I was feeling stuck for material again, so I had a think about some of Lorelle‘s blog challenges, and decided to try one of her older ones: Blog about something or someone that has changed your life. I thought about people who have changed my life, but it was hard to choose one, partly because some of them would be too personal to share, and partly because I think that, really, most people (if not everyone) you meet change your life in some way (although I know what Lorelle meant, I’m just being difficult!).

So, I decided to choose my flute. You may well ask why, so I will tell you. Florence, for that is her name, has opened many metaphorical doors for me. She has given me confidence, the chance to travel and to experience new things, and opportunities to meet new people and, most importantly, to belong.

I didn’t start my musical career with Florence, or even by playing the flute. Piano was my first instrument, but the piano, lovely though it is, gave me more stress than pleasure (I was a bad student and didn’t practice enough, so this was my own fault), and can be a fairly lonely instrument, unless you’re good at it. I can’t actually remember when it was decided, or even who decided, that I was going to play the flute. I know that I was 12 at the time, in secondary school, with a rather fearsome music teacher. The school didn’t have any spare flutes at the time, and we couldn’t afford to buy one, especially as I might have turned out to really dislike it and/or be terrible at it. So, first of all, I played the fife, which (in case you don’t know, apologies if you do) is a kind of sideways recorder.

The thing about any sort of side-blown instrument (flutes, piccolos, fifes etc), or in fact any woodwind or brass instrument (apart from possibly the recorder) is that it’s not just a question of putting your mouth near the hole and blowing. You have to make the right shape with your mouth, get it in the right place, blow with the right amount of force, and that’s just to get any kind of sound out of the instrument. Getting a good sound out of a flute is a whole different matter!

It took me a long time to get a decent sound out of the fife (who never had a name, by the way). I remember whistling in the music room, and thinking that I  bet my teacher wished I could play the fife like I could whistle! Eventually, I did make a sound (not sure how decent it was), progressed, and started playing tunes. Then, the opportunity to purchase a flute came my way…

Florence originally belonged to the sister of my best friend, H. She was really good at the flute, and wanted to buy a better one because she was going on to higher grade exams, and she didn’t (or maybe her teacher didn’t) think that Florence was up to the job. So, I bought Florence (or maybe my parents did, I’m not sure, I suspect the latter).

The next challenge was getting a sound out of a flute. I thought it would be easy because I could now play the fife a bit, but I was wrong! The flute is obviously a completely different instrument, requiring a different embouchure (mouth shape) and completely different breath control. It can play a much bigger range of notes than the fife and your mouth shape and the way you breathe have to change, depending on where in the register of notes you are playing. I went through stages of being able to play OK in the high register or the low register, but not both. However, I practised and got better, although my tone was still bad, through no fault of Florence’s. Anyway…

Florence and I never did make it into the orchestra at middle school, but then we moved to the upper school at the age of 14, and joined the school concert band. This was where Florence really came into her own. We were lucky to have an enthusiastic music teacher, who was keen on providing extra-curricular music activities.

I was a wallflower throughout most of my schooldays. I didn’t have much to say (still don’t) , and was a bit of a ‘Mr(s) Cellophane’ (to steal an idea from the Singing Librarian). Joining the band changed my experience of school. The times that Florence and I spent at band practice, doing concerts and on band weekends away and tours are my happiest memories of school. I felt that I belonged to something, and that maybe I was even alright at this music lark. ‘Alright’ was about as good as I was, I never got to be a ‘first flute’, except in emergencies, when the good players were away, but that was OK. It was hearing the music, knowing other people liked it, and the camaraderie of being with people with the same interest, that I really enjoyed. Most of all, I gained confidence in myself and my abilities.

I must have been feeling quite good about my musical ability, because I decided to do AS (half an A Level in those days) in Music. This wasn’t the best idea I ever had, as I found it extremely difficult and soon realised I’d bitten off more than I could chew. However, I still remember how happy I felt when my music teacher heard me practising one of my performance pieces and said that I was “turning into a rather useful flute player”. I know that doesn’t sound like the greatest compliment in the world, but to me, at that time, it was.

After school, Florence and I went to university, where we joined the concert band, and, feeling brave, the orchestra. Obviously, the standard of playing was a lot higher than we’d been used to at school, and the pieces we played were a lot harder. However, we both enjoyed the challenge, and I liked the fact that I was doing something with different people rather than my ususal group of friends. I met some fantastic musicians, who were very tolerant of my bad playing, and we played some great music. Florence made friends with some of the other flutes, and got to play the theme from ‘Star Wars‘. Although she enjoyed it she has since been convinced that John Williams doesn’t like flutes, as the flute part is far too twiddly for her liking.

Nowadays, Florence sadly spends too much of her time in her box, although she does come out every two weeks to play in church, which she enjoys. Just before Christmas she wasn’t very well, and had to go to the music shop for some treatment. Fortunately , the problem turned out to be relatively minor, and she felt better after five minutes in the care of the woodwind repair man.

We are still friends, despite the fact that I’ve neglected her at times over the years, and haven’t really given her the care and attention she deserves. To try to make up for it, this year I’m going to treat her to a makeover, with the nice woodwind repair man. She deserves it for all the happiness she’s brought to my life.

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