the long way home

– part one

These writings are for all those I kept waiting, those who encouraged me to write more and for those who are curious and love the worlds woven from words and of course for those of us who are in need of some moments for procrastination pleasure. May these series of belated posts attempt at answering some of the questions I’ve receieved and a leisurely dive into my adventures abroad, my untangled thoughts and emerging escapades. This story will be strewn across three ‘episodes’ or parts, otherwise I may have to redefine this as an online book.

an overdue embrace with exhaustion

In the last few months’ words have eluded me. I’ve been lost in a daze of recovery and every little activity seemed consuming. The patterns that my fingers had danced to for these months, a feverish act of musical necessity had become engraved into my being, an obsession of the mind, even permeating as deep as sleep. My feelings were a melange of things, and quite honestly a bit fractured. Perhaps if you were to place a canvas in front of me it should remain blank for sometime. And this is exactly what I had done to myself. Placed myself in front of a computer and instructed my fingers to type in words emotions and experiences of the months past and time to come. Several times I sat down to write this. Between practice breaks, early mornings, late nights and even when being held captive to a chair by being in transit. Sometimes I could only write a few words and continue to make corrections on previously written material. I painted the white on the canvas a few shades whiter. But, I could not keep putting off the detail that I felt I must paint, in order to illustrate a presence in my absence. This may come in stabs of colour whilst at other times an unruly possession of explosive vivid expression, and sometimes you will visibly see the gaps. Yet I, myself, do not feel colourless, even having slumped into the arms of my long overdue embrace with exhaustion. Alas, I have arisen from my mental hibernation later than preferred.

shadows of the studio

Removing myself from what had become the quotidian, living amongst the peace of the quite alarmingly separated village of twenty-two residents in Elmsted took some time. It was a slow emergence from a flute induced dream back into the clamour of civilisation. I concluded my time at ‘The Flute Studio’ at the end of March. These six months felt non-stop and having stepped right into this intensive residency after completing my Bachelor degree gave me no time to be seduced by any prospects of unwinding. I believe my time in England could be considered somewhat of a “once in a lifetime experience.” I’m not sure when I will get another opportunity to spend six months dedicated to practicing my flute with no distractions, apart from the machinations of my mind and very charming animals and a few people. I speculate that it is very unlikely that I will have the luxury of such a pilgrimage again. But I do hope to embark on more creative residencies where I will need to focus less on technique and more on the joy of music making and sharing. My studies in England gave me time to overcome many technical obstacles that made certain musical ideas more difficult to communicate. It wasn’t such a ‘creative’ experience, as I knew would be the case from the start. I went there to improve the technical aspects of my playing and in turn clear some fog that had preventing me from some means of creative communication. It also opened up new insights into different areas of flute playing that I may not have had the opportunity to explore on my own or during my bachelor degree, such as learning the Baroque flute and recorder, master classes with renowned flutists and pedagogues and repertoire previously unknown to me.

Trevor, my teacher at the studio, is the keeper of myriad resources and erudition when it came to repertoire, flutes of all ages and even advice beyond the flute. Beyond the flute? Well, there were times when Trevor would speak about experiences and anecdotes where one’s character, actions and unfortunately physical appearance are weighed into consideration when one is applying for work and collaborating with others. Talent and hard work is only part of what seems to be some very inconsistent criteria. Keep your elbows off the table when you’re eating your celebratory cake in front of the jury. Tattoos, piercing and hair colour, anything too vividly ornamental can also be considered somewhat overtly individualistic in certain workplaces and contexts. In the context of an orchestra uniformity is key not only to the music, but to dress code. I am a lover of colour, an advocate for freedom of the deepest personal expression and I am genuinely empowered by others who express themselves. Music is inherently expressive. But of course it is not the only way we express. I draw, take pictures and adore gardening but I express in the quotidian; in my daily choice of clothing and adornment, my choice of food and so on. I have begun to ramble but, perhaps this is part of the reason I am so drawn to chamber music groups that exude individualistic qualities of each member. It seems that within more traditional modes of music making virtuosity is valued, appearance is appropriate and structures are safe. I am continuously confronted by rules and it is often said that one must know the rules to break them. I have come across a lot of these rules in my studies and in institutions. But I still find myself questioning, ‘who is making the rules and how (or how not) are these rules evolving and being eroded?’ I’m slowly discovering myself in this world of structures, and when to be myself, if not always.

continental calling

I had planned to return to Australia at the end of the course, on the 31st of March but I decided I was to postpone my flight until later. The northern hemisphere had ensnared me. At times it can be hard to put my decisions into words, and often I am nervous that they may be an act of impulse. But I have begun to trust my impulse as instinct. I am not one to travel for pleasure, I travel to expand my creativity, view and knowledge. Once my mind is captivated by an idea my body seems to follow. Concluding Trevor’s course presented me with a choice– was I to metaphorically throw my pasta in the air and see where it is to land and move from there, or was I to pick just one or a few and follow stick to those chosen pieces. And so I threw my pasta everywhere.

I know that in previous posts I have discussed my thoughts regarding specialising and I still feel I travel on the same wavelengths as these thoughts. But alas, some of the opportunities I’ve applied for and taken have been a melange of musical making. I think this is right for where I currently am mentally and musically.   

I decided to stay on in London for ten days after finishing my residency in Kent. I was invited to play and do a conduction in the London Improvisers Orchestra’s April concert. I was very excited to have this opportunity as I had some ideas I wished to trial including constructing several graphic scores (samples pictured on the left) and conducting them. When I came to conducting though, I was reminded of how expressive, communicative and innate movement is. In fact, I became aware that all movement is dance. The Malaysian theremin player, sound designer, improviser, composer and educator Ng Chor Guan made me most aware of this. His conduction was truly beautiful and evolved from gentle gestures to convulsions that possessed the orchestra to mirror in sound. I will speak more about dance in my next episode. After having some insightful lessons, listening to as many concerts as I could and gorging on vegan pizza it was time to move on to Germany.

A LONG NIGHT SHORT OF SLEEP

Würzburg is a city that I never might have wanted to visit if not for my old flute teacher and friend. Having endured Trevor’s course herself she invited me to spend some time in Germany following my time in England, as a means to unwind back into “normal living” away from the flute farm. But before I continue to describe sehr schön Würzburg I must first tell you about the eighteen hours that got me there.

London to Germany. There are several ways to get there. You can catch a plane, a train and even a bus. But being a ‘student’ and fr-asian (frugal Asian) I was seduced by the price of taking a bus. Not only did it appear to be a reasonable price but it also promised to double as overnight accommodation. I only discovered later that I had to pay a price in confronting hours of oddities.

It was a beautiful day to leave London. The sun was shining, unobscured by clouds, the sky was blue and even the people seemed a bit brighter in colour. That night I was to take the late night bus from London to Würzburg transferring at Frankfurt. Wearing my strawberry hat, I waited in Victoria station with people traveling far and wide. I was somewhat confused when my bus was announced, for it was destined for Bucharest, which is quite some distance from London. I saw some equally lost and confused people around me who also were heading for Frankfurt. The bus drivers, who spoke Romanian and struggled in English, managed to tell us that the bus was making stops in France, Belgium and Frankfurt (and beyond). Once the journey began I was determined to completely immerse myself in sleep, and something about the stuffiness of being in a vehicle often puts me to sleep. I sat down next to a man who was Belgium bound and a connoisseur of long bus rides it seemed. There was a point where my brain could not tolerate the conversation as I became hounded with questions on my religious identity and marriage status. Was I to endure this until the early hours of the morning when he was to alight? Sleep the saviour tugged at my eyelids and all cascaded into a gradient of darkness.

The bus stopped.

In a confused state I opened my eyes. I was quite certain the eighteen hours had not elapsed already. Many passengers seemed familiar with the stops and filed out of the bus, cigarettes and documents in hand. We were at Dover and our documents were to be checked. We went into the immigration building and were coldly met with the grim faces of immigration officers. “Français?” The officer asked each of us. Those of us who nodded were gifted with a hint of acknowledgement. After all documents were checked we went back to the bus. Surely now I could sleep for the rest of my journey. Or not. The doors opened and one of the immigration officers came aboard. He made his way towards the back of the bus. He approached a man who was sitting in the far back.

“Where are your documents?” He asked.

The man grabbed at his belongings trying to find some form of documentation.

“I, uh, left it in a café.” He said.

“I don’t understand.” The officer frowned. “Please explain.”

The man tried several times to explain the absence of his documents, but to no avail.

‘I do not understand what he is trying to say.’ He said to himself in French.

“You will need to come with me.” He said to the document-less man.

The man and the officer left the bus.

I closed my eyes and slept... alas, only to be woken up soon after.

Eyes squinting, I took out my itinerary. We needed to cross the Channel to get from Dover to Calais so that we could be on our way through Europe. I was convinced we would be taking an underground tunnel to get across the river. Naïve I was.

Our bus boarded a ferry, a ginormous boat with numerous other coach buses. We all had to alight from our bus and enter the main part of the ferry. Up stairs we went until we reached an area with levels of seating, shops and food. It seemed like a moving sad shopping mall and we were the cornered consumers.

I wanted to find a place to sit down and sleep for the duration of this ferry trip. There wasn’t much to see from the windows, a darkened view of the Channel. But my mind was a void pulling me towards sleep.  

I slunk up to the food court which had a designated level all to its own. In the very early hours of the morning people were having breakfasts and beer. In an undying state of exhaustion, I lay down my head at a booth and slept until we reached the continent.

People were to alight where they needed, Calais, Bruges, Frankfurt, just some of the stops littered along the way to Bucharest. Stops were made and people moved in and out of the bus for cigarettes, air and stillness. When new passengers would board the language scape would shift slightly. Once we passed France and Brussels the French speaking faded into the distance whilst conversations in German and Romanian grew more prominent. Post-Dover was without much surprise. Sleep faded in and out of focus and often. I clutched onto my flute and bags in a rather dazed state. I reached Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, an area which is considered one the most dangerous areas in Germany. Mind you, this is dangerous by German definition, and as I have now discovered it is barely comparable with crime in other cities in the US or Australia. But it was here that I waited for my next bus with several other people who consistently and quick conspicuously snuck glances at my strawberry hat. I wish I had a little secret camera installed into the hat that could take photos of people’s facial reactions to seeing it. Smiling faces, faces of confusion, wonder, appreciation or sometimes ambiguous expressions. But what I do know is that when children see me wearing this hat they do not hold back from exclaiming: “Erdebeere!” Or, “strawberry” in unrestrained excitement of seeing something fun in contrast with the imposing concrete structures, grey skies and scarce smiles.  

From cows to Castles

I had never been to Germany before. In fact, there are many places in Europe that I have never been despite being half-European. Driving into Würzburg my sleepy eyes and mind thought that I had returned to the lush landscape of Elmsted, instead now castles had replaced cows. The magnolia trees were in at the Hauptbahnhof. I adore the pale colour of the giant flowers heavy on their leafless branches.

Würzburg is a quaint city in Bavaria. A city of wine, wine and beer drinkers at all hours of the day, nature and culture. It is also home to Germany’s best music research centre at the Hochschule für Musik.

To my excitement, I also was informed that the X-ray were invented there. It’s always fun to learn about ubiquitous things that were invented in somewhat obscured places. Each place has their own piece(s) of pride I suppose!

Episode/part two will tell of Berlin and my first audition for a professional job. Stay tuned (not always in equal temprement) and sweet sonic journeys until then!

3 thoughts on “the long way home

  1. Phoebe ! Dearest gorgeous Phoebe! It’s Kristina here (from far back St Scholastica’s’)! I’m so glad I’ve found you over the airwaves & able to read of your adventures! I love reading your way with words. What a beautiful writer you are. Of course you are… you have always been so delightfully & brilliantly creative…. Wow – amazing travels & experiences ! Aah Phoebe ! Would love to catch up when you are back in Oz. Lots of love, Kristina

    Liked by 1 person

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