Flute Xpansions Creativity Intensive

“Everyone here is a peer; no-one is above, no-one is below.”

That’s how Shanna Pranaitis started the Flute Xpansions Creativity Intensive weekend, setting the tone for the most collaborative, nurturing, creative course I’ve ever attended. With guest speakers and faculty like Matthias Ziegler and Anne la Berge on board, it could have been hard not to feel intimidated, but somehow Shanna manages to foster a community of respect and care to make you feel like you’re truly equal and your voice is deserving. Something that came up repeatedly amongst participants was how creatively unleashed they felt, how their creativity was validated in all its aspects, and how inspired they were to get going on their projects.

The weekend started with a presentation from Shanna, but unlike other motivational speeches about how hard work and productivity saved the speakers career, she had us look deeply inward and figure out what self-beliefs were holding us back and what we wanted to change. It was personalized to each attendee, even though she was speaking into a Zoom room of 30 people. It was a masterclass in true student centeredness.

Following this was a session by Jane Rigler on Deep Listening. When Jane talks, I feel a calm descending, and her huge sunshine smile makes me joyful- she is the perfect person to lead these classes. In preparation for a performance piece in May, I’m working through some of Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations, so seeing how Jane led these was inspiring. We were encouraged to journal throughout and after this session I wrote:

“I am light, within these walls, I can take up all this space, I deserve, and I am inherently worthy.

After an hour for lunch (in which break out rooms were open to chat if we chose) there were three choose your own adventure sessions; looking at improvisation, Ableton or extended techniques. I’ve been using Ableton for a while now, but Melody Chua is a huge inspiration, so I jumped at the chance to see how she approaches creating. I also hopped over to another one of Jane’s sessions on creating our own text scores for another hit of that blissful calm!

To finish off day one there were a huge range of classes to choose from including cultural agency and recording an album, but I chose to attend a mindfulness session with Morgann Davis. For my project in May I’ve been researching mindfulness, but it was beautiful to have a chance to practice with people from around the world under the guidance of Morgann.

Morgann started day two off with a group meditation session, followed by an improvisation and art session with Camilla Hoitenga. Camilla is incredibly humble and open-minded, and she led a session that was open to any level of player, however (in)experienced they were with improvisation. We had the chance to workshop the pieces in small groups- mine was so small I ended up having a one-to-one workshop with Mattais who gave me some thoughtful pointers and encouraged me to play to the full room – which I would no way have done without that push!

A highlight of the weekend was Jade Simmons presentation on Creative Boundary Breaking. She gave us permission to recognize and question our limitations – why am I still affected by the perceived expectations of teachers from 10 years ago? Why am I limited by my past artistic failures, or my own expectations?  As someone who often feels out of place in the rooms I’m in, hearing her talk about her experiences as a black woman in classical music and her demands that she not be seen as a box ticked, really hit hard. I was raving about Jade the rest of the night!

Hilary Abigana’s session had us sweating as she spoke about theatre, movement and flute. I was so impressed by how interactive the session was, and by how everyone attending threw themselves 100% into whatever Hilary was asking of us. She scaffolded the learning perfectly, leading us step by step to be able to move and play without fear.

Day three again started with a meditation, and then another set of choose your own adventure sessions. I chose to attend Josephine Persson’s Looping in Ableton session. Josephine started from the basics and made each step clear; and her patient, kind manner helped participants feel comfortable with asking questions. It was also fascinating to see an example of her own work and how she builds pieces on Ableton.

Shanna’s session was set up seamlessly by Jade’s earlier presentation. She encouraged us to recognize and dismantle our old rules; for example – ‘there is an upper age limit for how much you get to grow’, ‘you must claw your way to the top and everyone else is competition’, ‘you need permission from gatekeepers’. I know I wasn’t the only person there who felt deeply moved by the questions Shanna was asking.

This was followed by a career panel with the faculty who were incredible open and honest about their own lives. It’s rare to hear people at ‘the top’ admit their struggles and failures, and for me it was hugely affirming to know that I’m not alone.

The feeling of community throughout the whole weekend was so warming and encouraging. Many of the speakers were players who had come up through previous iterations of Flute Xpansions, and most of the participants had also attended the summer course; people raved about how much the course had changed their outlook and their creative journeys.  

I got so much from the weekend and my creative cup is overflowing. Shanna has created something truly special, and her tenet of “we rise by lifting others up” is not just a marketing catchphrase, but something apparent in every minute of the weekend. I am incredibly grateful to her for inviting me to take part.

A fuller version of the course will be running over the month of July. More info can be found here

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