Flute Choir Competitions
In 1976, after completing my college degrees, I again found myself involved in the flute choir movement. I began teaching group flute lessons for the Denver Free University, and the more advanced class segued to become the ALRY Flute Choir (named from my initials). I again did many arrangements for this group, which were fortunately much better than those of my high school days. And I began looking everywhere for additional flute choir music. We obtained a bass flute (Armstrong) and were given an Eb flute by Louis Lewis, so had the full compliment of flutes. In retrospect, it is very interesting and somewhat entertaining to examine some of these arrangements. I was obviously arranging for specific groups with specific needs. It is easy to tell when we acquired new instruments, as there are suddenly parts featuring Eb, bass, etc. I also wrote for specific members of the group, which reflects their various strengths and weaknesses. I believe that I could still recall exactly who played some of the parts! Needless to say, many of these arrangements were not suitable for any other flute choir!
By 1979, I was conducting several flute choirs, and was coordinating afternoon ensembles for the William Bennett masterclasses. Through these classes and Marilyn Saeger, a flutist in the ALRY Flute Choir that had studied with Robert Cole, I learned about the NFA. Bob Cole had invited Marilyn to attend the 1979 convention in Dallas, and she encouraged me to come with her. This was my first convention, and I haven’t missed one since. It was truly a turning point in my career.
My memories of the Dallas convention are both vivid and vague. While I’m uncertain how many attendees there were, it seemed like lots to me! There was only one program featuring flute choirs, called “The Flute Ensembles Concert”, and including “The 1979 NFA High School Flute Choir” directed by Robert Webb, one independent quartet, one quintet, and the Texas Flute Club Ensemble, conducted by George Morey and Paris Rutherford. My memory is that there were flute choirs everywhere—perhaps I was just overwhelmed to actually meet others with a similar passion! I love reading through the notes I made, complete with the “ick!” by some works and “nice, cute, great” by others. The experience of hearing these flute choir works and meeting Myrna Brown gave my flute choir library an enormous boost. It was the beginning of my interaction with other flutists and flute choirs, which is exactly what the NFA intended to happen at these conventions.
At this juncture, it is important to note the relationships between flute choirs and flute clubs. The movements for both grew simultaneously and are very traceable. The NFA knew that flute clubs and choirs were their answer for growth. The Fall 1978 Newsletter lists 21 flute clubs, and subsequent issues devote increasing space to flute club issues and news. There is a new NFA position dedicated to the coordination of flute clubs, and cities chosen to host the annual convention are requested to have an active flute club for support. Almost all flute clubs are beginning to include flute choirs as part of their activities, recognizing the need for members to be involved. Between the regional flute clubs and the National Flute Association, flute choir founders, directors, and members are no longer functioning in isolation.
The year is now 1980, and it would be relatively easy at this point to say “The rest is history”. There is a great amount of growth still ahead however, and a number of issues to be addressed. The most prominent issue was that a lot of people disdained flute choirs. They thought that they were “too homogeneous”, “not a legitimate ensemble”, “didn’t have good music”, and “were only for those who couldn’t find others to play with”. In her 1983 article about flute orchestras, Marlaena Kessick recalls an old anecdote about Toscanini who, when asked his favorite instrument replied, “The flute.” When asked which instrument he truly disliked, he exclaimed, “Two flutes!” This attitude kept many people from getting involved, especially since our detractors included a number of prominent teachers. Even Anne McFarland Thibeault, who hired me to do ensembles for the Bennett classes used to semi-jokingly say, “The only reason I hired you for this is because I personally can’t stand flute choirs!” (She was, however, the person who most encouraged me to start ALRY Publications, helped to promote it, and upon her return to the U.S. is embarking on flute choir adventures of her own!) The time had come for us to convince our fellow flutists of the need for and viability of this unique ensemble. I count two events in particular as successes on this front. While conducting flute choirs for William Bennett’s classes, he once introduced me as the person that convinced him that flute choirs could sound good. And in Nacogdoches, Texas, during the Stephen F. Austin State University Flute Fair, Carol Wincenc, the featured soloist, made a point of telling me how she had become convinced that what we were doing with flute choirs was very important. In recent years, she and Linda Chesis, along with a few other mothers at their children’s school, formed a choir called the “Flute Moms”-- a great name and a marvelous experience for the children. George Morey’s article stated, “The flute choir is an active part of the 20th century renaissance of the flute and flute playing, and its existence might be considered by a future historian to be one of the foundation blocks that supported and prolonged this phenomenal time.” I believe this is just what the NFA and flute choirs were trying to accomplish.
Throughout the 1980s, great progress continued to be made for both flute choirs and the NFA. Numerous articles were published in a great variety of flute publications, with titles like: “All About Where to Play Flute Choirs and Ensembles”, “Let’s Form a Flute Choir”, “So You Play the Flute..Now What?”, “Flute Bands and Flute Choirs – The Same but Different”. Anne McGinty and the Chicago Flute Society were presented at Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Clinic in “Flute Choir: The Ensemble of the 1980’s”, which included an article and list of published flute choir works that was widely distributed to band directors and music educators. Adah Mosello Jones wrote her dissertation titled “The University Flute Choir: A Study of Its Viability as a Performing Ensemble and Instructional Medium with a Compendium of Recommendations and Warm-Up Exercises”. Her purpose was to examine aspects of flute choir formation, participation, and performance as they relate to ensembles at the university level. Through distributing hundreds of questionnaires, she was able to see how widespread the flute choir movement was, to get feedback from those who were involved, and to determine how they ran rehearsals and if they used group warm-ups or exercises. Adah felt that this type of research could help to bring flute choirs into an “arena of respectability”. One chart in particular is interesting as it ranks the importance of a variety of skills acquired through flute choirs. The top five are: chamber ensemble playing skills, performance outlet, style interpretation, sight-reading skills, and individual playing skills. Excerpts from this dissertation were later published as The Flute Choir Method Book, which is widely used by flute choirs today.