FLUTE Member Of The Week
January 31 to February 6, 2000

Pleyel Trio for flute, cello and piano

There was no way I could avoid becoming a musician - my parents were violinists and I grew up listening to the Beethoven string quartets. Naturally, violin was my first instrument, but I never could understand why, when I drew my cheap stick across the strings of my pint-sized fiddle, it sounded so different from when my father drew his La Fleur bow across his J. B. Guadanini. I used to go away and cry. In the way of children, I never actually asked my father to explain this, and he never understood my tears. Even then, sound was always the most important thing to me.

In Richmond, Virginia, the high school bandmaster started a wind band in the local elementary school to prepare students for the all-important high school band. Since I was a Cherry, and Cherry's had to be musicians, I naturally joined the band. All my friends took up the clarinet and I wanted to play clarinet too, but my mother said, "I'm not having a clarinettist in the family!" My brother had an old flute - a Sherwood - lying around the house, so I took it from him. It had a range of about 5 notes, but I didn't know that; I knew nothing about leaks or adjustments. I think, on reflection, I learned a lot on that flute - I had to blow so hard it must have developed my diaphragm amazingly!

Lessons were a problem for me. I cried through my father's violin lessons; I cried when, thinking that another violin teacher would be more successful with me, he sent me to an old man who was awfully nice but who had bad breath; I cried when I had piano lessons run like an assembly line. So I wasn't offered flute lessons. I begged for them and was finally given them as a birthday present. Meanwhile, I taught myself; I hadn't known you are supposed to use your tongue, I stopped notes with my diaphragm. When I went for my first flute lesson I said to my teacher, "My bandmaster says I need to know how to tongue and how to do vibrato." I was enthusiastic and - for the first time in my life - really looking forward to a music lesson - and she replied, dourly, "I know what you need." That totally daunted me and I never opened my mouth again and never enjoyed the lessons at all, but I couldn't quit, because they were a present. However, she did teach me how to tongue and use vibrato. I survived with her for a year or so.

One day my mother said, "Why don't you study with Kincaid?" So I wrote him a 5-page letter (of which I'm sure he read only the first and last paragraphs!) and he sent me his telephone number and said to ring him for a consultation lesson. My mother, sister and I sat around the table trying to see who was brave enough to ring this very famous man. My sister surprisingly said, "I'll do it" and when Kincaid answered she thrust the phone at Mother. Anyway, Daddy drove me to Philadelphia and I played for Kincaid and he said, "I like what I hear," and so I went to Maine to his summer home and flute school. It was indescribable! I only wish I had known more so I could have learned more. I followed him to the Manhattan School of Music, but I was a shy southern lass and I hated New York, so I transferred to the Cleveland Institute of Music and studied with Maurice Sharp. I was very happy there, ushering for the Cleveland Symphony and getting to hear all their concerts for free - even getting paid for ushering for children's concerts on Saturdays! I practised 6-8 hours a day.

A semester before I was to graduate, top of my class, I was run over by a car - hit and run. My two front teeth were knocked out, all three bones of my left leg were broken and my head was badly smashed. Fortunately I was 3 blocks from one of the best hospitals in America, and they put me in the research ward and managed to put my leg back together. For three days a neurosurgeon looked after me to see if I would be retarded, and apparently I finally gave a response that proved I would be okay. However, I had to learn to reason again, and my memory was short for ages. The hospital, wonderful in so many ways, gave me no counselling for the trauma, and it was hell when I reached the stage that I realised I was not remembering things. But I think the thing I found hardest was the loss of my teeth. At that point I knew how important the flute was to me. Happily my new teeth and new Haynes flute arrived almost simultaneously. I had gone to music college with the cheapest model Armstrong, and the wonderful new flute helped me get over the difficulties of learning to play with different teeth.

This accident was a turning point in my life. I decided to take a job instead of continuing my education. I had already played professionally as second flute in the Richmond Symphony when I was about 15. I hadn't liked it much. The rehearsals were always in the evenings, and I had school work to do. I remember one scary evening when the person who was to drive me home decided not to and left me by a phone box in one of the worst areas of Richmond. I rang my father who came for me, but I got yelled at - I didn't feel it was my fault! Anyway, the Birmingham, Alabama, Symphony offered me a position, and the University there agreed to give me time off for the orchestra, so I stayed in Birmingham for 2 years and managed to get my degree as well. I also travelled across the States as solo flautist with an after-season touring orchestra. I was still quite young, having graduated from high school at 16.

Some compensation money for my accident came through and my mother (always a great influence in my life!) said, "Why don't you have a year in Europe?" That year became the rest of my life! I spent two years in Rome, studying with Gazzelloni and receiving my first education in avant-garde music. I played with the Forum Players, a virtuoso ensemble which toured Europe quite widely. In fact, avant-garde music became so important to me that for the next ten years I did almost solely plinky-plonk work. I spent a year at the Royal Academy of Music and gave my Wigmore Hall debut. I managed to get the ever-elusive work permit, and when I had that, Trinity College of Music offered me a day's teaching. I've been there ever since. I always felt that if I returned to the States I would have no option except to go into orchestral work, which by then I knew for certain was not what I wanted. I liked solo and chamber concerts, and there was a place for that in England. My time at Trinity has also taught me how important teaching is, and I take great delight in the successes of my pupils.

I married twice, the first marriage lasting about four years in actuality but a day in reality. It was a huge mistake! I married again just 5 years ago, to the most wonderful man in the world. Through him I have inherited 3 children. I now realise that the Cinderella story is all wrong and that the stepmother is good and the stepchildren are the wicked ones! (Not really)

My biggest problem in life is that there is not enough time to do everything and still have time for sleep! I keep busy teaching, writing reviews (of flute and chamber music for The Music Teacher), arranging (I have arranged two of the Bach flute sonatas for three flutes, the Haydn Quinten Quartet for 2 flutes, alto and bass flutes, a couple of the Mozart flute quartets for any combination of woodwind instruments; one of the Bach trios is already published, the other is coming out soon), editing (Kevin Mayhew Publishers have brought out the first volume of French-influenced pieces, the second should appear any day now), and playing. The Cherry Trio has released its first CD, the Beethoven Connection - trios for flute, cello and piano by peers of Beethoven; and Flūtes d'Accordes (Ken Bell and Douglas Townshend on C flutes, me on the alto and Susan FitzGerald on the bass flute) is currently recording a CD of English works written especially for us. We like to think of ourselves as the string quartet of the flute world. And, of course, I'm still writing that book on resonance…..

Ann Cherry


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