We had the opportunity to ask Cathy a few questions. Check out her thoughts on improvising and writing your own music and publishing original works, as well as her experience as a Fulbright Scholar to Peru.
1. What does a typical day look like for you?
I have to chuckle because my daily activities are so varied, I honestly don’t seem to have a reliable routine. I imagine most freelance musicians find themselves in a similar position. Add parenting into the mix, and days can be even more varied. That said, my days typically begin with making sure we all enjoy a hearty breakfast together and then juggling that day’s activities which range from Arts Council school concerts and rehearsals or personal practice to household duties, creative pursuits and volunteer work. Since there is a commute involved, I try to schedule my university students’ lessons all on one day and take on a limited number of local students during the after school hours a few days a week. Then it’s time to carpool to soccer practice for my youngest and perhaps have an evening concert or rehearsal. On soccer tournament weekends I have had to improvise by practicing for an upcoming concert in the back seat of our car while parked during the team’s warm-up! It’s not ideal and a little nutty, but I accomplished a lot and then enjoyed the tournament. A fellow soccer-mom friend who is a violinist with the Baltimore Symphony is in a similar position, but she has a mute, haha. I have to say that, while it can feel hectic to have no two days alike, I do feel that it prepares me to feel comfortable performing in pretty much any given situation or time of day.
2. Who or what has been your greatest influence?
May I make a list?! The many threads have created a unique tapestry. My mother was very musical and certainly planted the seeds of joy music can provide by playing the piano and singing while I danced as a child. As for many flutists, I am sure there was a junior high band director that saw my potential and encouraged me to study privately. In my case this led to 6 years of inspiring study with Jerry Pritchard at the University of Northern Iowa, who taught me about playing with passion. He has had a profound impact on my concept of sound, performing and teaching. While I grew up enjoying listening to recordings of Jean Pierre Rampal repeatedly, Paula Robison and Donald Peck were the first flutists I heard perform live recitals and concertos. Their mastery, elegance and power left me in awe and hungry for more. I had a number of opportunities to study in master classes and privately with Donald Peck, who gave very practical advice on conquering technical passages and note groups, as well as telling stories with and through the music. He also taught me the value of striving to be the performer who inspires other musicians, rather than the type of flutist who sits back until someone inspires him or her.
My M.M. professor, Robert Cole, introduced me to the flute legacy and teachings of William Kincaid, and with that, thoughtful phrasing. We also shared great conversations about public speaking and enjoying interests outside of music. Charlie DeLaney (flute) and Dale Olsen (Ethnomusicology), both great influences during my doctoral studies, were constant examples of inquiring minds, always learning new things. Charlie DeLaney required us all to study the one-keyed flute, which was fascinating for me and led to an opportunity to play for Barthold Kuijken, who in a later conversation taught me about the mindset of being able to pick up the flute and perform regardless of whether there had been time to warm-up or not. DeLaney also required us to play a series of Anderson etudes “flawlessly” or we wouldn’t pass! That certainly encouraged the development of important concentration skills. Dale Olsen, master of many world instruments and also an accomplished flutist, was a constant inspiration for branching out into learning other instruments and, of course, fed my interest in world music.
One of my greatest overall musical inspirations has been Luciano Pavarotti. He was ‘there for me’ via recordings during my tenure as Principal Flutist with the Peruvian National Symphony when I felt pretty isolated from my traditional supports. His musicality and mastery of his instrument stops me in my tracks and challenges me to sing through my flute every time I hear him. I continue to be inspired and influenced by so many musicians. The flute world is a veritable jubilee of masters of different styles and gifts.
3. What is the most valuable lesson the flute has taught you?
That every performance, no matter how seemingly insignificant or unimportant, can actually be significant and touch someone’s heart in a beautiful or important way. This also holds true for performances that I have felt were not completely ideal. Every time you play it is an opportunity to bless someone.
4. What qualities do you think are most essential to musical excellence?
Having a heart that longs to communicate and share a story. Drawing upon life’s joys, challenges and sorrows to deepen your palette of colors. The patience to practice slowly. Perseverance. Continually challenging yourself. Listening to excellent musicians that don’t have flutistic challenges, like singers and string players, in an effort to overcome typical difficulties and to play the music instead of the flute.
5. What do you think is the most important thing for you to emphasize in your teaching and in your own playing?
Essentially what I have mentioned in the last question, with the addition of recognizing that each performer has a unique and valuable voice. Don’t be afraid to take in other points of view. It is a joyful privilege to play the flute; share that gift. Practice makes permanent, so make sure it is correct from the get-go. When frustrated by challenges, devise a methodical plan of action. My students and I have taken a lot of stress out of practicing difficult passages by using a ‘notch or two per day’ approach, very gradually advancing in speed on the metronome until the goal is reached. You can liken it to the concept of ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Openness, flexibility and dexterity must become routine. Have a wide variety of colors or concepts of sounds to draw upon. Since my secondary area is world music, my students are exposed to the qualities of sounds produced on my indigenous flutes, as well as baroque flute. Having those concepts can influence how you approach telling your story. Be happy for others’ successes…let them inspire you; making beautiful music always contributes to the greater good.
6. What does a typical practice session look like for you?
I love Moyse’s De la Sonorite p. 10 and p. 15 exercises and Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Big Daily Finger Excercises (I take the chromatics up to high D) or DeLaney’s echo scales (playing all scales first forte then repeated piano), followed by focus on the challenges in current concert repertoire. Sometimes however, I have two or more concerts a week and have limited practice time. In those cases, I have invented my own small warm-up that combines long tones and technique, and then I dive right into the repertoire with the most pressing challenges, applying the Moyse and Taffanel/Gaubert mindset to those passages. I have found that although I love to play for an hour and a half or so at a time, if I am doing much repetitive work, for my hand health and optimal concentration, it is good to work in many 45 minute sessions with breaks. When there is a lull in concert activity, I grab the etude books, as well as read through new repertoire.
7. What are your interests/hobbies outside of music?
What immediately comes to mind is anything my boys are involved in (soccer, track, ultimate frisbee), sharing life with family and friends, enjoying Hispanic culture and language with my husband and boys, Bible study, sailing, hiking, gardening, outdoor exercise, travel, entertaining and writing.
8. Flutopia Initiative was a project that was formed in 2012. What was your inspiration for the project?
I have a very scenic 40 minute commute to my job at Juniata College which provides a great space and opportunity to reflect, process life, and pray. In early 2012, three of my close friends were involved with medical mission trips that were very inspiring, which made me ask myself how I might use my flute to assist those with very basic health needs. Once I posed the question, ideas flowed and with the collaboration of some great musician friends and the local Holiday Food Bank, the Fa La La concert tradition was born, followed by the Flutopia 5k with musicians performing on the route. Proceeds from the race benefit our local Volunteers in Medicine and Doctors Without Borders. My original idea was that others would latch onto the project and create Flutopia Initiative events anywhere and everywhere. I am so pleased and proud that Miyazawa has been one of my initial and continuing sponsors.
9. Can you tell us how your recent premier of your own composition written for flute and men’s choir in NYC came about?
My oldest son has worked under two magnificent choir conductors that have created thrilling experiences for the choristers and audiences alike. One conductor is Robert Isaacs who my son sings under with the Cornell University Men’s Glee Club. After hearing the Glee Club, I couldn’t get the sound of their voices out of my ear and kept hearing or imagining how beautiful the contrast between their rich depth would sound against a singing flute, and the music flowed onto the manuscript paper. I wrote two pieces and shared them with Robert who was very encouraging. Not long afterward I was invited to provide an Artist Residency for the State College High School Music Department, so I shared the compositions with Robert Drafall, the other gifted director of choirs, who then asked to premiere “So Calls the Bird” at the Heritage Music Festival in the beautiful NYC Riverside Church. It was thrilling to say the least, especially because I got to play the flute part with them in that cathedral-like acoustic space. The icing on the cake was the gold medal the choir was awarded for their performance. The composing bug has remained and I have just premiered my “Awakening the Sprite” for piccolo and piano, and the four movement “Kaleidoscope” for C flute, piccolo and piano with the option of performing three of the movements on Native American G flute, High Spirits Middle Eastern Flute or Peruvian Siku, which is what I did for Ecuador’s International Flute Festival.
10. 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?
Probably my sophomore year in college confirmed it. I had tried a semester of music education and one of music therapy, which fascinated me, but kept coming back to the thought that what I loved best was playing any kind of music as often as possible. Soon afterward I began the flute performance degree and the rest is history! The beautiful part is that as my career has progressed and evolved, I have been able to incorporate both music education and a bit of music therapy in my many performance opportunities.
11. While a Fulbright scholar to Peru in 1985, you held the position of principal flute in the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional and researched indigenous music during your two-year tenure. Can you tell us a bit about this experience?
It was really an incredible opportunity for both my performing career and scholarly growth. As this was my first experience in a full time orchestra, naturally I was in heaven playing great music for hours every day, learning new and interesting works by Peruvian composers, and best of all were the many concerto opportunities that came my way. The Sinfónica had quite a palate of conductors who called the OSN home, which provided an opportunity to appreciate different conducting styles, techniques and attitudes. Another aspect of the OSN I loved was the opera season that was part of the programming. There were/are many inspiring musicians involved in the Peruvian cultural scene, ready to participate in all styles of music imaginable, creating a very vital environment for music lovers.
Initially the Fulbright grant was for one year to perform with the Sinfónica and teach at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música. However, upon arriving in Lima I was immediately taken with the marvelous indigenous flutes that were everywhere: on the radio, in the folkloric night clubs, restaurants, and even on some of the public transportation! There happened to be another Fulbright scholar there in ethnomusicology, who served as a bit of a mentor providing names of musicians to contact, which was marvelous. I dove right in and eventually shared my new-found interest with the Fulbright Director who recommended a year extension on my grant to continue on with the Sinfónica while learning more of the indigenous music.
Since the grant program began in response to the end of WWII by Senator Fulbright to promote greater world understanding and peace, grantees are expected to share their experiences upon returning to the U.S. Besides being able to share works for flute by Peruvian composers, performing on the indigenous flutes provides a beautiful avenue by which I may give people of all ages a glimpse of Peru; not only through musical sound, but also craftsmanship and tradition.
Throughout Latin America there are bi-national cultural centers which work in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs division and the Fulbright Commissions of each given country. For a performing or visual artist these cultural centers can serve as wonderful performance or exhibit venues. During my grant tenure, the Cultural Affairs Attaché was very supportive of my work, and worked with the Fulbright Commission to line up performances at all of Peru’s bi-national centers, and later in Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and El Salvador. These terrific travel opportunities introduced me to many lovely musicians, some of whom I performed with in either my recitals or concerto performances, and taught in master classes. It was living proof of music being the international language.
An unexpected part of my grant activities was the initiation of the Festivales Internacionales de Flautistas I began with the second flutist of the OSN during my stay. As with most festivals, we started out small, but after meeting other flutists during my Embassy performances in other countries, we began to develop quite a list of participants, including musicians from the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy I returned for ten summers to participate in the organization, teaching and performing. One exciting result of the entire festival process is the number of spin-off festivals that came to fruition in Ecuador, Brazil and Costa Rica!
12. Recently, you were also honored by being invited to perform in a special Embassy/Fulbright Commission sponsored recital celebrating 25 years since you received your Fulbright to Peru. What was this experience like returning to Peru after all this time? What did you perform for the recital?
Although I have returned to Peru a variety of times since the grant, each year I see more development and modernization. The fabulous centuries-old historical sites remain well-cared for, and there are new innovative structures which I found to be lovely but threw off my ability to readily identify some of “my old landmarks”. While it was wonderful to perform with a gifted pianist friend from my grant days, it was tough to learn of the passing of some beloved composer friends. The traffic is as challenging as ever, and one of my favorite performing venues, (an acoustical shell by the ocean) is gone, but the overall excitement of being in Lima remains.
The Anniversary Concert was co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, the Fulbright Commision, and the Friends of Fulbright. It was a lovely opportunity for me to express my gratitude to the organizations who provided such wonderful experiences which have impacted my life in a multitude of ways.
In the spirit of international cultural exchange, the first half of the recital was performed with Peruvian pianist Carmen Escobedo. We played Henry Cowell’s Two Bits, Caesar Giovannini’s Morocco for Alto Flute, and Jean-Michel Damase’s Sonate et Concert.
For the second half I was joined by Camerata Amistad, one of my chamber ensembles from the U.S., with flutist Diane Toulson, oboist/guitarist Brent Register, and bassoonist Trina Gallup. Most of the music we perform we have arranged somewhat to fit our instrumentation. We began with an arrangement of Loch Lomond we arranged for two flutes, oboe and bassoon, followed by Tango de España de Isaac Albenez/Bill Holcombe & Bill Holcombe Jr., Native Song (a spontaneously improvised piece for 3 Native American flutes), Be-bop duo #2 for two flutes by Bugs Bower, Los ejes de mi carreta,by Atahualpa Yupanqui/Lezcano, Dolor Indio, by Alejandro Vivanco/Velasquez Torres, and El Grillo, arr. Lezcano/Collinge Herrera. Happily the concert was well received, requiring an encore of Atipanakuy for solo flute by Alejandro Vivanco.
13. You have published your own compositions and arrangements. How did you go about this process?
One wonderful human characteristic found in the flute world, is the willingness and enthusiasm among the majority of flutists, for making flutist friends while sharing an adventure and discovering new music together. So many flute festivals throughout the world are a testimony to that! If you are not afraid to reach out a bit with your ideas, projects or goals, chances are you will soon enjoy making acquaintances that lead to friendships, that lead to meeting someone else with similar interests etc., etc., that all eventually lead to a broad network of mutually supportive folks! That is exactly how my publishing opportunities arose.
Good friend and colleague Angeleita Floyd introduced me to Irene Maddox at the Iowa Flute Fair upon my return to the States after the Fulbright, when I was full of fresh enthusiasm for the Latin American music that was new to me from that experience. At the time, Irene and her husband Robert were running Pan Publications. After many delightful conversations, I developed a lovely friendship with Robert and Irene, invited them to Peru for our festival there a couple of times, and our mutual enthusiasm for new works by Latin American composers and arrangements of traditional/folk music I had worked on, took root resulting in a handful of publications. While working on my Doctorate and World Music Certificate at Florida State, flutist/colleague Karl Barton was just beginning to dabble in the development of Barefoot Boy publications. We shared a lot of common musical interests and through conversations at school decided to give it a go. It’s been a privilege to have these folks interested in my work, for which I continue to be grateful! As I mentioned earlier, a primary factor in creating your own opportunities is being willing to speak up and share, then one thing will most likely lead to another.
14. How did you start becoming comfortable improvising and writing your own music?
Although I haven’t formally studied jazz improvisation, I certainly have studied theory, technical exercises/etudes and Baroque performance practice/improv like most other music majors! With that basic background, one has a solid point of departure for either composition or improvisation. So when a melody rings in my ears or tugs at my heart, I’ve got tools to either write it down, or just play it.
In my case, since I’ve been blessed with so many “traditional” performing opportunities, one technique I have used to continue to grow musically is to allow myself to think or play “outside of the box” a bit more. It is lovely to step away from an old school of thought which implies success and joy as a musician is limited to performing well what others have composed. While I continue to love the work of others, daring to allow yourself to find a corner of your heart which sings on its own, although perhaps daunting initially, is a gift. It certainly has been beneficial to be surrounded by, and work with like-minded musicians who are not only skilled and gifted, but have generous, kind, playful spirits. In such an environment its easy to let go of inhibitions!
15. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
When I was an undergraduate student in flute performance at the University of Northern Iowa (an hour or so from Coralville, the Miyazawa headquarters), Miyazawa was just joining the flute market. Pearl West, along with the Miyazawa representatives from Japan came to the university with flutes and spoke with Dr. Jerrold Pritchard, my teacher at the time. Knowing I was in the market for a professional flute, he had me try them. I found the one that was right for me, and have been playing it ever since!! It is number 428! The mechanism has been so wonderful all these years, I can count the number of times I’ve had it worked on on one hand.
I have learned over time that compared to some of my colleagues I have a light touch when I play. Under those circumstances it is imperative that your flute be reliable mechanically, as is my Miyazawa. If not, the slightest lack of alignment would show up very easily. If your key grip is quite firm or with a fair amount of pressure, certain mechanical elements can occasionally be disguised or go undetected for awhile, such as proper pad sealing, play in the keys and key levels. I have come across this when trying others’ flutes while at festivals and the like. Those playing with a forceful grip would be fine, but when I played their flutes, there would be multiple leaks that showed up due to my light touch. With my Miyazawa, the mechanism has remained refined and precise, rarely requiring adjustment during all these years. Consequently (and happily), it appears I have saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars in flute repair!
These qualities have not gone unnoticed; while studying with Charley DeLaney during my doctoral program, every so often he’d offer to buy my flute… although he wasn’t really in the market, he recognized it as a gem! There has just never been a reason for me to consider changing flutes, except for the allure of purchasing a gold flute. If I do decide to go that direction some day, I will most definitely keep my current flute, and remain loyal to Miyazawa with my choice for gold; the qualities I value, (particularly the key style and mechanism) and track record are too marvelous to ignore.
One other important aspect Miyazawa brings to the flute world, which must be acknowledged, is the very personable and sincere attention I receive from all who work for Miyazawa. Inquiries for myself or for students have always been met with genuine interest, care, and enthusiasm. Granted, we go back quite a few years and have an established friendship, but even with personnel changes over time, the atmosphere of a trustworthy family-run business has remained constant, professional and pleasant.
16. If you had one piece of advice to give for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
Don’t ever let anyone, no matter how famous, tell you “you won’t make it in the business”. If you are dedicated (that means willing to work HARD) and open-minded with a generous spirit, you will find your place. Look for musicians of excellence that are encouraging and can assist you in your development. There are a million ways to share musically.