FLUTE Member Of The Week
April 19-25, 1999
Greetings from the middle of the Canadian prairies. My mind has been racing every since Larry asked me about doing this, and I hope that I can get my thoughts down coherently. For those of us who spend so much of our time teaching, talking is a *very* natural process...just ask my students! But when it comes to putting thoughts through the keyboard, it doesn't have the same spontaneous flow.


I was born and raised in London, Ontario (Canada), the son of a professional trumpeter, Jim Ford, and an amateur pianist, Jean. My father was principal trumpet with the London Symphony as well as the Stratford Shakespearean Festival for about 40 years. It seemed that as soon as we were old enough to stand around the piano, we would all sing along as my mother accompanied us for traditional hymns, folk songs, pop songs (of the 40's!) etc.. My mother also liked to do her version of a few Chopin waltzes etc., but it was opera that was her favourite genre. I can still remember the Texaco "Live from the Met" radio broadcasts, every Saturday afternoon. Woe to the child who couldn't find somewhere else to be, or someone to play with (at *their* house) during the opera season. It wasn't until years later, when I first started grad school and was assigned to the orchestra for Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor", with its flute solo and duet with the soprano, that I followed my genes and fell in love with opera.

I started piano lessons at age 6, then added trumpet lessons with my father the following year. It wansn't until just before my ninth birthday that the London Schools began a band program. Apparently, my dad needed some flutes in a town band that he conducted in Watford, Ontario during the summer band concert season, so I decided to become a flutist. (That's my mother's version of the story. I think it's because my twin brother and I were tired of carrying around that great big heavy trumpet case...we had to have our lessons uptown at my father's regular studio.) After a couple of years of private lessons with a sax/clarinet/flute doubler, I started lessons with a recent arrival to London, Gerry Meijer. Gerry was a graduate of the Amsterdam Conservatory who had come to London as a commercial artist, and immediately took over as principal flutist of the semi-professional London Symphony Orchestra. Three years later, I got the chance to take over the second flute chair, and held that until my graduation from University of Western Ontario in 1968.

I had begun to play sax and clarinet during my last two years of high school, with help from my band director who played principal clarinet in the Symphony, but who also played jazz tenor sax in his own combo, as well as big bands in the area. This background led me to realize that it was the direction I wanted to go with my career, so I entered a Masters in Woodwinds at Indiana University, where I studied flute with Harry Houdeshel, and played baritone sax in David Baker's jazz ensemble. I tried to find time to sing in the university chorus as well, since they were performing Verdi's "Requiem" that first semester, but of couse, two weeks before the concert I was assigned to the orchestra that was to accompany the chorus. Still, I got to hum along with the chorus during the longer stretches of rest in my flute part!

My experience in the jazz ensemble broadened my background in improvisation, and I landed a job one summer in Cape Cod, playing with a trio to back-up nine vocal students from Indiana U. and Curtis Institute, who were "singing waiters & waitresses". It was a terrific experience for me, and one I still cherish.

However, after graduating from Indiana in 1972, I won a position with the National Ballet of Canada, playing piccolo in the touring orchestra for their very successful tour with Rudolph Nureyev. During the off season, I taught high school as a "sub" for four weeks, and then got a job (again, following in my father's footsteps) playing flute & piccolo in the theatre orchestra at the Stratford Festival. It was after the second season with the ballet that I taught high school for six months before winning the position at Brandon University. They had advertised for someone to teach flute, saxophone, and jazz, so it seemed to be almost custom made for me.

During my years here in Brandon I've continued to perform solo recitals, some of which were broadcast on CBC Radio, as well as chamber music with my faculty colleagues. Because the school was quite small when I first arrived (75 students, 14 full-time faculty) my background in doubling was extremely welcome. For the first decade or so, I regularly played in concert band and wind ensemble, filling in on bari sax, contra-bass clarinet, English horn, and piccolo, to list a few. I even had to play trombone in my university jazz ensemble, since we only had one trombone major at first, plus a good high school trombonist who joined us when he could.

I'd always been able to sing loud, so I was welcomed into the university chorus, and later on the Chorale, when a choral specialist joined our faculty and started up the smaller chamber group. While at Indiana, I had the opportunity to use some free tuition credits in my last semester to take voice lessons with Jerome LaMonaco, a visiting faculty member on loan from the New York City Opera. This led to a couple of solo voice recitals during the 80's, and some chamber opera parts written by a colleague, Dr. Kenneth Nichols. We'll be premiering another opera next January, as of yet untitled, about the last woman to be hanged in Manitoba, December 27, 1899. I get to sing the part of the "Judge". I also sing and play jazz locally every month at a club, and have recently discovered Karaoke. ('nuff said.)

Ten years ago, I was introduced to a pianist, Claudette Caron, who had performed as part of a piano duo in international competitions, but who was now living and teaching in Brandon, although not on our faculty. We performed a recital together, and I asked her about continuing the collaboration as a "duo", selecting literature which would feature both instruments, as opposed to "solo flute with piano" repertoire. Ten years later, we have performed numerous recitals across the mid-west of Canada, and even down into North Dakota and Minnesota. During my upcoming sabbatical year, we will be recording our *first* CD, compiling the three major flute and piano works of Sigfrid Karg-Elert onto a single disc, hopefully. I've been playing the Karg-Elert Caprices since my early days as a student of Gerry Meijer, and just happened upon the Suite Pointillistique when I was at IU. It was after Claudette enjoyed her first exposure to Karg-Elert's music through that Suite, that I tracked down copies of the Sonata in Bb and the Pieces Exotiques, and found them both to be as musically fulfilling as the Suite. (By the way, a fourth piece for flute & piano, the Sinfonische Canzone, is definitely NOT of the same quality, seeming to be little more than a disjointed collection of "Romantic" cliches.) And yes, we *are* married, but not to each other! :>) Very early in our collaboration, she helped me to realize that I play a "minor orchestral instrument" and that she is not an "accompanist", but rather a "pianist". I learned the lesson so well that now I forbid my students from relegating their ensemble partner to the category of accompanist, unless they're playing something like Doppler or Boehm fantasies. Other than that, we get along famously, and thoroughly enjoy making music together whenever time allows.

Finally, during the school year, in my spare time, such as it is, I publish music for flute, saxophone, or anything else that happens to cross my desk, including a couple of symphonies that were composed by colleagues of mine and premiered by the Winnipeg and Regina Symphonies. Mostly I look for music which is suitable for the level of students which I teach here at BU, and adapt it for flute or saxophone. My adaptation (for saxophone) of the Karg-Elert Caprices has been published by Southern Music since 1992, and my own publications have appeared on festival lists and the Western Board exam syllabus. I really enjoy the challenge of taking a hand-written manuscript and turning into a finished, professional looking product so that it can be made available to a wider audience. Later this summer, I plan on developing my own website, so that all of these efforts can be sampled by a *much* broader cross-section of humanity, including our own Flute group. I look forward to your visit, and will let everyone know when it is up and running.

In the few moments that I have away from the teaching career, I enjoy home renovating, having moved eight times in 25 years, and do my own plumbing, wiring, drywall, tiling, window and door installations, and sometimes small shingling jobs. During my holidays for the past three years, I've had great fun driving a semi-trailer truck...about 62.5 metric tonnes of steel (137,500 lbs), fibreglass and fertilizer flying down the highway at 100 kmph (62.1 mph for non-metric types), with a double-trailer behind, sleeping in the bunk, and eating in truck stops across the prairies and northern states. The time spent waiting is quite handy for getting in some practice, and the flute stays with me in the cab for all of my trips. I get to listen to my favourite tapes and CD's for 12 -15 hours a day, and make some extra cash at the same time. It's almost as great as getting paid to play music!!

The one simple fact that I try to convey to all of my students is this: that music in all of its diverse forms is a microcosm of life. It has the capacity to inspire, to soothe, to calm, and to incite...indeed to bring out all of the human emotions, for good or for bad. If we choose, as musicians, to make good music, it matters not whether it is for orchestra, chorus, or electric guitar, nor whether it is for an audience of 20,000 or 20. Similarly, to build a good fence, to design a new car, to clean a window....if it is approached the same way we approach a performance...giving it our best effort, then we have already been successful. On the other hand, if we don't try our best, then the effort is worthless, and the result meaningless, no matter how artificially polished it might be. I try to pass on my love of music, so that a student can develop their particular talent as far as possible, and then use that success as a foundation to achieve whatever they might choose to do with their life. Thank you.

Bob Ford


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