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. Darcy Wiley 27th February, 2013 at 4:09 am #

    Have you ever read/heard anything about Fernando Ortega’s experience at Juilliard? You should dig around for it. I think you’d resonate with his thoughts. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Oo – thanks for the tip – I’ll check it out!

  2. John Jordan 26th February, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    When I was a primary school age boy, I was a member of a choir that sang at morning Mass, (although at that age, I did not understand much of it). Since then I have occasionally sung in secular choirs, musical theatre and rock/soul bands.
    I enjoyed performing in all of the above, but it is singing with the St. Pancras House Band that has brought me the most joy.
    Even when acutely depressed, I forced myself to rehearse and perform. When singing worship songs at that time, I felt like a bird, released from a cage. To just let go and worship God with my voice, was healing, and cathartic. I had real freedom to worship when singing.
    I am in remission from depression now, but still worship best when singing with the band.
    After a lifetime of being heavily influenced by the great American Soul Artists, I would love to worship in a Gospel style. I feel that this genre would allow me to let go completely and demonstrate my passion for God. Maybe one day.

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

      I love hearing how singing in worship affects you! There’s something about being in community, and piuring it your soul in song, isn’t there? Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Mia 26th February, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Dear Tanya
    You sound so much like my son when he took piano lessons. He is an athlete, outdoor-type of guy and plays the drums beautifully, but as a pianist he just didn’t quite make it. Fortunately for him, I realized this sooner that he did!!!
    Much love

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

      Oh – drums is WAY cooler than piano!

  4. Janice 26th February, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    “For a while, I could only listen to this Mozart piece and reflect on my โ€œalmostโ€s. Now I just listen and enjoy it.” Remember my comment about thinking I have to do every part of my life perfect? The whole “do it as onto the Lord” idea meaning every last speck of life should be done perfectly? This was me with learning piano when I was younger. Always feeling guilty that I didn’t really try – until the week before a recital. Well, this line in your story is so perfect in resonating with where I am today. How beautiful to be able to enjoy it, truly enjoy it on the level that you can without reprimanding yourself any more over not reaching some goal.

    I’m tired and I’m not saying this very well, but “In church, I did not play it. I sang with it, without thought, and my heart soared along with the notes” is lovely.

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

      Thank you Janice. Ach, that guilt and perfectionism just sneaks in all over the place…

      I hope you get to enjoy – everything!!

      And praying you get some more sleep. Xx

  5. Lynn 25th February, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    A timely post just as we are about to ‘invest’ in a new trombone for my 13 year old son! He’s aleady played in church and a brass band. He’s just decided to do music GCSE next year and so the ‘investment’!

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      You could always send him out to busk – then it would be an actual investment, with profit and everything! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. HopefulLeigh 25th February, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Love the connections you’ve made here, Tanya, especially about the difference playing in community made. I’ll be thinking on that for awhile.

    I played the flute from 4th to 6th grade. I liked playing but I hated practicing so I stopped. But one of the proudest moments of those years was receiving a “1” in a music competition.

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

      You’re a flautist too!
      And it’s amazing that you got a 1 in a music competition – I was always rubbish at those. It’s a real skill, performing.

      Thanks for stopping by. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. James Cooper 25th February, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Tanya, wonderful! And grade 7 – wow! (the highest I ever got at a grade was failing grade 1 piano by 3 points!!!)

    I had piano lessons in primary school (er yes…) and can still pick a tune out. At secondary school, I started the clarinet – but then got ME/CFS and ran out of puff!

    Then as a teen I picked up the guitar (as you do) and then my dad suggested I try the bass (my bass purchasing experience was like your flute choosing one – finding one with the right sound). I love the bass and have played it in many church groups over the years. I’ve also taught myself to play the bluegrass banjo.

    But about two years ago I discover that playing both the bass and banjo really does my back in (they’re both flipping heavy hanging round your neck!) – so I tried a rather smaller stringed instrument and it’s one I’m now in love with – the ukulele!!! I’ve now got three, a really cheap and nasty one, my ‘nice’ one and a little electric one. It’s so fun and easy to start with but there’s so much you can do with it.

    If you want a laugh here’s me playing some xmas tunes on my ‘nice’ uke at:

    A few months ago I was invited into one of the worship groups at Church with my uke. I wondered what people would think of a uke in worship, but I’ve only had good feedback ๐Ÿ™‚ Someone compared my picking style to it being like a harp! Singing (I’m a bass) and ukeing in worship is wonderful.

    The only bad thing is that I think I might have ‘uas’ (ukulele acquisition syndrome) as I’m being tempted by another one at the moment!

    • Karmen White 25th February, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

      Hi James,
      I think I have ‘gas’….lol (guitar acqusution syndrome) I’m on my 4th!

      • James Cooper 25th February, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

        ha ha! I’m actually looking to sell my two guitars (yamaha acoustic & electric – one careful owner – start first time!) to fund my UAS… If anyone is looking for a guitar (or two), let me know!!!!

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      I’m struck by the way your musical journey has had to adapt with the demands of your failing health. And I love that you’re playing despite it all! Enjoyed your uke tunes!

  8. Karmen White 25th February, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    I love music, love it! I am blessed with a natural singing ability, which I am very thankful for, but as a child I longed to be able to play an instrument. We moved around so much when I grew up that I never got to learn anything. Also Mum could never afford lessons…in anything. But singing is free…so I sang..ALL THE TIME!

    When I joined the music group at church I noticed the the guitarist was only using about 5 chords, and suddenly I thought…I could do that! AND I DID! I now play the guitar (not very well) but I love it..and continue to practice…I have my instrument…and it is a love story ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Liz Eph 26th February, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

      I think that’s wonderful Karmen. I love hearing stories like that ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Tanya 27th February, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      I LOVE your voice. It’s like honey.

      I learnt to play about four chords on guitar, but I really wasn’t very good at the strumming bit! There’s a definite knack! And don’t even get me started on barring chords…!

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