthy body habits.

I hope that it will not be too nerdy. And I also hope that it will inspire you to consider your own approach to finding ease in both the technical and expressive elements of musicianship! I’m sure I will find plenty for myself also along the way.