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Featured Artist - Clare Southworth

Our Featured Artist for the month is Clare Southworth, International performer, teacher & author. Clare is currently Professor of Flute at the Royal Academy of London. Alongside publishing four books and releasing two acclaimed cds, Clare's many prizes include International First Prize Winner of the National Flute Association Competition and Prize Winner of the Madeira International Flute Competition. Clare is recognized as one of the UK's leading flute teachers and was Professor of Flute at the Royal Northern College of Music for 17 years. Her books Flute Aerobics, Light Aerobics and Sequentials have become best sellers. Clare has also directed her own summer school for the last 18 years.

We had the opportunity to ask Clare a few questions. Take a look at her thoughts on the most valuable lesson the flute has taught her, the qualities that are essential to musical excellence as well as advice for upcoming flutists.

1. How did you decide to play the flute?

My flute playing days started because I didn't want to learn the piano. My parents were very keen for me to learn the piano, but I persuaded them to let me choose another instrument. I decided to play whichever instrument I next heard and luckily I heard a flute! The thought that I could have heard a tuba fills me with horror.

2. You were the winner of the NFA Young Artist Competition in 1981. What tips do you have for flutists preparing for competitions?

If you are thinking of entering a competition, then make sure you start your preparations early. Often the rounds in these events are very close together and there's very little time for practice once the competition has started. I used to give myself 3 or 4 months preparation time.

There is an element of luck in all competitions, so go into them with a positive mindset, and if you're unlucky, then just focus on the next event. Only one person can win, so if it's not you, don't waste your energy being depressed, get out your flute and start practicing again.

3.  What is the most valuable lesson that the flute has taught you?

Patience and the knowledge that if you want something badly enough, then you have to work hard to achieve that goal. Hard work is always rewarded. The other valuable lesson is that it is possible to connect to so many people through the power of music. We are entertainers, and if we remember this in concerts, then any nerves can disappear, because the audience have come to enjoy your playing. By communicating the expression of the music, we can create many positive reactions in the people who listen to us.

4. What musician has had the largest influence on your playing?

This is so difficult, because there have been so many important influential performers. My early flute inspiration was always William Bennett with his incredible palette of colours and depth of musicality. Hearing recordings of Jacqueline du Pre, was another early influence with her playing of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. This was playing of such intensity, beauty and emotional communication, that all I wanted to do was practise and try to somehow capture the magic that she so effortlessly created. I try and encourage my students to listen to as many performers as possible and not just other flute players. I stress the need to listen with ears open and to observe how the performers move them. Is it with a beautiful sound, or subtle vibrato, wide range of dynamics, perfect tuning, or emotional communication? By listening to others, we learn and can then incorporate that knowledge into our own playing.

5. What qualities do you think are most essential to musical excellence?

Emotion is the most important quality to musical excellence. Saying something through music that has meaning and that can touch, move and create those emotions in the people who listen. It is a complex mixture of responses. Music has the power to stimulate and change emotions, it is so versatile. Emotion is part of the four main components of sound, the other three being colour, dynamic and vibrato. I talk about this subject in depth in my book, “The Expression of Colour”. Colour is just another word for sounds. We all need to develop a rich variety of tone colours to add interest to our playing. Expression is the mix of the 4 components, enabling us to play with feeling and communicating the music. Varying their use, they bring music to life and also create movement, adding interest and meaning, focus and direction. 

6. What's the most important thing to teach an upcoming flutist/student?

There are so many aspects to teaching, that it is impossible to give a simple answer. Teaching on one level, involves giving your students the practical skills, to enable them to communicate the emotion of the music. The tools for the job. It also involves helping your students reflect and consider their ideas and emotions and developing those ideas into a coherent and understandable language. So simply put, the two most important things to teach a student are expression and technique. I hope to give my students the confidence to perform in an individual manner, with the ability to be expressive and brave with their musical ideas. Communication in everything they do.

7. What is your typical practice routine like?

My practice routine is a constantly changing and evolving process. But let me tell you what I play on a regular basis. My sessions are the equivalent of circuits in a gym. Warm up, aerobic, stretching, aerobic, stamina, cool down. 

I warm up with something gentle like a low beautiful melody. This extends into tone work in the low and middle registers. I love Philippe Bernold’s Technique d’Embouchure. Then some technical work, Taffanel & Gaubert Daily Exercises, along with Maquarre, D.S. Wood or any other sequential patterns. I try and link tone work to tunes in my current repertoire and technique work to fast passages in my repertoire. The pieces come towards the end of my practice, where I can just concentrate on the music, because I have worked on the technique in my early exercises. Variety is the key to successful practice. This is the perfect session, but of course I have days when I just play, with improvisation and tunes or I pull out lots of pieces from my library and just enjoy the beauty of music. How lucky are we to be in this privileged position!  

8. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?

I came to choose Miyazawa by way of elimination. I had been trying many different flutes over a period of time, and was in the fortunate position of being able to pick the best one for me. That choice was suddenly a very easy one, once I had played the range of Miyazawa flutes. I started on a hand-made silver and then a few years later invested in my Platinum flute. Platinum enables me to be so flexible in terms of colour production and dynamics. There is such depth of sound and a beautiful resonance that is difficult to replicate on other flutes. For the first time, I can be completely confident in the sounds I produce, the technical security with the new Brogger system and be in tune!

9. Could you provide one piece of advice for an upcoming flutist?

The competition is fierce these days, too many flute players and too few jobs or opportunities. Success doesn't depend solely on how you play, but also on your social skills and personality, being able to fit into different situations and being ready to learn from those around you. Work on your promotion, get some business cards, write to anyone who might be able to offer you work and always thank the people who help you.