Flute Choir Competitions
And this is the beginning of the flute choir competition. “The National Flute Association 1976 Flute Choir” is actually the High School Flute Choir. It was conducted by George Morey, appropriately, as he had undoubtedly had more influence on flute choirs than anyone else at the time. There were 20 flutists selected by competitive taped audition, although no one can remember how many actually applied! The program is quite diverse, with a number of premiers, and the introduction of several names that I have long associated with flute choir activity, including Martha Rearick and Newell K. Brown. And while there are still quartets that have been doubled, there are mainly works for full flute choir, and some of them are even published!! This program is the only flute choir activity, as there are no reading sessions, and none of the other programs have flute choir works on them. There are also no regional choirs performing. The NFA is embracing flute choirs, but just a little bit at a time. They have, however, started to really listen to their membership and to encourage the growth and support of local flute clubs. In an article called “Reflections” by Mark Thomas, he states: “One way or another there was going to be a flute association, a common gathering ground for flutists, a place to exchange ideas, hear flute concerts and see flute-related exhibits. I decided to stick my neck out knowing that the worst thing that could happen would be failure.” Far from failure, his vision had indeed happened, and was encouraging all forms of flute playing.
The 1977 NFA convention in San Francisco celebrates the 5th anniversary - already! Throughout the year, the growth is evident by reading of all of the activities in the newsletter. One mystery remains: the High School Flute Choir competition is announced in the November newsletter, and the March newsletter even goes so far as to announce the convention program with the choir performing on Saturday afternoon under the direction of Charles Delaney. But there is no evidence of a performance in the convention program. I have no earthly idea what happened, nor have I been able to find out from anyone, but suspect that this is part of the reason that future conventions did not announce their programs until later. As happens today, I’m sure there were a number of changes in the printed program, but I am unaware of these, especially through the 1978 convention. Flute Choirs were evident at the convention, however, as a World Premiere of Une Affaire de Famille by Louis Moyse was dedicated to the NFA in honor of their fifth anniversary. It was performed by flutists who are pillars of the NFA and the flute choir movement: Ervin Monroe, Arthur Ephross, Shaul Ben-Meir, Philip Swanson, Louis Moyse, along with a few others. Angels and Devils by Henry Brant was also performed, but with a different group of flutists and conducted by James Westbrook. Perhaps this was part of the NFA Flute Choir !? At any rate, these pieces were featured on the Saturday “Formal Evening Concert” - a prime performance spot for maximum exposure. The 1978 convention in Washington D.C. again has a full concert by the NFA Flute Choir, with Charles Delaney as the director. They are again performing Angels and Devils, but only the third movement, Devils in the Mind. This program also includes the world premier of Sails, Winds, Echoes by Crawford Gates. Other pieces include Music for Twelve Flutes by Keyes, Study for Twelve Flutes by Easton and Two Etudes for a Group of Twelve Flutists by Grimm. It is wonderful to see that all of the pieces performed were original works, and while none of them specify “Flute Choir”, they definitely qualify as flute choir works. It also appears, by the titles, that perhaps “12 flutes” were considered a flute choir!
While the NFA was getting established, growing, and beginning to include flute choir activity, the various flutists around the country were certainly staying busy themselves, and growing flute choirs very rapidly!
Anne McGinty had performed in Cyclorama during the 3rd convention, stayed active for a couple of more conventions, then got a job with Hansen Publishing and became very busy with arrangements. By 1977 she was working as a liaison between Armstrong Publishing and their new distributor, Hansen. She created the “I Love Flute” series and the “Anne McGinty Presents the Composer’s Flute Choir” series, which included Little Fugue in G Minor, Prelude and Fugue in C Major, and Minuet and Gavotte, all by Bach. She was the first person to get a major educational publisher to publish flute choir music. Though never directly involved with a specific choir, Anne just wrote music and found publishers for it. Asked why, she sites her involvement with the NFA, her affection for the sound of the flute choir, and that she “knew that she could write neat stuff for it!” Anne always tried to make the flute choir sound as ethereal as possible, with absolutely no hint of the “wretched calliope sound!” As she gained success with her music, Mr. Hansen thought that since she wrote for flute choir, perhaps she could also write for “Piano Choir”, as he published and sold lots of piano music. She finally was able to persuade him that the sheer logistics of putting many pianos in the same room was not viable!!! Anne also had flute choir pieces published with Hal Leonard, including the very popular Greensleeves Fantasia. Each of these pieces included a vinyl soundsheet that had the music on it, which had been recorded by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater flute choir and Bob Webb…”really a fine choir”. She continued with flute choir music and became affiliated with ALRY Publications, starting with reprints of some of her earlier works, then Masques, commissioned by Erin Grim for her high school flute choir. This was one of the very earliest commissions for flute choir. Anne did many clinics as a guest conductor, arranger, speaker, whatever, and she found herself quite inspired by a blind flutist who performed with a flute choir in Akron, Ohio. “This woman memorized her music and was just thrilled to be making music and to be part of this ensemble!”
Kathy Borst Jones had started an adult group called “The Fluters” that played Christmas programs, Spring programs, and at Senior Centers. She started arranging for her specific group, using mainly choral pieces that she transcribed. She would buy a number of copies and get permission from the publishers which made it okay. Kathy was working in the choral department at Stanton’s Sheet Music at the time -- very convenient! She was not very involved with the NFA yet. “I do feel like I was developing a flute choir program in my own way without knowing what others were doing at the same time. It was only when I became more involved in the NFA, and when more music started to become available that I realized that we were in the midst of a ‘flute choir movement’”.
Gwen Powell had started to incorporate flute choirs into her teaching studio. As she told me years later during the NFA trip to China, “Flute Choirs strengthen studios for college teachers, and provide a very rewarding experience.” Carol Kniebusch Noe had begun a very active program at James Madison University, as well as incorporating afternoon flute choir sessions into the Geoffrey Gilbert masterclasses. She has always been one of the greatest proponents for original music for flute choirs, and in 1980 began the “James Madison University Flute Choir Composition Contest”. Many of the great pieces of flute choir music were the direct result of this competition! James Pellerite had also gotten quite involved, and was very active in getting some of the music in print and available to flutists across the nation through his company, Zalo Publications. These are just a few of the many who were the flute choir’s early ambassadors.
The March, 1977 issue of “Woodwind, Brass and Percussion” magazine contains an article entitled “The Flute Choir: Its Coming of Age” by Dr. George Morey. I remember thinking how important this article was at the time, and it is equally fascinating 24 years later. Dr. Morey justifies the article: “…the flute choir merits serious discussion, a weighing of its potentials, and a probing into the unique and necessary place of the ensemble in the flute world”, then proceeds to explain the need: “Simply stated, if the flutist has an outlet for his performance skills, his interest will be sustained; if he does not have this opportunity, the enthusiastic amateur or potential professional may be lost.” He goes on to illustrate that there are simply not enough ensemble opportunities available at an average large university, i.e. there may be only 15 available places in the band and orchestra, and up to 45 or 50 flutists. (As I mentioned previously, Texas had a wonderful music education program!) He examines the possible flutes used in a flute choir, referring to the Eb flute as the “Cinderella” of the flutes, a perfect description, I think! He challenges the flute industry to continue to improve the lower flutes, and admonishes music educators to request the instruments that they need for their programs. The passion and persuasiveness of this nationally distributed article was certainly a needed boost for flute choirs!
Also at NTSU, Myrna Brown had become very involved with flute choirs, most likely due to the influences of George Morey! In 1978, she was given a research grant from NTSU, which resulted in “An Annotated List of Works for Flute Ensemble”. The result is 14 pages listing 128 flute choir pieces, including many works in manuscript, pieces adapted from other instruments such as recorders, and a few quartets that can be effectively doubled. Difficulty levels and publishers, where possible, are included. There are relatively few easier pieces, and many very difficult avant-garde works. Finally we were able to know what was available, and this list became a bible for those of us involved in flute choirs.