Whilst much is going on in the background with regards to the next morsel of flute nourishment coming in your direction at www.simplyflute.com, today’s newsletter contains no exciting announcements with rousing trumpet fanfares.
It does though reflect my recent musings on time, its essence, relevance and passing.
All of this has been prompted by the fact that almost to the day, it is one year since I last left the UK for work related activities.
Until this particular virus came along, my life as a self-employed musician, involved something between five to six months of travel outside of the United Kingdom every year. If I wasn’t in Japan, you could find me in the USA and if not there, quite possibly I would have been roaming through Europe. The dream was very much being lived and my feet quite literally, were rarely on the ground.
Having made the decision to put my orchestral life behind me, in the aftermath of taking the leap, this was quite simply what I did. In the process of making this not insignificant diversion away from large groups of musicians, it hadn’t occurred to me that in my previous existence, all I had to do as a member of an orchestra, was to show up and play.
Any details concerning itineraries, from flights and hotels, through to per diems and so much more, were organised by others on my behalf. Now, in this new and exciting chapter of my professional life, I had to do everything on my own. It didn’t register with me at the time, that in order to feel comfortable and at one about branching out in such a way, I would need to be constantly on the move. Apart from anything else, how would I be able to realise a similar income to that which was conveniently provided by others in the past, unless I was gadding about the globe?
Looking back and without acknowledging it at that precise moment, I was quite possibly in some form of self-engineered subliminal state of blind panic! In my mind somewhere lurked the nagging belief that if I wasn’t working, my plan was surely going horribly wrong. The only realistic option both for financial stability and to justify this major turning point in my professional life, was to make sure that I was incessantly busy. As soon as I arrived back in London from one trip, I was mentally packing for the next.
One year ago, having the week before returned from France, I was somewhat apprehensively on my way to Geneva, to give a few days of classes at the Conservatoire, to the talented students of Michel Bellavance. ‘Apprehensively’, because even then, Europe was becoming increasingly wary about the silent, invisible and potentially deadly enemy that was rapidly spreading across the globe from the Far East.
Of course, at that point there were as many discussions dismissing and ridiculing the significance of Covid-19, as there were those earmarking the impending horrors, but for the first time, I was aware that the customary swagger and confidence of people living in my European corner of the world were being unpleasantly tested.
If I am brutally honest, the day before leaving, I recall wondering if I should call the trip off.
At that point I was under the impression that London, being home and harbouring extremes of familiarity, was the safest place to be. Geneva and its proximity to what would turn out to be the epicentre of that first European outbreak in Northern Italy, seemed like an over risky proposition. Of course, my thoughts were nothing short of irrational, as in due course, we were all to discover that viruses and this one in particular, don’t bother so much to observe border controls and regulations.
I have never enjoyed airports, or flying. Combined, they constitute a rather unpleasant chapter between being here and being there. I am not intimidated or afraid of either, but their fake atmospheres of happiness and enforced gluttony, coupled with constant brain washing messages of living the ultimate jet set life, have never left me feeling anything other than quite miserable! In Haneda in Tokyo, people travel out of the city to the airport to eat and shop. I find this to be beyond peculiar!
On the way to Geneva at Heathrow Terminal five, for the first time I encountered behaviour from people that I hadn’t witnessed before, but was to become the perceived norm throughout this pandemic.
Firstly there were those who were determined to carry on life as normal. Whatever the virus may or may not be, or what might be heading in their direction, they had no intention of making any adjustments in their lives to either acknowledge or accommodate it. I fell firmly into the second and almost polar opposite category, of those who have always been terrified of trusting in something that they know absolutely nothing about!
Whilst those in the first group were happy to charge about Heathrow as though they owned the place, touching everything in sight and with not a single mask to be seen, those in my team were hugging the internal perimeter walls like amateur burglars, wrapping scarves around our heads, dashing into the rest rooms at every available opportunity to wash our hands yet again and praying that any particles of breath or moisture heading in our direction would at least smell of Chanel and be utterly virus free.
On arriving in Geneva, I could see that being closer to the drama and crisis that was rapidly unfolding in Northern Italy, people were significantly more cautious. Masks were worn and in general, acceptable distances were being maintained.
I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching experiences at the Conservatoire, but even remember thinking then (at a suitable distance from the students, of course), that the flute and its required system for blowing and creating sound, was perhaps not the wisest of instruments to be involved with at this particular moment in history. The fact that we create minuscule particles of airborne moisture when playing, although not in the least part visible, in the eyes of the world, was about to transform this innocuous looking musical instrument, into one of Satan’s latest and perhaps deadliest weapons of mass destruction.
On my return journey to London, I remember Geneva airport being incredibly crowded. In a highly claustrophobic way, there was little chance of finding sufficient personal space to feel even remotely comfortable next to one’s fellow human beings.
A week or so afterwards, the first complete lockdown was announced in the UK. At that moment and in a flash, the embryonic flames of any possible future plans or projects were brutally and instantly extinguished, turning all to nothing more than ashes.
Since then, out of necessity, all of our lives have been dramatically adjusted and we have needed to learn to live with this latest manifestation of normal, a process far removed from anything that we have previously known and experienced.
My generation (in the UK at least) is one that has been fortunate enough not to have been directly involved in global wars and as such has enjoyed an extended period of calm, which a year ago, at least from an emotional perspective, was completely shattered.
On the one hand it feels as though time has stood still for twelve months and yet, in a very surreal way, I am struggling to absorb the fact that a whole year of my life has passed in what seems more like the blinking of an eye.
I have managed to keep extremely busy and am so grateful for the fact that along with Pasha Mansurov, I started Simply Flute close on six years ago. This was one project in this new world, where choices were dramatically limited, which by its very nature, had at least the potential to survive and provide both stimulation and in the longer term growth, leading to a source of income.
Now though, I find myself more deeply confused by time than at any stage in the past.
As a child attending a boarding school, before the Autumn term, stretching from September through to December, there was such a sensation of impending doom in the weeks and then final days of the summer holidays. Naturally enough, the seven to eight weeks of those summer holidays, which had seemed initially like they were going to last for something close to eternity, had ended up passing by far too quickly. Following on from this, twelve to thirteen weeks back at school was not a term or semester. It was a prison sentence and punishment for what at the time was considered to be a particularly heinous crime and one which I hadn’t even committed!
At that stage of my life, one Christmas to the next seemed like forever. Time appeared to stand more or less still for a major part of the year and as I didn’t enjoy boarding school, the days passed nauseatingly slowly. Then, when holidays and happiness appeared, time suddenly decided to get a move on, as though it was uneasy and deeply guilty about being the bringer of joy.
Once I had left school though, all of that was to change dramatically.
My three years studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London passed by too rapidly. In those days it was a three year course and as an inquisitive teenager, my first year mostly consisted of spending far too much time in bars and pubs across London and, having endured my entire educational life thus far in institutions only for boys, of needing urgently to discover as much as I possibly could, about matters relating to the opposite sex!
After graduating, I spent many happy years playing in both the English Chamber Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. Again, this was the next chapter in my life for time to voraciously roar ahead. Something close to twenty five years in total, have now completely vanished, with nothing more than mostly positive and fond memories to show for it.
I left my orchestral life some eight years ago now and since then, albeit with a thankfully full diary, time has continued its relentless journey.
Nothing however, could have prepared me for the almost existential sensations concerning time, that have been introduced into and become a pivotal part of my life during the past year.
Apparently there are twenty four hours in a day. I have found a few, but I am still anxiously looking for many that I appear to have misplaced, lost or that have escaped! I have looked in cupboards and beneath carpets, but those missing hours are being extremely elusive.
Simply Flute has now become my primary focus and the website hopefully comes across as though everything that we put together slots neatly into place on your screens and every button clicks through to the appropriate (and correct!) page when we release something new.
I can assure you though that behind the scenes, nothing short of a ‘major incident’ is taking place, right up to the very last second that the exercise, duet or study is finally released into the wild. Even then, that final ‘send’ button is pushed with a degree of anxiety, trepidation and a not insignificant amount of perspiration.
In order to meet these new challenges, my days have needed to be structured as never before.
Having spent much of my life scoffing at the concept of a nine to five routine, I now find my days although not glued to those absolute hours, taking on a similar pattern of regularity and organisation. And I have to confess, I am absolutely loving it!
Now that the mornings are becoming brighter, I am increasingly enjoying rising earlier.
Shuffling through to the kitchen, my first task is to give Sylvia some undivided attention. Before you start leaping to conclusions, Sylvia is the brand name of my espresso coffee machine, manufactured in Italy by Rancilio!
As I live in London and have neighbours both to the side and above, it would not be appropriate to start playing the flute early, so I enjoy this part of the day for dealing with emails and then writing words, either to accompany exercises on the site or for newsletters such as this one.
After coffee and a modest breakfast (lockdown has not exactly been the most constructive period in my recent life for weight loss), I will start the section of my day with the flute, either writing new exercises, working on fresh studies, or recording material to go up onto the site at the end of the week.
In the afternoons, invariably I sit down and continue writing new exercises or second flute parts, along with text for any videos that need to be recorded (and then more often than not end up recording them whilst they are still fresh in my mind) and later on, a walk locally is taken.
This part of my routine, I suppose is officially my downtime, but as I am having so many bundles of fun with all of the other parts of the day, I don’t consider the actual working segments of my conscious hours to be the least bit arduous.
After dinner, I like to write again (there really is something soothingly therapeutic about engaging with words in the evening, as though the accumulated experiences of the day are steadily retreating back into our deepest recesses, but enjoy the engagement with pen and paper before finally retiring) and as I start to become weary, the brain crying out for a break, a sofa and/or a film beckons. Not any old film though. Recent pleasures have included those starring Cary Grant (North by Northwest is currently a favourite).
So here I am, the person who has spent so much time rebelling against routine and institutions throughout his life, finally turning into a bit of a softie in these later years!
My problem now though is that the hours between awaking and getting out of bed in the morning and finally returning again at the end of the day, have turned into nothing more than a moment. Time is going by way too fast. Days go by so quickly and even weeks and months peel off at a speed that just hasn’t been so persistently alarming until a year ago.
In the same way that certain Italians brought in the ‘slow food’ movement in order to savour more what is put on the table in front of us, I now feel it is time to start a ‘slow life’ campaign, so that everything about a day can be properly appreciated, the hope being that time will gradually learn to cease its relentless journey.
Of course, I am extraordinarily fortunate to have fallen on a path in life that has given and continues to provide colossal and complete satisfaction. There really is no such thing as a dull or boring day and to this extent, I am happy to accept whatever time has to offer. I just wish that it would back off occasionally to allow me the opportunity to have a moment to pause and relish some of the truly special moments and occurrences in our all too brief visit to this planet.
I need to go now…I should look behind the sofa once again to see if that is where those missing hours are hiding!