Dystopia to Utopia; Hotteterre and Imagination in the time of COVID - 19

Photo by Keith Saunders of Sally Walker
Photo by Keith Saunders of Sally Walker
Wednesday 19 August 2020

Sally Walker is Lecturer of Classical Woodwind Performance at the Australian National University, Principal Flautist with the Omega Ensemble and regular Guest Principal with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

How we need each other and how we need music has been made profoundly clear over these last weeks. There is plenty we can live without and a chance to reconsider what we live for. Balcony concerts, online lessons and home recordings are a reminder that what is essential, adapts to survive. Despite cancelled concerts confronting a sense of purpose as well as a capacity to earn an income for many musicians, there is also what ANU Human Futures Fellow Dr Arnagretta Hunter (who has flute lessons with me when she has time) calls “Dystopia to Utopia”; a chance for a complete rethink and “reset”. To clean out our music shelves and find new or forgotten gems, to enjoy the quiet discipline of practice for its own sake with no concert date, and a chance to slow down and make deliberate choices. What music do I really want to play? What music needs to be heard once we have concerts again?

The much-missed concert halls and recording studios are designed so that one loses a sense of time and focuses entirely upon the experience of music. Often, they do not have windows. My practice has now been greatly integrated with both nature and my own body. I have little schedule except morning, noon and night, but I know that when the Kookaburras have finished their morning hunting, my most difficult technical exercises are nearly complete. When the butterflies appear, I know it is around 11 am and time for a coffee break. When the dragonflies hurtle past, it is lunch time. My practice room now looks like the photo and each break, I religiously turn to the yoga and pilates exercises that previously required a trip into town.

It has been a chance to do something new with the intense concentration, reception and imagination that accompanies being less occupied. Trying to get ahead on some cadenza writing, I revisited HOTTETERRE’s “L’Art de Préluder”, which I am now practising daily. This exercise is a wonderful way of being inventive on one chord (which you vary) and can be used to practise fingering, articulation, dynamics, phrasing and ornamentation.

This article was originally published in The University of Adelaide’s publication “From Isolation to Inspiration”, edited by Elizabeth Koch AM.

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