By Ruby Howells
The Hungarian flautist Noemi Gyori is not only my former professor, but also one of the most inspirational people whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. As well as leading a highly successful career as an international recording artist, playing regularly as a soloist and orchestral musician all over the world, Gyori is a recent graduate of the Academy’s PhD programme, and is the first flautist to do so. What makes her situation uncommon is that whilst living this busy performing schedule and tackling her thesis, she also has two young children to take care of. As this is a topic that Gyori doesn’t often discuss publicly, to have interviewed her is a privilege, and I hope that this insight into her dual role as an outstanding musician and loving mother will inspire all who read it.
RH: What is your favourite aspect of being a musical mother?
NG: As a musician, I get to visit many different places and play in lots of unusual settings, while also meeting a large variety of people coming from different cultures, societies and backgrounds. Many of the people I am acquainted with lead unique, sometimes extraordinary lives, which don’t necessarily follow the common patterns of society. My children travel with me very often; they come to my performances and rehearsals, which means that they are extensively exposed to the arts and all the experiences that come with travelling and engaging in an eventful social life. This is of course each time a high-level logistic hassle and requires lots of flexibility on everyone’s end, but I am reluctant to leave my children behind for longer periods (my older daughter was five years old the first time I left her at home for several days at once). My husband, the conductor Gergely Madaras, is also travelling extensively, so taking my daughters with me is often the only solution. Despite all the challenges, it makes me immensely happy that as a result of this lifestyle, my daughters have encountered so many different cultures from an early age, have visited so many countries, have met a great variety of people, and have seen so much of what goes on behind the scenes in a musician’s life! I believe that these experiences will greatly enrich their lives and open their eyes to the colourfulness of the world around us, and will positively influence their personalities, their creativity, their resilience and their views in the long run.
RH: Are there any moments in your career where being a mother has made things challenging?
NG: Nearly every moment since I became a mother! Building a serious career and being a mother both require a whole person, so thriving to pursue both roles simultaneously is definitely a full-time job. Even though I had normal pregnancies, I found that there is already a certain level of extra emotional pressure and responsibility whilst pregnant. Not to mention that pregnancy is physically demanding so, being a flautist, I found it a new challenge to perform large scale works and concertos on stage to the same standard whilst my body was undergoing major changes. Then once the baby is born, one needs to gain back the physical control needed for the instrument…and while trying to manage this, you are most of the time completely sleep deprived! The amount of time one is able to dedicate to practising shrinks immensely, and those are just the technical aspects. Even if not prepared, I was at least aware of these. However, what struck me more unexpectedly, was that from the moment of my first pregnancy, I often found people struggling to believe that I still had the same dedication and aspirations in my career. Oftentimes, whether it is taking care of children or other family members, the role of the carer falls mainly on women, causing them a huge amount of extra workload that they need to balance extremely skilfully throughout their whole adult lives, in order to have a chance to stay competent in their professions. I feel that most societies still need to work on these aspects and rethink these traditional gender roles – a pattern that was further highlighted in recent periods of Covid-lockdowns. I am sure that pursuing a PhD at RAM was for me also a way to prove my seriousness and commitment to excel in my profession, even while being a young mother.
RH: Simultaneously, are there any incidents where motherhood has made life easier?
NG: Being a mother teaches you that you can’t control most things, so you have to become flexible and quick at adapting to new situations. A great positive result of this is that you inevitably become resilient, in both your personal and working lives. If something proves to be difficult, I won’t “chicken out” at any moment, I just know that I need to carry on or give it more time. Similarly, I am becoming more aware of my own self: if someone is being critical, it can still shake me up, but then I reflect and only take to heart what is really important, not letting my self-esteem be challenged, as I am more confident in my path and its values. Another significant aspect I had to work on to make life easier is time management. I have definitely needed to learn to work fast and effectively, setting my goals extremely clearly. Before having children, I often thought “I should have practiced more, or I should have slept better before the concert” – I was trying to make the conditions ideal for the performance to go well, putting all of that pressure onto my own shoulders. However now, my practicing has become much more focused and I usually feel that I have done all I could; if I haven’t slept or practiced ‘enough’, I do have a valid excuse (that being the children!), which helped me to become more relaxed about ‘perfectionism’ on stage. Everything is put into perspective. I also realised that doing more hours of practice doesn’t necessarily result in a better outcome.
In addition, looking at everything as a whole, I feel that through motherhood, my life has become richer, more colourful and fulfilling. My children have taught me to appreciate so many little details that I previously hadn’t even noticed. Their genuine love of existence, their curiosity, their energy, enthusiasm and humour shows me every moment of each day how to live life to the fullest and this of course, feeds back to my musicianship. I feel immensely lucky that alongside my regular teaching job at the Royal Northern College of Music and my solo flute position at the Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich, I am able to lead a mostly freelance career, which all in all gives me lots of freedom. I luckily have many engagements coming in, so am able to decide which one to take on and to some extent can have a say in terms of rehearsal timings. This means that my life is very intense, but this path allows me to pursue a colourful career whilst spending plenty of time with my children, which is exceptional.
RH: Please elaborate a bit on your experiences of being a PhD candidate at the Academy whilst navigating motherhood!
NG: I often tell my students that things that make you grow rarely come from moments of comfort and extraordinary things are born beyond that comfort zone. I feel that this could have easily been the motto of my years spent at the Academy. I have grown in ways I have never thought I would and in return, it is no question that I have spent much of my time out of my comfort zone. While continuing my performance career and teaching, I had a toddler when beginning my studies. This meant that I ended up doing a lot of PhD work during night time and there were periods when I was going to sleep at 4am and waking up at 7am at the latest. Because it was not always possible to arrange a babysitter, there were numerous occasions where my eldest daughter would come to the seminars with me. And later on, towards the end of my doctoral studies, I didn’t quite manage to write up everything before giving birth to my second daughter, so I ended up finishing my thesis and completing my Viva next to a few months old baby and a primary school student that I needed to home-school due to the pandemic. So, looking back, the beginning and the very end were the most intense periods. I always tremendously enjoyed developing my artistic ideas and experimenting in rehearsals and at concerts, or leading discussions with colleagues on seminars. However, writing up things in academic English was something I had much less experience with, so I found it relatively stressful and needed substantial time to get into the flow of it. I was so lucky to have Dr. Briony Cox-Williams to supervise my work; she supported me along every step of the way with great intelligence and insight, while being tremendously calm and patient at all times. Whenever I felt that “this is beyond me” or that “there is no way I can produce such substantial work” I also had the constant encouragement of my family: my husband and daughters (it was wonderful seeing how much they were rooting for me!) as well as my parents. I also saw a counsellor on occasion (which really helped me during the write up period that was exactly at the same time as my second pregnancy) and a career coach, who was there for me to show how much small but steady steps matter. All in all, it was a really exhilarating and very intense time; most importantly, it felt wonderful and uplifting to be attached to this incredible institution during this extraordinary period of my life. It was a privilege to learn and grow in such a world-class environment.
RH: What would be your best piece of advice for anyone going into the music profession who may want to have a family in the future?
NG: My close musician friends and I often talk about the fact that the image of a serious artist is often associated with solitude, loneliness and a kind of constant state of “inner torture.” My impression is that it’s certainly less often linked with harmonious personal relationships or family life! This is really unfortunate, because I believe that there are huge benefits of having healthy human attachments that feed back into our career and artistry. A partner who encourages and inspires provides an incredible cushion and support mechanism and an emotional and mental security, which in my opinion, is much needed to maintain a high level of professional performance and to truly fly high. For me, having a family was an extension of this network, and I feel that the happiness, joy and fulfilment family life brought to me also fuels my creativity. Spending time with children evoked a new kind of playfulness in me and opened up territories for even more experimenting and trying out new and bold things – skills that are great to have as a parent, but which are also crucial for being an exciting artist!
Noemi Gyori graduated with honours from the Liszt Academy of Music and completed post-graduate studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München, studying with Henrik Prőhle, Barbara Gisler-Haase and András Adorján. She is the first flautist to hold a PhD in Flute Performance from the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Noemi has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in 28 countries, and is a recipient of the European Culture Prize for Young Artists (2011), the Career Prize of the Salon de Virtuosi Foundation New York (2012) and the Performers’ Prize of the Artisjus Music Foundation Hungary (2006, 2009). She is the principal flutist of the Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich and has played as a guest member in the BBC Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic (Vienna State Opera).
Noemi is an Associate Tutor in flute at The Royal Northern College of Music, Tutor at the Junior RNCM and at The University of Manchester. She has given masterclasses in three continents and has recorded for broadcast with the ORF, Deutschlandfunk, BRF, BBC, WQXR New York, Hungarian Radio, Arte and Mezzo TV. Her recordings – Antonio Nava: Flute and Guitar Duos (2011), Glowing Sonorities (2016), Transforming Traditions (2019) and Haydn and Mozart Quartets (2021) – received international critical acclaim.
Noemi is a Miyazawa Flutes Artist, performing on a LaFin headjoint and a 14K gold Boston flute, sponsored by the Solti and PhilipLoubser Foundations.