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  • Writer's pictureSusan Maclagan

Jeanne Baxtresser - Lessons Learned

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

NFA Convention 2006 - Lessons Learned: My Greatest Discoveries About Performing, Practicing and Teaching: A Distillation of Knowledge Gained from a Life in Music

I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture given by Jeanne Baxtresser on "Lessons Learned" during her career. Her delivery was so personal that I almost felt like she was just talking to me. The lecture was split into three sections: Practicing, Teaching, and Performing, and was dotted with humor and quotes throughout. What follows are my notes from the class.

Part 1: Practicing

Many times during this part of the lecture, Jeanne emphasized the reduction of tension while playing.

-During practice sessions we focus on small muscles. Break up your practicing with physical exercises where you use big muscles. For example: 1. Shake your arms at your sides 2. Circle your arms at your sides. Do 20 forward rotations. When done, hold your arms still without moving. Repeat the exercise with 20 backward rotations. 3. March in place to get the blood flowing, etc.

-Work on difficult music until it is easy. To do this, ask yourself what you have to do to make something easy. For example, to work on a difficult run or a solo (e.g., Daphnis & Chloe, Ein Heldenleben solos), find the smallest element that you can do easily, thus building from your strengths, not your weaknesses. Practice it briefly; then add on other notes, a few at a time, to build confidence.

-When you practice an exercise, work to get something good for no longer than five minutes so that you stay focused. Get as much done in that five minutes as possible and then move on to something else. Don't work to finish the exercise. If you practice something too much, you may get frustrated and discouraged, etc., and bring that mood to your practice session the next day.

-Keep your shoulders down; don't crunch up your face (pretend you have botox in your forehead). The work that you need to do is at your mouth. We don't play with our foreheads. Play as if you have weights on your eye lids.

-How to practice orchestral solos like L'Apres Midi: 1. Play the solo on one note without vibrato (i.e., play the rhythm of the excerpt at one pitch) 2. Repeat #1, but play expressively 3. Practice only the long notes in the solo 4. Practice the end of the solo and build backwards. 5. Practice bringing the flute up to your lips and starting the solo. 6. Imagine yourself playing the solo in a concert with the conductor watching you, etc.


-Bring your environment into your performance. For example, play with your chest, head, and eyes up and play 'out' to the audience. Do not play down into the stand. -Be creative in your practicing. -Slow down. -Make discoveries. The most important lessons are from YOUR hard work of discovery. -The basics of flute playing must be mastered. -The greatest weapon against insecurity about your playing is practicing and preparation. -Don't practice what you can't do - this leads to fear, and insecurity. Practicing what you CAN do helps to relax your body and mind. -Practice relaxation. -Practice one element at a time. -Practice with your eyes closed -Practice the ends of pieces and solos. Work from the end towards the beginning. -Use a mini-disc or some other recording device to tape yourself doing a mock performance. Then listen to yourself like a jury. When you listen to the recording, listen to ONE thing at a time. -Practice imitating your musical heroes. Through imitation you will find your own voice. "Mediocre artists borrow; great artists steel."

Enjoy the journey of learning to play the flute. Do not focus on trying to be the best flutist in the world as this will never come. Jeanne said with humor: "It's so great to finally be phenomenal. My work is done. Bring me a glass of wine."

Master Class Notes by Susan Maclagan © 2006

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