Andy Sim is currently a performing member with the Philharmonic Winds. He started learning the flute at the age of 13 and later enlisted into regular service with the Singapore Navy Band and later the SAF Central Band. His teachers include Lee Kee Hoi and Jin Ta from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. He was fortunate to have attended private lessons with Sandra Church, associate principal flutist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra during their tour to Singapore.
In 2002, Andy performed as a soloist with Philwinds on an unaccompanied flute solo, Density 21.5, composed by Edgard Varèse. He has led the Singapore Wind Symphony flute section to international music events such as the 10th Conference of the Asia Pacific Band Directors Association (APBDA) held in Sydney and the 14th World Music Contest (WMC) where the band was awarded a First Prize in the First Division. In addition, he is also privileged to have opportunities to lead flute sections of SAF Central Band, NIE Symphonic Band, SAF Chamber Orchestra, and the Philharmonic Winds. Andy holds a DipABRSM and ATCL in flute performance.
As a conductor, he is currently directing St. Hilda’s Secondary School Wind Orchestra, and Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School Symphonic Band. He also teaches Katong Convent Secondary School Concert Band as an elementary band instructor. He has led Moulmein Wind Ensemble and Kim Seng Wind Symphony as music director and is also a co-founder of the Philharmonic Youth Winds. Andy has a FRSM in Music Direction and a Specialist Diploma in Band Directing from the National Institute of Education.
Other than his passion in music making for the past decade, Andy is a trained counsellor and holds professional memberships with the American Counselling Association (ACA) and the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC). He is also a certified Narrative Therapist accredited by the renowned Dulwich Centre, Adelaide. Andy holds a Master of Social Science in Professional Counselling, a Graduate Certificate in Narrative Therapy, and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
Currently, he is teaching music, provide counselling in private practice, and a voluntary counsellor in a secondary school. In addition, Andy is also a member with the Golden Key International Honour Society.
(This interview was conducted in May 2011)
What inspired you to take up the flute?
When I was in secondary one, the school required all students to join one aesthetic group. There were the harmonica ensemble, the Chinese orchestra and the band. I was very impressed by the school band and decided to join them. I had no idea what kind of instruments made up the band, but I remember putting up my hand when my instructor asked if anyone was interested in playing the flute. He came towards me and looked at my lips and said, “Okay, you are in.” That’s how I started learning the flute.
What do you currently play on? Tell us about your gear, both past and present.
I am currently playing on a Miyazawa flute and a Hammig piccolo. The Miyazawa is a type 2 model. It is a handmade flute with a sterling sliver headjoint, body tubing, and mechanism, with open holes, French pointed tonearms, soldered tone holes and Straubinger pads. I have increased the wall thickness to 0.42mm, and requested for an E mechanism. The headjoint comes with a 14k gold riser and lip plate, accompanied with a MZ-7 cutting.
The Hammig is a 650/2, a handmade granadilla wood piccolo with a mechanism constructed of nickel-silver heavily coated with pure silver.
My first personal flute was a second-hand Yamaha 261. I bought it at $150 and used it for both my grade 7 and 8 flute examinations. After a few years, I managed to purchase a Miyazawa flute model MC 325-RE. It was an intermediate model with B foot joint. I liked this flute very much and used it for my ATCL but in the end I sold it to my student because I needed to raise money to upgrade to my current flute.
Do you believe that a beginner musician should only start off with an entry level flute until he is considered fit for a better one?
That depends on how we attribute the meaning “entry level”. Some entry level flutes cost less than $500; some at $1000; and some at $2000. I feel that as long as the flute is in a good working condition and provide ease in playing; it will motivate young players and instill that desire to practise harder. On the other hand, if the “entry level” flute has leaking keys and poor embouchure cutting, it is definitely going to be a frustrating experience to play. Such a flute would not motivate the student to practise more. Furthermore, students will develop bad habits such as poor fingering postures and unstable embouchure.
You currently hold a DipABRSM and ATCL in flute performance. Do you agree it is necessary that for anyone to further his or her career, he or she must attain some form of instrument qualification?
It was definitely helpful to have both qualifications while building up my career in the early years. Whether it is a necessity or a must would depend on the working context of the musician. However, if one would like to teach in schools or privately, a qualification is like a “passport” to apply for a job with an organization. It is usually a requirement where they assess one’s basic attribution as a musician. I would encourage people to take some of these qualifications as a personal challenge. Qualifications can help you to further your career but the most important aspect of all is the process of attaining them.
What are some of the memorable performances (solo, chamber, band, orchestra) you had with the flute?
One of those experiences was my performance as a soloist during a concert with the Philharmonic Winds in 2002 titled “Mozart-Varese”. It was an unaccompanied solo flute piece called “Density 21.5”, written by Edgard Varese. The concert was held in Victoria Concert Hall and I was alone, standing in the middle of the stage, with one glaring spotlight shining on me. I could not see anything apart from my music scores. Though I had played the piece for my DipABRSM, the anxiety still got hold of me. It was my first time playing a solo in this context and it took a lot of self-regulation in managing that emotion and to finally complete the piece. It was quite well received and I was happy with it. My take-away for that concert was, “There is always a “first” in one’s life. Just bite the bullet and it will pass very quickly.”
What kind of repertoire do you usually work on? Is there a fixed practice routine that you use?
Some of my favourite works are Reinecke’s “Undine” Sonata, Mercadante’s Sonata in E and Prokoviev’s Sonata No. 2. However for the past few years, I have been focusing more on my counselling psychology studies and conducting so I have not had the luxury to practise much on the flute. What has kept me in contact with my instrument is performing with Philwinds occasionally and preparing students for their examinations.
I am sure that any musicians would agree that scales, long tones, scale studies and interval studies are basic essentials. On top of that, I would suggest books like De La Sonorite Art et Technique by Marcel Moyse, 17 Exercices Journaliers De Mecanisme by Paul Taffanel, and 24 Progressive Studies for the Flute op. 33 by Joachim Anderson. These are great materials that can be used as part of your routine.
Like every other instrument, the flute has to be maintained in order to function well. How do you conduct a simple maintenance of your flute? How often should this be carried out?
Maintenance should be done after every practice. I am sure that all flute players know the basic steps such as cleaning the inner and the outer part of the instrument. For the younger players, please do not use liquid silver polish as it will dry up in between the key joints and cause the keys to get stuck. To protect your key pads, place a sheet of cigarette paper beneath the sticky keys and gently apply pressure in order to wick the moisture out of the pads. Remember to schedule an overhaul annually with a good woodwind technician in order to keep your flute in tip-top condition.
As a band director in several schools and ensembles, what have you learned about managing students over the years? How do you deal with the lack of interest among members?
Society has been changing over the years. Nowadays, students have to attend more extra classes and assume heavier work loads in schools and even tuition centres. These would sap their motivation and energy to pursue other activities on top of their academic work. When this happens, time-consuming CCAs such as the band becomes a chore and ultimately the student will lose interest in the process of music making. This is only one example amongst many others. I do not have a universal panacea to deal with this issue. However, I feel that it is important to create a positive environment for the students. Hopefully they will grow to think that being a band member is like being a member of a big family, one that makes music and has fun in the process. That said, the choice of repertoire is also very important as the piece has to be meaningful for the students. This would encourage them to attend rehearsals not because they have to, but because they want to.
Apart from having a passion for music, you are also educated in professional counselling, narrative therapy and psychology. How are these aspects related to your music teaching? Have they helped you understand the students better?
Every moment in our lives involves psychology. In the context of teaching music, it is helpful to know how people learn. Some people are visual learners; others, auditory or kinesthetic. People also learn new things through imitating others and through the reinforcement of rewards and punishments. Every individual is unique. Hence, it is difficult to use one hard and fast methodology to teach such a diverse range of students. We have to know that some students might be quicker in learning and for some, it might take more time. Patience is a virtue.
With such knowledge, I would be able to help the students not only in their music making but also to help them apply what they have learned to their academic studies. For example, I taught my students Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a set of relaxation exercises. This helped them to manage their fear and distress, especially during the SYF period. I learned this during my counselling course and it seemed to help my students considerably.
In conclusion, do you have any advice or words of encouragement for young budding flute players?
Listen to professional players, especially their tone production and their expression of the music through their physical gestures. You don’t have to play like them, but keep those images and sounds in your head and you would be able to use them one day. One important thing is to be open-minded in accepting feedback because failure is a learning process. It is an important part of musicianship that will help you to becoming a better player and also as a person. It is normal to be demoralised or disappointed whenever we can’t produce the sounds we want on the instrument, but please don’t give up. Take a step back and try to recognise what you need to do differently. Don’t be afraid to ask a more experienced player. It could give you more power in tackling the problem. Lastly, all the best and have fun making music!!!
“Powerlessness is a state of mind, not a state of reality” – Tom Peters