Flute: loving it again, remembering why I dance, and how I met my wife!

Yesterday, after four days of not even touching my (modern) flute and having spent the time having fun with my Baroque flute instead, I felt the urge to return to the modern flute.

I still have not regained the inclination to continue working on the orchestra music I still have to improve a lot on in the coming week, but I rediscovered the joy of simply playing my instrument.

Sound, intonation

The perpetual challenges of getting clean sounds and accurate pitches on the Baroque flute in the past four days have given me an increased appreciation for the modern flute. I picked it up and spent time just trying to make beautiful sounds. Freed from the stress of orchestra practice, I felt much more relaxed on the instrument than I have for a while now.

To my surprise (but not really), I have improved considerably on the flute after not playing it for four days. I really needed a break, a consolidation of lessons learned. My production of tones is much improved, and high notes are squeaking less.

Music for dance

One thing I’ve truly come to realize is that I particularly enjoy playing rhythmic music suitable for dancing.

Indeed, every time I attend a dance, and there is live music, I experience a strange internal conflict: I do like to dance, but sometimes, I’d rather be on the other side of the dance floor, being the musical performer! The only time I’ve been on the other side has been at last year’s Pittsburgh Contras and Squares Holiday Ball.

The most recent instance of my wishing I could sometimes stop dancing and just join the musicians has been at the local Pittsburgh French dance workshop and social, where we’ve had live piano, fiddle, and of course, Gregory on his Irish flute. I wonder whether at some point I might be qualified to play for the event, using either my modern flute or Baroque flute. (By the way, it was held again today, but unfortunately, Abby and I chose not to go because we had too many things to do this weekend.)

Remembering dancing

Yesterday I spent time playing along to a score/CD set I’ve mentioned before, World Music Cuba. While playing the bolero, cha cha, and mambo pieces in particular, I felt I was returning “home” in many ways. This was among the first music I heard and saw people dancing to when I was curious and visited the CMU Ballroom Dance Club in 2000, and fell in love with, and learned to dance to. I also played along to World Music Argentina.

Some photos of my ballroom dance days

Here are some photos of me dancing in 2002 with my last dance partner, Amy, before I quit competitive ballroom dancing.

Here we are at the DC DanceSport Inferno in 2002 doing a hockey stick in international rumba:

Amy and Franklin at DCDI 2002 in rumba

And here were are at the Cornell DanceSport Classic in 2002 in cha cha, rumba, and tango:

Amy and Franklin at Cornell 2002 in cha cha

Amy and Franklin at Cornell 2002 in rumba

Amy and Franklin at Cornell 2002 in tango

Dancing with Abby

But never mind the ballroom dance days. It was through salsa dancing that I met my wife!

How I met Abby

It was through dancing that I met Abby in the first place. After quitting dancing in 2003, I never danced again until late 2006, when my friend Jon told me he had recently started salsa dancing (because of a girlfriend who got him into it) and invited me to join him at a free outdoors dance, and I went. Then as I re-entered the Pittsburgh salsa dance scene, I kept running into Abby.

Some photos of us dancing salsa

There are not many photos of Abby dancing with me, because when I’m dancing, I’m not holding my camera, but here are some photos a friend took at a big salsa dance weekend at the Palisades in McKeesport in April 2008, a year after we started dating in 2007.

Abby and Franklin dancing salsa at Palisades

Abby and Franklin dancing salsa at Palisades, hair flying

Expression and improvisation in dance and in music


One reason I gave up ballroom dancing was that I felt there was an overemphasis on “syllabus steps” (I realize this is an oversimplification of the ballroom dance culture; all very good ballroom dancers go beyond the syllabus mindset). After quitting ballroom dancing, I explored Argentine tango, which is all about improvisation, but I left it because (at the time) it seemed that most of the women in the local scene were very tall, which made dancing awkward for me. I got into salsa because freed from the closed embrace, there was clearly a lot of room for personal improvisation. Ironically, I first got into making stuff up as a result of my imperfect memory: I could never memorize long choreography of step patterns, whether I was doing ballroom dancing or anything else. So I would always make a “mistake”, then I would make something out of the mistake. I learned that as long as you get back in time with the music, and keep the lead and follow communication strong, there is no such thing really as a mistake. You just keep going, with whatever is happening at the present moment.

I now have a long-term goal of developing my technique and releasing my inhibitions so that I can improvise musically at will. Yesterday, I played with improvising when playing bolero, cha cha, and tango. It was a lot of fun and profoundly satisfying.


I actually credit my study of the recorder and the Baroque flute for reawakening me to my dream of free expression and improvisation. Baroque music leaves room for a lot of interpretation of trills and ornamentation and articulation (subject, of course, to “good taste”). I want to go beyond that, but it has been a great starting point. For some reason, too much exposure to later music (such as Beethoven) had turned me into a score-reader, since such later music has so much already marked up for the performer to simply obey. The sparse annotations in Renaissance and Baroque music give one much more freedom.


I am enjoying playing the flute again, now that I know what I really want to do with it. And I would like to merge my dance and music lives, just as Abby has always played the Balkan music she also dances to.

(Update of 2012-03-12)

I ended up quitting the CMU AUO.

(Update of 2013-01-26)

Almost a year later, I finally played tangos on flute at a party.

(Update of 2013-03-17)

Almost exactly a year later, I ended up playing selections from the World Music Cuba book at a party, and improvising freely with two other guys!

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