How long have you been playing the flute and how old were you when you started?
I started off learning the penny whistle when I was eight, and then I decided to move onto the flute when I was nine. So I guess about eight years.
Who is your teacher?
At the moment I’m studying with Judy Treggor, and I see her at CYM which is the Centre for Young Musicians in London. Before that I was with Prem Smith (now Harris), who was my Suzuki teacher for many years.
Why did you decide to learn the flute?
Mainly because of how much I enjoyed the sound of it. When I was learning the Penny Whistle with Prem, sometimes she would play her flute, and I loved the way she sounded. I knew I wanted to play and sound like that. My great grandfather was a flute player and conductor of the British Army Orchestra, so I was encouraged by this to learn to play the flute. Also I heard the flute on the TV in various concerts such as the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and I always remember being struck by the sound, and thinking it was the prettiest instrument and the shiniest and sparkliest one!
What do you love best about the flute?
I love its range, I love the different sounds it can create and how you can use those sounds to completely change the mood or atmosphere in a performance. I really like its resonance as well. I just think it is a very powerful instrument with a powerful sound.
What are some of your favourite flute pieces?
I loved the folk tunes like Lightly Row and Cuckoo, and a big favourite of mine when I was younger was Last Rose of Summer. When I was a bit older I loved playing Autumn Leaves. The Serenade by Arthur Woodall is also really lovely. My current favourite is probably the Fantasie by Gabriel Faure. It has two movements, the first is a very passionate slower movement, and the next one is quite fast and technical and fun. The Fantasie is a French piece and I love French pieces in general.
I also love Ian Clarke, who is a modern English composer. His pieces are quite soulful and spiritual. I played his piece Hypnosis for my grade Eight, and I also performed his flute duet with piano called Maya with Prem, my Suzuki teacher, at one of the National workshops. I’m currently working on a homage piece based on Maya for my A level composition.
What are some of the best experiences you had when you were learning to play?
I really enjoyed the Suzuki summer school in Malvern for flute and recorder. It made me realise that there were other young people who were passionate about playing music, and classical music, which was something I didn’t get at school at that time.
My Suzuki teacher had a little flute ensemble on Thursdays which rehearsed in her living room and was a highlight of my week. We would perform at her seasonal concerts. I had quite a close bond with those girls and I’m still in touch with them now.
The first time I got to play with a full orchestra was the Hackney Borough Youth Orchestra. I got to perform with them in concerts at venues such as the Hackney Empire. I really enjoy performing.
Have you ever taken any exams?
Yes. I’ve taken several exams. Ive just taken my Trinity Grade Eight and now I’m working towards my diploma.
Do you recommend that process?
Yes, I think exams are a good way of adding more structure to your practice, also of exploring different genres of music and expanding your repertoire. I think they are good goals to work towards, they’re good for getting your pieces up to performance standard. They're also good for your confidence, because you’re always going to think they are big scary things that you might not be able to achieve - but every exam I’ve had has been a good experience, and all the examiners have been really lovely and encouraging. Exams aren’t for everyone: you don’t have to take exams, but overall I would say they are a good thing. What is the most important is you enjoy playing.
Have you got any tips for enjoying it? What would you say to someone taking their first exam?
Oh, that was such a long time ago! Well, I know it’s hard to work on the bits that you might not want to work on because they’re particularly tricky, but if you just take it one step at a time, and do a bit of practice every day, in the end you’ll get something really positive that you’ve achieved.
What about performance nerves? Have you got any tips about dealing with them?
Everyone is going to get nervous I think, and it’s completely normal - but what I do is I try and turn those nerves into something positive rather than something negative. There’s a lot to do with mindset and how you think about your performance. So, say if I’m just about to go on stage and I’m having bad thoughts about how my performance and saying “Oh I'll mess it up; what if it goes wrong?" I try and turn those thoughts into adrenaline rather than nerves. I try and turn them into positive ones and tell myself that even if it does go wrong it’s not the end of the world: no one is going to laugh at you.
What flute playing activities are you involved with now and what is that like?
I’m currently playing first flute for the London School Symphony Orchestra. This is my third time working with them, and we are working towards the Spring Concert at the Barbican. I'm also part of the Chamber Orchestra at Centre for Young Musicians (CYM), the flute group there, and there’s a sextet that I do there, where we’re currently playing the Poulenc Sextet. We got to perform the first movement at Greenwich church for the CYM annual concert which was amazing – especially after the lockdown where we could only rehearse it online!
There’s a lot more music going on at school now, so I’m part of the Symphony Orchestra and there’s a jazz band. I also love playing jazz and doing improvisation.
So you are a very busy musician! What’s it like for you being involved in all those things?
Sometimes it gets quite draining - but being part of LSSO I think really motivated me and made me realise that music was something that should always be part of my life - particularly playing with other people who are passionate about music. It is a very big group of people and I always feel at home with everyone there. Doing that has made me realise that this is my passion, you know, this is what I love doing.
What flute do you currently play?
The flute I currently play is a Sankyo which is an all silver flute. I only purchased it about four months ago. I decided I wanted this flute because I wanted to take my playing to the next level… as soon as I tried it out I knew that it had the sound which resonated with me best: it's just a very clear, bright sound.
What are your hopes for the near future, what are you working towards?
For my diploma I have to prepare a 30 minute performance and that is at a standard beyond grade 8, so it’s a goal that I want to achieve and will help me prepare for more auditions and have ready to go repertoire.
I would love to play with the National Youth Orchestra and one day the London Philharmonic or the London Symphony Orchestra. It would be great to go on tour with a big orchestra.
I am preparing to audition for various music conservatoires such as The Guildhall and Trinity Laban, however, I am in year 12 and still deciding what to do - I think going through the process of auditioning will help me make up my mind.
I do know that the flute and music will always be a big part of my life.
Belle It’s such a privilege to have you as the first of our next generation Artist series. Thank you so much for doing this interview!
Thank you, it’s my pleasure.
Links to listen to all the pieces Belle mentions in the interview:
Do you know a Suzuki student who has dedicated a large part of their life to playing their instrument and would like to be interviewed as part of this series? If so, please get in touch!