Fluterview with Alistair HowlettApr 05, 2016
Alistair Howlett is currently a freelance musician in the Indianapolis and Chicago areas. He was Tutti Flute with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra from 2006 - 2013. He competed his Bachelor of Music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, studying with Margaret Crawford and Geoffrey Collins, and later completed his Performance Masters at the Hochschule for Music and the Performing Arts Munich with Professor András Adorján. He has been Guest Principal Flute with the Indianapolis Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, Swedish Radio Symphony, Stuttgart Philharmonic and several of Australia’s leading symphonies and ensembles.
What do you think are your greatest achievements as a flute player?
Looking back, there have been so many experiences or highlights that have molded who I am as a flutist; studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Hochschule for Music and the Performing Arts Munich, summer festivals like the Pacific Music Festival in Japan, the Verbier Festival in Switzerland and the Australian Youth Orchestra. The teachers, mentors and friends I have made are my greatest highlights.
What do you think are the most important attributes in a student who you believe could be successful as a professional flute player?
Always asking questions! This shows a deep interest and love of learning the flute and the repertoire; understanding your strengths and weaknesses and what needs to be improved are essential.
Who are the flute players you find inspirational and why?
There are so many! When I first started learning the flute, my first teacher, Julia Fekete-Berky, was a huge inspiration. When I started at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music High School, Margaret Crawford was another huge inspiration. I was very lucky to have such amazing teachers from an early age. All of my teachers and mentors are all so inspiring and motivating, my deepest thanks to them all. My favourite go-to flute players in my iTunes playlists are my teacher András Adorján, Jacques Zoon and Emmanuel Pahud.
When you’ve had some time off, how do you quickly get your playing back up to standard?
Taking time off is really important, giving your body a rest and starting over is a great way to fix bad habits or other such issues. When ‘restarting’, I will only do 30 minute sessions with long tones, scales slowly with my metronome set to 100, then playing through some randomly chosen pieces or orchestral excerpts for fun. It can’t be all work and no play!
What is the best advice you’ve ever had from a teacher?
Before my very first lesson with Professor Adorján, I asked him what we should start the year with. He replied: “The Mozart Concertos. Mozart is for life… everything else is for fun!”
If you were to give a beginner flute student one piece of advice, what would it be?
Practice every day, even if it’s a few minutes. Consistency is key.
If you were to give an advanced flute student one piece of advice, what would it be?
Soak up as much as possible; go to concerts, play with and for your friends, listen to recordings and travel.
Do you have any advice that has helped you to prevent repetitive strain injury?
Stretches and quick warm up exercises before and after practice sessions are great. Long breaks every 30 minutes and remember to not keep constantly playing, let your arms have a rest. I use a balance board, especially during my daily routine exercises, to help with my posture. It also helps strengthen and teaches me how to engage my core, rather than putting tension in my arms and neck. A full length mirror is also invaluable.
What sort of daily exercise do you practice on the flute?
On Sonority, Art and Technique by Moyse. Long tones on whole tone scales, alternating between the B and Bb scales. My own harmonic exercises to help with intervals, followed by arpeggios in both minor and major keys and finally octaves or wider intervals. Big Daily Finger Exercises by Taffanel and Gaubert. I personally alternate between exercises 1, 2 and 4. Then chromatic scales over the whole range of the flute, even up to super F# (or whatever the latest highest note discovered is).
What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that has ever happened to you as a professional player?
It seems these days that it’s required that conductors conduct from memory. I’ve been in a few performances where conductors have had memory slips to the detriment of the performance! These conductors shall remain anonymous…
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Music has been such a strong force for me and my family. It brought my parents together, has taken me all across the globe where I have now settled in the United States with my wife. Funny to see that I have followed the same path as my parents and I am so thankful to have met such wonderful and inspiring musicians; I would encourage this experience on anyone.
Photos courtesy Alistair Howlett.