Day in the Life: Kersti the flautist

Kersti rehearsing music in the orchestra pit at the Vanemuine Small Building theatre in Tartu. 13 October 2018.
Kersti rehearsing music in the orchestra pit at the Vanemuine Small Building theatre in Tartu. 13 October 2018. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

Younger me would likely be surprised by my life today, but so are many of my peers. Even my old university classmates would ask, "Do you actually earn money doing this?" Some were surprised I played that well. But I earn a living today doing what my family has done for generations — I play an instrument. My name is Kersti Perandi, and I am a flautist in the Vanemuine Symphony Orchestra.

One of my favourite parts of my job is that I don't have to wake up early. In fact, my only morning ritual as such is my habit of hitting the snooze button as many times as possible, sometimes every ten minutes. For an hour.

Once I've slept in long enough, I get up, shower, make something to eat and get dressed before heading out the door. I have no pets to take care of, either first thing in the morning or first thing after work; I don't think I could stand the mess pets would make living in a flat. Besides, I work and live one day at a time.

There is usually a rehearsal at the theatre in the morning, after which I have time to give flute lessons four days a week at two music schools, one of which is in Tartu's Annelinn neighbourhood and the other in nearby Ülenurme. I also have to make time to practice on my own, both repertoire pieces as well as just scales and etudes, in order to keep myself in top form. Yes, practicing scales is just as important at the top level as it is when you are just learning to play!

Come evening, it's back to the theatre — usually Theatre Vanemuine, but sometimes the Small Building or the Harbour Theatre — for another rehearsal or an actual performance, and suddenly it's 10 o'clock at night already.

It depends on the specific day, of course. On some days there aren't any lessons at either music school, and on other days our work schedule with the symphony orchestra doesn't require us to be there in the morning and again in the evening.

Despite this, lately I feel as though I work too much — a lot has piled up lately, and I end up not having much time for anything else. When I did have more time, I still actively volunteered as a leader in the Home Daughters, a youth organisation of the Estonian Defence League where I myself joined as a member when I was 13 years old.

Nowadays I like to read, and I like to knit, which I most often do ahead of the Christmas holidays. I don't really play any sports, although I like to ride my bike and go hiking in the summer. And we get extended holidays between theatre seasons.

Thankfully, though, I love my job. There is a lot of beautiful music. There are challenges, and I get the chance to exceed myself. In my line of work, I get the chance to meet a lot of interesting people, and I never head to the theatre thinking, "I have to go to work."

Destined to make music

Music is in my blood. I grew up in the countryside near the city of Tartu together with two older sisters. Every summer, we would do farm work at our grandparents' place, helping care for animals including cows, pigs, horses and chickens in addition to the farm cats and dogs. It wasn't easy, but as an adult I am now grateful for those years.

My grandfather played many different instruments, and taught all of his children how to play. Their children in turn began attending music school and learned to play various instruments. We even had a family band that would play together at birthdays or other family get-togethers. My grandfather even wrote sheet music for us himself.

Since no one in the family played the flute yet, that is what my mother suggested I learn to play. In that sense I didn't get to choose for myself what instrument I wanted to learn, but I haven't regretted it once, as the flute is just a stunningly gorgeous instrument.

After graduating high school, as I considered plans for my future, I never suspected that I would end up a professional flautist. At the University of Tartu, I studied various things. It was a year after I had graduated from Heino Eller Tartu Music School and I was studying at the School of Economics when one day I was contacted by Theatre Vanemuine and informed that a flautist spot would soon be opening up in the Vanemuine Symphony Orchestra. I was invited to audition, and to my own surprise I was hired! And so I began working at the theatre.

Music and theatre were both very dear to me, and to be honest I was glad when I had to miss the occasional lecture in order to make it to a rehearsal. And so I ended up not finishing my degree. Now, this autumn marks the beginning of my sixth season with the theatre.

Life and times of a professional musician

So many people believe that musician is not a real profession. When I still studied at the university, even my classmates asked, "Do you actually earn money doing this?" I always thought this was some kind of joke and hadn't imagined I'd ever have to actually explain to anyone that working at a theatre and playing an instrument are actual work too — honestly!

The Vanemuine Symphony Orchestra provides music for various musical performances, including operas, operettas, musicals and the odd ballet, and the flautist is just one of many members of the orchestra. The orchestra's repertoire currently includes 13 different works which we have to be prepared to play at the drop of a hat. There are usually another five or six symphony orchestra concerts throughout the year as well.

I most frequently play the Western concert flute, which is the typical flute most people think of, and the piccolo, which plays an octave higher than written, but the music occasionally also calls for the alto flute or the recorder. The built-in shelf in my music stand is good for keeping my piccolo handy.

While the orchestra pit at the main theatre is now deeper following renovations, the one at the Small Building is shallow enough that those along its front edge can kind of see what's going on onstage above. Since there are more musicians employed by the theatre than are needed in the orchestra on any given night, we sometimes get the chance to sit in the audience and actually watch the performance whose music we play. Last time I had the chance, of course, I was too sick to go.

But we don't lack for excitement down below either. One time, during a performance of the Giuseppe Verdi opera "Aida," a prop pistol fell in the orchestra pit and hit me right on the knee. Then again, in this line of work, that isn't very unusual either. A lot of different things have fallen in the orchestra pit, including a car wheel.

Presidential hopeful

Over the years I have changed as a person. Other things have changed as well, of course — the euro was adopted in 2011, and right when I bought a car, petrol prices skyrocketed. Back when I was still a grade school student, kids still respected their teachers. Now I feel as though teachers are less teachers and more customer service.

As I get older, however, I have begun to analyse myself more, and I have grown to be more honest with myself as well. I've also learned not to make promises whose fulfilment is not directly dependent on you. When I was a child, I had wanted to grow up to be president — Estonia's first woman president. I just missed my chance, of course, as Kersti Kaljulaid beat me to it.

Now I have both bigger and smaller goals that I work toward and achieve. In the long term, I want to see my little students grow up and see what becomes of them. In the short term, I'd like a new flute.

Child-me would likely be pretty surprised about how I live my life today. But if I could go back and tell child-me anything, it would be, "Look in the mirror before you walk out the door more often."

After the curtain call

My coworkers and I sometimes go out after work to discuss our emotions following a performance — some are just so thrilling that it would be impossible to simply go home and go to bed afterward!

If I have an evening at home to myself, I usually watch a film or TV show and then read a bit before going to sleep. I also have a bad habit of eating again before bed; sometimes this is the first time all day I've had time for a proper meal.

But I have time to myself before rehearsals and performances too. Last Saturday, for example, was a beautiful autumn day in Tartu. I walked in the park adjacent to the Vanemuine Small Building, where ducks swam in the pond and the leaves were painted golden and crimson.

Afterward, I went to a rehearsal for the next night's performance of "Jevgeni Onegin," and for the first time in a while I was able to play such beautiful music and have it all go smoothly.

Oh, we could use more music like that in our repertoire — Tchaikovsky is simply an incredible composer.


Day in the Life is a new weekly series by ERR News telling the stories of everyday Estonians, their livelihoods, and their lives. If you know someone whose story you feel should be told, email us at [email protected].

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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