My flute: a love story

my flute

My flute

“I don’t know – maybe I should call my flute teacher, the one who teaches me,” said my flute teacher to my mother. “It could be that she’s taking a little longer to get the knack of the tone because she hasn’t got the right shaped mouth. Some people don’t.”


I stood in my flute teacher’s living room, sheet music piled on the piano and book shelves, and cat hair everywhere. Me in my skinny legs and school uniform, silent and balancing awkwardly on one foot. I had wanted to play the flute before, but now I really wanted it. I would show them I could do it.




It was four years later. We had driven for about two hours and got lost for one hour, my parents arguing over the right directions, and then we arrived at the small specialist flute shop, somewhere in the heart of London. I walked in and there was one wooden bar, glass cases all round, bright lights and long flashes of silver. I have the vaguest memory of the man who helped us as having half-glasses and a grey beard, but this may just be my brain conjuring the appropriate character for such an occasion. We showed him my Pearl flute, hypnotically husky and richly purple on the lower register, but thinner when it got higher.


He nodded, took out a Trevor James. “This has a solid silver head. It should make a difference.”

I blew – and the sound came out so easily. I was surprised at the difference in volume. But the man shook his head, and began rummaging under the counter for another. “Wrong tone – try this.”


Flute after flute was shown and blown while my sister and brother played and whined, and we whittled it down to one. A bit like the Pearl in the lower register, but with a golden, fast-spiralling ribbon of sound on the top notes.


“It’s an investment,” my parents told themselves, aloud, as they saw the price tag. I wondered if I should break it to them that they were unlikely to ever see that amount of money made by my flute playing but then I figured I might not be allowed to have it, so I kept quiet.


It may not have contained unicorn hair but I felt its power as I walked out with my Yamaha 411, solid silver body and head.




It was the morning of my Grade Six exam, and I was alone in my room, fingers aching and the stupid sticky keys just not going down where they were supposed to. I took a deep breath, and tried again. I would lick those semi-quavers and I would get the counting right.


I played the eight bars and made more mistakes than I had in the two hours previous. I had left it too late to properly practise, and now I would be going into an exam unable to play the piece. What on earth would I do?


I stared at the music again. F sharp, B natural, ticker-ticker-ticker-ticker dah dahhh. I could do this. I tried again, and the second dahh petered out into painful squeak. I would never be able to get it right. I would fail my exam.


I picked up my flute and hurled it onto the bed. It was the precise balance of needing to do something physical to purge my anger, but not actually wanting to destroy my expensive flute. It bounced up, as if in slow motion, and landed back on duvet, with a rebound bounce. It would have been fine had my leather music case with its metal bar not also been lying on the bed. My hot tears cooled on my cheek as I stared at the large dent in the head of the flute, and hoped my mum would not notice.


I took my Grade six exam that morning and passed with merit.




When it came to two weeks before my Grade Seven, my teacher sighed in exasperation.

“If it were anyone else, I would be withdrawing them from the exam now. But you pulled it out the bag for Grade Six, so perhaps you can do it again?”


I did.


For my Grade Eight, I learnt Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G (third movement). I’m listening to it now as I write this: James Galway’s notes like a child’s laughter, so quick and pure. I smile with fond tears for my frustrated teenage self. I battled with it for so long – and what did it matter, really? I mastered that piece and the Poulenc enough for getting through the exam, and had only one piece left to learn and then I would have passed my Grade Eight – as far as you can go.


I never took my Grade Eight. I would never be a concert-standard flautist. I always learned pieces only well enough to get through an exam, never really to perform them. It was, in many ways, an exercise in getting away with the very minimum. Did I even enjoy it or was it just all about the challenge?


For a while, I could only listen to this Mozart piece and reflect on my “almost”s. Now I just listen and enjoy it. I was never a James Galway. I did not want all those scales, those musical sit-ups, the endless running up and down stairs with one’s fingers. I just wanted to blow and it sound like birdsong.



I brought my flute to church, all the while that I was cursing my flute and flinging it on my bed at home. And in church, with the band, I didn’t even really look at the music. The melodies were so simple, I could improvise harmony, floating somewhere over the top with my own notes and tune.


Perhaps I am the person who needs to learn in community, perhaps I needed to worship with it to really love it, to be free. In church, I did not play it. I sang with it, without thought, and my heart soared along with the notes.


Feb 2013 - Posing with my flute (with new haircut)

Feb 2013 – Posing with my flute (with new haircut)


Over to you:

  • Do you play an instrument? What has been your relationship with it?
  • “I needed to worship with it to really love it, to be free.” What things in your life fall into that category?


Joining with Amber on Mondays for concretewords, where we practise writing by communicating the abstract through concrete things – a horse, a book, stairs – and today the instrument. These concrete words posts have led me on a journey through childhood and nostalgia and spiritual maturity – I write and that’s what comes out at the moment.


Amber is taking a break from concrete words and I will be hosting for the next little bit. The prompts for the next few weeks are as follows:
Feb 25 – the instrument
Mar 4 – the dress
Mar 11 – the bottle


Won’t you join me? Link your post below and read and comment on others’ abstractions on the instrument. For more info about ‘how to’ use the concrete to write the abstract, read Amber’s introduction here.


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42 Responses to My flute: a love story

  1. Mark Allman 25th February, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    I love your story Tanya. Great picture too. Perhaps your vlog could include your playing(singing with) your flute for all of us. I can only play the radio and that not good. 🙂

    • Tanya 25th February, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

      Thanks, Mark! I hear your hints about the vlog, but that’s not gonna happen for a while yet, (or ever??) I reckon!

      Sadly I haven’t sung or played for a fair while, but if my health boosts a bit, I’ll plonk myself in front of the piano and belt out a few numbers with gusto. In the meantime I’m hoping my musicality will pass down to the next generation…!

      • Mark Allman 25th February, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

        LOL… That was not a hint….. It was a request!!! 🙂 I do pray for your energy and hope that it gets better. You write so well I could hear you playing in my head anyway. I know you miss that and hope you are able to do it again.

      • Liz Eph 26th February, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

        I would have thought it trite to say this in the past, but it really is about worshiping God in the end. You may not be able to play the flute but you’re carrying on giving praise to God with your blog – I’m sure it’s in the psalms – “praise him on the trumpet the psaltery and blog”. Me too. Whether I can ever play my instrument again or not I’m not going to let it stop me praising Jesus.

        • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

          Liz – you are awesome.

  2. Ruth 25th February, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    I just loved this post Tanya – amazing how the context in which you were playing completely changed the result. Beautifully written and so lovely to read!

    • Tanya 25th February, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      Thanks Ruth, and thanks for linking up – I loved your post too!

  3. Liz Eph 25th February, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Interesting relationship with your instrument Tanya. Much more organic than technical. I’m like that, especially with singing. I got my grade 8 but it’s always been about relationship really, I never practiced !. I play guitar so I can accompany myself, and everyone else. I sing so I can communicate. The guitar is a tool to do something with, I have little or no relationship with the instrument itself. My voice is different. I love the feeling when the sound comes out of me, and the sort of mellow and gold of the sound. I have a very simple straightforward voice that is ideal for people to follow the tune and feel safe. The other thing it does is if I’m singing with someone with a squeaky voice and I sing alto their voice sounds better lol and no one notices it was me. It’s not a solo voice – well I can sing solo. if I do just one song they like it, if I do more than one they get bored 🙂 It’s interesting learning to know ourselves and to be able to seperate out what we want and what are the customary expectations that aren’t always helpful. you must have a good ear to have learned to harmonise like that. xx

    • Tanya 25th February, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      “More organic than technical” – yes, I think that’s probably a pretty good summary of me all round!

      I love mellow and gold as well – that sounds delicious.

  4. Jo (@Piano_Jo) 25th February, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Ooh thanks for sharing this Tanya, and allowing us a peek into your musical gifts. I love it that you were able to take the flute beyond the frustration and the almost, to learn to sing with it in a different way. And the ‘musical sit ups’ bit made me cackle!
    True to profile my instrument is the piano. Though I studied to degree level, due to an aversion to technical exercises I mainly hash my way through the classics. Worship is the place where I soar and am free.
    I’ve written and linked up too. It is unabashedly centred round the children, but since it is daughter’s 21st birthday today, it seemed pretty appropriate…
    Jo x

    • Tanya 25th February, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

      You studied music at degree level?? Wow! That’s amazing!
      Thanks for linking up, as ever. 🙂

  5. Petra 25th February, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    I play the mandolin, mostly folk music, with some classical and different things thrown in. I love it! When at school I always wanted to play in the orchestra, but never had the opportunity to learn an instrument. I started to teach myself to play mandolin about five years ago, then discovered the Folk Orchestra of North Devon (FOND) run by WrenMusic, and I’ve never looked back. I love playing music with other people, sometimes just a small group of friends, or in the larger group, or just on my own. We now have the Mandolin Orchestra of Devon (MOOD) too!! I would love to play in worship too, but so far the opportunity hasn’t arisen, but I do feel playing is worship anyway and love all the psalms that talk of worshipping God through music – strings and pipes, lute and horn….

    • Liz Eph 25th February, 2013 at 11:12 am #

      Have you come across Bryn Haworth? I’ve heard him play Mandolin in worship. The only stuff I can find on you tube is when he was with steelers wheel. He plays blues and a mean slide guitar too.

    • Tanya 25th February, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

      Mandolin! That’s so cool! It’s bringing back lots of memories of Captain Corelli et al! Thanks for stopping by here – it’s fun to see how many other musical people there are out there!

  6. Kay Morgan-Gurr 25th February, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    I played the flute (A pearl- head lined with gold inside – beautiful tone! And a ruddle carte rosewood, made in 1914 – so mellow!) . I also trained as a singer. My greatest sadness is that Fibro has stolen both from me. Still doing business with God on that……
    Playing helped me to worship – I could play without thinking and just concentrate on God. I miss it so much.
    Still love listening to Mozart, Handel and Purcell et al (studied baroque!) soul cleansing stuff!

    • Liz Eph 25th February, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      I still have singing dreams where I’m about to sing then can’t remember any songs. I so miss it. My comfort music that I can listen to over and over again when I feel grim is The Messaiah. It’s chocolate.

    • Tanya 25th February, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

      Wow -you had a Proper flute, and I bet you were a Proper musician too!
      I miss the singing more than anything else. Trained, but not very trained, if you get what I mean.

      Hey – at least there will definitely be singing in heaven?!

  7. steven driver 25th February, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    My instrument is my trombone, and for the first few years i felt it was my voice the thing into which i held my identity but also my true sound. It was loud it was brash it could do silly and stupid things, but it could also be raw and gentle, play with a soft fragility which most fail to realise.

    it was also my key to a community of people, of musicians who i could relate to and play along side. The true banter of the lower brass section in orchestras and jazz bands is such that you can properly enjoy yourself whilst playing, knowing you have some friends alongside you.

    The trombone allowed me to express myself and to socialize more, it took away much of my anxiety as a teenager and i felt as though i could sing through the instrument.

    As i have got older, this has not changed so much. I don’t use the instrument as an extension of my identity but i do still ‘sing’ through it. My heart comes through my instrument when i play it, excitement, joy, anger, fun the list goes on to what im feeling when playing.

    unlike with the flute and other higher instruments I have always struggled to use the trombone in a worship setting, I understand the mechanics of why… it cuts through the middle of the music putting off the singing and therefore focussing them away from God, something i do not wish to happen. I get to play hymns from time to time when in brass bands, but there is always this sense of ‘another piece of music’ i actually loose my singing sensation when playing them.

    i do wish in the future i can find a way of using it, in terms of playing in a worship band environment. to express my trombone voice when praising God.

    yer thats about it… sorry that was long

    • Liz Eph 25th February, 2013 at 10:51 am #

      I don’t think it was long. I love your description of the “voice” of the trombone. I identify a lot about the community of musicians.

    • Tanya Marlow 25th February, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

      I love the way you describe the trombone as your voice – having seen you play it, I totally get that.

      I also think there is more than one way to worship God. Even if it’s not in a band in church, your playing can be worshipful, given as an offering. I reckon it is. 🙂


  1. Learning {one day at a time} » Blog Archive » The Instrument {gentleness over judgement) - 25th February, 2013

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