the long way home

–part three

Apart from being pride month*, the month of June was dedicated to July. Of course, the time we invest in practicing and working is always an long-term investment and influences our future outputs. But July needed a month of preparation, to learn all the music that I was to be playing. 

And here we are in already some time into July. 

* A belated happy Pride Month to all my colourful and expressive friends and beyond! May this be a celebration of how far we have come, a reminder of those who pioneered to get us here and those who continue to do so. You are your pride, and you are the world’s pride too, and it is never limited to one month but every single day.

vowels, vibrations and Viitasaari

Taken around 1:20 am at the lake outside the sauna in Viitasaari.
The summer nights are known as ‘White Nights’ in this part of the world.

My housemates and I needed to leave our residence in Berlin by the end of June as the lease for the apartment was concluding. I had a few choices– find another sublet until mid-July or accept the invitation to attend the Chamber music Course with Camilla Hoitenga at the Musiikin Aika Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland. I applied to this course after finding it on the Ulysees Network, which you should check out especially if you are a musician with a particular interest in contemporary music. But my need to move wasn’t this wasn’t the only reason. I had an interest in learning and working with Camilla since I started learning the music of Kaija Saariaho. I was captivated by Hoitenga’s cadenza in Saariaho’s ‘Terrestre’ adapted from her flute concerto ‘Aile du Songe’ and used this as the basis for writing my own when I had the opportunity to perform it at the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee and my Third-Year recital at the Queensland Conservatoirum Griffith University. Not only has Camilla collaborated and had a long relationship with Saariaho but she also worked closely with Karlheinz Stockhausen. As a contemporary music addict, how could I not apply? And to add to my already excited state, it happened that Saariaho was to be at the festival also tutoring the composition course with many of her pieces in the festival program. 

The Musiikin Aika Time of Music Festival is the only contemporary summer music festival in Finland. Situated in the central Finland region, the town is surrounded by greenery and lakes and is naturally breathtaking. The festival included a summer academy that was split into three courses: improvisation with John Butcher, composition with Kaija Saariaho and chamber music with Camilla Hoitenga. I honestly wanted to participate in all the courses but to my dismay the timetables overlapped. However, I was already happily busy with the chamber music repertoire and commitments. Working and learning from Camilla gave me insight into the people behind the score. Having worked with both Saariaho and Stockhausen, and with many of the pieces at the festival being by these composers, her collaborations were a guide to interpretation and musical language. This was more so for the work of Stockhausen, which I now understand to approach with a particular mindset and diligence. But Camilla also gave me a lot of guidance into the embouchure and the ways that we have to manipulate the lips and mouth to effective convey techniques, especially in Saariaho’s music with the gradients of breath tones to ordinary notes. She certainly made learning these mouth positions very entertaining by associating each position with a animal face. Let’s just say I practiced the ‘monkey face’ position quite a bit for Saariaho’s breathy passages.

There were two concerts that concluded the course. The main composers featured across the entire festival program were of course Saariaho and Stockhausen, however, the chamber music course participants also programmed works from composers they had worked with and music from their home countries. As a chamber piece I had brought Saariaho’s Mirrors for Flute and Violoncello along with me. I was to be working with Nicolò Neri, a cellist from Italy. As solo pieces I had brought Stockhausen’s ‘In Freundschaft’ and had to revive Andrew Ford’s ‘Female Nude’ for the second improvisation concert. Collectively, we were given the opportunity to prepare ensemble arrangements of Stockhausen’s ‘Tierkreis’ melodies. I must confess, before studying this work I had never voluntarily looked into astrology before. I am by no means an expert now but I am no longer highly perplexed at the words ‘moon’ and ‘sun’ sign and (planet) in retrograde. I still have many questions though. I will share the recordings from the festival on my website once I receive them form the festival, so stay tuned!

Nicolò and I workshopping ‘Mirrors’ with Kaija Saariaho.

The Musikiin Aika Time of Music Festival brought together people from all over the world and together we shared and made music. My time in Viitasaari was affirming and exciting. I heard and experienced so many brilliant performances, met many people who are now colleagues and friends and had such a wonderful time. I was astounded how impactful every single performance was and how well organised the program was despite some very demanding pieces. Some of my favourite moments in the festival included hearing Stockhausen’s ‘Poles’ performed live, hearing the revised versions of Saariaho’s ‘Study for Life’ and ‘Graal Théâtre: Concerto for violin’ and being one of the ‘test audience’ members for Alexander Schubert and defunensemble’s new work ‘Unity Switch’. I felt changed by these works, uplifted, paralysed by the potency of performance and musically renewed. I knew that I was in the right place and that the people around me were functioning on the same wavelength and sharing the same passion for creating and sharing contemporary music. ‘Unity Switch’ was a particularly intriguing piece of work that incorporated virtual reality headsets with sound, movement, directions, smell and touch. I had never experienced anything quite like it before. I had volunteered as a test audience prior to the programmed performance sessions and I went in feeling a little nervous as I sat at a table with a headset facing a person I had never met before. The experience was peculiar, reminiscent of a more vanilla episode of Black Mirror and I certainly felt like my perception of the world and art had shifted a little post-exposure.

Apart from the musical moments in Viitasaari, I also started to ride a bike again post-Würzburg incidents, enjoyed voluntary insomnia by indulging in some Finnish tradition of late night saunas and lake diving and warmed my hands over a barbeque whilst talking to Saariaho. 

If you’re a musician and avid lover of contemporary art music you should definitely look into Musiika Aika Time of Music festival next year! It is such an exciting festival and I am truly glad that I came across it. 

Listing whilst in Germany

Listening is learning. When I listen to the concerts and projects of others I feel as tough my creativity matures. It’s different, yet just as potent as the physical and mental act of practice with my flute. With concerts happening every night and day I thought it would be nice to share with you some of my perspectives and thoughts about selected concerts that I’ve been to since moving to Germany.

Ensemble Modern plays Mark Andre

When I was much younger my father introduced me to Frank Zappa and Dmitri Shostakovich. It was a baptism of sonic spice indeed. Since listening to Zappa’s albums in my youth I had wanted to hear ‘Ensemble Modern’ perform. The ensemble was in Australia around two years ago and performed ‘Yellow Shark’ in Melbourne. I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t go as I recall that it conflicted with my university commitments. But alas, as I was staying Würzburg which is easily accessible by train to Frankfurt where the ensemble is based, I was able to go and hear them play. This program featured music by the French-born composer, Mark Andre, who was also present in the hall. I had never heard his music live before. The whole concert was performed without any pauses. A wash of sounds emerged from the ensemble, at times delicate and at times coarse. It seemed like the whole ensemble was trying to create a body of air, sounds that felt propelled and spoken by the wind. Wind players certainly were in their element, but even the strings and percussion conjured such sounds from their instruments. It was a transfixing concert and a wonderful feeling getting to hear an ensemble I had admired since I was young. 

Abschied und Entfremdung,
Rundfunk Symphonische Orchester 

a full stage and full hall.

I was invited to attend this concert by Ellie Harrison, violist, teacher and writer and the baritone James Young, who are two of my Australian musician friends currently living in Berlin. I had seen posters advertising this concert all around the Berlin underground. It certainly attracted many Australians (I could hear the accent all around the venue) living in Berlin, I suspect due to the programming of Brett Dean’s ‘Vexations and Devotions’ for children’s choir, mixed choir and large orchestra (2005) featuring the Gondwana Voices. The concert was certainly something quite special. The final adagio in Joseph Haydn‘s ‘Sinfonie Nr. 45 „Abschiedssinfonie“’ has a special touch and message to his patron at the time ‘Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy. His musicians and retinue had stayed longer at the palace of Eszterháza in rural Hungry. Understanding the musician’s weariness and desire to go home to their wives in Elsenstadt, Haydn put a request into this music. During this last movement each musician snuffs out their candle or light and gradually leaves the stage until only two muted violins are left on stage. I had my eyes closed at the beginning of this movement and didn’t open them until I heard some murmuring and chuckling in the audience. Curious I opened my eyes to the darkened hall, stand lights being turned off and musicians exiting the stage, even the conductor. The two violinists stood, playing in a conversation of melodic gesture until the very last sound was sung. Such a transfixing way to end a piece, I was completely absorbed in the transformation of the orchestra into this intimate duet. Following this piece was Gustav Mahler’s ‘Fünf Lieder nach Gedichten von Friedrich Rückert’ featuring the American Baritone Thomas Hampson. As soon as Hampson began singing a smile broke out onto my face, it was as if his vocal chords had extended into the audience and given each person an embrace drawing us closer to the music. Dean’s ‘Vexations and Devotions’ was after the interval and it seemed that many Australians were sitting in proximity to us, my ears have become more sensitive to picking up the accent. Perhaps this was the designated Australian area. I hadn’t heard the Gondwana choirs since I had left Sydney around four years ago. I was excited to hear a little piece of home. Dean’s piece was complex in its musical material and incorporated many strengths of the choir and orchestra. Highlights included the harmonica playing Bassoon player, the two alto flutes with several fantastic solos and the the exchanges between the choir members beyond singing, from clapping games to percussion playing. The incorporation of recorded material into the work added an extra dimension. The recorded material featured a typical calling cue message which began as with familiar sentences along the lines of “your call has been placed in a cue and will be answered shortly. We appreciate your patience.” However, gradually the sentences became more warped and the message twisted into something darker and dystopian. The incorporation of the music with this recorded material seemed carefully scored and effectively intertwined with the music which in turn augmented the changes in the recording. I enjoyed this program thoroughly, it was evident that the artistic directors had chosen a program that would arouse curiosity and wonder. It was particularly wonderful to hear/see the work of an Australian composer and musician closing a concert in Germany. I would’ve loved to have heard more works representing the diversity of people in music but alas, it is still unfortunately rare to find programs that are completely inclusive and balanced.

Anthony Pateras at KM28

At times I feel a little bit of disorientation regarding place since living in Berlin. This is especially so when I see and talk to Australians often. The Australians have sprawled all across the world. It can be fairly tempting to slide back into the comfort of long conversations in English with a person who has the same accent as you. Narcissistic familiarity or home sickness? Maybe a combination of the two. Anyhow, after having heard the Rundfunk Symphonische Orcherster perform Dean the night before I decided to continue with the Australian music in Berlin theme. On a Monday night I took the U-Bahn to KM28, a quaint venue with fantastic energy and some remarkable concerts featuring some ground-breaking ‘living, breathing and creating’ musicians. This concert featured the music of Australian born composer and performer, Anthony Pateras, and marked the release of his  ‘Collected Works Vol. II (2005-2018)‘. Pateras was there himself and opened the concert with a ‘Sphinx’s Riddle’ for piano and electronics. The space was split by an arch and the piano was in one area whilst the other performances took place in another. There were two pieces that I thought worked in perfect juxtaposition. ‘A Happy Sacrifice’ for Contrabass and Electronics performed by Jon Heilbron alongside ‘Burning is the Thing’ for piccolo and electronics performed by Rebecca Lane seemed like a sonic diptych. From the frequencies of the contrabass to the timbre and shrillness of the piccolo. The piccolo and the contrabass are truly interesting characters! I was particularly transfixed by Jessica Aszodi’s performance of ‘Prayer for Nil’ for soprano voice and electronics. Both the performance and the piece completely captivated me. One thing I found to be very intriguing was when the live instrument would weave in and out of ‘tune’ with the pitch being produced by the electronics. The resulting feature unpredictable rhythms and the wonderfully strange sensation of ‘difference tones’, that is the additional tone (the resultant tone) or tones that one hears when two pitches are played simultaneously. At times, this phenomenon can be more obvious depending on frequency and timbre. It’s a fascinating and ‘fairly safe to the ears’ experiment to try at home or in the practice room with another consenting musician or music lover.

Klimakonzert

contrabasses after playing the Ustwolskaja.

Have you ever been to a concert that sent electricity through your body? That turned your brain in full rotation? That made your jaw and teeth drop to the floor? And remind you of how powerful and outspoken music and the arts are and can be? Well all but the last are quite metaphorical, but I think I am now able to give an answer to those who ask ‘what is the most powerful concert you have ever been to?’. Admittedly I have yet to be asked this question, but I will answer it here. On the 31st of May at Ewerk, I attended ‘Dies Irae’, the eighth addition to the ‘Klimakonzert’ initiative/series instigated by the Orchester des Wandels. The venue was formerly known as Berlin’s techno temple and has now been converted into a space for various events whilst still maintaining an industrial atmosphere. The vision behind this concert and series is to bring the climate crisis to the forefront through music. All proceeds from the concert went towards supporting the ‘New Life on Lower Prut River‘ project in partnership with WWF for the renaturation of the alluvial forests in the delta of the Prut river. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Moldovan-Austrian-Swiss Violinist staged and directed this concert titled ‘Dies Irae’, which since Mediaeval times has spoken about the ‘The Days of Wrath’ or the ‘Last Days.’ In her words, “Our time faces the unprecedented threat of global warming. Many – and many of those in power – do not want to believe it.” The program began with Giacinto Scelsi’s Okanagon for harp, contrabass and tamtam in a room separate from where the audience was seated. The piece resonated throughout the space and also our bodies. The program itself was a melange of early music to contemporary works without any pause in between. Changes between pieces were seamless and sometimes violent. The unpredictability and instability of the existence of each piece seemed like a sonic representation of the chaos of the climate. My eyes and ears sometimes didn’t know where or what to focus on, so much was happening. Kopatchinskaja would leap around, dancing, convulsing, whilst taking the whole orchestra with her. One of the most powerful works on the program was the Russian-born composer, Galina Ustwolskaja’s Composition No. 2 ‘Dies Irae.’ This piece is scored for a peculiar combination of a piano, eight double basses and a wooden cube, a coffin-like wooden structure that is relentlessly pummelled. If you haven’t heard of Ustwolskaja or are not familiar with her works you certainly should take some time to get to know this powerful musical master and visionary. Click here to read an article that on her life and selected works.

The Klimakonzert ended in the most poignant manner. From the back of the space and above the audience the choir sung the Gregorian hymn, ‘Dies Irae’, accompanied. Yes, accompanied by dozens of metronomes, each ticking away at its own tempo. Members of the orchestra came out one by one, a light in one hand and a mechanical metronome in the other. They dispersed themselves into the audience and each set down their metronome on the floor. ‘Dies Irae’ continued in the background, the ticking of each metronome creating polyrhythms with their mechanical neighbours. One by one each metronome came to a still and each metronome keeper turned off their light. ‘Dies Irae’ came to a close and when the final metronome stopped ticking I heard my heart beating. Breathing steadily, one thought came to mind. Dies Irae– our last days are near. We face an alarming extinction and climate crisis and the time to act is now. We must not wait until the final hour. 

From back home

The results of the Australian election in May were quite honestly heartbreaking on many levels and I felt completely helpless being on the other side of the world. However, I did fulfil my democratic duty at the Australian Embassy to vote (and having a sad democracy sausage afterwards) but I felt helpless having not been able to campaign with my fellow friends and activists on issues at the forefront of the election. But have not extinguished my hope or my activism. Instead it has only made me angrier and put wood in that fire. I see a generation that is willing to fight for a future, for our planet and every living being, and this gives me hope. The youth are outspoken and we need leaders that will listen, for are we not the adults of the future, the leaders of tomorrow? I look to many of the people back home who continuously campaign for justice, are outspoken and empower others each in their own way. These are the people who make me excited to come back to Australia. They make creativity even more vibrant, the voice of justice loud and give my heart hope. I joined thousands protesting for climate justice in Berlin at one of many climate marches happening worldwide. Thousands of people from around the world are attending such protests and taking direct action. Our voices and message of urgency is getting more and more amplified. Climate change is the biggest issue that we face, it exacerbates many other issues such as the refugee crisis with ‘climate refugees’ growing in numbers. This affects everything and involves everyone, of all ages, genders, ethnicities, occupations and identities. Why? Because we are human and this is our home. In fact, those who continue to deny climate change need a huge reality check. There’s no planet B so we should look after the planet and each other. You don’t need to label yourself as an activist. In fact, I am reluctant to because I feel that it our responsibility as humans rather than a title or badge we wear. Less symbolism, titles and more action, from everyone. I urge you to take a look at what you can do in your community because every single action we take now, even from the smallest changes in our daily lives affect the future. If you’re not sure where to start I’ve compiled a list of six helpful organisations taking direct action on climate change. Go and check them out, get inspired and act. 

Five links for to fuel your fire: 

  1. Extinction Rebellion
  2. 350.org
  3. Fridays For Future
  4. Stop Adani
  5. Australian Youth Climate Coalition
  6. One Million Women

*The above just a select few of the many wonderful organisations and initiatives worldwide that are empowering people to tackle the climate crisis.

In sunnier news, here is a wonderful article about big names in Australian music investing in solar farms.

photo taken from the Fridays For Future March, May 2019.

Creative fire in Brisbane

Whilst I started this segment on a rather grim reflection of events I would like to share some of the great things that that I have had the honour to be involved in Brisbane even whilst being away, and also share with you some of the great projects that my friends and colleagues are doing. 

Women of Noise

Previously, I wrote about how excited I was to see Women of Noise’ (formerly known as ‘Noisy Women’) having its second concert again on International Women’s Day. On the 8th of March, the concert was held at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University involving current students, faculty and alumni. I woke up at 3am to catch the concert via the livestream which had been organised for those who wanted to tune into the wonderful program of musical masterpieces. These fabulous recordings are now up on the Youtube channel so you can enjoy these electrifying performances anytime and anywhere. You can have a look at some of the great photos taken by Kate O’Brien on our Facebook page. I was unable to be on site in Brisbane to do a lot of the coordinating and organisational work around the concert as I was at the flute studio. Therefore, I am eternally grateful to all the musicians involved and extend a special thanks to Vanessa Tomlinson and the Women of Noise Team– Courtney Lovell (social media and speaker), Sasha Walker (graphic design), Anna Rabinowicz (co-ordinator) and Elizabeth Shearon. But it doesn’t stop at the concert. We are excited to announce that Women of Noise now has its own radio segment ‘Women of Noizzze’ on 4ZZZ (102.10 FM Brisbane, Sundays from 2-5am) which will also be available as an extended podcast on multiple platforms including iTunes, Spotify and Whooshkaa. You can listen to the first episode here. The show will be celebrating and featuring music and interviews from female-identifying and non-binary members of the community and the arts. The wonderful and bubbly Courtney Lovell will be spinning the discs and interviewing an array of incredible women and non-binrary artists and members of the community. There’s going to be some super humans sharing their creativity and stories. I will also be launching my sub-project Women Write Now in mid-August. It will involve a series of blog style interviews with women identifying and non-binary artists from around the globe. I welcome submissions and suggestions for this project and you can do so here. There’s some more exciting news coming regarding WoN (including a website!) that I will share within the coming months but some great things are happening for now. I am overjoyed to see WoN thriving, celebrating the achievements and creativity of individuals and having more creative voices heard. I too am continuously learning about and discovering many impressive creative people and projects in our community. 

Dare to speak

As I’ve said before, I am constantly blown away by the achievements of my friends and colleagues. I feel incredibly honoured when I am invited to be part of projects back home even when I am away. I naturally say yes. Matthew Klotz, Brisbane-based composer and musician curated a concert at The Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University titled ‘Dare To Speak.’ The concert brought together music, poetry and art in recognition of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and transphobia. All proceeds from the event were donated to the LGBTI youth organisation Minus18. Mat sent me a ‘A Litany For Survival’, a poem by Audre Lorde, an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. In this poem and in her words I could feel a sense of shared human pain and struggle. Brisbane-based flutist, improviser, composer, feminist and writer (and also my mentor!) Hannah Reardon-Smith combined my reading of Lorde’s poem with a structured improvisation on flute and electronics. The result was chillingly beautiful. You can listen to it here and read the poem here.

Encore?

I suppose it’s time to announce that I won’t be coming back to Australia until late September this year. Yes, the northern hemisphere has kept me for longer than I expected. 

I received several pieces of exciting news for the month of July. I have already written about my wonderful time at Musikiin Aika Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland. I then briefly stopped over in Oslo for a few days to work with Elizabeth Shearon, my friend and colleague from my years at Queensland Conservatorium of music Griffith University who is a brilliant composer and also on the Women of Noise team. We spent some time walking in the forest, picking wild berries, eating some tasty vegan food and working on her new composition for flute and tape. Without giving away too much too soon, the piece is written about climate change and is based on one of my favourite speeches. I will be premiering it at the Bang On A Can Summer Music festival this month. Well, I think I just gave away the next piece of my news. It is with uncontained excitement that I share with you this news that I been invited as a performance fellow to the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival at Mass MoCA, Massachusetts. For many professional musicians, the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival has been a sort of rite of passage. Some great Australian flute players have also been part of this festival during the early stages of their career. The festival involves three weeks of intensive music making with wonderful musicians from around the world, an ‘all-star’ faculty and guest musicians including the SunRa Arkestra, Pamela Z, Ben Frost amongst many others. I look forward to working with artists I have not yet had the opportunity to work with and working again with those that I have worked with before. Fellow Brisbane musician and violinist Flora Wong will also be present as a performance fellow at the festival. You should take a look and support her project ‘Geburstag’, which celebrates the 10th birthday of her Helge Grawert violin through commissioning new works from four Australian composers (Connor D’Netto, MJ O’Neill, Chris Perren, Kezia Yap.) i’m sure there’ll be some sneak peeks of the project at the festival. Together we’ll be playing some freshly written pieces by the composition fellows for the festival and I may have a special debut as a metronome operator for one of Flora’s ‘Geburstag’ pieces. I also look forward to working again with two musicians whom worked with at the Nief-Norf Summer Festival last year– the NYC-based guitarist, Neil Beckmann and viola player and writer, Elias Aaron Irving Gross. Neil and I will be performing Michael Gordon’s ‘Dry’ together. I’m excited to explore new repertoire, share ideas and make many new friends and of course copious amounts of music! I will be sure to share my performances on my website and social media so stay tuned. 

This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. Without funding, many emerging musicians like myself would have limited opportunity to attend such festivals, to perform, develop their artistic identity and to share and give back the joy of music to their communities.

Liz and I taking a break with Oslo’s funkiest wall art.

This was a particularly long series of writings and if you made it to the end then you probably need to go for a long walk away from a screen. A snack of hummus is also a good accompaniment. I welcome any comments, suggestions of things to hear/see/taste whilst in this part of the world and just general greetings. I will bring this to a close now and let these fingers rest. Until the next writings. 

P.S. If you have or know of any exciting projects please share them with me. I would love to share and celebrate the work of others in my writing much more.

read ‘the long way home’ part one here
read ‘the long way home’ part two here

The cover photo for this post was taken by my talented housemate, Doro Schneider.

the long way home

– PART two

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!

Würzburg am Main

Würzburg, waking and working

My time in Würzburg was limited. I gave myself four weeks to find a place of my own and options for employment and potentially further study. I spent my first weeks in Würzburg basking in nature, bike rides (and injuries), Bavarian food and stress. The feeling of waiting can often eat away at my mind and causes me to be quite unsettled. I am a patient person however being in institutions and living life by a schedule has structured the way I live each day. I am quite restless when I have no outstanding tasks to do and I find it difficult to embrace free-time, relaxation and holidays. It seems that I perceive my waking hours as working hours. So I spent my time in Würzburg a little disorientated by my lack of structure, and newfound freedoms. I had sent applications for several orchestras in Germany with vacancies, for several festivals in Europe, applied for a casual job and emailed many people regarding subletting a room for the next couple of months. Waiting is difficult, you have to think about various outcomes, and when you do receive news and it is favourable, action must be taken. You have to get working on those excerpts, that concerto, be ready to pack your bags to move and be ready by the given date. It’s a feeling that is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. In addition to the applications and searching I received news that my flute, Lentil, was in quite a bad state and in need of repairs and an eventual overhaul. The six months of drilling technique at the flute studio had worn my flute out as well! I was directed to Herr Abe, a flute technician in Stuttgart who previously worked for Yamaha. He now works from his studio with two dogs who ‘sing’ when they hear the flute.

I decided that I needed to move to a city in Germany that had more to offer for music and the arts. All signs and people seemed to be pointing in the direction of Berlin. This seemed a good option for me with reasonable rent, concerts every day and a healthy classical and experimental scene. It seemed to offer good ground for exploring. The only real downside was that I knew that my progress in learning German would suffer slightly in Berlin. Many people speak English. If you are to buy a coffee, you may be greeted and asked what you want all in English depending on where you are in Berlin. It can be quite disorientating. However, I still persevere with speaking German where I can.

A Botanical Berlin

A piece of the East Side Gallery, Berlin

I surprised myself by having found a place to live for the next two months fairly quickly, having only spent less than three weeks in Germany. Situated near the Botanic Gardens in Lichterfeld, a particularly peaceful area of Berlin, I was to be living with two ladies around my age, Doro and Mathilde. Doro is German and studying Veterinary science, she also is a wonderful photographer (I’ll be using some of her photos as I begin to update my website), and Mathilde from Yverdon, Switzerland who is studying political Geography and is a leader in the climate movement (Jeunes Verts). I was very excited to be moving into such a vibrant and lively household.

Whilst I was preparing to move I also had to prepare for my very first professional orchestral audition. Having spent several years of my studies practicing and learning orchestral excerpts and standard flute repertoire and taking ‘mock orchestral auditions’ I decided it was time to apply this hard work to a real experience.I received a lot of encouragement from Trevor and my colleagues at the studio to apply for auditions. Of course, when you ‘apply’ for an audition you may not always get invited to do a live audition merely on the basis of your experience and your CV. Germany has many orchestras, sometimes a couple for each city and one for each town, and because of this mild abundance vacancies do come up periodically. But of course winning a job is tough, especially with the amount of applicants and competition to secure an orchestral job. You hear plenty of stories of people who have taken dozens of auditions, those who didn’t pass a trial and those who leave orchestras due to conflict.
Of course, many positive stories also exist.

I was simultaneously excited and nervous when I received an email from one of the orchestras I had applied for inviting me to participate in a live audition. This was to be my very first audition for an orchestral job and I was eager to find out what this would be like. Back in my undergraduate we had mock auditions which were incredibly helpful and mostly conducted behind a screen but all the other auditions I previously had done for youth orchestras and the university orchestra were never behind a screen. Unsure of how German auditions are generally conducted, I had some questions. “Would it be conducted behind a screen?” “Would I need to speak German fluently?” “Would I need an accompanist?” I knew that the answers to most of my questions would be revealed on the day and so I eased some of the lingering curiosities in my distant scenery in my mind. However, I found this article quite helpful and enlightening when I started preparing for auditions in Germany.

I was only to spend about a week and a half in Berlin before I had to leave to go to my audition. I had been practicing at the flat and was initially quite conscious about breaking my practice into several chunks to give the ears of my housemates a bit of a rest. However, after my first practice session at the flat I came out of my room to find all the doors completely open and my housemates sitting peacefully in their rooms. I was so shocked that the doors weren’t closed, especially after practicing some scales and repetitions but they told me how much they enjoyed hearing the music. I felt a welcome warmth in this quirky and special household.

Berlin family: Mathilde, Myself and Doro (from left to right).

spa symphony

Hermeto Pascoal – Música da Lagoa
Pehaps what I imagined when I titled this segment ‘Spa Symphony’

The town of my audition was situated about an hour away from Würzburg, my first German home prior to Berlin. The ‘Deutsche Bahn’ system can be rather deceptive and there are several ways to travel around Germany with the main trains being the ICE and the RE. It is always helpful to know some German as on these trains they don’t always announce the important information in English such as transfers, changes to services or trains splitting in half. But one does learn very quickly once one has experienced getting lost in translation. The first time this happened to me was when I was travelling to my audition. I was well aware of my transfers and made sure to always listen very carefully to announcements being made but somehow I managed to miss that my final transfer would be the trickiest. Having travelled for over three hours my brain managed to miss the warning that the Deutsche Bahn ticket checker had given me and also the poster in capitals with five exclamation marks telling me that the train would split into two each going to separate destinations. Usually there is a speaker announcement at stations that specifies this strange splitting but at this very tiny station there was only a flimsy piece of paper in a most inconspicuous place. This 50/50 chance of getting on the right train was unbeknownst to me and I got on the wrong train.

“Your ticket please.” The ticket officer asked.

I showed him my ticket. His eyes squinted slightly.

“You’re on the wrong train! You are meant to be in the one in front but it has already left.”

I panicked slightly, my brain translating his relentlessly fast German into some sort of understanding. My train had already left.

Another man joined in and frantically pointed at the door.

I needed to get off or I’d end up lost in Bavaria!

As it turned out I wasn’t the only one who had hopped onto the wrong train. A backpacker also had unknowingly wandered onto the train believing that the whole vehicle went to the town.

We looked at each other and hurried off the train that was ready to depart.

The backpacker looked at me. My exhausted face managed a smile. We both went over to sit under the shelter, there we could also look at the timetable. Her name was Sandra. She asked me if I wanted to go and sit outside the station with her. I nodded. More to look at I supposed.

Our train wasn’t due for another hour. We sat and spoke about Germany, identity, home. Sandra was living in the town I was to have my audition in.

“Do you like it there?”

“It’s nice. The scenery is beautiful with mountains and greenery. But after a while it gets boring for the young mind!”

Between drags at her cigarette Sandra said she wished to move to a bigger location in Bavaria, perhaps Würzburg or Schweinfurt. I recommended Würzburg highly to her but also expressed why I felt it wasn’t for me. She had lived in Berlin once too.

Time elapsed, few cars passed, even fewer people passed, our surrounding never really changing. The station was made up of two platforms and a quaint antique shop only open twice a week. No coffee, no food, not even bathrooms. It was an inevitable mediation of sorts.

The hour elapsed and we made our way back to the platform. This time, with the small piece of paper in sight loud in its punctuation, we would get on the correct train.

And we did.

As promised the town was robed in mountains and greenery and an air of calm. Sandra accompanied me to my lodging for the night. She lived in that direction also. She wished me the best of luck and we parted.

I was greeted by two cats before I saw the concierge. She gave me my keys and showed me on a map where I could find the concert hall where I was to have my audition. I thanked her and the cats and went to my room to study my scores and before I slept.

The town was beautiful. The city centre was comfortably small but still equipped with food markets, restaurants and other shops. I made my way to the concert hall to discover that there were two concert halls. In one of the halls there was a concert in progress, in the other a swarm of flutes was to be found. The sound of thirty flutes playing ‘Voliere’ over and over is quite an overwhelming experience. A swarm of birds indeed it is, perhaps an experience more reminiscent of Hitchcock rather than Saint-Saens. I began to warm up on my flute and piccolo. I had thought that my given time of twelve o’clock was my individual audition time. Thoughts travelled around my head. Perhaps they would get us up one by one in front of each other to play our concertos and excerpts in front of everyone. There was no screen to be seen on the stage either. It would be an open show. I went up to the piano to test the pitch. It was a little lower than expected.

The hall was beautifully ornate with gold filigree sprawled across the ceiling and chandeliers that hung like grapes. Decadent details for a small town dedicated to spa tourism and relaxation. The jury started to trickle in. It was obvious that those who were not holding flutes were on the panel for the audition. A representative stood up to make opening remarks. It was in these opening words that many of my curiosities were answered.

“Welcome flutists! As there are many of you we have decided to have two rounds. In the first round you have the choice to perform with or without accompaniment. And in second round we will choose ten of you. Please wait outside until you are called.”

There were about thirty flute players and many of them had already had generous orchestral experience and experience with taking auditions. This was my first audition for a professional orchestra ever and I was feeling determined. When it was my time to go and play I felt the usual feeling of knowing I could’ve played better. My sound was a bit off in the space. I was truly prepared to go and eat some lunch but the orchestral manager was to announce the second round. My name was called and my stomach had to wait. A banana or two would do for now.

In the second round all repertoire was accompanied by piano. I had never had the chance to play the required repertoire with piano before, so there was an element of excitement and an even more heightened sense of concentration. I would play so that it would never cross their minds that I had never played the pieces with piano before. I gave the accompanist my tempos and explained my repetitions. After playing I was invited to come down to speak to the jury. They asked me some questions which I managed to understand and answer in my basic German:

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” I chuckled slightly. I had come across this question a lot in my Bachelor’s degree.

“I love playing all music, from early music to modern music. I particularly enjoy playing in Chamber ensembles and creating and continuing to develop my own projects. And of course, I see myself teaching new generations of flute players and using music to influence positivity and communicate important messages and values.” *

“Thank you. Have you obtained your B1 Certificate in German?” They asked.

“No. Not yet. I am studying and will take my test as soon as possible.”

“Good, because in order to start here you will need it.” I nodded. I knew this wouldn’t be the first time I would need this certification.

“Thank you for your time. We will call you soon with the results.”

I left the hall with my head swirling. Had I heard everything correctly? Were there details I had missed out on telling them? I decided to catch the train home and said goodbye and good luck to the remaining flute players.

Whilst I did not get the job on this occasion, I am certainly glad that I decided to apply for this audition. Being an orchestral musician is not the job of my dreams but it is an opportunity that I do wish to have, even whilst opportunities in this field are rare. There’s nothing quite like the incredible wash of sound you get when sitting in an orchestra. It’s uplifting and makes you want to lift the audience up also. I also had a surprising amount of fun taking this audition. Enjoyment seemed to override any anxieties I may have had as soon as I began to play. I met flutists’ from all around the world, I got to play some great repertoire with piano and did I mention that I also got to drink copious amounts of soda water? Well, I made sure to drink this only after the audition as to avoid any possible accidental extended vocal (belching) techniques! Although it may have been a rather surprising twist on classic repertoire.

* On a side but very alarmingly real note, it is hard to envision the next five years when we face a climate crisis. David Gilmour, who just auctioned his valuable collection of guitars raising $21.5 million for the non-profit environmental law group, ClientEarth, said: “”The global climate crisis is the greatest challenge that humanity will ever face, and we are within a few years of the effects of global warming being irreversible… We need a civilised world that goes on for all our grandchildren and beyond in which these guitars [and all instruments] can be played and songs can be sung.” More on this a in my next post.

Never static, never silent

I mentioned in my last post that I would talk a more about my encounters with dance. At times I feel that my experiences with things are by no means accidental and are linked to an experience or experiences that will occur in the future. I’ve been fascinated by the human body and gesture for a long time. Personally I feel it is quite unnatural to not ‘move’ with music and simultaneously be moved by it also. But this is again up for debate. Trevor often told us that it didn’t matter how much we moved, if our music didn’t have vitality and the ability to dance on it’s own then our bodily movements would be for nought. On audio recordings you can’t hear the person’s bodily movement, unless of course they are being deliberately percussive. But if movement helps to heighten one’s sense of musical phrasing and musicality then one should do what they feel can help them communicate best. I love movement. I’ve come to understand it as music itself, a graphic score of sorts.

I was invited to do a performance for an arts exhibition opening at the Alte Munze in Berlin with dancers. It was an opportunity I received after attending an improvisation workshop with Chie Mukai, a musician and improviser from Osaka. This workshop brought together artists from many disciplines, from film, installation art and performance art. It was such a refreshing environment to improvise in and there were many breathtaking outcomes. I can say that I’ve had some really spectacular and wonderfully creative improvisations with those who aren’t necessarily trained musicians. In fact the theme of Mukai’s workshop was about freedom and eroding barriers, there should be nothing stopping us from innate human creative expression. And so we tore down any hesitations and let ourselves speak. It was in this workshop that I met many wonderful creatives active in Berlin. One of the artists, Yaqin Si, invited me to perform with dancers in the opening of an exhibition she was part of.

I had never really worked with professional dancers before. My set was to be the last of three-episodes, a solo flute performance to counter the heightened activity and rush of drums and electronics in Fumihiro Ono’s performances before. I had the pleasure of working with a chorus of innately creative dancers including Angelica Blalock, Veronica Parlagreco, Margherita MattiaKatja-Maria TaavitsanenEva Kaak and Emma Bäcklund who provided a vision behind the performance and loosely choreographed the dancing. Our performance was intended to bring the night to a close and draw the audience outwards. The room was busy with artwork and people and required some conscious manoeuvring. In the centre a ‘battle ring’ had been set up with monitors surrounding reminiscent of a boxing ring. I requested for the lights to be turned off so that the only light would be from the city glow outside and the monitors. The performance was an ethereal moment of intimacy and in some ways transcendence. The dancers were in close contact moving across the space as one entity of movement. I responded to their movements through sound and bodily movement myself and in turn they responded to my music. For this performance I chose to begin on the alto flute, which has undoubtedly become my favourite flute over the years. I adore the organic tone, the richness of harmonics in the middle and upper registers and the simultaneous airy rawness. It reminds me of the smell of earth after rain. I moved around the space with the alto with the plan to transition to my concert flute at some point. As we moved out of the space the audience seemed to move with us, out through the entrance and up the stairs. It was a pied-piper moment. I will be sure to share the footage of the performance on my website and Instagram when I receive it.

I loved every moment of working with the dancers. It was a symbiotic performance whereby the movement of my sound and their movement of the body informed each other and coalesced. Collaborating across the arts is truly special and I feel that other art forms and disciplines can infuse and augment creative delivery, as a matrimony of creative languages that converses with each of our senses differently.

The third episode of ‘the long way home’, part three will tell of some of the fascinating concerts I’ve been to whilst here in Germany, transforming uncertainty to action in light of recent events, powerful projects from back home and upcoming performances and festivals. Stay tuned (not always in equal temperament) and sweet sonic journeys until then!