We had the opportunity to ask Christian a few questions. Check out his thoughts on his most valuable music lesson, studying with Jean-Pierre Rampal, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. Through the years, what has been the most valuable lesson that music has taught you?
Music is a great tool for communicating feelings without words. Having lived in Japan for 4 years and not able to talk to people at first, I realized that when I started to play, people were very moved by my music. The same thing happened in other countries I’ve performed in as well including Africa, Turkey and China. It’s like magic…!
To illustrate this, allow me to tell you a story: every time I tour in Japan, I take one day off to visit the largest children’s hospital to play for the patients. One of the children I played for was terminally ill and was going to pass away in a few days. The nurse told me it was useless. However, I visited her room anyway and started to play for her. The girl must have been around 6 years old. It had been several weeks since she had reacted to any sounds or even had been able to talk while her mother stood next to her, waiting. I was very emotional and started to play and a miracle happened: she turned her head to me and opened her eyes. Her mother and the nurse could not believe their eyes, for the first time she reacted to something…! I was very moved by this event and this made me realize again the power of music and love.
Music also taught me humility because we work so hard to play well but we’ll never achieve perfection.
2. You became a student of Jean-Pierre Rampal after completing your studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Do you have any special memories or stories that you can share with us? What was it like studying with him?
Jean-Pierre Rampal WAS music, and his all-round artistry was overwhelming. He was a very warm person with a lot of charm and charisma on stage. His sound and technique (at that time, in the seventies, at the peak of his career) was outstanding. When he took his flute out to play, one understood immediately what it was about. Technique was only a way to express yourself, not a way to glitter on stage.
He also said that the most important thing is to make the audience happy, a concert should be a feast and the audience should go home with a good feeling. One of his mottos was: “give to the audience, share with them, and don’t keep the pleasure/feelings for yourself.” Talking about playing music he said: playing music is a “strip-tease intellectual”.
It was also great going out eating with him and listening to all of his stories of concerts and travels abroad. He was a very generous person and I saw him as a father (I lost my father when I was 16).
Interesting too was the contact with flutists from all over the world (Sweden, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Italy, USA, Japan, and the East European countries,). They all had a specific sound and interpretation; this unfortunately tends to disappear since everyone listens to the same players. There is a globalization for music too I am afraid. For example, some 30 years ago, one could hear the difference in schools: if a flutist came from Gazzelloni, Nicolet, Bruderhans, or Baker, …
One of my best memories I have is of a concert with harpist Lily Laskine (at that time in her eighties) performing Debussy’s Sonata. (I can’t remember the viola player unfortunately). That generation of artists really knew how to play this music since they had a direct link with this generation of composers.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up at 6:10 a.m., shower, eat breakfast and put my daughter to school. I like to check the world news and my home country news as well as read the flute forums online (Galway Flute Group and Flute list). Throughout the day, I will practice flute, read some flute or music related articles and organize upcoming concerts and projects. I usually have some sort of rehearsal and/or will go to a concert or the theatre or even watch some interesting stuff on youtube.
4. What does your typical practice routine look like?
I practice a mix of exercises: “Check-Up” by Lukas-Graf, Trevor Wye’s “Volume 2 for Technique”, “Une Simple flûte” by M. Debost for scales, “Embouchure Technique” by Ph.Bernold and last but not least the excellent “Détaché book” by Robert Stallman. I will then sight read some new compositions and work on current program for upcoming performances. I’ll also teach and coach young professionals who have recitals.
5. What qualities do you think are most essential to musical excellence?
Patience and perseverance to reach your target! It’s important to build good taste through a lot of listening to live soloists, (preferably singers or string instrumentalists), as well as Jazz players (Herbie Mann, Hubert Laws, Jan Garbarek). It’s also wise to build a network of good accompanists and fellow musicians to acquire an interesting and varied repertoire.
6. What are your interests/hobbies outside of teaching and performing?
I can’t really call it a hobby or an interest, but family life takes the biggest part. I do read quite a lot though and just finished the biography of C. Debussy. Also, since I’ve moved a lot and had a change countries every 4 years I try to see and experience as much as possible in the country I am currently living in. (Right now I live in Taiwan, but before that I lived in Japan, Turkey, Europe and Africa).
7. What do you think is the most important thing for you to emphasize in your teaching and in your own playing?
There are two major issues that students I am teaching are confronted with. One, coping with performance anxiety and two, how to let your emotions and feelings flow through the music. If you trust your teacher you can improve on both of these issues!
8. What is your favorite recording?
I listen to many styles of music: jazz, world music, tango, classical of course, but not only flute music because one can learn so much from other instrumentalists (opera and jazz vocalists in particular). I don’t tend to focus on classical too much though. There is so much great music out there in every genre!
9. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
Through the years, I tried many different brands of lutes, then one day in the 80’s I found my first Miyazawa (a PCM model) and was immediately pleased with it. Some years later I fell in love with my present flute (a 9K gold flute with C-foot and silver mechanism). The only special feature is a C#-D# roller which is really great, but no E-mechanism. This flute allows me to get the sound I really like in the three registers and it blends very well when I use it for chamber music. I play a Miyazawa alto flute too with great pleasure, a very reliable flute with beautiful low register that I use when playing at the orchestra.
10. If you had one piece of advice to give for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
First of all I would tell him/her not to copy anyone, of course you can have a mentor and an example, but one should always follow his path and find his/her own way. One can be inspired by a great player, but the most important thing is to find your own identity as an artist.
It is very important to find a good teacher who can detect the personality of his student and let him grow (without jealousy…!) to become an intelligent and refined musician.
Another advice to young students is to read a lot and to visit museums, exhibitions and concerts as much as you can. Music is related to other art forms (literature, painting, poetry, etc…) and my experience is that some flutists only play the flute without any clue of the link between the arts forms. Mythology and symbolism for instance are not known enough.
Finally, perform with as many different combinations as possible in many different venues (cafés, open air, churches, fairs, etc…) to become acquainted with every possible situation and get lots of experience.