I pulled my flute out yesterday. For those of you who knew me in college or even high school, that probably doesn’t sound so strange. I used to practice a lot. It’s how I got by with not taking lessons for most of my school age years. I occupied most of my summers between years of junior high and high school by practicing. This was before cable TV and Al Gore inventing the internet. But for those of you who only know me from my adult life, 30s and beyond, it might seem odd.
I was wistfully putting a pair of shorts back in a box in the eaves, wondering when I’d get to wear them again. My cat, Rex, scurried in behind me. He prowled around, golden eyes glowing in the blackness, when I spied my box of sheet music sitting there. My flute was lying on top in its padded case.
It’s been awhile since I played. Probably close to a year, in fact, since there was wood debris on my flute and the music from last summer’s roofing project. The eaves before then had been sort of unprotected space. Mostly watertight but not, it seems, completely air tight.
I brushed off the debris from a book of music and my instrument. I opened the case and looked at the shiny object. I like shiny things. Always have. I plucked the tri-part silver metal tube out of each of the compartments and put them together, the metal cold in my hands. Perhaps my actions were precipitated by seeing Ruby’s elementary school music teacher playing flute at the Shelton Elementary School Art Show on Wednesday night. We spoke briefly, since we know each other from assisting with Lap Club every Tuesday. I mentioned that I also play, and she mentioned she wanted to get a flute choir together soon. She played alright, but some of the songs she picked were definitely beyond her ability or cumulative practice hours. Her keyboard accompanist seemed to have no trouble, however. I hope I didn’t think about playing again to be competitive, but I wouldn’t put it past me.
I warmed up by playing a few scales. I started with B, just for the mental challenge of 5 sharps. Hate sharps. They look all innocent like number signs, but I know better. Then I went up – A, G, F. My hands snapped to their rightful places on the keys. My tone was rather weak as the I made the instrument warmer with my breath. I flipped through the book, a beginner book I think I used for the 2-year period I took lessons from Phil Baldino. He was tough. I think I played the same warm-up, a chromatic scale starting with B-flat above the staff, going down to a C below the staff (the lowest on my student model flute) for probably 15 minutes of the first dozen lessons we had together. He wanted me to listen to the pitches and tune as I went. I was bored – the standard junior high attitude. I just wanted to get to the good stuff, the real music. Once we moved on to actual pieces, he hammered on me to get the notes and expression right on songs. When I finally nailed something, he awarded me a lead star.
I wandered through the book. It had a lot of classical pieces in it – every little gavotte, sonata and minuet by Haydn, Handel or Bach, it seems. It was fun. Note values came back to me; rhythms, like old friends, greeted me on the page. I remembered how to count them. I started to get warm and not just on my instrument. I forgot how aerobic playing can be.
Rex accompanied me by meowing loudly and piteously. He’s not a fan of flutes. Period. He glared at me from across the room.
I only played for about 20 minutes, worn out yet satisfied. I put my flute down for a long time, tired of being “the flute player”, my main identity in college. That, and not having a place to use it on a regular basis. I still don’t like warmups/etudes/finger exercises, but now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser), I can see their necessity. They get the fingers and brain in sync, like musical coffee. Yesterday, I got reacquainted with an old, shiny friend. I hope this is a new beginning.