We had the opportunity to ask Michelle a few questions. Check out her thoughts on scheduling international tours, balancing a teaching and performing career, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. Your flute and guitar ensemble, Serenade Duo, recently released a CD. How do you prepare logistically for a project like that?
Well, I must confess that I much prefer the interaction of live performance to the studio recording process. I love the energy that is created and the ‘in the moment’ mentality that a concert setting provides. So, in an effort to capture that live atmosphere for our CD release with Centaur Records, Postcards from Paris, we actually made the decision to record all the works in their entirety without edits. The other choice we made was to actually engineer the project ourselves. We received an endorsement from Korg USA a few years ago and they were kind enough to help us obtain a hard drive multi-track workstation. Being directly involved in the process of recording, aside from the performance aspect certainly translates into more work. However, I really believe more importantly it serves as a platform for creative control and promotes an even greater sense of commitment to the project. I think it has become essential for contemporary musicians to be more active participants in the variety of aspects involving a career in music, such as recording, concert promotion and programming. With that said, there were definitely still moments during the recording process when I wondered, ”What was I thinking, no edits?” especially when nearing the end of a selection and oops… a mistake which meant going back and doing another complete take. But in the end I am really happy with how the CD came together and I am proud of the integrity of creating a live concert effect. I am also pleased that Postcards from Paris has received really positive reviews and as a result we are planning our next release with Centaur Records!
2. What is your approach to balancing a teaching and playing career?
As a musician I have always felt it is essential to balance a rewarding performing career with the many joys of teaching. I think it is so important to encourage a love and understanding of the arts in future generations; it will eventually be in their hands to keep it going! In addition to being the Coordinator of Woodwind Studies at Five Towns College, I have also had the pleasure of teaching many aspiring flutist for over 20 years of my private teaching. I still find it amazing how students have the gift of asking questions that really make me think and sometimes allow me to look at something in a new light. I hope I inspire my students as much as they continue to inspire me!
I am also thrilled to have begun a new position as the Coordinator of Public Programs for the Heckscher Museum of Art on Long Island, NY. It is an amazing museum that truly celebrates all of the arts and cultivates artistic education through a variety of programming. I am honored to have found such a creative home filled with many talented, dedicated and artistically minded people.
3. You have performed in many international venues. How do you go about scheduling International concerts and/or tours? How long does this process usually take?
Many years ago as a guide towards focusing artistic energies, I developed what I refer to as the Five Essential P’s: Practice, Preparation, Patience, Perseverance and Perspective. In regard to touring, you really need the ‘Essential P’ …perseverance! One of my principle goals in the last few years has been to expand into the world of touring. I basically take on the role of a musical agent for several hours a day: working on the internet, phone calls, faxes etc. I often laugh and say my business card should include flutist, teacher, booking agent, tour guide, travel agent, manager and dog walker!
There are certainly challenges wearing so many hats as a musician in today’s world, but if you stay focused and maintain a sense of humor it really is a pleasure to carve your own path in music. Realistically, organizing touring events is a lengthy process and on average bookings occur one to two years in advance… but for me the rewards of making music in beautiful places have been well worth the effort!
Recently, my research has led me to focus on Paris and after sending out many press packages to venues I thought might consider our flute and guitar ensemble we were lucky enough to perform at the American Church in Paris in May 2004. As a result of that concert and some of the contacts we made during that visit we were then able to coordinate a return to France in May 2007 for an amazing 2 week tour in Paris. We had the pleasure of performing 5 concerts in such magnificent and historic venues as the American Church in Paris, the United States Embassy and the New Zealand Embassy… what inspirational sounding rooms with warm, receptive audiences! We were also honored to perform a piece for flute, guitar and choir with the American Church Choir under the direction of Fred Gramann as part of the American Church’s 150th anniversary celebration. In addition to our concert performances, we also taught 8 classes at the International School of Paris; it was a great joy to work with so many enthusiastic students from around the world. We had return engagements in Paris in May of 2008, and are planning another tour after we complete our next CD project for Centaur Records.
4. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
Well, I have actually grown up with Miyazawa flutes! When I was 15 and ready to purchase my first ‘professional’ flute, my Mom and I had the pleasure of connecting with Jeff Weissman in NY. I still remember that day when Jeff patiently allowed me to try many flutes over several hours and the Miyazawa was simply the best! Over the past 25 years since then (where does the time go?!), I have upgraded models and headjoints but have always stayed with Miyazawa Flutes. In fact, since our meeting many years ago, I have also maintained a great friendship with Jeff Weissman and all of my Miyazawas have come from him and are serviced by the JB Weissman Music Co. I have of course had the opportunity to try out many flute brands and there are some fine manufacturers, but for me I am always drawn to the rich tone and amazing response of Miyazawa flutes. I currently perform on a beautiful GS model with a gold headjoint. Most of my performing is with my husband, guitarist Gerry Saulter and I have found that the warmth of the gold/silver blend balances so beautifully with the guitar and creates a unique, lush tonality. Miyazawa really is my musical voice!
5. If you had one piece of advice to give an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
Dream Big, Believe and Enjoy the Journey! Music has always been at the center of my being; but in 1989 I was in a life changing automobile accident. I was hit head on by a driver speeding down the wrong side of the road. At the time of my car accident I was entering my senior year as a music performance major at the State University of NY at Stony Brook, studying with Sam Baron. The car accident physically took away four of my front teeth and all of the accompanying bone structure, as well as shattered my right elbow and left me with little to no prospect of being able to achieve my hopes of living a life as a professional flutist. But somewhere amongst the array of negative emotions I was experiencing; fear, anger, frustration and doubt; emerged a great determination. I realized that if I were to make my dreams come to life I was going to have to work harder than I ever expected! Throughout my path of recovery I came to recognize the true power of the human spirit. I found strength not only in my own being, but in that of my family, friends, teachers and doctors. So much of my teaching perspective I gained from Sam Baron, who following my accident worked so patiently with me as I could only play Taffanel and Gaubert excerises for months. I often profess to my flute students, “can’t” is not a word in my vocabulary and that we all have the capacity to do anything we set our minds and spirits on. Perhaps obstacles are placed in all of our paths at some point not to stop us but to show us what we can do… miraculously everything does happen for a reason.
Check out Michelle LaPorte’s most recent press interview with the ‘Urban Guitar’ featuring her flute & guitar duo: Serenade Duo.