What is a Flute Choir?
A flute choir can be thought of simply as a group of flutists playing together – but there's really a lot more to it than that.
A flute choir might consist of as few as five players, or as many as twenty. While most of the instruments in the ensemble will be the classic C flute, the other members of the flute family, namely the piccolo, the Eb flute, the alto flute and the bass flute, are frequently in evidence. Such variety not only expands the potential range of a flute choir to multiple octaves, but it greatly increases the repertoire and tonal possibilities.
Almost any form the flute choir can take will produce good results, but ideally there might be two piccolos, (two Eb flutes, if available), six to eight C flutes, two to four alto flutes and two bass flutes. Plus, if available, a contra Bass flute.
Why a flute choir?
The flute choir is one of the fastest growing performance mediums today. This has come about in part due to the fact that more and more music instructors are of necessity teaching in a group environment. Flute choir pieces have proven to be an effective teaching tool in that there are generally more parts for a given number of flutists. This increases the challenge to the individual student while at the same time eliminates the monotony of unison playing and the inhibitory fears associated with solo playing.
The popularity of the flute is constantly increasing. As a result, school band programs frequently have more flutists than are really needed – sometimes 40 or more in a single band! Flute choir repertoire enables the student to express a greater degree of creativity and individuality, and it provides a comfortable atmosphere in which to gain the self-confidence needed to perform in public.
At the college level, playing in a flute choir can help the future teacher or performer to learn a great deal about the practical aspects and problems of musical performance. Insight will be gained into technical considerations such as intonation, matching styles, articulation and phrasing. It is also an excellent opportunity to experiment with tone color, to learn some new literature and to develop flexibility.
Adult students are frequently faced with a unique situation: plenty of musical ability but no performance outlets. This is particularly common among adults who have played flute for many years, but have chosen a profession other than music. There are simply too few community orchestras and bands to accommodate all of these flutists. In most cases, the "professional" flutists in the area get most of the free-lance work. Flute choirs provide an ideal performance outlet for these flutists, and most communities welcome a new and different performance medium.
Most important, flute choirs are fun. Flutists of all ages have an opportunity to meet people with whom they have a common interest. While all of the playing abilities may not be the same, good selection of music will usually accommodate a wide variety of players. At the same time, ability will increase and everyone involved will have enjoyed the experience.
What about organization and funding?
Organizationally, the flute choir can take a number of forms, depending on the goals of the group and its particular financial circumstances. In the case of a student choir, the conductor/teacher is usually a professional, paid from a surcharge added to the lesson fees of the individual students. The teacher is responsible for the selection and purchase of the necessary musical scores. Flute choirs that are associated with a school or university have the advantage of being able to obtain all or most of their funding from the institution itself.
Adult flute choirs have a number of options. Often the organization will be totally voluntary. Sheet music and other expenses are paid for by the contributions from the members or by the assessment of dues. With increasing frequency, flute choirs are organizing as non-profit corporations. This solves many of the equipment ownership problems and gives credence to efforts at obtaining grants and soliciting contributions form the public.
Once the flute choir has become established and recognized, funding will likely derive form the income of the performances themselves.
Is a conductor necessary?
This is a question that any flute choir will sooner or later have to confront. Here again, the choice will vary depending on the choir's organizational form and the will of its players. Some choirs, generally smaller ones, cue off one of the flutists in the group. In larger choirs, this becomes impractical. A conductor greatly reduces the potential for miscues. Moreover, the conductor serves as arbitrator over program material decisions and technical interpretations. Additionally, the student flutist will learn the importance of following a conductor. This experience will be of benefit in both ongoing and future ensemble work.
What expenses are there?
First and foremost are the instruments. While all flutists own a C flute and many have piccolos, the other components of the flute family are often less available. Although most musical pieces have C flute parts as options to the Eb and alto flutes, the acquisition of these instruments is certainly a convenience and can be very educational and enjoyable.
Many colleges and universities now own Eb flutes, altos and basses. If your institution does not, it is well worth the trouble to inquire into requisitioning them. For private groups, the task is more difficult. Perhaps the members of your choir will be willing to contribute toward the finances. The non-profit approach allows for common ownership financed form concert income. What better way to spend this income? Also, you might keep a close watch on the classified ads in newspapers and flute journals. Oftentimes the less common flutes become available at lower-than-new prices.
Many choirs are incorporating instruments other than flutes. These include the other woodwinds, string basses, even percussion. The possibilities are endless!
Other related expenses are the fees of the conductor and possibly a manager. New music is always needed. Then there is auxiliary equipment, such as good quality music stands, amplification equipment (if necessary), and perhaps performance attire or costumes.
When the choir begins to perform in public, there may be expenses such as rental fees for the performance venue, payments to additional musicians, publicity costs and printing costs for programs and flyers.
The needs and costs for each choir are different as are the attendant problems. But with determination and careful planning, these will inevitably be overcome.
Where can we perform?
A successful, profitable performance will go a long way toward solving any financial problems, to say nothing of the inspiration to creativity and personal stimulation it provides.
Most communities have natural performance outlets that will contribute in some way to the success of the choir. Try approaching music directors at churches or program chairmen at retirement homes. Let wedding consultants know you're available. Contact your Chamber of Commerce about conventions and special events. Schools and libraries are always looking for programs. You might even contact restaurants that feature local entertainment. Talk to arts councils, arts centers, art galleries and art museums. They frequently hire live entertainment. You might even consider offering a series of concerts, open to the public. Once again, the possibilities are endless.
What about the repertoire?
Providing music in sufficient quantity and variety to keep the choir challenged and satisfied was formerly a problem. Flute Choir repertoire is now quite extensive! Many directors find themselves doing their own arrangements. While this is fine, it is also very time-consuming.
Today, with the recent spectacular growth of the flute choir as a performing medium, publishers are providing an ever-expanding catalog of excellent music. Each piece will probably require slightly different instrumentation and the standing order of your flutists and the instruments they play will vary. But many of the newer pieces have challenging and melodic sections moving among the parts that avail everyone in the choir with the opportunity to maximize his or her enjoyment.
Contact a music store for information on available music. If the music is not available from your music dealer, write to the publisher. For future repertoire, keep consulting music catalogs, as new pieces are constantly being published. And have fun – your flute choir should be a great experience!