First Flute Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
“Great inspiration and knowledge has also come my way by working with my highly respected colleagues in the orchestra”
Where did you study?
I was very lucky with my first teacher who was the principal flute of the Royal Opera orchestra in Copenhagen. It is of utmost importance to have the best teachers from the very beginning. Once I left the 9th grade I had my heart set on going to study in the USA. As I was only 15 years of age, the priority for my parent was to find not only a good school for me to study but also somewhere safe. I ended up attending The North Carolina School of the Arts, where I studied with Philip Dunigan with whom I finished my advanced studies. I haven’t had too much of the “official” education, as one may call it. However, I really like the American school system as it was highly structured. It was a new school, which attracted a lot of good quality teachers mainly because the living costs in North Carolina were a lot lower than in New York, for example. I really believe this was a great stage of my life as I am a great believer that we, as musicians, need to live life to the fullest, in order to be able to show it through our music. We have to feel pain or joy, otherwise we can not portrait it. For example, you can not pretend to know what it is like to be in love, until you actually have been in love. Without digressing too much, I would say that 4 years of study in the US was enough for me to win my first job.
However, when I came back home from the US, I was sick of playing the flute. The schooling was tough. Although, I really needed it and in some ways enjoyed it, it really wore me out. Every three months one had to pass a trial and if one got lower than B, the penalty was to be on “Arts Probation”! After which one has one term to improve the grade. If the grade did not improve, you were forced out of school. Thankfully I never had to deal with that, because I am a very competitive person, though not with other people. I like to compete with myself. At the very early stages I realized that every flute player is different and I saw the beauty of this diversity. I got straight “A”s, which might sound like a very big achievement, but the truth is that it is not that difficult to achieve in the American school system. One is not forced to think as an individual, all I had to do was learn a lot of information by heart.
“Having just been knocked down I really thought I didn’t have a chance, but I still believed that I had something to offer”
Surely that made your mind work hard and in turn, made it work better?
It really did teach me how to learn things very quickly. I wouldn’t say that I am an intellectual, however I am very good at analyzing. Having to memorise much information trained my brain in recognising structures and patterns. A skill I’m very grateful for in my work as an orchestral musician and as a flute teacher.
Then you went back to Denmark and got the job?
Not quite. I worked in a post office for one year. As I said before, I had had enough and I did not want to play the flute when I returned from the States. So I found a job in a post office and sorted mail for one year. But after a while I thought maybe it’s more fun playing the flute after all. Having not played the flute at all for one year, I picked it up and went for an audition in the Royal Theatre Orchestra. I did not win the audition but I did get offered a full time contract (not a permanent position) for one year. I ended up working there for about one year and a half, after which I decided to audition for a job in Aarhus – and I got kicked out from the first round. My teacher called the flute player in the orchestra and asked why, to which the reply was “she is too soloistic”. Only 14 days after I went to an audition for the position as principal flutist at The Danish National Radio Orchestra. Having just been knocked down I really thought I didn’t have a chance, but I still believed that I had something to offer, so I decided to go to the audition and show them what they “will miss out on”. There were six rounds, it was the most crazy audition I have ever been in. Andreas Blau was on the audition panel and I just kept passing and passing from round to round, which I found really funny because I thought that my luck had to run out at some point. To your readers this might be interesting that still to this day I feel that it is only a question of time before everyone will find out that I can not really play the flute! The end of this story is that I got offered the position.
Interestingly, I was the first female principal player in the orchestra, in the woodwind section. I think there may have been a female second bassoon before me, but not a principal. When I sat down in the orchestra I instantly felt the masculine camaraderie. I could tell that the others felt uneasy as they didn’t know what to expect. I was not just female but also young, I was only 22 years old. I also remember that one of the first remarks that I got was a big bear-paw slap on my upper thigh from one of the gentlemen of the orchestra who continued to say “I hope you’re not one of those women who are going to get pregnant in 6 months time”. So, I decided that I AM going to get pregnant! (You can see that I’ve been a bit of a rebel my whole life).
How do you feel your playing has changed over the course of your career in the orchestra?
I have always been a very intuitive player. I’ve always been told that my ability of playing was very natural because I never really struggled with anything (apart from the staccato, haha). However, over the past 15 years there has been a process of consciousness. This has largely come about because of my teaching. I had to translate what I do intuitively into practical information for my students. Also being in a great orchestra for 20 years has also given me the opportunity to learn from good conductors. I have a note book with me for all rehearsals where I write down everything I learn from these great masters.
Great inspiration and knowledge has also come my way by working with my highly respected colleagues in the orchestra. For example our former principal oboe player, Bjorn Carl Nielsen, who was a fantastic musicianand human being. In his time he was offered a job at the Berlin Philharmonic before Albrecht Meyer, but turned it down as he was homesick. It was very important for me as a young player to be surrounded by great musicians like him. Perhaps an interesting story for your readers would be that after 9 years in the orchestra I did come to a musical halt.
I knew it was a time of frustration and I did feel growth pain but I have always said to myself that having a crises is always a gateway to development and new insights. I decided to study something completely different and went to take astrology and mythology classes. I am now proud to say that I am a certified Astrologer. It has taught me that we, as humans, all possess many archetypes, which both mythology and psychology talk about. We all have an Achilles, a Venus and Aphrodite in us and our job is to get connected with them and in that way be able to fully present all characters in the music in our playing. I studied this for four years after which I started reading a lot about performance practices. I initially went on to read about performance practice in the Baroque period, then in the Classical period and now I am reading about
the Romantic era. This is what I have been immersing into in the last 8 or 9 years.
“One can say that my teaching method is founded on the teaching of the Bel-Canto singing”
And you teach a lot too, right?
I do put a lot of time into my students, since I have become flute teacher at The Royal Danish Academy of Music. I like to think of myself as a pioneer of a new way of teaching. For many years, in many parts of the world, teaching has been a one way communication street i.e. the teacher telling you what to do. I also do that, but I also make sure that the student is very much a part of this process. I try to build up their self-esteem from their very first lesson. I know the students have something to offer me as well and this two way communication is very important to me, and I am really finding that I am having great results. My dream is to put Copenhagen on the map and I am determined to have a lot of good flute students.
Do you have any method that you use in your teaching?
Yes. I am actually thinking of writing a book about this. One can say that my teaching method is founded on the teaching of the Bel Canto singing. I don’t know what you readers think of Jean Pierre Rampal, but to me his playing is exactly Bel Canto. He had a singing quality to his sound and phrasing. I guess, you can call me old fashioned as this may no longer be the standard of flute teaching around the world. I like to teach a sound, which is not too wide yet not too narrow, a sound with a solid core but also with a beautiful shine. In other words I like to hear a flute sound that resembles the best vocalist.
The first three months my students play Bel Canto exercises, which I have from an old a famous singing teacher in Paris Conservatoire. They are very basic but so important that I do them with the pupils in the room. Generally, students do not find them boring because I am terribly excited by them and the more excited you can be as a teacher the more excited the student will be. I find that a lot of instrumental students long for this sort of attention. I find that often other students say that they go to their teachers, receive a lot of music to play and then go home to practice. I find that this does not give them the attention they need, because they are really hungry to know how they can get better, and they are so happy when you can actually provide them with a structure on how to do things. One of my main teaching phrases is: It’s easy to play the flute! For example, if the student has problems with the high F sharp and is scared of playing it because it simply will not come out or doesn’t sound beautiful, I will tell them not to worry and that I will teach them how to do it in ten minutes – and yes, I am quite self confident, but I’m just as confident in my students. And ultimately self confidence in your ability to master your instrument, just makes your professional life so much easier to live and even enjoy!
So I would urge any students looking for a change of scenery for their undergraduate or postgraduate study, why not look onto The Academy of Music in Copenhagen!
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I had the good fortune whilst still at a special music school to meet composers and literally ‘grow up with them’, so that contemporary music was a natural part of my background. When I was 15…
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