Flight of the Bumblebee – The Beginning

So – I have accepted the challenge. I AM going to play Flight of the Bumblebee on the clarinet at her school’s Music Festival this time next year.

How hard can it be? It’s only just over a minute, I have a year to learn it and Julain Bliss doesn’t even break into a sweat in the video.

Ok – so for me it is going to be hard. Very hard. To keep me going, I am going to document my challenge – nothing like peer pressure from friends when they know what you are doing.

First of all, some background…

I DO play the clarinet. Ok – I DID play the clarinet. I passed Grade 5. However, that wasn’t yesterday. It was … let’s just say quite a few yesterdays ago. Ok so it was about 30 years (!) ago. However, I can still get notes out of it – and my fingers kind of work. However, there’s a lot to do.

So, here are the challenges that I have identified already – along with my (current) thoughts on addressing them. 

  • High notes – The piece starts with some very high notes. I tried reaching them and failed miserably. I was a semitone flat which seemed crazy. I thought it might be because my jaw was out of practice but after some research I found that it was more of a problem with the reed. I bought a new reed and can just about reach them. I am confident that when my jaw gets stronger it won’t be a problem. I could have solved my first problem.
  • Sore lips and jaw – This is going to happen. I just have to work through it and get stronger over time. I plan to play lots of other pieces (to relieve the boredom) to build up my strength.
  • Aching thumb – The same as above. Practicing little and often will help. 
  • Circular breathing – For those of you who aren’t familiar with this concept, it’s all about breathing in while blowing out at the same time. Crazy right? It is necessary because there aren’t many places to pause for a breath in Flight of the Bumblebee . It is possible. I can kind of do it but haven’t mastered it while playing yet. I won’t need it for a while as I am nowhere near fast enough but I will for anything approaching a  full speed performance. 
  • Alternative fingering – Some significant feats will be required to move smoothly from note ton note. I will just have to go through the music note by note and work out what needs to be done. 
  • Lots of notes in a short space of time –There’s no way round this. I just have to start slow, get all the notes in the right order (“I am playing all the right notes…but not necessarily in the right order.” ) and then I will focus on speeding up.
  • Playing in front of an audience for the first time in many years – I’ll deal with this one later when I master playing it.

I am sure that I will uncover other challenges over time – but that’s a good list to start with.

So far I have dusted off the clarinet, tried high notes and bought new reeds to get to them, ordered a book with lots of chromatic scales and exercises in it. So far so good. 

Next? Play lots of chromatic scales and work on the first for bars – watch this space. I may even record videos of my progress.

Can you play Flight of the Bumblebee?

I’d be interested to know if anyone reading this can play Flight of the Bumblebee on any instrument – or have tried. And if you have a video of it – I’d love to see that too if you are willing to share!

Current status: Mouse in pain

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