Trying to find balance, letting things be messy.
In flute playing, the various aspects of one’s technique and musicality never improve at the same rate. You focus on one area for a while, and then you realize that another area needs to catch up. It’s like if you paint your kitchen cabinets and suddenly your backsplash looks terrible. As I work on a performance-based research project on the music of Mademoiselle Guédon de Presles, I’ve found that increasing my research activities has had a similar effect. It’s another aspect of musicianship that needs to be balanced. Yes, balanced, but this belies what a messy and sometimes aggravating process growth can be. Sometimes I feel like I know the sound or the impression I want to create, but I haven’t yet found a way to execute it. If I get excited about research and neglect my practicing, the gap between idea and reality gets worse. It’s hard to know what to prioritize—I also don’t want to let my playing get ahead of my research, and come to wrong conclusions that way. As a baroque flutist, I’ve always tried to ground my playing in the historical evidence we have, but I’ve been so inspired by the music of Guédon de Presles, which is just slightly outside my area of expertise and comfort zone, that I’ve felt compelled to questions and search for answers on a completely different level. We know so little about many women composers of the past, that I really feel it is a disservice to not try to know everything possible, so I can begin to scratch the surface of her life, her music, how she wrote her music, what inspired her, how she was part of her time and place, and how she was unique among composers of her time and place.
Sometimes I think of such a burning question or idea that have to stop in the middle of making dinner to write it down. I’m always thinking through repertoire in my head, or singing out loud, while I play with my toddler. I get ideas about music while I’m knitting fair isle sweaters or designing the next outfit I want to sew. I try to expose my kids to music and get some practicing done while they play, but at best, my toddler honks loudly and happily on his plastic recorder, and at worst he just screams. This video gives you a bit of an idea:
Maybe Anne Madeleine Guédon de Presles was the same. The majority of her works were published in the four years after she married fellow composer François Bouvard. I don’t imagine she ever tried to compartmentalize the different aspects of her life as a composer, wife, and mother. She just did what women had to do at the time, and accomplished extraordinary things within those bounds (granted, she was a rare example of a woman whose career as a composer flourished after she married—her works are published under the name Mademoiselle Guédon de Presles, as women kept their unmarried name for legal purposes at the time.) We have more choices available to us today, and I’ve chosen to let my life be wonderfully messy, to have way too many interests and try to do way too many different things, and not try to separate out the pieces. There is always tension between all the pieces, but I do what I have to do, and this tension helps define what I create. All the things that make me who I am as a person make me who I am as a musician.