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Friday, February 01, 2008
If you're gonna be in a new phase of your life, then BE THERE
So I wasn't gonna blog today, but I'm in the library waiting endlessly for PDF's of Blues thesis research to download, and I thought doing something semi-productive would make the waiting go faster.

I had the last trad flute lesson before the Feb. 5 recital, and in response to the statement that I was going to play completely solo (no special guest musicians to back me up on one or two tunes), and the title of the post was said to me.

I've had a lot of different thoughts about who I am and where I'm going with my music over the last two and a half years here. I've played music for as long as I can remember, and I've been obsessed with music just as long. As a kid, there were very few activities I was required to try (although ballet was one and I've got pictures from dance recitals to prove it.......don't get me started on the evils of purple tu-tu's and tiaras), so I went from activity to activity without too much hassle from my parents. I think they knew that kids needed freedom and time to find out who they were and what they liked, and because of that I've had a lot of experiences that my peers didn't necessarily have. I've spent endless summers and weekends romping through the woods near my house, climbing trees, picking blackberries, getting dirty, figuring out which plants not to touch. I've read books and plays and poetry, and been encouraged to write to pass the time. I've traveled and met people incredibly diverse and interesting. And most importantly, I've tried lots of different musical instruments: violin when I was 6 (less than a year), flute-o-phone in 3rd grade, voice always, piano, guitar, and finally flute.

I think it's important to know that I never really wanted to play the classical flute. And when I started playing flute I had never shown and interest in classical music. When I went out for band as a 10 year old entering sixth grader, I wanted to play the clarinet. I wanted to play the clarinet for two specific reasons: 1) my dad had played the clarinet, and 2) I had heard Dixieland Jazz and Benny Goodman recordings, and was convinced that those sounds were infinitely cooler than anything classical music could produce (consequently, I realize now that I was missing something about the breadth of classical music repertoire, but there you are). And yet, here goes Mac......playing the flute......the classical flute.

But I was good at it.

And in this age of competition, my Band directors convinced my parents that I should stay on the classical flute. I wasn't all that opposed because my friends were in band, and I was first chair (hey.....I was thirteen at the time being the best was important to me), so life was good. But I was a little subversive, in that every year that I was in high school, I would use Marching season as a means to try and get the Band Director to let me play something else. "We have 15 flute players but no mellophone players.....I'll learn mellophone, I'll learn saxophone, I'll carry a Bass Drum! I just don't want to play piccolo another year." Instead, I was bored to death, and spent most of the season standing outside playing all state music from memory while everyone else tried to learn the marching music I had sightread.

Fast forward to senior year, and my classical flute teacher asks me if there's any specific piece I want to work on. And the precise words out of my mouth were: How about something Irish? Classicized piece.....BUT I borrowed my first Matt Molloy album that semester........and it made me want to play the flute. The Christmas after I moved away to undergrad in Miss. I got the Woodenflute Obsession album as a gift. I must have played those two CD's until they died, because eventually I had to buy myself a new copy. And I knew, "There! That! Those sounds! I wanna make those sounds." I just didn't know how. And because I had studied classical music for so long, it never occurred to me that I could learn instrumental music the same way I learned vocal music: listen and imitate.

So I transfered back to my hometown's university Spring of my Sophmore year of college (for various personal reasons) and met Skip Healy. Two years after I figured out what type of music I wanted to play (not that I had constructed my thoughts that way yet) I found someone who could teach me how to play it. Six months later, I had my first Healy flute, and I started down the rabbit hole.

When I auditioned at Flat Place U, I remember talking to Coyotebanjo and mentioning Joanie Madden. I started to explain who she was, and he cut me off saying, "I know who she is." And I thought, "Thank God! There are people out here who know things I want to learn." That and I was shocked as hell that all of the woodwind faculty in my audition were positive and supportive about playing traditional music. That had never happened to me before.

I've only just realized it, but my undergrad experiences messed my head up a little. I moved here, and was suddenly confronted with literally dozens of people telling me that I could and should try new things; that I was talented, intelligent, and did good work, and that my teachers wanted to teach; that it was necessary to take professional and artistic risks and that falling down wasn't the end of the world; and that wanting to be an ethnomusicologist and traditional Irish musician was ok. In the past year, people from my past who held incredibly important places in my life have told me hurtful, destructive things: that Irish traditional flute was an awfully small corner to back yourself into, implications that it was an easier alternative for classically trained flutists who couldn't cut it, that musicologists/ethnomusicologists were people who had realized that they couldn't make it as performers and so they took to academics as a backup, that I should hurry up and finish by combining two master's degrees in two years--and implying that not doing so would mean I was somehow lazy or incompetent.

I know I come back to this a lot, but I'm incredibly thankful that my professors, my friends and mentors, have my back.

And because I trust them implicitly, last semester when my classical flute professor suggested that I needed to take a look at who I wanted to be, even though all of those negative thoughts were banging around in my head, I looked. It freaked me out, but I looked. I talked to Dharmonia, and I remember her saying, "You can do all of these things at a fairly high level, but never reach virtuosity. But I don't think you want that. I think you want to be a virtuoso musician, which doesn't mean you have to give up these other things in your life. It means you have to figure out where you want to live musically. Whichever idiom it is, you know that you need to spend some years focusing on just that particular musical idiom. And if it's Irish trad flute, then we'll have some tunes."

"We'll have some tunes." That. I wanted that.

How long had I been bribing myself to practice classical flute with traditional flute? How often did I work on ethno projects when I should have been practicing classical flute? Why was I listening to Jack Cohen recordings when I should have been listening to Pahud recordings? And I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to be an ethnomusicologist and a traditional Irish musician. It took me thirteen/fourteen years to get there, and the permission to move on with my life from someone who cared about me, but right now that's who I want to be.

On Tuesday, I'll play a completely solo Irish Traditional Flute recital, and I'm not going to apologize for it. No more apologizing, because there's nothing to apologize for. The Music is beautiful, and complex, and profound.

And I'm a part of it.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 1:43 PM ¤ Permalink ¤