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Benslow Music Tutor and award-winning artist Elizabeth Walker performs regularly on baroque, 8-keyed and modern flutes, primarily in orchestras based in the UK. Elizabeth also provides solo recitals at festivals and conventions in Holland, Toronto, Chicago and Orlando, Switzerland and throughout the UK. We caught up to discuss her career, current projects and advice for our course members.

Elizabeth, thank you for speaking to Benslow Music. Please tell our readers what drew you to a career in music.

I can honestly say I never seriously thought of doing anything else. It was a path I was on from a young age, and I feel lucky that opportunities came along the way to help me achieve my career in music.

You studied at the Royal College of Music as a Junior Exhibitioner and graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Can you tell us more about these institutions and how they prepared you for a career as a professional musician?

RCMjd was a very exciting experience for me. I was at a local school in West Sussex at the time, and the thrill of travelling to London every Saturday, receiving wonderful tuition along with meeting friends from all over the UK and touring with the Symphony Orchestra (we went to America when I was 16) was truly exhilarating! GSMD was a far more serious experience, but I attended in 1985 to 1989 and the early music groups were just forming. I was involved in over a dozen recordings for Decca Records, studio and live performances for BBC radio 3 and performed twice at the BBC Proms before I left music college! My modern flute quartet also worked with Live Music Now and Avanti music agencies and we even appeared on BBC tv’s “Bob Says Opportunity Knocks” playing a wonderful arrangement by a colleague at the time, Jason Carr, who wrote Cole Porter’s ‘In Love with Paris’ for us. These were all great experiences.

You studied renaissance flute with Nancy Hadden, baroque and eight–keyed classical flute with Stephen Preston, and modern flute with Kathryn Lukas. How did such collaborations shape your appreciation of and approach to music?

I admired and appreciated the dedicated and pioneering research that each teacher was involved in at this time. There was a palpable sense of excitement and discovery in Early Music. I benefitted hugely from being part of this process via my teachers. Learning alongside them and receiving encouragement, not just to go along with what they said, but to question and research everything myself as well. My postgraduate studies continued in Holland, where I spent three amazing years studying with Wilbert Hazelzet and Barthold Kuijken, adding classical 8 keyed flute to my studies along with additional hours poring over microfiche copies of music in the ‘Gemeente museum’ library in The Hague. I also performed with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the legendary Frans Bruggen (who I memorably stood with in a lift going down to breakfast when we were on tour - I was so in awe of him, I stood there mutely tongue-tied)! My teachers were brave, questioning, and tireless in their quest for knowledge, and this approach shaped my career.

You were awarded the Sally Wainwright Woodwind Prize at the Royal College of Music. Since then, your accomplishments include two award-winning study books, ‘Baroque Flute Studies’ (Winner – Best Flute Method NFA 2015) and ‘Baroque Studies for Modern Flute’ (Winner – Best Flute Method NFA 2017) Looking back at your success and many accolades, what is your proudest achievement, and why?

I am thrilled that my ‘Baroque Flute Studies’ book (published by WonderfulWinds) continues to sell across the world – I love meeting flautists who have been studying from my book. When they meet me for the first time, there is a joy in knowing that I have influenced their studies in some way. However, I am most proud of the way I have been able to straddle both the baroque and modern flute worlds. We get labelled as either one or the other, and I’m delighted that I can stand tall as both a baroque flautist, performing with English Baroque Soloists this year, as well as representing the modern flute as an Artist for Pearl Flutes.

As a professional musician, what have been your career challenges, and how have you overcome them?

It’s too obvious to mention the continued struggle with pay and conditions - cold venues, hours of unpaid preparation, no pay rises in-line with inflation, early starts, late finishes, long journeys etc. etc. There is no way of overcoming this - however, my personal challenge has been juggling all my different flutes and recorders. My diary is colour coded in my mind and I need to be super organised about the way I practice for different projects.

Please tell us more about your Flutes in Tuscany initiative and its origins

I set Flutes in Tuscany up in 2016, after a conversation with my friend and colleague, Sebastian Comberti. Sebastian runs a cello course in the same Tuscan village, which my daughter attended in 2015, after which he suggested I run a similar flute course. We use Sebastian’s house and his local connections. There are two churches in the village, a hotel that becomes ours for the week, and a church hall and a restaurant. Each year we have a different ‘Star’ tutor who provides inspiration for us all. We also sponsor a Young Artist with a fully funded place and offer him/her a recital opportunity at the beginning of the course, followed by a recital for the Friends of Benslow later in the year. The fabulous regular staff include myself, my flautist friend and colleague from junior RCM and GSMD days, Sarah Murphy, and accompanists Aaron Burrows and my husband, Julian Walker. There is a warm and friendly atmosphere, and the location is stunning. It has become a magical annual treat for us all, whilst of course, being a lot of hard work!

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Benslow Music provides inspirational lifelong learning for all ages. What advice would you give to budding musicians, particularly young students of music?

I would suggest to all students of music, young and old, to take up as many opportunities to play as possible. Join a choir, even if you don’t consider yourself a singer. Form at least one chamber group and meet as regularly as you can. Keep listening – to all music, all genres, all instruments. Attend live music concerts and events whenever possible.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am going to be recording Reinecke’s Undine sonata on my ‘new’ old Louis Lot flute (no. 5572) this August, with the early keyboard specialist, Steven Devine. I previously owned a Lot flute no 435, an early wooden Boehm ring-keyed flute. With the pianist Richard Shaw, we recorded a CD of Schubert at Finchcocks and YouTube clips from Hatchlands, along with live concerts in London, Holland, America, and Canada. However, I wanted a new project, so Lot 435 has gone to a new home (Peter Spohr’s collection in Germany), and I have purchased this later Louis Lot flute. It gives me new repertoire opportunities and sound worlds to explore. I’m also working on a new Baroque book, and two new publications are about to appear - a Telemann Workbook that’s currently at the printers with Alry Publications, and an arrangement of a gorgeous Corelli slow movement for four flutes which will be published in April by WonderfulWinds. I will be back at Benslow this August for the Advanced Flute Summer School.

Where can our members and followers find out more about you?

I have a website – www.lizwalker.co.uk
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/@Lizfestive
Flutes in Tuscany – www.flutesintuscany.co.uk
Study books and arrangements at WonderfulWinds - https://www.wonderfulwinds.com
Arrangements at Alry Publications - https://ummpstore.com/collections/walker-elizabeth
Artist for Pearl Flutes - https://www.pearlflute.com/artists/elizabeth-walker