44. Learn a new Ian Clarke piece

Before I even get into the details of this challenge, I have a confession to make… What I actually wrote on my list of 50 things was ‘Perfect a new Ian Clarke piece’. Perfect. Verb – make (something) completely free from faults or defects; make as good as possible. I hope you’re not going to hold me to the first part of the definition, because as a certified perfectionist I have to tell you that what I have achieved in this challenge is not perfection. But I *might* be willing to say that I made it as good as possible in this moment…

In case you don’t know me all that well, I should give you a bit of background to this challenge.

Firstly, I play the flute. I have played since I was seven. I got quite good in my time and for a while held ambitions to become professional. But at the age of 19, circumstances led me to fall out of love with my flute and give up on that dream. In fact after university, my flute  spent the best part of 20 years languishing in its box and it wasn’t until I was 40 that we made friends again!

Secondly, in the course of those 20 years in which I didn’t play there was a not inconsiderable amount of new music written for flute. When I began playing again one of the most inspiring and exciting discoveries I made was the music of flute player and composer, Ian Clarke. I have learned a couple of his works – Orange Dawn, which I love and which is very challenging, and Sunstreams, a tuneful and accessible piece, are favourites. I also have in my collection a number of his other works, which I have periodically attempted to learn but never really committed enough practise time to do justice to.

Which leads me to the inspiration for this challenge. And to The Mad Hatter.

I’ve been able to make a reasonable stab at page one for several years. And some of page 2. I’ve dipped in and out of pages 3 to 5… where I found lots of accidentals, and a fair number of tempo changes in varying degrees of fast. But I wanted to learn it. A fun piece, and suitably challenging for a challenge… dip, dip, dip… tick, tock, tick, tock… Each time I went to the list to plan the next challenge, I could see the Ian Clarke challenge there… I just couldn’t get myself galvanised to complete it.

There is nothing quite like a deadline as a galvanising agent, however… and as December hit I knew it was high time to commit. So, I enlisted the support of pianist Phil May and set a date on which we would get together and record for your delectation The Mad Hatter by Ian Clarke. A Saturday night rehearsal, and full steam ahead to tonight’s recording, which was made with a mic hitched up to my Mac in my music room 🙂

First, the bad bits…

  1. My idea of ‘one take’ didn’t quite happen, although it would have if I had managed to successfully select ‘record’ for the first play through! A great shame, as that rendition was easily the best.
  2. I can’t say I’m entirely satisfied with the end result, but then as I said at the start, I’m a perfectionist.

There are things about playing the flute that I still enjoy, but there are also things that make me sad… such as that I can’t play as well as I used to, that my eyesight is deteriorating and so I can’t read as reliably as I used to, that my lungs aren’t as fit as they were, and that flute repertoire has moved on at a rate that I don’t seem able to keep up with!

But let’s not forget the good bits…flute-ninja-copy-2

  1. I did it!
  2. It was fun!
  3. You get to hear it!

Thank you Phil for sharing the experience (and a glass of wine or two).

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ian Clarke’s ‘The Mad Hatter’ performed by Justine Swainson and Phil May, 13th December 2016. Click here… and enjoy!



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2 thoughts on “44. Learn a new Ian Clarke piece

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