"Last week I participated in Benslow Music's first online course. It was a course for solo flute and we worked on Telemann’s 12 Fantasias.
I had booked the Baroque Opera course for that week which had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis, so it was great to have an opportunity to do something Benslow-ish anyway.
I did hesitate for a few reasons: I’m not very computer literate and because of shoulder problems I can’t play flute for very long anymore. But Elizabeth Walker, the tutor reassured me: there’d be nearly two hours group sessions in the mornings in which we’d do a warm up and discuss various aspects of flute playing with demonstrations from Liz herself. Then everyone would have half an hour individual tuition later in the day.
There were 9 of us. One Australian who despite the time difference managed to be with us all the time and two Americans who unfortunately couldn’t join the morning session as that meant in the middle of the night for them. Every session was recorded though and sent to everyone so they watched it at a more convenient time.
Liz had asked us to have a bunch of flowers in our rooms to remind us of the Benslow Music gardens which must be so beautiful this time of the year.
On Monday we did a really good warm up including wrists and fingers, we talked about resonance, using a Tibetan singing bowl, and vibrato, practised long notes and made a start with the first Fantasia. Tuesday to Thursday morning we talked about embellishments in baroque, did finger exercises for the quick passages, experimented with inégale and we did sections of four sonatas each day.
On Friday we had masterclasses. We all played one or part of one or two Fantasias and Liz played the one that wasn’t covered.
Although we were all playing for each other every day in the familiarity of our own homes, when the “concert” day came, we all had a bit of performance anxiety. After each and every performance we gave each other feedback which was very encouraging.
For me personally the highlight was learning and developing baroque embellishments, trills, turns, mordents and others and just have fun trying them out. It’s important to know the piece really well, “clean” before you add them. Liz taught us to try out as many as you could think of, listen critically and decide which to keep and which not. You can write them in although it’s more spontaneous if you do them on the spur of the moment but then you need to really know what you are doing. I cheat and write them in! You can go mad and have a lot of fun putting in as many as possible with the challenge of not losing the sense of rhythm.
At the end of the course when we had a cup of tea Christopher offered us some virtual Benslow cakes!
We all enjoyed it, learnt a lot and I think I’m speaking for all participants if I say: highly recommended. The next best thing to being at Benslow Music in person.
We're hoping to meet up in Hitchin and play for each other again later in the year, when the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us.
Many thanks to all who made this course possible, Christopher, Liz and James!"