Who were your main musical influences?
I had two main influences outside my college life, which were William Bennett and Geoffrey Gilbert. I would meet up with them even year at the international summer school where I was a student at first, and then I taught on it too. So I would learn with Geoffrey and WIBB and then I would work with Geoffrey and WIBB. Geoffrey was all about the clarity with which he spoke about technique; he was able to observe what was wrong with the students’ playing immediately, and was able to help by recommending X, Y or Z. It was all very clear and very precise, and it worked, he always had a knack of being able to see what is wrong and being able to sort it out. WIBB on the other hand was all about the music. He would talk about the feelings, emotions, colours, moods and characters, which all had to do with the life of music. Of course when he played one would learn a huge amount just by listening to him. WIBB’s early concerts, that I heard when I was a student, were phenomenal. It was really the highlight of the year, to go and listen to WIBB play and simply absorb his musicianship, and then go home and try to recreate the energy that he had about him.
Do you advocate going out and listening to other flute players now?
I was always a great believer in going out and listening to everybody who is out there. We can learn a lot by simply listening, and now with recordings and YouTube you can hear everyone.
Was this summer school the place where you started your teaching career?
Not quite; I was very fortunate when I was just going to the second year at my college I was asked to teach at the junior department. This was at the Royal Norther College of Music. I then started teaching at the main college when I was 24. Then I started my own flute course around 1989 which was in the Lake District. We rented a beautiful mansion house, which overlooked one of the lakes. It was very inspirational views (if you haven’t been to the Lake District, I would highly recommend going). The top of the house had a huge, concert hall-sized room and we had our morning classes there, for which I would write lots of exercises and give them out as packs when people arrived at the course. That was really the beginning of Flute Aerobics. It was basically my own warm ups, but if I warmed up by myself anywhere in that house, everyone could hear me. So I decided that we all should do it together. So the book became known as Flute Aerobics and the off-shoot of that was the Light Aerobics, which is basically just a slightly easier version. I have always been a lover of sequences, which is why I wrote the Sequentials book that is still used as part of the syllabus at the Royal Academy of Music in London. My most recent book is called Expression of Colour. This book is an amalgamation of years of trying to make the flute sound more interesting, rather than just having one sound and one vibrato.
Since the books, you have also started a website. Is it a continuation of the books or something completely different?
Flute Reboot is something completely different. I am interested to use the internet to make contact with, first of all, all of the people who started playing flute when they were younger and then gave up for whatever reason. So it is literally to “reboot” their flute playing. I suppose it would be for people grade 5 and upwards, however the philosophy behind it is that everyone can play anything, just at their own speed. On the website we work on similar aspects as the books, but I decided to do it more through pieces of music rather than exercises. I remember some of my lessons and the fear factor which existed about not learning something that I should have, so here I am encouraging the enjoyment of learning rather than this fear. I hope that users will not find it too much to take it at a time, but at the same time they’ll find it progressive.
What gave you the idea for the website and this particular group of flute players?
It’s the fact that I’ve become an empty nester, as in I am a parent whose children have flown away from their nest. You know, my life so far has been: education, job, family and then balancing family and job. Then children leave and it is horrible experience as the home is empty and there is nothing to do. I also know that when I started to play the flute there were thousands of people who were playing. It was the era of James Galway. He inspires many people to take up the instrument; he was the man with the golden flute and he made it fun and exciting. So many of those people have gone on to different careers and maybe now want to get back into playing the flute, but are apprehensive to go into a flute shop or are afraid to go to a flute day because they feel that they cannot do anything. So Flute Reboot is there so that they can do this in the comfort of their own home, at their own pace, in their own time.
Is information on the website only relevant to the people who are starting out again, or is there a lot of useful information even for seasoned players?
Yes, having now put the first few lessons out I’ve discovered that a lot of flute players have found it useful. It has been a way of refreshing and giving new ideas to the people who are already playing. In terms of spreading the word about Flute Reboot, I have used my flute contacts and a lot of them have come back to me saying that they found it very useful themselves. It is always nice to get unexpected good results.
Do you travel doing masterclasses and teaching privately?
I am slightly different as I go and do classes and workshops as well as play concerts. I do a mixture of the two. There aren’t many people who do that, but I always felt that teaching enhances the playing and playing enhances the teaching. So I’ve always done my teaching connected with concerts and vice versa. I’ve been to the U.S.A. with classes and travelled to Japan. Also recently I’ve been to Russia. It was my first trip there and it was very exciting culturally and musically. I was very excited to be in Moscow, which is a very exciting and vibrant city. I was there for 10 days, which was hard work but good hard work. The scenario was a bit different as I had to have a translator to work with the students. I had to keep stopping to allow that next bit of translation, so the flow of the conversation and teaching was not always easy. I found it difficult to keep a clear trail of thought especially when someone else is trying to get around the language. It is interesting that I was very much dependent of the translator but I don’t know how it came across. I remember when I was in Japan, the translator was a lovely young man who laughed at all of my jokes but when he translated there was no laughter in the audience! I don’t know what was coming across
So what did you think of the Russian flute school?
I was very surprised by the level. When I was a student I travelled around and did a lot of international competitions, and all the Russian students that I met in my early days never had a good instrument, so they struggled primarily because the instrument wouldn’t allow them to do what they wanted. On this trip I’ve noticed that a lot of them had a very good quality instrument, so they didn’t have the problems I initially expected. The overall standard was very good, and there were a lot of very serious and enthusiastic students across the whole age spectrum, who had a lot of energy in wanting to know things. During the classes I was very inspired by the concentration and the eagerness to learn that everyone had. Sometimes, when I travelled with classes in the past, I found that sometimes not everyone was with me in the room.
In Moscow we discussed things in a much more intimate way. We sat in a circle, as I do with my classes in the U.K. and I ask a lot of questions. After a few days the students started to open up and get used to me. In the last class with the younger students (up to the age of 14), I told them that there will be a little competition with three rounds. There were three different categories and the prizes were some CDs. My idea was to get them to be outside their comfort zone. They did this one by one, so it took quite a long time to get through everyone, but I was amazed that they didn’t look nervous and seemed very happy doing it. I told them this at the end and one of the little girls who spoke very good English said “Of course we are relaxed. You’ve let us be relaxed all week!” I am glad that my approach worked.
Can you tell us about the beginner book?
It has developed from being a book to an online version. This is now called Kickstart, and it is a beginner book for which I commissioned 24 duets from Andy Scott. I remember when I was learning that all the tunes were either classical or Christmas carols. They were O.K., but not really inspiring. I asked Andy Scott to write 24 different styles of music to learn. You can play them with me as a duet with a rhythm section, or play with your teacher just with the backing or you can listen to how it all sounds. So it covers a lot of different genres of music and it’s a beginner book to use them as a basis. Each lesson is there to give you the information for you to be able to play the duet (which is different genre in every lesson) by the end. The beauty of this being online is that anyone can do it in their living room with their computer, or their iPad on the music stand and in their own time.
Q&A 2 with Walter Auer - First Flute of the Vienna PhilharmonicWalter Auer began his professional career as Principal Flutist with the Dresden Philharmonic and the NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Hanover before he was appointed to his current position as...
Julien Beaudiment talks to us in this online Q&A session about his orchestral life, solo career and performances, shares his view on how to play Bach and how to structure practice when there are no concerts happening. Watch exclusively videos only on Principal Chairs.
Aldo Baerten – First flute of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra talks to us about his orchestral career, flute tips and tricks, solo career and how to deal with your practice in these times of uncertainty. Watch his exclusive video masterclasses on Principal Chairs.
Peter Verhoyen joins Principal Chairs to talk about his orchestral career as a piccolo player. We also talk about his beloved instruments and his teaching at the conservatoire and the summer school which he hosts nearly every year with in Bruges.
We talk to Walter Auer, first flute of the Vienna Philharmonic about his career as a soloist and an orchestral player in one of the top orchestras in the world. View his masterclasses recorded at the Royal Academy of Music in London on the Principal Chairs website.
Michael Cox, in partnership with Principal Chairs, presents his Masterclass Series. They were held online during lockdown in the UK in summer 2020. Participants were invited to send in video performances for Michael to watch in a Live answering session.