I’m not going to tell you that I play the flute to stave off dementia, keep my brain cells alive, or because I was inspired by some internet list of Things to do when you’re over 60 which always seem to feature ’Play a musical instrument’.
No, I choose to grapple with a 2-foot long tube of metal equipped with a lot of holes and a mouthpiece so badly designed it takes a week before a beginner can get a single note out of it, because of the amazing feelings I get from playing it.
There’s a delicious excitement, which starts in the pit of the stomach, and tingles down the spine. It’s usually momentary, and doesn’t happen that often, but it is just delightful. I call it ‘that feeling’ to myself, and I’m always hoping for it in any rehearsal. It’s most likely to hit me when I’m playing in an orchestra for a bar or two everything comes together and my puny effort becomes part of something much, much bigger. That’s making music.
Then there’s the adrenalin-boosting thrill where I actually feel my heart beating faster in a section where I’m waiting to put in a flutey ‘peep’, off the beat, one note repeated, getting louder and louder as the orchestra build up to some kind of orgasm underneath me – whoa, steady on, but it really does have that quality of growing excitement, being swept along and just having to do that peep, peep, peep in the right place, with more and more urgency…
Add to this the sense of disbelieving satisfaction that I can actually DO IT. On the odd occasions when a swift string of notes comes out at the right speed, in the right order, and with my fingers apparently acting independently from the rest of my body, just instinctively knowing what to do. If only I could apply that in other areas of life!
Another feeling to treasure is the sound a flute makes, the way it resonates right through my body, when all I did was put my lips together… There’s a deep, woody, richly vibrating tone that the flute can make in its lower register. It’s gorgeous. And amazingly, I can produce that sound.
Those are the feelings I get from the playing of the instrument, but along with those are the fun of mixing with other amateur musicians. The laughter – I have been doubled over and speechless with mirth because my duet pal and I were playing so magnificently, appallingly badly! And there’s also the shared endeavour, the sense that ‘we will get this right, if it kills us!’ Working together, trying to play a tricky passage, taking it over and over again until suddenly, Hey – we did it!
There’s a meditative benefit from flute-playing as well. On my own, when I’m a bit tired, or bored, or sad, I can take the flute out of its box and give it a polish, and tootle through some simple little tunes and magically remove myself from the here and now and give my brain a place to rest and concentrate which doesn’t allow for anxieties or sorrows.
Yes, all of that is why I play the flute. I don’t do it because it’s good for me, I do it because I love it, and even when it’s been so hard to master that I could have cried or snapped it in two across my knee, I still have never wanted to give up.