Erika Uggowitzer was born in 1967 in Güssing (Austria). After playing the recorder and accordion, she began playing the flute at the age of 12. She studied concert performance and instrumental pedagogy at the University of Music in Graz.
Since 1995 she has been teaching at the Ulrich-von-Liechtenstein Music School in Judenburg. She is the author of the flute school "querflötenmusik" following the GANZ in der Musik® method, a holistic and sustainable way of teaching music. In this context she is also active in teacher trainings.
After years of intensive study of the various breathing teachings, she passes on her knowledge and experience in the form of breathing lessons for wind players. Artistically, she is at home in a wide variety of musical styles.
August 20, 2023
Do you see yourself as right-handed or left-handed?
I am left-handed again after retraining.
My mother told me that when I started school (and I assume before) I used both hands alternately when writing and drawing. She advised me to specialize in the right hand - it didn't seem to matter to me - and from then on she made sure that I wrote only with my right.
I had never attached any particular importance to this narrative of my mother.
About a year and a half ago, I began to look into the subject of handedness because of a left-handed flute student, and in the course of this I read the book "Der umgeschulte Linkshänder" by Johanna Barbara Sattler. The memory of my mother's words came back to me and I suspected that I was actually left-handed.
To be absolutely sure, I had my handedness tested by Andrea Schwarz in Vienna. The result was obvious and it was immediately clear to me that I wanted to write with my left hand again.
When did you retrain your instrument to play on the left and why?
In the course of my pedagogically motivated research, I also read Walter Mengler's book "Musizieren mit links" (Making Music with the Left Hand) of course, and then read up further on the subject. I found out that it is now easy to get a left-hand transverse flute. I also landed on "linksgespielt.de" and read Maria Holzeis-Augustin's story. I got in touch with her and we had a very inspiring phone conversation, after which it was finally clear to me that after writing, I also wanted to approach left-hand flute playing.
Please tell us more about your approach and retraining process.
When I started playing left-handed, I was very motivated and believed that the retraining would go very quickly. However, I soon realized that I had to give my body time. My muscles were not used to the new posture. In my euphoria, I ignored the signs of fatigue - which occurred after a few minutes at that time - and continued to play. This did no good for my musculoskeletal system and I developed massive back problems.
So I cut back my practice to small sessions and from then on paid the utmost attention to my posture. I mostly played alternately left and right while practicing. In this initial stage, it is very, very important to consciously realign the body each time. The asymmetrical posture of the flute has many sources of error. If you are sloppy with it, it can be very uncomfortable.
What was the biggest challenge for you in retraining?
Having patience and realizing that decades of playing on the right simply manifested itself in the body. The muscles for the left side have to be trained first, and that takes time. It's certainly much easier to relearn when you're younger or still a child - I was 54 when I got my left-hand flute. I've also noticed that not playing at all for a few days gives the body a chance to process what's new. After that, it's more possible to make progress again.
This new learning of the flute posture, in which a lot of things have long been happening by themselves and subconsciously on the right side, was a key experience for me: I realized how it feels to be a flute beginner, how difficult it is to manage fingerings if the posture is not coherent. It took a really long time until I had the necessary balance to play the combination c2/d2 with a secure feeling, which is a challenge for everyone at the beginning. Even today I can feel how every mistake in the posture of the arms and hands affects the fingers and thus the fluency.
Now, after about a year and a half, I notice that I'm getting more and more into left-hand playing.
Did you have support or could you exchange ideas with other people playing left-handed or re-learning?
As I said, I am in contact with Maria Holzeis-Augustin. The conversations with her are always a valuable input for me - in the meantime, she not only has experience with retraining herself but also in teaching left-handed students.
I also got support from my husband Manfred Uggowitzer, who is himself a musician and director of a music school. Unfortunately, I don't know any other left-handed musicians personally. When I talk to colleagues about the topic, the spectrum of reactions ranges from incomprehension to skepticism ("What does that look like in an orchestra?"...) to interested inquiries.
In what context do you still play right-handed today?
As already mentioned, I play both flutes alternately when practicing. Since the learning process is a slow one, I have to stay fit on the right for performances.
The fascinating thing for me is that if I practice something briefly on the left and then switch to the "right" flute, it feels like I've been practicing the piece for at least an hour. So playing on the left speeds up my practice success on the "right" flute.
In music school lessons and performances with my students, I play almost exclusively on the left flute. This has definite advantages when teaching, because the children can easily follow the things I show them by mirroring them.
How do the two directions of playing feel different?
The first notes on my left flute felt very good right away. I played down to the lowest note, the c1, and was surprised: I had long had problems with the low notes on the "right" flute; the lowest notes had always felt much lower. Now I thought, "Wait, that's it? There must be something lower!"
The flute also feels lighter on the left side. I remember my teachers always criticizing when I let my right arm sink too low. With the left flute, I rather have to be careful not to hold it too high.
Having the sound of the flute in my left ear is also something that felt really nice from the beginning. I used to not want to hear any flute sounds after an afternoon of teaching. Now I usually look forward to practicing in the evening.
Another issue that took me a very long time to find a solution for is breathing while playing the flute. I have the impression that this also works much more organically and naturally when aligned to the left.
Playing left just benefits me, like writing with the left also has its positive effects. It strengthens the dominant side, and when I consider the development of the last year and a half, I notice that I have more energy, think in a more structured way, and am more self-confident.
Where did you get your left-hand instruments?
I currently play a Viento flute with a headjoint by Mehnert.
What curious experiences have you had with your playing style?
Most of my students didn't notice anything when I played the left flute for the first time in the lessons.