We had the opportunity to ask Adrianne a few questions. Check out her thoughts on studying with Robert Willoughby and Thomas Nyfenger, performing in two different styles of music, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. As a student of both Robert Willoughby and Thomas Nyfenger, What were your most inspiring moments from both of these teachers?
Hmm. MOST inspiring means I have to highlight. Okay. Difficult. Some know this story but one of my first lessons I learned at Oberlin has carried me through my performing and teaching. I should repeat it here for those who haven’t heard it. For my first piece – IN COLLEGE, mind you – Willoughby assigned the Handel G Major sonata. Starts with the long G and then, a few measures later, we have the written out appoggiaturas. D pickup to B, resolving to A. There are three more sets of these eighth note appoggiaturas that resolve. I could see that. So, I played the first line and was stopped immediately. (Goodness, I thought to myself, how could I mess THIS up???) “Adrianne, these are appoggiaturas that resolve with a diminuendo. Make a diminuendo.” I sort of thought I had and played it again. “No, sorry, you didn’t do a diminuendo.” I go back and play again, still thinking I had done the diminuendo, of course, but just doing what I thought he wanted. “No, no, see these two notes? They must resolve. And with a diminuendo.” Well, we did this for a very long time, actually week after week. I kept my thoughts to myself but surely was thinking ‘Oh goodie, I’ve signed up for four years of studying with a deaf man. (After all, I’m 18 and he looks ancient so he must be hard of hearing. Wonderful.)
You can guess the end of the story: The recording of my performance for the student recital had no diminuendo. Not even a hint. I thought I did, perhaps – no, I’m sure – but it wasn’t for the audience. So, two important things learned early on: to exaggerate my intentions and also realize this man wasn’t giving up for the sake of moving on. It was solid pedagogy and I was privy to the best. Slurs were worked on the same way. I’ve never known a teacher who stressed ultimate legato as Willoughby did. Wouldn’t let up on any of us and I felt quite horrible by my sophomore year if I hopped over a slur or broke one with my air in order not to split an interval. Tenacity. He stuck with a problem and didn’t care whether you were tired of hearing about it.
My one key inspiring moment with Nyfenger was brief. Actually, I must tell of two. First, after I messed up a run, I asked why HE never missed a note. It was an innocent question, probably too innocent, really. But a very direct, brief answer came that would shock me and stay with me forever. He simply said “Oh, I don’t allow myself to miss a note.” Sounds crazy but until that moment I didn’t really believe I was in control of whether I made a mistake or not. I thought they happened. Just happened! Sure, I could have realized at that point that that’s what would make him so demonically obsessive and end up being part of his own sad ruination, but for me, this was golden. I took charge.
The other moment was when he shared with me his discovery that the flute needed to be placed lower under the lip and the upper lip hanging over and the bottom lip folded back. I came in for my lesson and he said “Ya gotta try this!!!!!!! Place the flute here, now go like this, and then go like that, now blow!” It was incredible. We were both so excited. It was 3 minutes of startling glory! And then, incredible as well, he looked at his watch and said “Actually, I gotta scoot off right now, so see ya next week!”
I was left standing there with this new amazing sound – and it was shared and over in 3 minutes. But of course has lasted a lifetime.
2. You perform and teach on a high level on both modern and vintage wood flutes playing both Classical and Klezmer music. How do you balance these two styles and flutes since they differ so much? Do you find you approach them differently?
I don’t ALWAYS balance so well. Or let’s say this, odd crossovers happen, both in style and in fingerings. One embarrassing moment was playing a Beethoven symphony solo of sorts in symphony and all of a sudden a khrechts (an emotional flipping ornament) came tumbling out because it was in the klezmer mode, just that scale portion. My violinist-klezmer colleague in the viola section turned around and we had a private laugh, probably leaving the conductor stumped as to why that passage was so wrong to the ear and why I would play it so oddly.
Each flute that I play “demands” you play it the way it wants to give back to you. You CAN alter that response for sure and the flutes that I have chosen to play offer the best chance at this, I feel. But I’m really focusing on the music anyway, whether playing classical or klezmer (except in odd, inappropriate moments like the one I just told about!), so my sensibilities allow me to play the wood and silver flutes according to the music.
3. What is it like having a daughter who also plays flute at a really high level? How have you influenced each other over the years?
Thrilling and difficult both; note the order 🙂 When Rebecca was younger, in her early teens especially, I felt I COULD get in there every day and “correct” and teach; I figured I had the parental and pedagogical right. Looking back, I could have eased up, of course, but then I had my own mother as a model of butting in – and I thank her for doing so – now. Rebecca was not always willing, of course, to work in this way and we would have mother-daughter arguments quite a lot, with her stomping upstairs and quitting the practicing. Sometimes I would be very upset at how this went down. But, being such a deliciously wonderful child in every way, not really ever talking back to me except in these cases, I had to (quietly to myself) say “Hey, she’s finding her own way and she needs to do this and I have to be happy that she CAN fight back.” All in all, she truly appreciates what she learned and I learned better from her how to approach correcting students overall, not so much correcting so that they feel they were so off the path but rather showing them a different path that leads to sensible phrasing and the like. Also, sometimes she played with a better tone that I had and, well, I HAD to learn from that! So, really, we’re best friends, musically and in every other way as well. I’m so thankful. It could have turned out differently…
We still work together (preparation for competitions last year and now a performance at NFA) but because of maturity on both our parts, it’s a lot different. I know more now that we can’t ignore that she’s also my daughter when we’re working together; she knows it and I know it. Currently we’re working on our Telemannathon duos for our half hour of fun (and glory for me to be able to perform at an NFA convention together). Our first practice session was a few days ago and I suggested we play baroque flute on one of the duos. (We actually got the worst set of duets key-wise, so I chose the least horrendous of the three we were assigned.) Her hands are small and her pinkie curves in such a way that left hand holes aren’t easily covered. But we took it slow and because I was continually aware that there should be a total respect for her embracing the difficult task of baroque flute playing – not something she’s done more than once before – and knowing it could fail and stop simply because of mother-daughterness, we stuck with it and she is being a total professional about trying it. I was able to also honestly tell her she was incredibly in tune, dead on, and her tone was exemplary. For me (again, a little private in my thoughts) I was thrilled that she didn’t simply say “Forget it. I’m only playing my Miyazawa and that’s final.”
I so love that child.
4. What does a typical day look like for you?
Oh dear, I’m afraid I don’t even have a typical day. Maybe this is part of who I am, a bit atypical. I have no daily practice routine, not even when I have a major performance looming. So a typical day, for me, musically, is based on inspiration. If I am either working on a project such as developing a program, I will do lots of thinking. Internet searching for pieces that fit my project, seeing who composed at that time and for the flute. Thanks to IMSLP the search has become loads of joy. I can get obsessive, which then offsets my laziness; I’m sort of a sprinter. Current project is connecting the folk and gypsy music from the baroque period with my passion of klezmer. Telemann himself said in his memoirs that he loved the music of the klezmer. Well, lucky me!
5. What is the most valuable lesson that the flute has taught you?
Playing the flute and learning to get the most out of the instrument has allowed me to experience what hard work with patience can afford. I didn’t have a passion for anything else growing up and found that there were rewards, small to huge, in working towards a goal, be it a good lesson or a performance. My teaching focuses more than ever on how to learn, and learn the most efficiently. I think I’m a bit on the lazier side of the work ethic so therefore I’ve had to learn how to focus well to accomplish what others might take much longer to achieve. I enjoy the process but not as patient, perhaps, as others are with slow progress. In today’s fast-paced world of education, skipping basics, skipping over retention of material, we all have to figure out better and faster ways to reach our goals. Achieving high levels with my music has taught me that I need to ultimately keep focus on my goals. Plus, embarrassment has played a fair part in my “lesson” with music and performing. I really never did like and still don’t like embarrassing myself and, with a healthy amount of avoidance to feel that way, the practice gets better – and better. And finally, I enjoy accolades. Maybe I’m a bit childlike in that, but I feel good when I know I’ve played well and the audience responds. When I’ve really touched someone in that audience, that’s an even better reward. So in a sense the flute has been my security and has taught me that, if I work through practicing and performing “correctly”, albeit sometimes like a poorly-run race, then I get the treat at the end.
6. Why did you choose to play the flute?
That’s simple, really. I had already finished piano (I so love it when a child says “Oh, I learned that instrument last year.”) and wanted another instrument. This was in 3rd grade. My parents took me to the music store and the owner asked what I wanted to play. “That small case over there. I can easily take that to school. So what’s inside the case?”
7. What is your typical practice routine like?
So if I’m really practicing, I will work towards THE best tone ever, spinning the vibrato; I need to always try to push that to it’s faster limits as it can get slow. I have my methods to do this and cannot forget to use them. Don’t like a sluggish vibrato. Because I also practice traverso I must also practice that same fast air stream without vibrato. I really enjoy getting to the details of a great tone. I take all of what I learned and put those pointers through their paces. I’m often shocked that I haven’t been doing something enough, even though I inform my students otherwise; I teach them better than I do myself, for sure.
I’m not good about practicing scales in general. I play them well and must have done so enough in my early years. But, as I said, I’ve also been fairly lazy so I know I could have done much better and still could. I will be finicky if I hear myself play a scale that isn’t totally even in all ways. After the tone work I head straight into repertoire. So warning: Don’t do this at home…Basically, I admit, I’m a repertoire practicer. I will record the piano part for myself which really boosts my pleasure of learning. I have a baby grand Yamaha but often record into my Yamaha keyboard so I can instantly play it back for myself. Yes, the fact that I could have been a pianist at one time helps. Highly recommend building that skill as much as one can afford to do.)
8. If you could identify the moment in your life when you knew that you wanted to be a professional musician, what would that moment be?
Hard to say because music always gave me what I needed. I loved the music, loved the progress I was making, and the compliments that people were giving me. I felt approved, mostly because school subjects were not my forte. My real decision was whether to go to conservatory and be a pianist or flutist. Then that became an easy decision when I was a junior in HS: the piano repertoire was getting too difficult. I wasn’t sure how I fit in to the grand scheme of flute playing outside of Ohio so I went to have a pre-audition with Robert Willoughby at near bye Oberlin, where my sister was already attending. He told me to definitely audition the following year and I was set. So basically, frankly, I think I was destined to become a musician. I learned easily, I loved the sounds I was making whether it was with piano, flute,composition, and later viola, and the attention I received for my accomplishments. My mom was very strict with me as I don’t remember being all that motivated to practice as much as others were. Problem was, really, my teachers always told me I did well. I was a people pleaser so that worked for me. Had I been caught more often sight-reading my lessons – as both Willoughby and Nyfenger would know, sometimes…. – I might have become a better technician, for sure. I did comment to both of them that I wasn’t as much of a technical whiz as some of my compatriots but they both readily shook it off saying that I played more musically and that’s what counted. Great, patted my own back and left the studio. But overall, realizing I had that less-than-great work ethic never stopped me from knowing I wanted to be a musician.
9. What are your hobbies and/or interests outside of music?
Love old things. Love knowing what history behind a piece of furniture or clothing. Dresses, I love vintage 30s lace dresses and gowns. And for a long time, I have enjoyed wearing vintage hats. My mom left a few hats in the attic and I seem to feel connected – even though she was the one who critiqued me every minute, it seemed, of my practicing! It seems I almost can’t go anywhere or perform without a hat as folks now ask me where my hat is!
10. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
When I look(ed) at silver flutes I want the blend of brightness with the depth of tone color as well. I didn’t really know Miyazawa flutes when I chose my first one (and only one since I purchased it about 20 years ago, I think.) I just knew what I wanted and, well, this flute gave it all to me on a silver platter. When Rebecca was then ready for her first step up flute, it was a no brainer. Sure, we tried others, but it was an easy choice when we purchased the silver head, plated body open hole Miya that she uses now as her backup. What WAS difficult was purchasing her “final” flute for college, and also was her reward and need for getting into the NFA High School Soloist finals.
I said I wanted to spend around $7000. Jeff Weismann put out many flutes. We tried for hours, without looking at the brand names. We ended up with a Miyazawa – again. So we proudly marched into the back room and said “Jeff, this one’s it! We love love love it!!” He said great and took it from us – but immediately gave a look of despair. “Oh dear, um, my mistake. I accidentally put this one with all the rest, but it’s $9000, not $7000.” Well, finances certainly had to play a part in this decision and SURELY we could find a flute equal to that one for $7000. So back to the drawing board and Jeff brought out more flutes. We tried. We tried hard. Blind tries, my trying, her trying. Nothing took that chosen Boston Classic’s place. So, we “failed” as we succumbed to purchasing the flute we couldn’t ignore for its incredible sound and all else combined. She was very very happy. And I was poor(er) but happy, very very happy.
Then, as soon as we got home, there was an interesting problem. She was working on the NFA high school repertoire and I noticed she wasn’t putting much into the music at the time. “Sweetie, honey-pie, I gently intrude, you need to express the music more, even though it’s ultra modern and with those multi-phonics. You sound like you’ve taken yourself away from the music-making and just reveling in the sound of your flute” I say, in my teacher mode. “May I try playing this passage?” showing her how much expression has to be there for the audience to appreciate the message. I took her new flute and had to stop – in shock. “No wonder, I shouted. You CAN’T focus on the music because this flute is so amazing!!!!! I’m stunned at the sounds that are coming out!!” I totally understood her dilemma! Um, sorry, you’ll have to love that flute AFTER you love the music. Much harder now!
11. If you had one piece of advice to give for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
With what the internet provides for all of us, use it. Listen to master classes on youtube, listen to performances. Or live and CDs of course. When you are struck by someone’s idea or overall performance, listen again and take in exactly what the differences are that make the performance so extraordinary. We shouldn’t go for ordinary; there’s plenty of performers that are ordinary, so “choose” music-making that is special. Be that flutist who plays the MUSIC well because you’ve learned the techniques to do so. Practice technique so that it allows you to play the music. The music. Audiences aren’t moved by your getting the notes but are moved when we go beyond. Our goal should be to move our listeners. And go for everything that’s out there. Play it all. Folk, modern, baroque, and learn each style. That’s being a musician rather than a flutist. It will all come out in our performances – as long as we don’t mix it up!