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Artist Bio

Michael Colquhoun (1953-2016)

Composer/flutist, Michael Colquhoun (1953-2016) was active internationally as a solo recitalist/composer and as Associate Professor of Music at both Canisius College and Hilbert College in Western New York. Dr. Colquhoun received his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo where he studied with Robert Dick, Morton Feldman, Cheryl Gobbetti-Hoffman, Lejaren Hiller, and Leo Smit. His works have been published by McGinnis and Marx Music Publishers and ZenDog Publications, and performed by Los Caribes, the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra, the Talking Drums, the New Jazz Orchestra of Buffalo, the Cathedral Brass, the Schanzer/Speach Duo, the Buried Treasures Ensemble, the New Music Consort, the East Buffalo Media Association and the Maelström Percussion Ensemble. A number of his works for solo flute have entered the standard repertoire for the instrument. Dr. Colquhoun’s compositions draw upon both the Classical and Jazz traditions, and often involve a mixture of composed and improvised elements working together to produce a coherent whole.

Michael's latest CD, “Jar of Stones” featuring his music from Centaur Records was released in the Spring of 2008.

Artist Interview

Michael Colquhoun (1953-2016)

We had the opportunity to ask Michael a few questions. Check out his thoughts on his career highlights, his inspiration for writing Charanga and advice for upcoming flutists.

1. Performances of your flute composition, Charanga, are very widely spread. What inspired you to write the piece and what do you feel the piece portrays? Did you know at the time this piece would become a standard in the flute repertoire?

When I composed Charanga I had been leading a Latin Jazz band for many years playing Cuban charanga as well as many other Latin styles. I have a lot of experience in both the Jazz/Latin and Contemporary Classical worlds so I decided to write a modern classical piece that portrays the sound of an entire charanga ensemble. My Charanga incorporates the sound of the piano montuno, the bass tumbao, the strings and percussion as well as the flute part. A composer never knows how well a new piece may be accepted, only that while writing it it seems to be the best piece they have ever done.

Charanga was commissioned by the National Flute Association for their High School Soloists Competition in 1993. That gave it a good launch with lots of exposure. It subsequently won the NFA Newly Published Music Award in 1994. This all helped it get lots of recognition. Of course, people still have to like the piece.

2. How would you recommend someone wanting to learn how to improvise when all that is offered in their school is classical music programs?

Improvisation time for every player should be very personal and even meditative. Don’t fret about Jazz scales and modes and 2 flat 9 = 5 flat 5 etc. Start with something simple like pentatonic scales. It’s your time to connect with your own personal creativity. Enjoy it!


3. What does a typical day look like for you?

With my mix of freelancing, gigging and teaching every day is different. But there are always commitments. Not just practicing and performing, but prepping for my classes, lecturing, grading and so on. The key is to learn to get over a nasty hump we all face daily. We get to a time at the end of the day when we are so tired every bone in our bodies seductively says “don’t bother practicing today”. You have to learn how to practice when you are tired.


4. Who or what has been your greatest influence?

Well, in flute playing that would be, as I have said before, Robert Dick. I was lucky to take lessons from him for 2+ years. But my iconic idol, I guess, is Miles Davis. His sound on trumpet always amazed me. He can thrill you or kill you with one note and I always liked that. Most flute players ascribe to the very busy, many, many notes method to say something meaningful. Miles just cuts to the chase and says it all very succinctly. I always admired that.


5. What is the most valuable lesson the flute and/or music has taught you?

Patience and self-reliance. As a player or composer, you will face more rejection than success. Don’t let that stop you. Trust in yourself, no matter what, and keep plugging. I will not say that all dreams come true, but the pursuance is worth it still. It’s all in the chase, not the catch.

6. You've worked on a recording project with guitarist Don Metz featuring Bossa Nova works by Antonio Carlos Jobim as well as other duos. Can you talk about this experience? How did you choose this subject?

I have always loved the lilting sound of the Brazilian Bossa Nova. It sounds very simple but is actually quite complex and subtle both harmonically and rhythmically. The style first became popular about 50 years ago and since then two bad things have happened. Either the music is inappropriately over produced with a big orchestra or it is played by third-rate lounge bands with a drum machine. Don and I want to return the Bossa Nova to its roots with just a flute (or alto or bass flute) and acoustic guitar.


7. You’ve recently been involved in a number of playing/improvising performances with graphic scores and collaborations with video and graphic artists. How do you go about improvising from a graphic score?

There are lots of ways from just improvising on a reaction to the image to working out a carefully done realization of the graph/painting to guide the improvisation. A realization usually involves imposing duration – time – on a fixed, timeless image. Perhaps 6 minutes. Then after gridding the time on the image you interpret each piece of the image as it goes by in time. When we performed “Telegraph Music” a drawing by Charles E. Burchfield, it was a rustic scene with telegraph lines in the center. After about 3 minutes I decided to “play” the telegraph lines by playing sustained timberal trills on a high E for a minute or so. To me that was the sound of the telegraph lines coming alive with a message. And so it goes with every player. A structure for the music is revealed.


8. What has been the highlight of your career?

For me the highlights have always been about connecting with an audience regardless of the style being played. I love the feeling of total exhilaration when the performers and audience become as one. I have, a few times, been able to experience what is called “lifting the bandstand.” This is an uncanny feeling of rising up into the air as an audience connection happens. When the whole band feels this it is really quite magical.

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

There are a lot of professional level flutes that are responsive, in tune and so on. Only my Miyazawa flute gives me such a huge pallet of colors to work with. I find that continually inspiring.

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

Keep your ears open! Don’t limit yourself to one narrow repertoire; you can learn from all styles and traditions. Never stop listening; brilliance is all around you.

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