David Leviston: When did you start playing the flute?
Andrew Nicholson: At the age of 8. My Dad was a trumpet player in the army and was in charge of the instrument store. He brought home a clarinet, french horn, cornet, trumpet and flute for me and my two younger brothers to choose from. The flute was the only instrument I could get a sound out of but loved it from the get-go. It was the last instrument I tried as it looked the least attractive in the smallest case! My two brothers chose the clarinet and french horn, and we were playing in a trio together a few years later. We all started with piano and recorder from the age of 4.
DL: What do you love about the flute?
AN: I always liked the sound of the flute growing up listening to James Galway and lots of symphonic music. I loved the ‘cello also, and started that a year after the flute – I won my place at Chetham’s School of Music when I was 14 on joint first study flute and ‘cello and very average piano! I loved the flute, even more, when I started to play in my County Youth Orchestra and touring with them to the United States just before starting Chetham’s. We were playing the ‘London Symphony’ by Vaughan Williams – I remember being overtaken by the sound and emotion a symphony orchestra can create. I loved the travel aspect of being a musician, and the way music attracts people from all walks of life within the orchestra and audience alike. For myself, playing the flute was always about playing in an orchestra rather than being a soloist (although I love both).
DL: Do you think music as a career can be potentially all consuming?
AN: It is a fine balance indeed. I remember the feeling of dread, nearing the end of my time at the Royal Northern College of Music, wondering whether I had reached the required standard to perhaps win a job. As it turned out I got very lucky – my piccolo exam with Pat Morris at the very end of my 3rd year turned out to be an audition for freelance work at the BBC Philharmonic just down the road from College. They hadn’t told any of us this fact. I had gone down to London to do some busking to raise money for a trip to Sydney (a place I had always wanted to visit), as I was taking a year out from college before planning to go back to finish the 4th and final year. Sydney would have to wait, as I went back to Manchester a few months later visiting friends, only to be chased down the road by Richard Davies, the then principal flute of the BBC, saying how he had been trying to contact me to inform me that I had made the list and would be playing with him and the orchestra a few weeks later; obviously this was before mobile phones I hasten to add! I played with them regularly that year and a few months later won the principal job in HK so didn’t get to finish my 4th year at the RNCM. From then on I have always felt very fortunate and have always worked hard to move onto orchestras that I’ve wanted to work with, hopefully maintaining a good work-life balance ie having fun along the way! I have always had a passion for travel and touring, and my playing career has most certainly provided these things.
DL: What advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue a career in music performance?
AN: I believe having a passion for music – it being the ‘thing’ that you want to be a part of, is key. Finding the right teacher is also imperative – never underestimate the importance of the right kind of teaching, and a place where you feel that you can concentrate on your studies – a focus on always being audition ready regardless of whether jobs or opportunities arise. You never know who is listening as they say! If you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to perform, then that is a bonus (and it really is a bonus when you consider how few jobs there are worldwide). Many of my students have had fantastic careers in music outside of performing and absolutely love what they do. If I wasn’t playing, I would love to be recording music or teaching it in the classroom, or being a part of a management team in a big touring orchestra – anything really within the music and performance industry. I still love playing and still feel lucky that I love doing that. You never know who’s listening as they say! You can make your own luck to a certain extent, but you have to put the work in. I know of very few overnight success stories in music, and if seemingly so, it often equates to at least 10 years of hard work! I have ex-students placed in orchestras all over the world – be prepared to travel for your passion and go where the work is – your career could start anywhere. If you’re not being positively challenged by the journey of becoming a performer, then it probably isn’t for you.
DL: You have had a number of different instruments. Did you change because you wanted something different or better?
AN: First and foremost, choosing the right instrument can be a combination of necessity, budget and good advice (thank you Flutes and Flutists for your incredible guidance in helping me to choose my flute)!! Developing the ability to trust one’s own sound, will often guide your choice – it is all about the sound that you ultimately want to achieve. I played on a lot of old, untuned French flutes in my college days that were very unreliable with very questionable intonation – they were the best sounding instruments I could obtain on my budget at that time. Things became easier when I started in HK, buying a 14k gold Powell. I have found that my embouchure has changed over the years, so have selected flutes that suit me and the work that I am doing. I have played on wooden and platinum flutes which were lovely, and have always liked the colors one can achieve on 14k gold. We have a set of wooden Mancke head joints with gold risers to use with our gold Haynes flutes in the WASO flute section, for repertoire that we feel needs a more wooden/reedy quality. This can be anything from Bach to contemporary repertoire. A lot of flute sections do the same kind of thing. When you choose a flute, always choose something that you feel you can sound better on and grow into. Always strive to purchase the best quality instrument you can, within your budget – trust me, you will save money in the long run! Remember, the player makes a good flute sound good, not the other way around!