Alicia, how old were you when you started the flute?
I was 7. I started piano at 5 and was better at piano until I was about 13 or so. Now the only thing I can play on the piano is The Hokey Pokey!
How did you decide on the flute as your instrument?
At 7 my dad asked me what instrument I wanted to play in addition to the piano. He was a high school band director and had a majorette in his high school band that was very nice to me. She played the flute so I said, “flute, like her!”
When did you learn to play the piccolo?
I didn’t add piccolo until I was 15. Our high school band didn’t have many at the time and every marching band needs a piccolo, although really, one is plenty! My mom took me to the National Flute Association Convention in DC the summer before 10th grade and we found a used piccolo that did the trick. My first was a wood Emerson.
Is it very different from playing the flute?
The principles are the same but the embouchure aperture is much smaller. The fingering system is the same however, piccolo players use “fake” fingerings. These are special fingerings that don’t always work or aren’t needed on flute but that make intonation much better. I didn’t have a piccolo teacher until Jack Wellbaum, former piccolo player of the Cincinnati Symphony, while attending UC-CCM for undergrad. I enjoyed piccolo before but he helped me love it. We had weekly studio classes and I had private lessons with him. Mr. Wellbaum had a little black cat named Bob that sat on the music stand legs during lessons. I never asked if he was born deaf or if he became that way from sitting through piccolo lessons. Poor Bob! A lone piccolo can play as loud as a full symphony orchestra so it is a powerful position to be in. I like to think I use my power for good!
We always think of violin when it comes to Suzuki training. Tell us something about the Suzuki method for flute.
Suzuki flute method was created with Mr. Suzuki by Toshoio Takahashi, who was a student of Marcel Moyese, the famous French flutist. Moyese’s influence is seen in the Suzuki method from beginning articulation practice to the repertoire in every book. Suzuki flutists first learn to spit rice. You literally put a piece of rice on your bottom lip and spit it off using your air and tongue. This is called French tonguing.
How did your parents decide to start you in the Suzuki program?
My dad played 2nd horn in the West Virginia Symphony for 22 seasons and when I was ready to start flute, there was no question with whom I would study. I was fortunate enough to start flute with June Warhoftig, then principal flutist of the West Virginia Symphony. June was one of the first flute teachers to bring the Suzuki method to the US. I believe there were only 3 certified teachers in the US at the time. I feel so lucky to have started and graduated from the Suzuki method. I really feel like it gave me the ear that musicians use their whole lives. Suzuki’s methods are built on the idea that children learn their mother tongue by hearing it, repeating and being encouraged. Suzuki students practice pieces at home, listen to and play along with recordings repeatedly, play together at monthly group classes and attend master classes throughout the year. Suzuki also uses triangle teaching-teacher, parent and child. My parents had to come to each lesson and take notes. They also had to learn to play a little so they could be my teachers during the week, between lessons.
I have so many favorites! I love playing the Beethoven Symphonies on flute and piccolo. Mendelssohn always writes really beautiful flute duets within his works, so that’s fun, too. I love doing really hard modern pieces that require me to play flute, piccolo and alto flute. I have to totally focus allowing me to escape the daily life (shoveling snow, toddler melt downs from time to time, a dog who decides it’s too cold to go potty outside, etc.). Recently I got to play a piece by Paul Schoenfield called Slovakian Children’s Songs with Stephen Gosling on the SPCO chamber music series. It was so satisfying-beautiful lines, jazzy feel plus being very technically challenging, which for me equals a good pay off! I’m looking forward to the chamber music week in March. I’m playing Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 for Flute and Bassoon with Carole Mason Smith, and Jet Whistle with cellist Sarah Lewis, both compositions by Villa-Lobos.
( Alicia at age 10 )