We had the opportunity to ask Hannah a few questions. Check out her thoughts on qualities that are essential for musical excellence, preparation for auditions as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. What qualities do you think are most essential to musical excellence?
I think that persistence and willingness to learn are some of the most essential qualities for a musician to possess. It is important to embrace the fact that perceived failures are typically our greatest opportunities for growth. Rather than letting disappointing experiences defeat and discourage you, use them as motivation to improve. After a basic mastery of the instrument, judgments about musical interpretation are largely subjective and personal. It can be easy to get discouraged when someone doesn’t like what you have to offer. Learning to set aside emotion when receiving constructive criticism really helps with this process.
I also think it is important to constantly keep in mind that talent only takes you so far. A strong work ethic is the lifeblood of success. I had a teacher that always reminded me of the old saying, “Hard work always beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” The older I have gotten, the more I have seen this to be completely true.
2. What do you think is the most important thing for you to emphasize in your teaching and in your own playing?
In my own playing, I put a lot of time and thought into understanding and communicating the meaning behind the music. While details and specifics are obviously important, my most impactful performing experiences have come from a place of complete investment in the musical moment that I am trying to create. The tiny detail work comes in practice sessions, but when I walk into a performance of any kind, I always go back to my ultimate intention. The last thing I think before playing is “What am I trying to communicate?”
I try to pass on to my students of all levels the mindset that learning the fundamentals of the instrument is only the first step. Conquering the notes and rhythms in a particular piece is only the beginning of making music. The important and fun part is what happens beyond that!
3. What does a typical daily practice session look like for you?
I usually warm up with a series of basic scale patterns, focusing on loosening up and breathing deeply. I take some time to do some stretches with my flute to relax my upper body and arms. Without fail, I do some work with harmonics, whistle tones, and throat tuning. The combination of those three things is my favorite way to warm up, and I make sure to spend time on all of them every time that I practice. They set the tone for my playing every day. For more involved tone work, I have been spending quite a bit of time in Marcel Moyse’s De la sonorite.
I usually pick a different technical study to work on each day. I vary the articulations or speed depending on my current repertoire or specific aspects of my playing on which I want to work. I then divide my repertoire into different types of practice sessions. I either break a piece down and woodshed passages, working on tiny details, or I run it in performance mode, recording myself and listening back. I am a big believer in the importance of regular self-analysis through recording. I have found this to be one of the most valuable tools for improvement. In addition, I include slow practice on technical passages all the way through the day of a performance. I go over trouble spots in this way almost every day. Lastly, I usually pick something fun to play through or sight-read that I might not otherwise have time to learn.
4. What is the most valuable lesson the flute (or music) has taught you?
It is very difficult to narrow it down to just one lesson. Music has been such an invaluable part of me since I was little, and I feel its impact in most areas of my life. Perhaps one of the most important lessons is music’s ability to show me how I fit into something larger. This lesson applies not only at the obvious level like my part within a piece of music but also how I fit into the flute and music communities as a whole. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to carve out a niche in my own corner of that community.
It is impossible to be a musician without constantly working with others. No one achieves success completely on his/her own. I honestly find it awe-inspiring to think about all of the people that have and still do contribute to my identity as a flutist and musician. It is overwhelming and humbling in a wonderful way!
5. You have won many competitions throughout your career. How would you advise flutists to begin practicing for a competition? What advice can you give to those preparing as far as nerves/performance anxiety are concerned?
For me, the process of preparing for competitions has been just as valuable as the competitions themselves. Preparing a piece or program to be judged against other musicians has propelled me to work at a level of detail that I otherwise might not have. For those preparing for competitions of your own, I encourage you to divide your practicing into three distinct types: woodshedding sessions, working on tiny details and making technical passages completely foolproof; performance practice sessions, running an entire piece or program from start to finish and assessing later; and mental practice sessions, visualizing the experience.
Mental practice is one of the best ways that I have found to deal with performance anxiety. I spend a significant amount of time before every competition or recital lying down in a quiet place, closing my eyes, and imagining every detail of the experience. I intentionally make myself nervous and visualize each note and passage. This way, when I get to the actual performance, the nerves do not feel new.
Lastly, at the moment of the performance, trust your preparation and just make music. Let go of the results, the other competitors, and other outside factors. All you can control is your own preparation and performance, so don’t allow anything to spoil that experience for you.
6. What is the hardest part about being a musician? What is the best part?
The hardest part about being a musician is always remembering that I have a unique voice and message to contribute. It is easy to get lost in the fear of the unknown as we build our careers. The music world can be a competitive and difficult one, and it can be hard to find a healthy balance between trusting your own musical instinct and accepting constructive criticism from teachers and peers.
For me, the best part of being a musician is being able to communicate through the most powerful language that we have. Without sounding too cliché, the quote by Hans Christian Anderson that says, “Where words fail, music speaks” has always spoken to me. When things get difficult or I experience disappointment, it is wonderful to be able to remind myself of that.
7. What are your plans after graduation and/or what are your career goals?
After I finish my doctorate, my ultimate goal is to have a university teaching position that provides opportunities for me to teach and perform. One of my primary passions is chamber music. While working on this degree, I connected with Cheyenne Cruz, a bass clarinetist who has become a very close friend of mine. We have founded WoodWired (www.woodwiredduo.com), an electroacoustic duo based in the Dallas, Texas area. We perform original works and our own arrangements using live looping and electronics. This project has quickly become a passion of mine. I hope to be able to invest more time into writing music for this group and traveling to perform when I finish my degree.
8. What is your favorite hobby outside of the flute?
One of my favorite hobbies is physical fitness. I do a variety of activities including CrossFit, running, weightlifting, and a lot of core strength training. Even though my love of exercise started completely separately from music, I have experienced tremendous benefits in my flute playing. This, in turn, has made me even more passionate about my fitness level. My cardio capacity and core strength, for example, have completely changed my sound and helped me to add a new dimension of resonance. Even though I use exercise as my time away from music, it has been fun to experience its benefits in my playing.
9. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
As a high school student looking to move up to a professional flute, I attended a flute festival and tried many brands and types of flutes. I fell in love with a Miyazawa during that process. It enables me to produce so many beautiful colors throughout the registers. I also love the technical facility that I can achieve on my flute. Even in recent years, I have played other types of flutes and have never been tempted to switch from my Miyazawa. It just “gets me.”
10. If you have one piece of advice for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
I would encourage them to be open-minded about opportunities that arise. It is important, especially at a younger age, to be willing to explore a variety of styles and types of music without putting yourself in a box. Listen to every genre of music that you can, and don’t limit that to ones that include the flute. Be fearless and willing to jump into a variety of musical situations, especially that ones that take you out of your comfort zone! We, as classical flutists, have so much to learn from other musicians. Some of my greatest musical inspirations have come from listening to opera singers, jazz bands, and many other things that do not fall into my particular area of expertise. Use every concert, recital, and random piece of music that you hear as a chance to learn something. You never know what opportunities will arise as you continue in your career. The more well rounded you are, the better prepared that you will be.