We had the opportunity to ask Julian a few questions. Check out his thoughts on preparing for competitions and his typical practice routine, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. What is the most valuable lesson the flute (or music) has taught you?
Be yourself. There’s no “correct” way to play a passage or movement. Only the way you decide to do it. I’ve heard so many talented players (and I was one for so long) perform with their primary focus on “not messing up” rather than creating music. This way of thinking has some merit in the practice room, as you try to solidify your technique. But on the concert stage and in competitions, the audience will give you great leeway to make all kinds of “mistakes” – and they may not even notice them at all! But they can almost never look past “boring,” and too much emphasis on rote accuracy without enough focus on an ever-evolving musical line is almost always boring. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for perfection, rather that all the right notes and rhythms with perfect intonation is simply not enough to inspire others the way we were all inspired to pursue music. Always choose inspiring over perfect.
2. What music are you currently inspired by?
Right now, I’m particularly inspired by the unaccompanied music of JS Bach. And as much as I love our A minor Partita, we should always view this work as unfinished – the lone part of an unrealized, larger whole. I believe that Bach intended to write a suite of 6 unaccompanied Partitas for flute, like he did for Violin and Cello. But he only finished the first when he left Kothen in 1723, and he never resumed work on the rest. Our Partita is but a short story compared the epics that are the 3 Sonatas and 3 Partitas for Violin and the 6 Cello Suites.
I’ve always loved Bach in general, but there’s something magical about his 3 Sonatas and 3 Partitas and the 6 Cello Suites. As flutists, we tend to view Bach through a particular lens, one I think a lot of other instrumentalists and musicians don’t. I remember hearing the famous recording of Pablo Casals playing the Cello Suites the first time – if you haven’t listened to this recording, your life is not complete – and being stunned by how modern it all sounded. Same with Jascha Heifetz’s recording of the 3 Partitas, particularly the Chaconne (Movement 5 of Partita #2 in D minor). There’s a raw emotion in both of these recordings that transcends the Eighteenth Century when they were written, and even the mid-Twentieth Century when they were recorded.
I performed my first transcription of Partita #3 in E Major in Paris in 2008, and Partita #2 in D minor later that year here in the US. Now I’m learning the cello suites for the first time, which is interesting because I believe in reading from the original score, and as flutists, we rarely need to read Bass Clef. And in many ways, the Cello suites are perfect for the flute, because you can read them precisely two octaves above their intended pitch on Cello, since the lowest open string on a Cello is a C.
3. What musician has had the largest influence on your playing?
From a young age, I would listen to flute CDs constantly. I couldn’t get enough of the music of James Galway, Julius Baker, Emmanuel Pahud, and Jean-Pierre Rampal in particular. So in a sense, these musicians still shape my musical reality because every time I’d listen to one of them play a piece, I treated it like a concert, or a private lesson with them. I would absorb all their nuance. I still do that with a new (to me) wave of artists – Amy Porter, Petri Alanko, Susan Hoeppner, Matthieu Dufour – so in a sense, I’m constantly evolving based on the music I’m listening to.
But the single biggest influence would be my professor and mentor at North Carolina School of the Arts, Dr. Tadeu Coehlo. For those of you who don’t know him, he is, in my opinion, the most gifted teacher in the world. In addition to his clear mastery of the instrument, he has developed a style of teaching that I call “boot camp for flutists.” I learned from him so much. Not only how to play the flute better, but that being a professional requires hard work. And not just playing things that you don’t like – etudes, long tones and scales. Being a professional means binding my music so there are no awkward page turns, numbering the measures, video recording our lessons and writing a review of the lesson before our next lesson, keeping a detailed practice log of every minute that I practiced… These proved to be so valuable to my development as a player and a professional. Dr. Coelho has an uncanny ability to bring out the best in people, to share his overwhelming passion for music, and to get you to share your passion with others. It was with his guidance that I was finally able to take my own ego out of my playing, which also conveniently helps greatly with nerves. Now, when I play, my primary focus is not on what others will think about my playing, but rather how I can share my passion for this music with others. And this is the greatest lesson a musician can learn, I think.
4. You have competed in and won many competitions, what preparation tips can you give to others? How do you conquer nerves?
Competitions are very unique animals. On the one hand, you have to enter the competition expecting to win in order to have the confidence to do so. But on the other, you have to recognize that competitions are subjective by their very nature, so it’s important to do your best and never dwell on a negative outcome. But there are things you can do to help your chances. First, and foremost, prepare the entire performance. I can’t stress this enough. Competitions are performances, they’re not recordings. There’s a palpable energy that you create on stage – and you can decide how this works for or against you. Video record yourself performing, and then watch it on mute. How do you look on stage? Are you comfortable and confident? Is there extraneous movement during rests or not enough movement to keep the audience engaged? Does your confidence begin before you even walk onto the stage, before you begin playing the flute? Prepare the music solidly weeks in advance so that you can focus on the rest of the performance: How will you walk out onto the stage? Will you play from memory? Who is your pianist, and do you know the piano part well enough to recover if you or your pianist makes a big mistake?
As for nerves – there are times where I’m so incredibly nervous during a competition. It’s justifiably stressful to be putting yourself in front of others, literally to be judged against your peers. But you can choose to project your nerves, or you can choose to project confidence. More often than not, if you have rehearsed your performance like a play, like theater, than your audience cannot sense the nerves. In the last competition I won – the 2014 New York Flute Club Competition – I was so, so nervous. I was new to New York, I knew I was competing against all the Juilliard and MSM and Mannes students and recent grads, and it was the last year I could compete before I aged out. Believe me, my performance was not flawless. There were definitely places where the nerves got the better of me, but life is about how you react to adversity, not hoping or preparing to never have any. I knew I wanted to play my piece (Jolivet’s Chant de Linos) from memory, and I knew to start the performance backstage. I walked with confidence, almost a strut, from backstage to the piano, making eye contact with the audience and smiling the whole time. When the music started, I made sure that my facial expressions were communicating power and aggression in the opening bars and the dance, and melancholy and mystery in the slow sections. I was comfortable enough with the music to explore new colors and sounds during the performance, all the while making sure to engage the entire audience – left and right side, up close and deep into the hall. I made plenty of “mistakes” during the performance, but the judges’ critique was unanimous. I was the most comfortable on stage. My performance was the most impressive. I projected the most confidence. These are the intangibles of performance that are often overlooked in a practice routine, but they’re perhaps among the most important skills we can have as performers. Tell a story – practice that story over and over, and eventually, you just need to trust that you really know how to tell that story.
5. What upcoming performances do you have that you are currently looking forward to?
Moving to New York made me completely re-calibrate my performance expectations. I moved here with a Performing Arts Fellowship at Lincoln Center, where I gave my Lincoln Center Debut in January 2013. After that concert, I went more than a year without performing solo because the venues are either booked solid, very expensive, or so far out of the city that building an audience becomes a challenge. I’ve spent the last year or so developing some relationships, so I have my first independently produced solo recital in Manhattan in November at Saint Peter’s Church (619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street), which offers established musicians a free place to perform on Tuesday evenings. Pairing this with a venue in Patchogue, Long island, I’m beginning to create a twice yearly series which I’ll hopefully be able to expand to 5 or 6 cities across the mid-Atlantic and North East. This is a great example of how you have to build a life for yourself in order to be successful in the music industry. There are so few jobs out there where you walk into any guaranteed performances. In order to make it as a performer, you have to be willing to build connections and plant seeds months or years in advance.
6. What does your typical practice routine look like?
Balancing a full-time residency with a solo career takes a pretty hard hit on my practicing. When I was in Conservatory, I’d practice at least 40 hours per week (6-8 hours every day), since I always wanted to treat the flute like a full-time career. This allowed me to spend about an hour on “sound technique,” which would include long tones, De La Sonorite, and harmonics exercises. Then I’d spend another hour or so on scales, which was usually enough time to run the entire Taffanel and Gaubert 17 daily exercises, always with a metronome. That left me 4 hours to work on “real music.” I really like to spend at least an hour solid on any piece that I’m working on – I think your brain needs this level of intimacy to begin to truly communicate with the music.
Now, however, I work 10am – 6pm most days at the Flute Center of New York. This latest turn in my career has been an incredible boon – I’m so tapped into the industry compared to where I was two years ago, and I’m building my audience here in New York faster than I ever could have before. But it does impact my practice time. The real world takes over. Now, I practice about 90 minutes in the morning before work – all scales and long tones – and another 90 minutes to 2 hours after work and teaching. So If I get 2-3 hours of practice in every day, I consider myself lucky. It really forces me to concentrate intensely during every minute of work. The lesson I’ve taken out of this is that we should all use our time in school as efficiently as possible. Since I have such little time, but with even higher standards than ever before, I live by the words, “If you can’t find time to do it right, you’ll never be able to find time to do it over again.
7. What projects are you currently working on?
Well, like I mentioned earlier, I’m transcribing JS Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin and Cello Music. A print version for flute and a CD hopefully will be out within the next year or two. The transcription side of things is almost done… And I’d self-publish, so keep an eye out on my website if you’re interested – www.julianmrose.com
Another project I’m working on is a Competition Calendar. Since competitions have had such a positive impact on my development and my career, I want to share some of the leg-work that I’ve put into researching and compiling the vast number flute competitions out there. Basically, I’ve created a public Google Calendar that you can visit on my site – julianmrose.com/performance-calendar/ – which lists all the competitions that I’m aware of. The idea is to list the application deadlines, required repertoire, Semi-finals and final rounds, as well as prize money and other awards chronologically, so a young player can literally see what’s coming up and when. I’m primarily interested in Young Artist Competitions, not regional or collegiate competitions, so the only criteria that I want to impose is that there be a published First Prize of at least $500. And it should ideally be open to anyone without geographic restrictions. This isn’t to say that I’ll be competing in all or even most of them, but I want there to be one convenient place where all flutists can go to see what’s coming up. Of course, I’ll miss some things, but I’d encourage the readers to contact me if there are other competitions that I could list.
8. What are your other passions outside of music?
Basketball has been a huge passion for even longer than I’ve played flute. I played in a junior league through childhood and still go to the gym to play the occasional pick-up game. May-June is my favorite time of the year, because that’s when the NBA Finals are being played. And yes, I love LeBron James. You can’t look at talent like that and not be inspired to push yourself to be the best you can be, too. But really with all sports, I just love to see the best players in the world do what they do best. So whether it’s Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, or LeBron James, I guess I’m a pretty big sports fan.
Fine Wine is another. I really love Bordeaux, Barolo, and Barbaresco, and the high-end wines from Napa can also be exquisite. Also, the wines of Washington State – Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley – are actually some of the best “value fine-wine” ($20-$30) on the market. For Whites, Rhone Valley Viognier and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs… delicious. There’s an explorative quality to the world of wine that I find fascinating. It’s its own art form, growing and blending wine. Every now and then, you run across real finds, like wine from Jura, France, or a Tempranillo grown in Australia… These are life’s little twists that can’t help but make you smile.
Of course food, too. Luckily, Selma-Rachel, my wonderful wife who could easily be a restaurateur in another life, has an incredible knack for whipping up a 5 star meal almost nightly. In the 6 years we’ve been together, I don’t think I’ve had the same dish more than a handful of times. Her creativity in this respect is another inspiration for me, and I know how lucky I am to be so well fed.
Lastly, I’m a total political junkie. I’ve taken time off from music only once in my life, and that was to join President Obama’s 2008 Campaign. I worked on his campaign tirelessly for about 10 months. I registered tens of thousands of voters, and directed the Tidewater Region of Virginia in everything from daily operations, volunteer coordination, and Get-Out-The-Vote. I read the New York Times every day, there was even a point in my life where I would literally read the congressional bills that were up for votes.
9. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
When I was searching for a flute in 2004-2005, I tried everything. Literally everything. I went to the Mid-Atlantic Flute Show, which was the closest large convention to where I lived, RIchmond, VA at the time. It took me a long time to decide, too. The show was in February of 2005, and I finally made the purchase in November. Ultimately, a Miyazawa 14K Boston Classic eventually ended up winning out. What really clinched it was the choice of head-joint styles. I remember being “almost there” with about three different set-ups. But the MZ-7 with Platinum Riser just gave me the power I needed with the flexibility that I was missing in my old flute. I heard the difference right away. Since then, my Miyazawa has been a dream come true. It’s been my voice for almost 10 years now.
10. If you have one piece of advice for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
I have two tidbits of advice: Listen to as much music as you possibly can, and start building your future now.
Go to concerts. Flute concerts, viola recitals, brass quintets, orchestra, new music, everything. There’s a huge difference between listening to a recording and listening to a live performance. Remember that even the best flutists have a team of professional sound engineers to help their recordings sound as pristine as possible. So listening to a CD is like looking at a painting – It’s a finished product. But performances make you see that the musician himself or herself is just as much the work of art as the musical composition itself. We’re all works in progress. So work as hard as you can, but never let yourself get fooled into thinking that people sound the same live as they do on their CDs.
Everyone goes through college hoping to win one of those elusive orchestra jobs or university teaching positions. And you should definitely take every audition you can. But don’t count on winning one. No matter how good you get, you still may never win an orchestra job that pays enough to fully support yourself. There simply aren’t enough of them for even 1% of each year’s graduating flutists, not to mention the already-professionals. I don’t say this to be a downer, but there is a reality check that you should be making if your “life-plan” involves winning a job with an orchestra. It’s a reality check that I’ve made recently. I’m still working towards a full time performance job, and hoping that it could happen one day, but I’m building a wonderful life in music for myself in the mean time. You can still be quite a successful musician without this particular accolade.
Ultimately, we all have to make a living. You can do this on your own by stitching together students, freelance work, chamber concerts, anything at all. Learning and teaching are two sides of the same coin – I think you’ll find that by having beginner students yourself, no matter what your own level, you begin to look at your own study of the flute differently. Next, start making connections today with other musicians (and not just other flutists) and begin your own chamber music groups to actively give concerts. Also, create your “list” – a full list of every person that you ever meet who would ever be remotely interested in you as a flutist. This list is your gateway to telling the world about a concert, fundraising effort, CD release, etc. Keep on top of this list, as you never know when you’ll need to send out a blast on short notice. Lastly, always treat music like a business. Always be professional in your relationships and be honest with yourself. And remember that practicing is only one of the many tasks you need to complete daily to be successful. Start building your future now.