YouTube Email

Performs On:

Classic RH Flute

Artist Bio

Karen Vaughn Smith

Karen Vaughn-Smith is currently Principal Flute of the Gainesville (GA) Sinfonietta and Piedmont Orchestra.   She has also played with or been a regular member of the Georgia orchestras of Columbus, Macon, Gainesville, and DeKalb. Additionally, she performed as principal flute in Atlanta's well-known Chastain Park for Joni Mitchell, Moody Blues, and Brian Wilson. She began her orchestral career with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic and later played principal flute with the Bartlesville Symphony in Oklahoma where she worked with Ruth Laredo, Doc Severinsen, and Steve Allen.

An active freelance performer, Karen formed Peachtree-Oh!, a woodwind trio, and has performed with the Gainesville Symphony Woodwind Trio and DeKalb Symphony Woodwind Quartet.  She has attended many master classes and participated in those of Geoffrey Gilbert and Samuel Baron. She is also a popular flute clinician in middle and high schools in the Atlanta area.

A private flute instructor for nearly 40 years, Karen holds both Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts degrees and was formerly adjunct flute instructor at Marywood University in Scranton, PA as well as teaching in Ohio, Oklahoma, and currently, in Atlanta. A devoted teacher, her students have gone on to study with noted flutists such as Samuel Baron, Bonita Boyd, Leone Buyse, Thomas Nyfenger, Murray Panitz, and John Wion.

Artist Interview

Karen Vaughn Smith

We had the opportunity to ask Karen a few questions. Check out her her thoughts on incorporating piccolo into your practicing, how piccolo playing can affect and/or enhance flute playing, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.

1.  How is your performing affected by your teaching and vice versa?

One is obviously the perfect complement to the other.  When a student is working on a familiar excerpt or piece, I can hear the orchestra in my head as I share how to play it. Nearly every time, I am transported back to a performance and feel all the emotions and can't wait to share that. There are so many instances over all these years, but one that stands out is Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F. The flute and piano have some unbelievable moments, and the flute part is to die for! Then there is the first time I played Beethoven's Fifth as Piccolo. I was terrified, only 19, and I'd just joined the Union in order to accept the position with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic. I do feel my students get so much more from their lessons because of my performing. And I'm more driven as a player because I'm a teacher.      


2.  How do you keep it fresh after so many years of teaching?

The beauty of teaching in any capacity is that every lesson is new. When the students walk in, I remind myself how lucky I am they chose me to be their teacher. It's so easy to go on cruise control, but it's also important to remember the lesson might be the highlight of the day for a particular student. Sometimes, after scale warm-up, I'll reverse the usual order of things and say, "Let's start with a duet!" You don't have to hit the etude or other exercises first. Frankly, when a parent entrusts their child's musical study to me, it is my duty to be sure they leave here with something each week. And it all comes down to loving what you do. 


3.  What do you hope your students leave with as they move on?

The answer to this can certainly vary, depending on the student. I've had a large percentage of my studio go into Music Performance or Music Education. I am always so proud to know they've done well on their college auditions because of the preparation here. Most of those students are with me from a young age to high school graduation and often come back for assistance in the summers. Those who do not go into music as a career often at least play in a wind ensemble or band in college, and that means they've really loved it enough to keep music in their lives. But I want them to leave with more than musical or flute knowledge. I want them to know the affection I feel for each of them and remember all the laughs and tears we've shared. It's a journey we take together that is unlike any other, and I want them to always be able to look back and be as glad to have been here as I was to have them.


4.  What qualities do you think are most essential to musical excellence?

First, one must have talent and a love of their instrument. We spend so many hours alone together! Next, one must be able to take constructive criticism in order to grow musically, practice, and be willing to take risks. But musical excellence can be exhibited by a sixth grade flute student playing his/her first solo in a recital and executing it beautifully. Perhaps musical excellence is in the "ear" of the beholder. But if we want to take it at face value, you need the aforementioned and the best instrument you can afford. There is no doubt I have felt closer to that excellence playing a Miyazawa Flute. When you have the best tool, your confidence level soars!


5.  What is the most valuable lesson the flute has taught you?

This is a very introspective question. On the surface, playing the flute has taught me to have a work ethic, to listen, and to strive for perfection as I enjoy making music with others or for myself and my students. But much more has come from the flute. The joy of sharing the world of flute playing with a wide-eyed new student is right up there with performing "Nimrod" from Elgar's "Enigma Variations" and brushing away the tears because I'm so moved. I have also learned that the flute can soothe mourners at a gravesite as well as bring joy to a bride and groom. The flute has also taught me that I don't know everything, and I never will. But I'm  reminded of what I always tell my students before an audition.... "Show 'em what you've got!"          

6.  You've held the position of piccoloist of the Gainesville Symphony. How do you incorporate piccolo into your practicing? Is it separate from your flute playing? How do you prioritize?

My piccolo playing is separate, yes. Depending on the repertoire, I spend whatever time is necessary on piccolo. After so many years of playing, I have performed a good number of standard works; but I never take anything for granted. I work on scales and the chromatic scale, just as I do on flute.  I also like to play my piccolo through flute etudes compatible with the keys of the orchestral pieces being played on an upcoming concert. The Berbiguier “18 Studies” is a great tool because it hits all keys. The exercises are fun and make good warm-ups. Most etude books work well, but I usually recommend my intermediate students use the Cavally “Melodious and Progressive Studies” or even their advanced level Rubanks for piccolo work-outs because those hit most major and minor keys on their technical level. For the top octave, it’s best to ease into the notes chromatically before practicing the actual piece. For instance, I like to start on high F and work chromatically up to high C before practicing repertoire that goes into the high octave.

It’s important to check piccolo pitch with a tuner and go over any spots in the music that may benefit from a different fingering that is more in tune.

7.  As a popular flute clinician in middle and high schools, what topics do you discuss the most?  What aspects do you think are the most important to address at this young age?

Clinics are one of my favorite things. Assuming the students already understand how to produce a good sound and have worked with the headjoint alone, I like to be sure they are holding the flute correctly. Because some of the school bands have dozens of flute players, the students end up in cramped quarters with the flute being held pointed almost at the floor. It’s so important to keep the head up and instrument up, no matter what the seating circumstances.  Fingerings would be another point. I stress the importance of keeping the first finger up with fourth line D and fourth space Eb. I never cease to be amazed at how many students have an issue with this. I also feel strongly about teaching “Thumb” Bb before “1 and 1” Bb.  It is vital to good flute playing and strong technique.  I try to get my band director friends to be on-board with this.  In fact, my master’s capstone was titled, “How the Band Director Can Better Assist Technical Growth in the Middle School/High School Student Flutist.”

When working with more advanced middle school or high school flutists, I often help with their District/All-State etudes and check on fingerings and trills to be sure they’re correct. Given enough time, I touch on special effects such as flutter-tonguing and talk about piccolo. I also take the alto and bass flutes along so they can see and hear more of the flute family. The band director may have an agenda that requires us to go over their current repertoire for an upcoming concert or festival.

Often overlooked are the proper assembly and care of the flute. Not only do I spend a good deal of time on this at the private lesson; I also allot time at clinics. The instrument must be assembled and disassembled without holding onto the keys, and it should always be swabbed after playing.

8. How does piccolo playing affect someone’s flute playing? Does it enhance it or change it at all in your opinion?

I think one’s flute playing can be enhanced by the piccolo in that the upper register of the flute should become easier. Because the piccolo requires good support, that can only spill over into the flute playing in a positive way. If you have good fingering technique on flute, your piccolo playing should benefit. In my experience, maneuvers are a bit easier with the piccolo in technical passages due to the small size and fingers being so much closer. Additionally, there is no hiding with the piccolo when it comes to pitch. I am certain that it has helped my flute playing to be better in tune, especially in the top octave. The instruments are still different despite all the commonalities, though, and it’s important that a student be a solid flute player before beginning piccolo. If not, I feel it affects their flute playing negatively.

I try to use my best judgment as to when a student is ready because I think of moving on to piccolo as going to the next rung of the ladder. For some, the difference between the two embouchures can cause them to “pinch” on the flute. This happens quite often during the start of the school year with marching band. If the student has just begun piccolo and is playing and memorizing shows, along with spending long hours on the field, they sometimes have difficulty returning to a more relaxed embouchure when picking up the flute. This is why it’s so important to continue playing the flute and working on long tones. The more experience one has with switching between the two instruments, the easier it becomes.

9. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?

I had gotten acquainted with Cathy Miller at a flute fair in another state and loved what I saw and experienced in trying the Miyazawa. When the National Flute Association’s convention came to Atlanta in 1999, I was ready to purchase a new flute. Cathy brought a good selection of instruments and headjoints for me to try. There was just no question; I found my flute!  I chose a Classic body with C# and D# rollers and a headjoint with platinum riser.  Tone is so important to me. If the sound isn’t there, all the technique in the world means nothing. This instrument allows all the air you can give it, plus the most amazing pianissimos, and is so easy to blow. I love a sweet sound, but I also want to pack a punch when needed. I have yet to play another flute with so many attributes. The Miyazawa has the versatility of solo, chamber, and orchestral playing. You don’t need one flute for a wedding job and a different one for the orchestra if you own a Miyazawa. The low register is magical, and the pitch is fantastic.

By the time I left that meeting, I had also chosen a flute for one of my students who was majoring in Performance. She bought the flute (Classic with C# trill) and loves it!

The people at Miyazawa Flutes truly care about their customers. When you join this “family,” you can rest assured you will not be forgotten after the sale.

10.  If you had one piece of advice to give an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?

Seek the best teacher(s). If you have the talent and work hard, the rest will come. Be yourself and remember that no one else sounds exactly like you. This is a gift, and you’re a very special part of humanity.

11. What has been the highlight of your career?

I will forever remember playing with full orchestra for Joni Mitchell, Moody Blues, and Brian Wilson. All three occasions were magical, and the weather was amazing. Looking out on a sea of candles, I picked up the alto flute and played those first solo notes of “Nights in White Satin” and thought to myself that a little farm girl from Pennsylvania who, at age nine, played on a rented school flute with a big dent in the headjoint should pinch herself to see if it was all real....! I’ve had the time of my life, and I am still moved by the music that surrounds me when I sit in the middle of the orchestra. I’m so grateful to be there and grateful to know that my contribution is still something others want to hear.

Miyazawa’s Artist Profiles