The Phoenix: Not What You’re Thinking

I simply MUST write about the piece I started learning yesterday. Those of you who pay attention to my tweets will already know which one it is, and that I’m rather excited to have found it. I would just like to go a little bit into depth about some of the things I like about this particular piece.

For some reason, my mind can’t get around the more avant-garde type pieces of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. There is a particular type of music theory that involves in-depth study of what is known as the twelve-tone system. Let’s just say that I barely managed to pass my twentieth-century theory class due to the fact that I couldn’t find a melodic structure to hang on to for whatever we happened to be studying. In short, my mind was set on the fact that twentieth and twenty-first century performance repertoire for the flute was always going to be bad and I was going to stay far away from it.

For the most part, I have lived up to this edict. The obvious problem, though, is that my edict was far too general. I’ve found myself enjoying a whole lot of twentieth and twenty-first century music, I just couldn’t find any flute repertoire that made melodic sense. It was all either composed using the twelve tone system, or was based solely on mathematic equations, or that visually looked interesting but sounded… well, very chaotic.

I have been leery of contemporary flute music from the beginning, and barely surviving my twentieth-century music theory class served only to locked the door. By the time I had finished that class, I had completely shut out all contemporary music when choosing repertoire. The problem was that with that door closed, I was rather limited. Not only that, but I was starting to find myself getting bored with the same old eras, and that sort of scared me, because it isn’t like me at all to get bored with a piece I’ve chosen to learn.

One day, I went to a flute lesson and was completely out of ideas as to what I wanted to learn. Susan, whom I have mentioned in previous posts, began riffling through her music and muttering things like, “This could be interesting… I think you’d like this… but you don’t like contemporary music… so that won’t work…”

I found myself wondering if I had limited myself too much by shutting out all twentieth and twenty-first century music. The answer is yes, I have. I can probably count on one hand just how many pieces I have learned which were written after 1900. Susan eventually opened the door again, though. I still don’t like atonal music, because my head just can’t wrap itself around pieces which don’t sound melodically structured, but this doesn’t include every twentieth century flute piece in the books.

The first piece I played after my rather unpleasant encounter with twentieth-century theory was Jacques Ibert’s flute concerto, written in 1934. While it bordered atonal, it still had melodic structure. It still had motives I could pick out throughout the entire piece. The problem was that it wasn’t quite me. At least, the movement I know is frantic, and almost too chaotic for my liking. What good would it be to say I’d never played something like it, though? What good is it to be a musician and not explore every facit, including performing a piece you don’t quite like?

Well, I have to admit that I haven’t ventured into the extremely atonal realm yet. However, I did find a piece a couple of days ago, which was composed in 1980. This piece not only has a melodic structure that I can interpret and enjoy, but the style of the piece itself fits my style of playing. While I have played lots of pieces in the baroque, classical, and romantic eras which I have enjoyed and could put my heart into, I can finally say that I’ve been able to put my heart into a contemporary piece as well.

I found it while I was skimming through a collection of James Galway’s albums. I didn’t even know the title of the piece when I first heard the opening chords. I listened to the whole first movement of the thing before I even took a glance at the title. After a little research, I found out that it was premiered the same year it was written by Sir James Galway in the Sydney Opera house with the Sydney orchestra. That only clinched it for me. I just had to learn it. The sound of it stuck in my head and invaded my dreams, and so I began the learning process yesterday.

I wish I could explain to you the richness of it! Everything in the first movement alone, from the steady three-4 time signature to the intricate and exquisitely-executed triplets and sixteenth-notes, is enough to keep me going back to hear it over and over again. I haven’t found a piece like that in quite a while, especially within the dreaded twentieth-century collection of flute repertoire.

Why take my word for it, when you can listen to the piece yourself? Take a moment and appreciated it, even if it’s for the simple fact that you haven’t heard it before. It’s taken me far too long to find this piece and reopen the door to contemporary music again. I’m going to make it my goal to play this piece with an orchestra before I leave this world. Take some time and watch the videos below. I think you will find at least one thing to enjoy. I know I did.

John Carmichael’s Phoenix Concerto for Flute and Orchestra:
Movement 1
Movement 2

Forever Seeking,


Your thoughts?