Category Archives: Principal Flute

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…:-)

 

 

 

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Die Zauberflote…has the opera come to life in Minnesota?

Let’s see if I can give you a brief rundown of characters that exist in the opera Die Zauberflote as well as in real life…rather than give you their actual names, I will share with you the names I have given them in my saga “Piper to the Alternative”…which is fictional, but drawn from real life…

Well, me, of course — Pamina, who knew the sound of Mozart’s music even before I knew his name.

My Father, Dorian Payne.  He was a metallurgist.  He gave me my flute.

My Mother, Mildred, the real Queen of the Night.  She was a very powerful witch, able to hurl curses and cause a room to turn white with her anger. Mildred also bewitches just about everyone except Pamina, who, because of the flute, sees right through her.  Mildred’s lack of the protection of secrecy around Pamina causes her to repeatedly rage at her daughter.

The QOTN’s Ladies in waiting — they manage to turn into wannabe’s…Starla, Karin and Mili…

Papageno — my dear friend Paul, who has supported me through a lot of angst…

Tamino — a bit of a mystery…listen to the sound of the flute and then you can decide…

The three children  — Karl, Krystof and Karin

Monostatos — Maurice Magus, Principal Flute at the Salzburg Northland State Orchestra, Christopher Rand, player, and Cranston Revellard, conductor (plus others)…

Oh, and of course Sarastro…but that may be another mystery:-)

 

#MinnegeddonPartDeux…if you will just bear with me…

My greatest character fault (that I am aware of; undoubtedly there are others) is that I have a tendency to speak in a matter-of-fact manner about issues that are to others somewhat extraordinary. To add to that failure, I then anticipate that I have won everyone over when, in fact, I may have just left them confused or scared.

As I look at this situation objectively, I can now, after the passage of time, say that I can think of absolutely no reason why anyone should find me or what I say credible. I can hardly imagine, in hindsight, what my poor flute teacher, who was Principal Flute for the MO at the time, for example, was going through. I think, in our own way, each of us was trying to work with the other, without having any understanding of just how wide the gap was. A few months after I started studying with him, he had a near-fatal heart attack. His magnificent sound was compromised, and I don’t think he ever really got it back. After that he seemed somewhat reluctant to schedule lessons with me, and kept sending me off on rabbit trails, as well has having outbursts of what I can now call angry sarcasm at some of the questions I asked. For example, I asked him about his breathing technique on a tricky excerpt. His answer was, “Well, it’s simple. You breathe in, you breathe out.” I much belatedly realized how severely his breath support had been compromised by his health issues. I was, in fact, a poster child for insensitivity in that regard.

And so, I am sure it has been with others with a trained ear. Something that cannot be grasped, something that cannot be controlled, where I seem to be hearing things I am not supposed to be able to grasp (one player ranted and raved because I was singing the ‘inner voices’ to a piece we were listening to. (I still don’t quite get that…:-0)

But at any rate, though, if you meet me in person you will find that I am quite silly and irreverent; in fact, a total opposite of what most anyone would see as a ‘credible musician’. But on the other hand, if you happen to be at all interested, I encourage you to test what I say, rather than just tossing my statements into the trash, so to speak. And in the process, perhaps ask yourself if die zauberflote is so magic that it not only caused a 200M arts organization to come to a grinding halt in order to (as well as for other more obvious reasons) undo damage that was done to me and my three little children, might you then possibly ask yourself if it is impossible that the entire cast of the opera Die Zauberflote has come to life in the 21-st century in Minnesota? For that is at the heart of the mystery of what is happening here…:-)

Were they ‘lying in wait’ at the MO? :-0

I must have had one of the most unorthodox entries into the underworld of classical music of anyone who ever attempted to enter it ‘seriously’ — young, single mother of three beautiful little children, initially working as a model, of all thing, to provide support for my family. When I called the at-that-time principal flute to ask if he might take me on as a student, I was almost apologetic. I was also hopelessly naive. My teacher switched pieces on me at the first lesson, from something I wanted to work on, to something they liked. Then he complained bitterly about the name change to Minnesota Orchestra from Minneapolis Symphony, which had occurred some years earlier. Understandably, I was quite puzzled, but, at that point, had no framework from which to object. He then proceeded to send me out on various rabbit trails, which I eventually came to realize meant that he had no intention of teaching me to do anything but fail.

I eventually realized that I had, in effect, walked into a trap. I blamed myself, for being so atypical. But were they really just lying in wait…? :-O