We had the opportunity to ask Göran a few questions. Take a look at his thoughts on starting a musical career later than most, his biggest influences as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. Having a later start to your musical career than most, how did you find your way into music and flute performance?
I was a “flute owner” at age 9 and only practiced for an hour the day before my lessons… I played mostly because everybody at home played an instrument. Originally, I wanted to become a pilot in the Swedish Air Force like my uncle. But I had back surgery when I was 14 and that put an end to my dreams of becoming a pilot. Also, my uncle had a bad crash in a jetfighter, a SAAB J35, at that time. So, we were both in the hospital and communicated almost every day. To become a pilot was not an option anymore even though I never lost my fascination for aviation.
Because of the surgery, I had to stay home from school a year. I did a minimum of schoolwork and a maximum of flute playing. My ex-pilot uncle helped me buy my first silver flute. I played hours every day and tried to play along with recordings at home. It was really fun! It was at that time that I decided to become a flutist.
I started to take auditions for conservatories at age 17 and was finally accepted when I was 24… I did 15 auditions before I made it.
It was a really tough time for me. Did I have no talent? Was everybody else so much better than me? Maybe I should just give it up? But I had no alternative to music! We all know how it feels to be rejected from something we really want. At that time I had a very strong believe in some kind of higher justice among the people who sit on juries and committees holding other peoples’ lives in their hands. Today I look at it completely differently.
First of all, there might be someone out there who simply is a better musician. But second, and very important to remember, panels and juries can be wrong. Sometimes terribly wrong… They might try their best, but yet not be competent in finding what they are supposed to be looking for.
Today I make a living from playing classical music on my flute. And not just that, I am thankful to have a very successful career. If you have a true love for music, there is room for you somewhere. Believe me! Just don’t let other people’s decisions get under your skin. I can tell you so many more bizarre stories about this another time. Most of them are orchestra auditions, and some including myself…
2. With the developments of not becoming a pilot and failed auditions, it is so impressive that you were still able to make your dreams come true. How did you persevere in the face of so many challenges and not give up?
I think it is very important to have dreams. Or, at least an idea of what you would like to do with your life. That makes it easy to motivate the hours in the practice room. Also, I call myself lucky. But that is a process. I constantly work with myself try to recognize the luck. Sometimes it is a bit hidden. But it is out there, somewhere… And it is certainly not always just about my career or the flute. Could be anything…
Oh, this is a fun story! A year ago I happened to be seated next to a pilot of US Air. He was in the cabin on his way to Charlotte and the training center of US Air. We chatted, became good friends, and after the NFA Convention in Charlotte last year I went to the training center and got to fly a Boeing 757 for 2 hours. It was a simulator, but anyway… That is a good example of luck!
Thinking about dreams, I was working in a brick factory one year and then moved to another city to drive the tram, which was another boyhood dream I had. Meanwhile, I just kept practicing. I played in a half-professional wind band and I took many masterclasses and listened to tons of music. Live music and records. I lived with my love for music and the dream that one day I would be playing all that great stuff on my flute. One of the records I played along with when I was 17 was Rite of Spring with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Can you imagine my feelings when 20 years later, I played with the London Symphony Orchestra and we did Rite of Spring with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting?!
3. What do you think is the most important thing for you to emphasize in your teaching and in your own playing?
Both in teaching and playing I have to affect the people in front of me. Very often it is inspiration and a shared joy of music. I also try to present an inner voice of the music in a deeper sense. An example of this would be a character or story that has to be presented with a clear understanding from the player, so that it can affect the listener. Now having said that, neither I nor a student of mine would get anywhere close to affecting anyone if the technical issues have not been solved. Position, relaxed body, tone and technique have to be solved first. But there is a wide range of repertoire for all levels, so with the right piece of music, we can always work on musical ideas to affect an audience.
4. What does a typical day look like for you?
I hold a position in Göteborg Wind Orchestra and go by car and train into town. That is not a full-time job so it leaves me with time for my freelance projects. Another benefit is that I never have a problem to get some days off when I have to go somewhere on short notice. Sometimes other orchestras call me to be a guest principal flute… When I travel there is of course no such thing as a typical day.
5. How do you balance your life with all the travel, performing and teaching?
I don’t… Ha ha! I am very domestic and love to be home. I always take some weeks off from the flute around Christmastime. But traveling today is so easy. I enjoy sitting in an airplane and following the moves to make it fly. It gives me time to catch up on movies or read a good book. The only difficult part is the daily practice on the flute… Any piece that is on the repertoire for a tour has to be so well prepared that I can play it in the middle of the night while suffering from food poisoning at the same time. Not that anyone should practice this scenario at home, though!
As a teacher I am not connected to any university, although I am open to that idea at the moment. I often visit colleges or universities and then, of course, every year I do the Wildacres Fluteretreat in the mountains of North Carolina. That is a highlight each year for me. I learn so much that week from working with flutists of all levels.
6. With so many playing opportunities, how do you go about choosing repertoire for your recordings and recital programs?
My recordings, lately for Naxos, are normally a trading of what I want and what they can sell. For my most recent CD, “Melodies of a Silver Flute,” I actually recorded exactly what I wanted. But after that of course I got my gold flute… For the recitals and concerts it varies a lot. Mostly people who hire me have an idea of what type of program they want. Then I suggest the actual pieces.
7. Who were your biggest influences on your flute playing?
I remember a few lessons in my life that really turned me around. The first one was from my first teacher, Bernt Asplund, who told me when I was about 10 years old that I could not learn to play the flute by just having lessons. He told me I had to practice. So, I did. One hour on the day before the lesson! And it worked… Of course later when I was around 14 I really got into practicing, and then I finally realized what a difference it made compared to practicing just one hour before the lesson. My god! Why didn’t I try that earlier?!
In college when I was around 25, I had a teacher who taught me pretty much all one needs to know about traditions from baroque to avant-garde. Gerhard Schaub was very intellectual, not much for spontaneity in music, but dead-on with interpretation. For six years I learned rules, styles and all the tools mainly for working in an orchestra. Once, in a piece by Jolivet, he suggested that I change some of my phrasing. So I did. Then he took a hard look at me over his glasses and said in his German accent, “I know you will play it your way out there , but here and now, you do it like it was thought by the composer! Hm!!!” I got the message. I still always treat the text with great respect. Except sometimes…
Then of course there is James Galway. With all his recordings, he was my teacher long before I actually had lessons with him. In addition to all the flute-y things like tone and technique, which was really great, he also in a very generous way made me believe in my own musical ideas. To stand up for my own interpretations. I remember one early morning playing Mozart D-major concerto in his class in Weggis. I played the cadenza in the 1st movement, and he asked me whose cadenza it was. “Is it your own?” he asked. “No,” I said quietly. “It’s Rampal’s.” He smiled back to me and said, “Well, if you play it that way, like you did… You can certainly use it!”
8. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
There are a few good reasons. The first reason is the mechanism. The Brögger System is just so good… I played on a flute with a Brögger mechanism for many years. Then Miyazawa began producing the next generation called the Brögger System – once I tried that, I could not use anything else. Secondly, I like the headjoints that Miyazawa makes. So many good options to suit whatever taste you have! My favorite is the model MZ-10. One more good reason is the friendly people at Miyazawa. When I tried the different models and discussed the many options for my order, I was talking with people who really understand flute playing, most of whom are flutists themselves.
The very special flute that was made for me carries the name “Western Orchid.” A beautiful flower, with many species and colors. In Japanese, it is called Yo-Ran. Compare that with my name, Göran (yoran), and I think you fully understand…
Being a Miyazawa Artist feels a bit like coming home again as the very first flute I owned was a Miyazawa. I loved it and played it so much that practically I wore it out! But it was an entry-level model and I put it away when I got a solid silver flute. When I moved away from my parent’s home some 30 years ago, my father made a fire in our backyard out of all the things I left behind. I had completely forgotten about the flute that I had not used for many years. I will never forget his frantic phone call to me. “ Göran, I think I just cremated a flute…”
9. If you had one piece of advice to give an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
I would give the some of the same advice I got from James Galway: get all of the repertoire! Study as many pieces as you can. Things you learn in your youth tend to stick in your brain. If you later get things going with a good career, teaching, orchestra or as a soloist, you will have less time to study new pieces. Add a wife/husband and kids to that career and you realize that you can’t waste a minute in the practice room as an upcoming flutist. Good Luck all up-and-comers!!!