Unusually Unsatisfied Uncertainties

It seems that I have grown rather prone to writing during those many hours of the night when I am awake and suffering from a terribly broken sleep schedule. As you can currently guess, my sleep schedule is rather broken, and has been for quite some time. That isn’t why I’m writing, though. It might be the cause, or rather a partial factor, but it isn’t what I intended on telling you about.

What I did intend on telling you about is the flute service I recently had done. It came back yesterday afternoon. The feel of the instrument has changed rather noticeably, but not so much that it is disconcerting or distracting. The work done by my local technician appears to be solid. There is a slight issue with my b-flat thumb key, which may resolve itself after a couple days of vigorous playing, but other than that, everything feels really nice.

For years, I’ve had this habit of playing with my right thumb in a bad position, and as a result, I had one of the holes plugged in order to achieve an otherwise imperfect seal. I found out while testing the flute that my technician had removed the plug, but the seal wasn’t as difficult to get, now that I’ve had instruction about how to position my right hand. The removal of the plug will force me to retain the correct hand position learned while in Switzerland. It will take a little time to get used to, as I have grown rather negligent in reinforcing the correct position as of late… but it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult to master.

As I expected, I haven’t heard from anybody I had contacted regarding performance opportunities, other than the one I mentioned about when last I wrote—the Temple Square Concert series. I’ve still got this urge to research other opportunities, and before I wrote this post I did just that. I found another promising competition which, although local, will at least allow me a performance opportunity in front of an orchestra. I haven’t decided if I want to take it just yet, though, because I’m already applying for the Alexander Buono International flute competition, which takes place in October if I win. After that will be the Temple Square concert in November, and this other opportunity I found would take place a week or two after that, with a possible performance in February to follow. I need to be careful not to overlap these things.

On a whim, I decided to review an Email I was sent back in 2010. I had sent an inquiry to the outreach and education program of the Utah Symphony Orchestra about how to gain an opportunity, and she basically said that soloists must get a recommendation from one who is respected by the Utah Symphony staff. I wonder if I should ask James to write me a letter of some kind. Who within the instrumental world wouldn’t respect his opinions? I’ve not decided just what I want to do about that yet. Perhaps I should just wait and see what result the Temple Square concert will bring? I’ve heard tell that sometimes contacts from the Utah Symphony will attend the series… but I really am not certain.

I’ve been experiencing a little bit of anxiety regarding repertoire for this upcoming concert. When I called my accompanist last week to see if she was available, she said that she could accompany for me—but I felt a bit of hesitancy when I told her that I would be doing the entire hour. First she mentioned that it was a lot of music. I thought to myself that I’d done things like this before and she didn’t seem to mind the amount of music. It’s not like she’ll have to learn any completely new things, things that she and I haven’t ever played together before. She rather hastily mentioned, after the comment about it being a lot of music, that perhaps I shouldn’t just stick to the classical repertoire. While I agree with her that variety is a good thing, I’m half wondering if I should stick to just the so-called classical genre in order to show off my abilities? The more time I fill with Celtic or vocal music, the less anyone will know just what I can do as a concert flutist should there be some USO contact there. I’ve sort of got this thought running through my head that if she didn’t want to do an entire hour, she could have said that she didn’t want to, and I would have found another accompanist. I offered that, actually, but she didn’t take it. I’m not sure if she is genuine in her desire to hear me play other musical genres, or if she was just afraid to tell me that she didn’t want to accompany the entire hour.

On one hand, I think it would be great to stick to classical music to show off my abilities, but then again, if I throw some Celtic things in there as well, it would show that I can do other things as well. I have always wanted to do an all-classical recital, but people have always suggested I throw a little variety in as well. I don’t want to bore my audience to death, and yet I really would love to show off something flashy that would perhaps increase the appreciation for classical music, make it fun and enjoyable to listen to. There are so many pieces that I’d love to do within the classical selection! I just don’t know weather I want to please myself or everyone else with this one. Isn’t it the performer’s job to provide entertainment that is pleasing to the audience? If I do what I’d like this time, will I be putting myself at a disadvantage by possibly boring my audience and diminishing the potentiality of future attendance?

I really do not like this conundrum at present, and am hoping I can figure out something soon. Do I use this concert as a way to say “This is what I can do as a concert flutist,” or do I use it to say that I’m more than just a concert flutist? If I use this concert as a way to get a potential contact, will I diminish the desire to be contacted by playing less classical music than what was hoped for? I just don’t know. This is me, closing on an uncertain note for the first time. I hope to find a satisfactory answer to these questions…

Forever Questioning,

Me

General Update of… Amusingness?

Well, a few interesting things have happened since I last wrote, and I’ve had a couple of new—or perhaps resurrected—ambitions as of late which I think are noteworthy enough to at least mention. This is going to be a rather long post, so I hope you’ve plenty of time to read. I’m starting to wonder if these long posts are getting overlooked because of their length…

Anyway, the first thing is that I sent my flute off two days ago to get serviced, so that when it comes back, it will be like new—perhaps even better given what I decided to have done with it. It wasn’t quite so difficult this time as it was when I sent it off to get my gold headjoint fit, but I still go through moments of missing it on occasion.

The biggest, most involved, most sound-altering and probably most expensive part of the overhaul process is going to be replacing all the pads with new ones. Some of you, flutists in particular, may ask yourselves what’s so difficult about getting a flute re-padded. Well, in most cases, the process isn’t too bad. All it requires is a little bit of patients to replace the pads, and the know-how. However, this is if either you or your repair technician is not particularly keen to the more minor details of the work.

Pads act as the fingers would on a simple system flute. They act as the seal between the key and the tone hole on the modern concert flutes and piccolos we most commonly see in orchestras and other ensembles. Traditionally, they are made of felt, but many times this puts the player at a disadvantage during changes in weather and humidity. This means that as the flute warms to your breath, or while the flute is being subjected to different temperatures, the felt pads will swell and contract, which means that the required seal is always changing. More often than not, these changes in the pads will compromise the seal, causing air to leak and diminishing the possibility of a solid tone.

Over the past decade, several other types of pad have been produced. Most of these include a pad composed of either animal or synthetic skin. These last longer and are more stable than the traditional felt pads, but they too have their advantages and disadvantages. One such “modern” pad was awarded a patent in the mid 1970’s. The patent was given to David Straubinger, who began his research on pad design in 1969. These pads are different from the traditional felt pads in several ways. They are built in such a way that requires a licensed technician when it comes to installation and or replacement. Secondly, they use synthetic skin which is resistant to environmental changes and is more durable over time than felt.

The problem with these pads is that the skin tends to tear or split after a lot of use. Depending on the player, this tendency can be increased due to how much pressure is put on the keys of the instrument. I am unfortunately one of those who have gotten into the habit of putting a lot of pressure on the keys. It is important to note that a light touch is all that’s required, but because I played a student model flute for seven years—one which used felt pads which never got replaced and therefore leaked without my realizing it—I had to compensate. To seal the tone holes better with leaky pads, more pressure is required, and as a result, my hands are in the habit of compensating for leaky pads. This pressure doesn’t help in keeping the Straubinger pad skins in tact. However, there have been pads developed recently which seal even better than the Straubingers with the lightest of touches, which is the second reason I chose to switch makers.

The pads I’ve chosen to go with are made by Jim Schmidt. The most notable difference between them and most synthetic pads, at least for me, is that they contain specs of gold in them. They are more rigid than the Straubingers, and if installed correctly onto perfectly level tone holes, the seal will be absolute even with the slightest touch to the keys. The rigidity of these pads will prevent if not completely get rid of the difficulties with split skins, which will be saving me a lot of money when I take the instrument in for its “yearly checkup.”

Now, a lot of manufacturers don’t take the time to perfectly level each tone hole. This is a rather detailed process which is often overlooked or avoided because it takes quite some time to level each and every tone hole on each and every flute the company makes. As a result, there are minute imperfections in the tone holes which further inhibit an absolute seal when a key is pressed. I am going to have my local technician level them out completely for me. If I had chosen to remain with the Straubinger pads, the seal would have been more complete and the tendency to split would be decreased. However, with the Schmidt pads, I will ensure not only an absolute seal, I will be getting a better sound because of the fact that they seal better than Straubingers due to the materials used to make them.

The price of the entire overhaul, gold-flecked Schmidt pads included, will be about $500.00. That isn’t a bad price at all, in my opinion. I will be saving more money due to the fact that I won’t have to replace pads so often. Plus, I’ll be getting a better sound for it. Recently, even with my habitual compensation for seven years playing on a flute with leaky pads, I’ve started to notice I’ve been having unusual difficulty achieving a clear tone for notes I normally had little to no difficulty playing. It will be interesting to see just how much of a difference this service will make, I can tell you that much. I am also going to see about finding some ways to help me remember to lighten up the hand pressure to ensure further durability of the pads, and dare I say the flute in general? Less pressure results in less wear on the mechanism, meaning fewer adjustments, meaning more money saved. We’ll see how things go once I get it back in a few more days.

Regarding performance opportunities, I received a phone call a couple of days ago from the people at Temple Square. I don’t remember if I mentioned this when I last wrote or not, but I’d sent in a CD through my friend and former flute instructor, Susan, to see if I could get a chance to perform there.

I had it in mind that I was going to have to wait a whole year to perform there, because that’s often times how far in advanced people have been booked. As luck would have it, there were some openings in September, as well as November! To ensure I could prepare everything in time, I chose an opening in early November. As for what I’m going to play, I’ve got no idea… but that’s why I chose November instead of September. The Assembly Hall in Salt Lake is a magnificent place to perform, and it’s rather exciting to be able to perform there in a group, let alone a solo recital. Needless to say, I’m very excited about this. It’s nice to have a performance goal in mind.

I also recently put in an inquiry to the American West Symphony. They are a local volunteer orchestra, but my thinking is that if I don’t end up joining them for the simple experience of being in an ensemble again, I might be able to obtain a solo opportunity. I’ve never had the opportunity to play a concerto as it was meant to be played—with the orchestra—and it would really be nice if I could find something.

Yesterday, during one of my odd wakeful moments in the middle of the night, I inquired about being in the orchestra who plays Phantom of the Opera as their main occupation. I’m not sure if it’s with the actual touring company, or if it’s just for Broadway, but the point is that I was kind of intrigued at perhaps being able to play in an ensemble… oh no wait, I mean… playing my favorite musical all the time every night for a different crowd for six nights a week.

Perhaps that little bit was rather high in the “let’s be ambitious” list. I really don’t expect to hear back from anybody about that little episode. The Email has already been sent to broadwayworld.com though so I guess I can’t take it back now, hee!

The last thing I have to write about today is the Alexander Buono International Flute Competition. Those of you who currently read my tweets already know a little about what’s recently happened, but for those that don’t know, or who haven’t paid attention, here is the story about that.

I must admit that I kind of got discouraged once I wasn’t able to find up-to-date email information with which to contact the competition coordinators. Plus, with this whole flute overhaul thing, and with the Phoenix Concerto taking over my brain, and with my seemingly-diminishing memory, I didn’t check up on the website at all until a week ago.

In short, the website was down, which didn’t help me in the encouragement factory department. I almost decided to just forget the whole thing, but there was a part of me that felt let down at the prospect, so I checked back again on Tuesday last to see if the competition website had come back. I was in luck, but the information I found was still slightly confusing due to conflicting dates in the application form, and the contact information listed hadn’t changed. I didn’t want to just let it go, though. I couldn’t, there’s a part of me that won’t allow me to just drop something once it’s caught my attention.

With the Email information out of date, I didn’t have any alternative but to try the phone number that had been listed there on the site. I was not about to send in an application to a competition whose possibilities I was not clear about. So, I spent five minutes plucking up the courage to just call the silly number and see what happened.

I had set in my mind that all I’d need to do was ask the couple of questions I had carefully rehearsed and remembered. Once that was done, I’d be all right and wouldn’t have to worry about the unexpected possibilities which came with applying. So, I called the number.

It rang several times and then, somewhat to my relief, I was hearing a recorded message. That relief was short-lived when I heard the voice on the other end, and who it was that was asking me to leave said message… “Hi, this is Barry Alexander…”

My head reeled and my entire carefully-planned, carefully practiced train of thought and list of questions decided to fall right out of my ear. I was not about to stumble through a message to the very founder of the competition and sound like a complete idiot. No way! I hung up before the beep.

After I hung up, I started laughing. I was so amused with the fact that I let something as simple as a sophisticated voice laced with a German accent get in the way of what I had in mind. What was I doing chickening out? The funniest thought, funnily enough sent to my twitter, was that here I am a performer, and I get scared leaving a voicemail message… I just had to laugh, and laugh and laugh and laugh some more… and pluck up the courage to call back again…

Well, right as I was about to call back, my phone rang. The caller ID display read: “Alexander, Barry…” There went my composure again. I was dealing with the amusement at how silly this whole situation was, combined with the thought “Oh dear here he is calling me back and I didn’t leave him a message so I’ll have to stumble and sound like an idiot anyway!” The world was ending… so I picked up the phone and said, “Hello?”

As is the way of everything I worry about, it turned out to be perfectly all right, as is to be expected. I was pleasantly surprised that he had called me back; clear from New York, no less. I got all my questions answered and am more certain than ever that I am going to apply. While last year they offered a grand prize, the board apparently voted against it this year. My thinking is still positive though. I still get to perform in Carnegie Hall, and hell, I’d get to go to New York City again if I win. Nothing gets better than that, I think. If I don’t win, it will be yet another experience to put under my belt, and I can try again next year. Overall, I do believe I am very amused and contented with everything that has been going on as of late.

Guess what? I’ve covered everything that needs be said. My thought for today is more of a reminder to myself than anything else, I think: It’s okay, everybody has to look stupid once in a while… you’ll end up laughing about it later. I’m still laughing…

Forever Easily Amused,

Me