All posts by Pamela Brown

"The Other Mozart", Pamina, and the Zauberflote... Supposed to have been silenced...but not entirely...

The ‘It’ Girl…

By the time I found myself supporting my three adorable children on my own, I had also almost literally fallen into a modeling career…of sorts. I started out going to Miss Compton’s Modeling School to develop self-confidence, but before the end of the scheduled classes had ended up in live fashion shows and print. It was a heady time.

I ventured out to a modeling agency to expand my contacts. I did not know what to expect. Anne Marie, at Creative, just put her pen down and stared at me. I began to wonder what was wrong. I’m sure I blushed.

“You don’t look like a farm girl,” she said.

I was afraid she might be disappointed.

“No. I’m from New York”, I whispered.

Then she smiled a wide smile and put me to work.

First, she sent me to Horst to have my hair conditioned.

In those days, his shop was in a vine-covered brick building.

I had waist-length brown hair, but I swam a mile a day. At that time they didn’t have the great swim shampoos they have today.

He held my ponytail up as high as he could. His staff stopped everything and looked at us.

“Its GREEN!” he spat. Austrian accent.

Sighs of derision followed. I think I turned a bit green as well…

“It has to come off!”

Before I knew it, I had a long pixi cut.

I was stunned. And speechless. This was not what I had anticipated…

Horst examined me again, a furrowed brow. Not a good thing.

“Henna!” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“An herb. You’ll LOVE it!”

And so I baked for nearly two hours with what felt like a jar of clay on my head.

But by the time, I had shiny, rippling — burgundy red — hair.

I sighed. And left.

The next day, Anne Marie looked at me again.

“You’re a redhead!” she said.

“Yes,” I squeaked.

“That will be great for cattle calls.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, not really wanting to know

“We send a blonde, a brunette and a redhead. You’re the redhead.”

And so Horst literally launchec my career.

And for a season, I became the “It” girl.

It was. heady experience. Even TV commercials and a billboard in St. Paul.

But there was more to the story…

I was also taking flute lessons with Sid Zeitlin, the cranky yet loveable Principal Flute of the Minnesota Orchestra. I drove a ’73 Superbeetle, and was not about to leave the vintage French flute I had just bought from him (trading in may Hanes), So I carried it with me. And lo and behold, in fittings, I would find myself looking at it and wondering…

Do I really want to have my picture taken without my flute?

And so my modeling days shifted into another gear without my even realizing it…


Jacob was as one of our own…

I can’t remember exactly where I was when I first heard Jacob Wetterling had gone missing.  I do recall that I reacted with surprise and shock — to think that a child who lived in a small town could not ride his bike in safety sent a shockwave to me and my children, living in a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis.  The bright eyes, the great smile –Jacob was a child who was and had everything we would want for our children.  Yet in an instant he was gone, and there seemed to be no answers.

I travel frequently past St. Joseph for family gatherings.  I had family members in the St. John’s Boys Choir in nearby Collegeville.  Each time I went to their events I thought of Jacob — and later also of Josh Guimond, who disappeared off of the St. John’s campus — and prayed for answers, and wondered about what had happened.  When the SJ Boy’s Choir put on Stephen Paulus’ The Star Gatherer, I wondered if it was really a story about Jacob.

But I will never forget turning on the TV this Saturday morning to the news that Jacob’s remains had been found.  Shock, horror, and anger that perhaps someone comfortable with monstrous behavior had sat on the truth for nearly thirty years, allowing the family to live in a tortuous rollercoaster.  The worst had happened.  Jacob was not coming home.  All the dreams and hopes his family had for him were forever shattered.  But then I found there also came a vague sense of relief.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Wetterlings.  We will grieve with them, and we will walk the last steps with them, and there will always be a warm spot in our heart for Jacob.

Lahti-da…yet another grand tour? :-0

As Monostatos’ Orchestra settles in briefly across the pond, thanks to yet another $1M+ check from possibly their largest current donor, is there any possibility that they will take stock of the problems they may have left at home? Hmmm…I’ll have to think about that…maybe not…

Now the MO happens to have yet another person ’embedded’ with them…(at one time it was Monostatos’ wife-at-the-time)…this time a woman who blogs under a title not dissimilar from this one…

Will anyone actually tell the truth about what they are hearing, or will music-lovers be encouraged yet again to listen with their heads instead of their ears?

And will there be — oh goody! — more Sibelius? (Even though everyone else also seems to be performing Sibelius right now)…

Guess we’ll have to wait and see…:-0

A fond memory…

My husband Donner was a wonderful jazz and blues guitar player, performing as a backup player in bands most frequently in NYC and Boston, including recording and playing with Donovan in LA. In fact, when I first lived in NYC I would stand at the door Metropole on Broadway on summer days when the door was open to listen to the wonderful music. Little did I realize that he was at times inside playing.

Music had been Donner’s life until he hit a dead end spiritually and emotionally. Once he came into recovery he considered his music something of a curse — a burden he wished to cast off. By that time, also, he was starting to deal with arthritis in his hands. I encouraged him to play with me, as I felt that could help him heal from the damage of the past. I did not often succeed, but on occasion I did. This is a video of “What Child Is This?” (Greensleeves) from the Die Zauberflote 2014 MOA Holiday concert.

Don’t sell yourself short…

Long ago I found myself in a very strange predicament; one that has had a lasting influence on my life.  I wanted to study the flute seriously and was looking for a good teacher.  By chance I was offered a ticket to a Minnesota Orchestra concert.  During the concert I found myself listening to some gorgeous flute-playing.  At one point the beauty and sonority was so compelling I found myself standing, in the front row of the first balcony.  I was mesmerized.  As the friend who had given me the ticket tugged my hand and I sat back down I thought ‘who is this person who can play like this?’  I learned that it was the orchestra’s Principal Flute, Sid Zeitlin.

Could I study with him?  Not likely, I told myself.  Someone at Orchestra Hall gave me his phone number.  I called him.  He wanted to hear me play.  I grabbed the piece I had been most recently working on, the Telleman Suite in A minor, and went to see him at his studio at the home he shared with his wife, who also played with the Orchestra.  They had a beautiful music room — very airy and spacious.

Sid barely came up to my shoulder.  I recall that we stood and looked at each other for a moment.  He had a round face, dark hair and a scowl that I soon learned was a frequent expression.  I played for him, not sure what to expect.  “Well, I’ll take you on, but that isn’t a very good piece of music.  Try this.”  He gave me the flute part to the Bach Second Suite, which I later learned was one of his signature pieces.  A bit puzzled, but obviously elated, I left.

During the next lesson he asked to see my flute.  It was a Haynes closed-hole model.  “You can’t use this,” he said.  “I’ll show you some open-hole flutes next lesson.  You can try them out.”  And so, before too long, I found that I had traded in my Haynes as partial payment for one of his Louis Lots, because I loved its sound.  However, I quickly found out the the issue for me was not open v closed-holes, but that the aperture on the mouthpiece was small, and it was not easy to hit the center of each of the notes.  It did not occur to me until much later that Zeitlin was, of course, aware of this and perhaps using it to test me.

I was surprised, as lessons progressed, that he did not recommend my working on any other pieces.  Nor did he talk about exercise books.  So I brought in what I had and he seemed uninterested in them.  Something didn’t seem quite right by that point, but I had no idea what it was.

Then I received a phone call from someone at Orchestra Hall, telling me that I would not be able to take lessons with Zeitlin, as he had suffered a major heart attack while playing tennis at a Northwest Racquet Club.  He was lucky to be alive.   I was shocked and concerned.  I let go.  I had no choice.  (In hindsight, I can see that I should have let go for good, as what followed became something of a nightmare for each of us.)

By this time I was starting to ask myself ‘if not him, who else would teach me?’  I also began to wonder where, other than this negative and combative orchestra environment that he was involved in, could I go to perform?  There seemed to be no alternative.

In short, I did call him some six months or so later and began to take lessons again.  But he was a changed man.  He seemed depressed and bitter.  He snapped at me.  He sent me on rabbit trails.  He refused to teach me orchestral excerpts (which was one of the main reasons, of course, that I wanted to study with him).  But he did teach them to the young woman whose lesson was before mine, I realized one day when I arrived early — so I sat in the hallway and learned second-hand.

Some time later Zeitlin called me to say that I would need to take my lessons at his new apartment downtown.  His marriage had fallen apart.  I felt uncomfortable at this, though I said nothing.  Soon after that he changed the lessons to a practice room at Orchestra Hall.

By this time I had learned that Zeitlin was a long-time heavy drinker, and that this could have contributed to all his problems.  I offered to go with him to an AA meeting, as I was in recovery myself, but he declined.  And then I came to realize that everything really had come to a dead end.

Not long after that I learned that Zeitlin had messed up a recording session and was likely to be fired.  Somehow, he survived.  Later I heard that he was definitely going to be fired, and for some reason I felt compelled to call the Music Director’s office and plead for his job for him.  (I am sure others did as well.) The stay did not last long, however, and then I learned he was out.  The next thing I learned was that he had died.  I still cannot describe just how I felt — this great dream I had for him and for myself had been brought to nothing.  The extraordinary tone and exquisite technique — with notes shaped like petals of a flower — had shriveled and died.  To Zeitlin’s credit, he had made sure I acquired a good headjoint for the tricky Louis Lot flute he had sold me, and so I play it to this day in his memory, and to honor the gifts that he was once so blessed to have been given.  But I carry a greater sorrow, that of accepting when there is nothing more one can do and the outcome is dismal.  I know that is an alternative I do not want for myself or anyone else.

In hindsight, I think the problems Zeitlin was facing really stemmed from the false mindset held by many (maybe even most) professional musicians – that they have to beat themselves up in private in order to ‘play with conviction’ on the concert stage.  When I would try to describe the beauty of what I was hearing him do, he would snap at me.  He could not accept appreciation, no matter how well deserved.  Nothing was good enough.  I learned he had more insecurities than I did.  The orchestral system at that time had forced him into a box.

Flute players are especially picky.  They often end up with what I call ‘poodle flute-playing’ — they are so concerned about the superficial technical aspects of their playing that they miss the depth of playing that could be available to them. This is a horrible environment.

As I am, as it were, the flute player on the outside, in the fresh air (hence ‘Rossignol’)  who is free from those constraints I can say, (while heaving a great sigh of relief), that constant self-criticism only tends to block the unique gift and voice (or muse) that each musician has.  We have to go from ‘good’ to ‘better’ in order to keep that channel open and to be honest.  We need to be in competition with ourselves, not our colleagues.  We need performance opportunities that are fresh.  We need music that is alive.  Hence, in my case, improvisation.  This is our alternative — the one that works…:-)