Preparing for my first solo flute performance: notes on perfectionism and high standards

A month ago I reported on getting a new flute that was more ergonomic for me.

I am definitely enjoying the new flute. In particular, as I’ve been practicing an Allegro movement of a solo flute sonata, the fast passages involving a G# are painful and awkward on my old flute that has an inline G instead of an offset G. The offset G eases the reach for my short ring and pinkie fingers. As you can see from the photo, my left pinkie finger in particular is so short that even with the offset G it is almost completely straight! (And this is with my proper placement of the flute somewhat down and forward from the body to minimize the twist of the entire left hand.)

Franklin's left hand on flute with offset G

(The split E also helps a lot right now, giving me a clean E much more easily than my old flute, but this has nothing to do with ergonomics.)

First solo flute performance

The big news is that I’m preparing to perform solo on flute on Sunday for the first time in my life. This after having really played flute only for half a year. Yes, I’m nervous, of course. But I volunteered to do this. Why?

I’m preparing this sonata movement for an informal music recital I’ll be part of on Sunday. It will be the my first time playing a solo piece on flute in someone else’s presence!

Rejecting perfectionism: getting the ego out of the way

I’ve only really been playing flute for half a year, so I’m not able to play this piece with all the qualities I want from what I hear in my head. I expect that by next year I should be able to play it much more like what I hear in my head.

In the past I would have hesitated to play something before I was “ready”, because I suffered from perfectionism, but I’ve adopted a new philosophy of life in the past year, in which I’ve decided to actually make and show myself publicly, “failing” if necessary in order to demand progress and improvement of myself. In the past, I would hole up and “secretly” work on something in hope of emerging publicly as though I were a fully-formed genius. It’s funny thinking about how fragile my ego used to be.

I felt the urge to play this piece now because this piece really moves me and I have not heard a recording of it that fully captures what I experience in my mind as I live the music myself, and I judge that I can express, however imperfectly, a great deal of the spirit of the music, and hope to share my interpretation, work in progress as it is, right now.

I have learned in the past couple of months that when I play music, if I play it with true feeling, then people can sense that and enjoy it, overlooking technical flaws I still have. This encourages me, because I play not only for my own pleasure but for others.

Rejecting disrespect: refusing to play what I don’t understand yet

I’m only playing the second movement of this sonata because of difficulty and time constraints. The third movement is harder. The first movement is slow and theoretically should be “easy”, but actually, I find it problematic. I still don’t fully “understand” that music. I have listened to recordings of it and they don’t completely “speak” to me. Until I successfully parse and understand this first movement, I’m not willing to play it, because if I don’t get it, how can I play in such a way that someone else gets it? What would be the point?

I distinguish this reluctance from perfectionism. There’s a difference between showing something that is imperfect but has some value and showing something that I don’t sufficiently understand myself.

The negation of perfectionism isn’t just casual sloppiness; it is having high standards but also being realistic. And that depends on context.

In my current situation, I am playing informally for friends and family, not for a general public, so I am willing to go out there without being as polished as I would for a sizable public. But even then, I must respect my friends and family, and not present something that is of net negative rather than positive value for them.

Prior experience

I have, of course, built up to my plan to play a piece for flute solo for the first time. Unfortunately, I have not yet written up for this blog yet all the various experiences in the past months that have served as “preparation”. Some of them have had to do with performing music with other people on other instruments. Some important ones involved my first solos in my life on any instrument at all. But this one coming up will be the hardest piece I will have played for other people, on the instrument that I am least proficient at. So the pressure is still there.

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