Flautist Cheryl Lim is currently pursuing her DMA at the Peabody Institute with Marina Piccinini. She has performed in master classes by Maxence Larrieu, Emmanuel Pahud, Sir James Galway, Jose-Daniel Castellon and Juliette Hurel. Cheryl received a Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music under Michael Parloff,  and a Bachelor of Music degree with First-class Honors from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music as a student of Jin Ta. Other teachers include Evgueni Brokmiller and Wang Tong.

(This interview was conducted in September 2010)

Firstly, describe your music career. Did you start out in a band as a flautist or you learnt the flute by yourself and took it from there?

As a child, I was pretty serious about the piano, as many kids are. Lessons went on for years until one fine day, when my piano teacher, Yeo Kian-Boon suggested my friends and I each learn a second instrument. As he loved calling me “Cheryl the Cello”, we decided to look for a cello teacher; funny story, but he still calls me that to this day.

As it turns out, however, no cello teachers were available. Fortunately, someone provided us with a flute teacher’s contact. Ms Wang Tong thus became my first flute teacher. This pleased both my mother and I: my mom was relieved that this instrument was so light and portable for her little girl, and I really liked how a person looked whilst holding and playing the flute sideways. I also liked its sound, but I remember liking the sounds of other instruments like the violin, the harp and our dear cello just as much.

Ironically, I had been playing the flute since I was 11 but never had the opportunity to join the band as a flautist. My primary school did not have a band and when I went to secondary school, I was told that there were “too many flutes already!” by the band seniors. I turned down an invitation to join the trombone section (no offence to trombonists) and ended up being a member of the Chinese orchestra (gasp!), playing – surprise – the chinese flute in there for four years… That is another story in itself.

What made you attracted to the flute? How is it special as compared to other instruments?

This may sound strange but I am not fond of the stereotypical image that the general public has of the flute – of it sounding airy and (annoyingly) high-pitched. I actually started to really love the flute sound as a beginner when I heard how gorgeous James Galway made its low register sound. The notes that flowed out of his flute were warm, full and rich; when they soared into the high register, the tone not only retained this quality but had an added shimmer and vibrancy to it.

I guess this is also related to the next part of your question – that the flute sounds unique and very different in the hands of different performers. Outwardly, it looks special as it is the only instrument in the woodwind section that is “reed-less” and is blown across the mouthpiece. For the performer, this means that flautists have no resistance to work with, unlike the other wind instruments.

I like to quote Emmanuel Pahud, who believes that “you just put the flute to the wind, and it speaks – that makes it the closest, technically, to singing”.

What is your current setup? Any previous setups?

I’m playing a Brannen flute paired with a Lafin headjoint which has been with me for about 7 years. Previously, I played on a Miyazawa silver flute, a discontinued model. I started out on a Yamaha student model flute.

Who were your influences and teachers? Anyone in particular that you would like to thank?

I cannot express my gratitude enough for everything my teachers have done for me. They, of course, include my principal flute teachers (in “chronological” order): Wang Tong, Evgueni Brokmiller, Jin Ta, Michael Parloff and currently Marina Piccinini. They were all instrumental (pardon the pun) to my growth as a flautist, musician and person in different stages of my life and career. Their influence to my playing continues long after I stopped having lessons with them.

In particular, I am thankful for the effort which my undergraduate teacher Jin Ta put in in my four years at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. I also feel guilty for not mentioning my non-flute music teachers for there are too many to name! Teachers aside, I am thankful for my parents – they have always been my strongest pillars of support.

What is your current practice routine? Do you use any method books?

My practice routine consists of exercises which are specific to my needs. I am flexible with deciding which exercises to do on a day-to-day basis simply because I focus on certain aspects more than others at different times.

As the standard, I usually rely on a combination of Moyse exercises (mostly tone exercises) as well as Taffanel and Gaubert technical exercises (mostly based on scales and arpeggios). There are tons of other technique books written but I feel that those exercises are essentially variations on the exercises in the Moyse and the Taffanel and Gaubert books.

I believe that the most important way to make any exercise effective is by applying a very focused and goal-oriented mind in doing them and using an acute, critical ear in listening to one’s own playing on these exercises. Also, I always practice with a tuner and metronome. A great flautist (guess who?) once told me that “a metronome can make you millions”.

Do you have a particular piece that you always love to perform? Why?

There are just too many pieces I would love to perform! I love music from all periods. Of course, I find that the French composers wrote very well for the flute, making good use of its palette of tone colours. Besides French music, music composed by Bach and Mozart are always in my “…The Best of” list.

I would also like to perform transcriptions of sonatas which Brahms (who never wrote for the flute), Strauss and Faure wrote for other instruments. Also, I find music which has elements of folksong in it very interesting – almost every culture has its own kind of flute, so flute and folk music naturally go well together.

Currently, I am listening to more French and Italian Baroque pieces – particularly from composers like Rameau – and am performing a recital of these pieces soon.

What is it about the flute that has led you on to study at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (First-Class Honours Degree), the Manhattan School of Music (Masters in Music), and currently at Peabody Insitute of Music (Doctorate of Music Arts)?]

I’m currently in the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) program but I hope I’m not seen as a “flute doctor”; to me, the flute is just my voice, a means to communicate and express musically. I wanted to improve as a musician and be in new and possibly more competitive musical environments in order to gain fresh perspectives on music and performance. Hence, the decision to move to New York and later on, Baltimore. Although Baltimore is a pretty different city from New York, I find it a great place for focusing on studies and research.

My current program is rigorous, both musically and academically; besides having to perform 6 recitals, I am required to complete extensive coursework, several comprehensive exams and write a dissertation.

Your career has seen you perform with the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM), Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) and Singapore Festival Orchestra (SFO), what do you have to say about your achievements?

I’m grateful for having had the opportunities to work in these orchestral settings. I see these not as achievements but rather as great musical experiences enjoyed with wonderful colleagues.

Besides playing the flute, what do you enjoy doing in your slack time?

Cooking, watching movies and going to the inner harbour near the Peabody Conservatory.

To end off, what are your future goals?

In the near future, I would really like to complete my dissertation! Currently, I am in the process of researching on flute literature and am doing a survey of all flute repertoire that was written.

That said, my first love is still performance and I hope to keep doing so as an orchestral, chamber and solo musician. Also, I would like to teach as much as I can. I hope I can also compile all the nuggets of wisdom I’ve gained over the years from going to lessons, masterclasses and festivals and share them with fellow musicians.


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.