By Rebecca Olack
This fall, my flute officially becomes an antique…it will be 50 years old.
Beginning with my days of free weekly lessons provided by my public elementary school and on through my secondary school years, this flute was my constant companion. Music came easily to me, and I loved being in band and orchestra, going on trips, taking part in competitions, and having a large group of friends involved in the same efforts.
Then, after a brief stint with band in college when playing seemed all about proving musical superiority with none of the happy camaraderie of my junior and senior high school ensembles, my flute was quietly packed away.
The intervening 40 years have been a cacophony of highs and lows, crescendos and diminuendos, which simply flew by with no time, place, or even reason for practice.
Fast forward to a more settled place in my life: a husband whose work schedule no longer leaves me feeling like a single person, in a home we built and trust will be the last of our moves, and the youngest of our four children just about through college and amazingly independent. The demands upon my time have lessened slowly, almost imperceptibly, until one day I realized that I could choose to do something just for me.
My flute was waiting.
It did need some maintenance; a thorough cleaning and some new key pads. Hey, after 40 years, couldn’t we all use a little fine tuning? But, it still worked, and it felt so good in my hands.
Muscle memory flooded back, and I had no trouble remembering how to finger the notes. Wish I could tell you I started to play right away, but those first attempts were pretty weak. My lips were so out of practice I had to start from the beginning with simple exercises to produce any semblance of tone.
But, unlike learning to play as a child, when practice meant time taken away from friends and activities, now having free time and solitude to practice was an extraordinary gift!
I could also hear a noticeable difference every day; how encouraging it was to hear improvement!
I was very happy to set small goals and felt real contentment working to attain them. As a child, my lessons were given by our elementary school music teacher (who did not even play the flute!), and my goal was simply to play as well as the student one year ahead of me.
Now, I can take a lesson from anyone in the world via the Internet, and there is no end to the stimulation and influence that comes from listening to accomplished musicians.
Inspiration abounds when I can hear classic concerts by the late Jean-Pierre Rampal or observe a master class from Sir James Galway or Jill Felber and try to emulate their embouchure and intonation. I love watching videos of Tim Weisberg and trying to recreate his phrasing patterns. I have been amazed by the new techniques out there, such as the way Greg Patillo can beat box with his flute!
If I tire of playing alone, there are podcasts of other flutist playing one part of a duet and I can play the other. I have even been fortunate enough to find other adults in my church and community who, like me, have long neglected their musical instruments, and we have been able to carve out some time to play together. Our ensembles produce the sound of happiness; whether what we create is heard by anyone else is of no consequence.
Unlike endeavors that one must master before receiving any benefit, music gives its rewards freely and perfection is not required for enjoyment. If a piece sounds too elementary, add a flourish! Struggling to master a certain section? Rewrite it to accommodate your skill level.
When playing to satisfy your own creative impulse, there is no wrong way to go about it, except perhaps to deny the desire.
So, if you will excuse me, I think my flute is calling to me…and after all these years, I will not keep it waiting.