Playing by the River: “Blue Sky”

In a quest to find inspiration by getting out of my practice room, I have made it my mission to play the flute at my local riverwalk park at least once a week.  These are the stories from my informal, afternoon concerts.

The park where I have decided to stage my weekly sojourns out of the music building is actually an historic canal and waterworks facility.  This week, I ended up setting up to play in an area near the old hydroelectric structures.  There is a graduated set of stairs wrapping around the outside of the historic buildings which creates a sort of amphitheater with benches and even a small raised “stage” area.

The sun was sinking toward the river, the breeze was blowing gently, and the birds were singing.  It was a picturesque concert setting.  I actually like playing in places like this much better than in stuffy recital halls; it is much easier to be inspired outdoors.  In recital halls, I usually end up staring at the trashcan in the back of the room to avoid eye contact.  Here, I could look at the leaves or the butterflies flitting about, seemingly undisturbed by my music making.  I even chanced a glance at the people riding bikes, running, and walking past me and I even met their gaze sometimes.  Sometimes, I even saw someone smile.

By about my second movement of music, I acquired an audience member.  He was middle-aged and wearing round sunglasses which completely blocked his eyes from view.  He had on a straw hat and worn boots and carried a canvas satchel.  Midway through my “performance” he began to sip a questionable red liquid from a clear teacup.  I was understandably sketched out by this man but he seemed attentive and there were plenty of other people passing by for safety so I carried on with my playing.

The man later introduced himself as “Blue Sky”.  That was his name.  He said “I am Blue Sky, like…” and pointed up, “And you are?”  I said only that my name is Philip but immediately regretted giving away even that small amount of information.  I have decided that in the future, I shall go by the name I give to people while I’m backpacking: Peter.

But despite his – let’s say eccentric – nature, he seemed relatively knowledgeable about music.  I was playing a solo flute piece by Bozza and he guessed that it was Debussy which is not so far off.  He additionally complimented me when I played a very modern piece (Shirish Korde’s Tenderness of Cranes), saying that he enjoyed contemporary music.  He was actually full of compliments (he called me a “Master” several times) which was very flattering.  If nothing else, my ego was certainly inflated by the time I left that day.

He ended our conversation by saying that I should stage an actual concert in that space (an idea I am very seriously considering) and saying that at one point he gave lectures there.

“Oh, are you a professor?”, I asked.

“No,no”, he said, “I am an artist.”

“Ah” was my only reply.  I should have known.

Despite my skepticism, I sincerely hope I meet more people like Blue Sky in this river playing experiment.  I went to the park to play music in a search for inspiration and performance experience but I ended up meeting an interesting person (to say the least) who boosted my self-esteem.  I am thinking this will not be the end of the surprising experiences I have playing in public and I say bring them on!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nate Zeisler says:

    Thanks for the post “Peter!” I’m curious, did you find your practice session more productive outside the practice room? I’m always interested to hear about techniques people use to become focused when they practice and it seems as though a change of scenery once in awhile might be a great way to lock into a great routine.


    1. phlutist says:

      Hi Nate! Thanks for the comment! I use the riverwalk as a place to run through my pieces I am working on and record myself. So far it has been great to hear the things I do differently in reacting to the different acoustics and the environment (the birds, the playing children, etc.). I sometimes get a little too uptight when I play and I have found that if I just imagine myself back in the park I calm down. So on a creative and artistic level, it is very productive. In terms of learning notes, I find that it is not as productive to do hardcore technique practice in the park. I always find myself moving on quickly from finger practice to things I think would be prettier for the park-goers.

      It is also a great way to get experience performing without having an audience of professional musicians listening with highly critical ears. I love getting feedback and criticism on my playing but it is incredibly important (and sometimes difficult) to cultivate the ability to be happy with one’s playing. So that is what playing by the river is doing for me so far. As I said, it is sort of an experiment I am conducting for myself and I am looking forward to sharing what else I learn. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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