FLUTE Featured Member
October 9 to 22, 2000
I was so surprised and delighted when Larry contacted me this summer inviting me to be 'Featured Member of the Week'. In some ways it feels as though I have been playing flute for ever and I feel as if I have forgotten something if my flute isn't with me - but, in fact, in only a few years of flute playing I have had so much joy, fun, challenge and made so many friends through my flute that it seems almost unbelievable that so much could happen in such a short time.

Excerpt from Craobh nan Ubhal. A piece for solo flute, based on a traditional Hebridean song, and written by Grahame MacDougall (Copyright. G MacDougall 1999)


My story begins in 1995, just before my 7th birthday, in a tiny village in Cumbria, England. I was 'tested out' for flute by the peripatetic woodwind teacher at my school, who told me that I would be fine but my hands were too small and to come back the next year. I ate my shredded wheat every day to make my hands grow! Just before I was 're-tested' I was given the use of a student flute. I worked hard on it to impress the teacher - who then told me that I was not suited to the flute and that she would like me to join her empty clarinet class! I was so upset! My parents arranged for me to have private lessons instead.

Under the guidance of my new teacher, David Jones, as soon as I picked up the flute it sang and I whizzed through the tutor books. I played in my first local concert two months later. I remember the feeling of standing in front of my first audience and was amazed by the feeling that they were actually helping my playing. Over the next two years I practiced, played and read as much as I could about the instrument and its music. I discovered Bach, Gluck and other joys. I bought Dance of the Blessed Spirits with my pocket money and then played it at my next lesson much to my teacher's delight. I sat two flute exams and gained a distinction in both.

Concert opportunities became more frequent, and then for me the chance to play in a real auditorium at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. I played a complete Bach Sonata (Eb major), Dance of the Blessed Spirits and a jazzy number as part of a big choral concert. It was so exciting to be in the spotlight and a great review followed in the paper - who also made me their 'pick of the week'. The Flight of the Bumble Bee entertained a full house at a concert in aid of wildlife a few weeks later and then other concerts followed.

In the meantime my teacher had been talking to my parents about my future. He told them that they MUST consider a specialist music school for me. He suggested Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, as I wouldn't find the right level of tuition in Cumbria for my next stage. As soon as the prospectus arrived I knew that I would go there. After the second stage audition we received a letter with the offer a place written on the day of the audition. I was on cloud nine!

In March 1999 I went to my first Masterclass given by Wissam Boustany in Appleby, Cumbria. I didn't know what to expect but I took along my Poulenc Sonata music anyway. Wissam was wonderful. This was such an exciting hour. I learned how to channel energy and excitement into the music while retaining sensitivity. I knew that spirit was the key to good playing but Wissam showed my how to project my spirit through my flute using tone, colour and dynamics. It was ace!

Just before Easter I had a familiarisation week at Chetham's, a trial lesson and was told that I would need a new professional level instrument for my studies. Mum and Dad did some research and discovered that it was going to be like buying me a car!

More concerts. I met John Rayworth who lives about 40 miles away and he helped me with some technical work. John had to be persuaded to take me and in a series of sessions he helped me with various things in preparation for Chetham's, all with David Jones blessing as I was still continuing to work with him too. John was very kind and lent me his solid silver Ewen McDougall headjoint to improve my sound for my Grade 8 (Advanced) exam two weeks later. The improvement to my Yamaha flute was unbelievable and was at least partially responsible for me getting virtually full marks in the performance part of the exam.

Mum and Dad armed themselves with references from John, David and Wissam and began researching and applying to Trusts for me. It was not good as I seemed to be too young to count. It seemed that I shouldn't have sat my grade 8 until I was much older as children of 10 weren't supposed to be at that stage. It made me cross.

I went to the British Flute Society Convention in August 1999 in Manchester. There were many wonderful players and teachers there and I was keen to meet and talk to some of them. I met Trevor Wye, William Bennett, Clare Southworth (I played in her Hot Up), Robert Dick, Hannah Lang (editor of Pan Magazine who asked me to write about my experiences at the convention which were then published in the December issue of Pan). I played for Wissam again at the end of his memorisation session and so was heard by a number of others too. John Rayworth took me as his guest to the FLUTE List supper and I had a wonderful meal meeting lots of members including Larry Krantz, Kenneth Bell, Lisa Nelson and Liz Goodwin amongst others. I was invited to play the solo spot at James Galway's 60th Birthday celebration in London in December. I was, naturally, delighted. Just before we left we met Gitte Sorensen who was to be my teacher in September and her husband Goran Marcusson and then I met the flutemaker Albert Cooper and had a chat with him as he was waiting for a taxi outside. It was a very full and exciting few days.

A few days later I met the flutemaker Ewen McDougall for the first and only time. He lived about 50 minutes drive away and I needed to have my flute serviced as after two years hard playing it needed a bit of work. He seemed really pleased that I liked his headjoint. I spent the afternoon with him, played a number of instruments and he gave me some sensible advice. He was a really kind man and I was very sad when he died soon after.

I started at Chetham's School of Music in September 1999. Manchester is very different from rural Cumbria. I missed my family but I loved the music and the chance to learn so much more about flute playing. My teacher, Gitte Sorensen, flies over from Sweden and gives me about three hours of lessons every other week. Gitte was taught by Trevor Wye, who in turn studied under Geoffrey Gilbert and Marcel Moyse - a great lineage and I am now part of that story too. Chets should give me the chance to improve my technique and develop my repertoire along with a good general education. I know how hard I will have to work to fulfil my dreams and that Chets will do whatever they can to help me on the way.

In the December I played in London for the first time at James Galway's 60th Birthday Concert. In the end, it was arranged by Gitte that I played an unaccompanied Devienne duet by memory with a fellow student from school. The atmosphere felt electric and we were given an ovation and had to return for another bow. William Bennett and Trevor Wye had a chat with me afterwards. Jeanne and Jimmy Galway were lovely and offered me the opportunity to play on Jimmy's new flute, a silver Muramatsu. I played in the foyer to an audience of flute players from Jimmy's past. Mr. Muramatsu joined us and had a chat with my mother in sign language. Jimmy, wearing an unusual red birthday outfit that Mr Muramatsu had given him, joined me in the foyer and we played and sang together and he gave me a masterclass on Gaubert's Madrigal.

I saw in 2000 playing my flute on a huge glacial boulder in the middle of the village green. The sky was clear, thousands of stars shining and distant fireworks lighting the horizon. I played Syrinx, which echoed through the village - death of Pan, the beginnings of Christianity, quite appropriate really.

The spring brought more technical studies, the first round of the MUSICAS awards competition and a masterclass with Paul Edmund Davies. I went to London to the BFS Bach 2000 celebration to hear Rachel Brown, Peter Lucas Graf, Wissam Boustany and William Bennett give very different interpretations of Bach's work. It was another chance to catch up with Wissam and Wibb again and discuss Bach's work for flute. Hannah Lang published my review of Bach 2000 in the June issue of Pan.

During Easter, on holiday I met Ruth Morley of the Scottish Flute Trio who just happened to be playing in a concert we saw advertised in the local paper on the Scottish island of Arran. It formed part of a festival of work by the composer James MacMillan who was also conducting the music. His music was so exciting and haunting and really enjoyed by the islanders in their village hall. It reached out to everyone. The next highlight was a Bach concert at Rydal Church in the Lake District not far from my home that William Bennett was giving as part of a series on JS Bach. Part way through the concert he dropped some music into my lap. It was an arrangement of a beautiful piece from the St Matthew's Passion that he had arranged and included in his Bach 2000 programme. He then added it as an extra to the programme and said afterwards that I had the music, he had played it for me and it was now over to me! I hope Wibb will like how I play it.

Rampal died shortly after this. I was disappointed that I hadn't had a chance to meet and work with him. I just wasn't born early enough! I wrote to the Flute list about him and what his recordings had meant to me and was surprised, honoured and pleased when Larry asked if it could be included on the special Rampal tribute page.

Meanwhile Mum and Dad had continued researching possible sources of funding for a new flute, as the situation was getting desperate. They, plus my playing, convinced various funding bodies that I WAS worth supporting in spite of my age and so in June, after winning a major award in the MUSICAS finals in London, I now had sufficient funding for the flute that I needed.

In July I attended the St Andrews International Summer Flute School in Scotland taught by Peter Lloyd and Wissam Boustany and run by Ruth Morley. What a great time I had meeting and playing with professionals and students from all over the world! I played in masterclasses to both Peter and Wissam and worked with Ruth Morley too. Peter Lloyd has now invited me to join the weekly class for his performance students at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, which I am really looking forward to.

This has been a busy summer for me working on several concerti (Vivaldi, Blavet, Boccherini etc.) and other repertoire (Faure, Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Varese, etc.) for concerts and auditions in the autumn, plus some holiday time with my family. We had several trips to London and while we were in London for the final stage of the UK Chess Challenge for my sister (she plays flute too) we met the flutemaker Robert Bigio at the competition as his son plays chess as well. Robert invited us home to see his workshop with some fascinating machinery and a water feature in his floor! I played various flutes in his collection and he introduced me to some interesting English music. Robert has now made a lovely headjoint for me.

Term begins shortly. I have now been playing flute for four years and love it. I have worked hard and have been fortunate to have met and worked with some great flute players and teachers. I love performing with its buzz, sharing and feeling. Flute playing is so emotional. I am really looking forward to another busy year ahead and making more progress. The more I learn the further I realise I have to go and there is so much music around us. I know how fortunate I am to have had so much help and support from so many great players - who have been so generous with help, advice and encouragement.

Now, back to the practice room!

Benjamin MacDougall


Return to Featured Member Archive