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An exemplary master of the silver flute

Derek Honner FRAM, an inspired teacher at the Royal Academy of Music for some 30 years died on Friday, May 3. A former principal piccolo with the London Philharmonic orchestra, he was a man of deep sensitivity and personal modesty. He took a lifelong interest in the lives of his students, who are to be found at every level of British musical life. At a time when rogue teachers are in the headlines, Derek stands out as a stainless exemplar of enlightened instruction. Jennifer Stinton, who studied with him 1981-1985, contributes the following appreciation.


derek honner

His original training was in the army bands, which was why he was so brilliant at transposition by sight and expected his students to try it too! He was at the RAM for about 30 years …the professors were Derek & Gareth Morris and there was huge rivalry between them, because Gareth insisted on his students sticking with the wooden Rudall Carte flutes and Derek was more forward thinking in the French tradition with the silver flute….

Derek was keen to experiment with the new approach to flute-playing, a more relaxed style and embouchure, echoing the traditions of the Paris Conservatoire. The wooden flute had begun to decline in the 1940′s, as great flautists like Marcel Moyse from France, started getting the recording work. The flautists in England, such Geoffrey Gilbert (whom I also studied with when he moved to the States), started to realise that they would need to change their ideas and techniques and move to silver flute. This instrument had more flexbility and the ability to penetrate through the symphonic orchestra.
Gareth, although a fine musician, was very inflexible in his approach and did not respect Derek’s new ideas. The wooden flute technique he taught was a tight embouchure and rather forced sound. This often caused tension between the two professors, although us RAM students managed to get along, as my individual lessons were with Derek, but woodwind orchestral technique classes were with Gareth! Derek was rather overlooked at the RAM, towards the end of his teaching career and I think he felt this side-lining very deeply. He was an excellent and much-loved teacher with the vision to move forward with the times.
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  1. Emma Slater nee D'Cruz says:

    Very sad news. I studied with Derek for 10 years from the age of 11 and he was inspirational and like another grandad to me. He was treated appallingly by the RAM but students like myself valued him highly as both a person and a professor.

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