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My grand daughters were off from school the week before Thanksgiving and we were having a fine week until bedtime Friday night when, while being tucked in, my 9-year-old grand daughter
Her beginner band teacher had warned the class that they needed to practice their instruments over Thanksgiving break, as starting on the Tuesday after break - Tuesday being band day - each student would be tested on their ability to play "Hot Cross Buns."
My grand daughter tearfully recounted to her mother (who recounted to me) that, not only could she not play "Hot Cross Buns;" she could not play the flute at all, and she was going to fail her flute test in front of the whole class!
Upon hearing from my daughter of my grand daughter's distress, I sprung up and declared with raised finger, "No! She shall not fail her 'Hot Cross Buns' flute test!"
"But she says she doesn't even know how to play the flute," said my daughter. "Tomorrow is Saturday. She needs to know 'Hot Cross Buns' by Tuesday."
"I'll teach her," I said.
"Um, Mom, you're a piano teacher," said my daughter.
What my daughter said was true. I am - or was, until COVID shut me down - a piano teacher.
I figured that even if I didn't know one end of a flute from the other, my grand daughter likely did, and that, having sat through three months of beginner band class, she must have picked up something about playing the flute, even if she'd never gotten around to practicing any of it. In any case, I was determined that between the two of us we'd figure out how to kick some "Hot Cross Buns."
And so the following morning, Saturday morning, I had my grand daughter pull out her flute. I started off by playing the tune of "Hot Cross Buns" on the piano for her and singing the words:
Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns
However, she did seem to know how to read the music and how to press down the three keys involved. What was missing was tone. Though the technical problems involved in producing a decent tone on a flute were obviously very different from those of a piano and a mystery to me, I figured we could try a little trial and error.
I had my grand daughter try taking bigger breaths. What came out were bigger tug boat toots. I tried holding her arm up higher.
I googled, “How To Teach Beginner Flute." Google took me to a nice lady who gave several pointers on basic flutery: correct posture, mouth shape (aka embouchure), position of the lips over the flute.
With a few arrows of basic fluting now in my quiver, we tried again the next day. The first thing I told my grand daughter was the first thing the nice Google flute lady had told me: stand up tall with your neck straight and bring the flute to you; in other words, don't bend your head over your flute.
My grand daughter then stood tall, straightened her neck, brought the flute up to her and blew...a B-flat! An actual B-flat! Mayhaps not the finest, smoothest flute tone ever produced, but a recognizable flute tone, nonetheless. Apparently she had been bending her head over her instrument and drowning the tone. But now that we'd cracked the mystery of the missing tone, we could hunker down for some serious practicing.
"Stand tall, bring your flute to you," became my mantra as I directed my grand daughter to play one note, then two, then three, then the next three notes, then the next three, isolating and repeating each group of three notes over and over before putting all the notes together and playing the whole song.
And by Monday night, the eve of the flute test, my grand daughter, if no Sir James Galway, could play an acceptable fourth grade beginner band rendition of "Hot Cross Buns."
As it turned out, the following day she was not among those students chosen to perform. Her turn would be next week. This week-long reprieve was a great stroke of luck. My grand daughter got on a "Hot Cross Buns" roll. She practiced every day.
Alas, the next band class day was the day that Tom and I left for Columbus, but that night, after we'd returned home, we called to find out how the flute test went.
As related by my grand daughter, she was the last in the class to be tested, and as soon as she began playing some young cad blew his horn and disrupted her performance. By the time the laughter and disorder that followed was calmed, class time was over. The teacher told my grand daughter she could try again next week.
And though she's had to hang on another week before knowing whether she'll pass her "Hot Cross Buns" test, as I always told my students, one performance of a piece really isn't all that important in the grand picture. What's important is that you've conquered the song and can play it. And if, for some reason - such as another horn-blowing jokester - my grand daughter's test goes not as well as it might have, well, it doesn't matter because, however her test goes she can play "Hot Cross Buns," as evidenced by this video: