FLUTE Member Of The Week
June 14 to 20, 1999
I started playing the flute when I was in the fourth grade, after a brief flirtation with the clarinet. A year later, at the age of 11, thanks to my parents and my elementary school music teacher, Miss Behrens, I began to study with Britton Johnson at Peabody. In the few years I studied with Britt, he planted many seeds that have flourished ever since. He was a truly great teacher. When my family moved to Washington, D.C. Wally Mann of the National Symphony watered those seeds and planted more. I owe them both much that cannot be repaid. Even though I have followed a rather diverse musical-military-academic-industrial path, I have never quit playing or striving to improve. I am a zealous advocate of the best traditions of "amateur" music and a believer that a committed amateur can, by dedication and work, equal the skill of a professional of comparable talent.


I actually began to play the piccolo when I joined the Montgomery County (Maryland) Youth Orchestra and found myself playing next to Gail Powell, Verne's granddaughter and the principal flute. During the next few years I began to like the piccolo a lot, and by the time I went college it was my great love. As Lois Schaefer pointed out to me a few years ago, "...it just speaks to some people." After a fairly normal time in public school (no mind-warping summers at Interlochen for me.) I went off to Yale.

At Yale I did lots of stuff, majored in Physics and trained to be a Cavalry officer. I also had the opportunity to play under Keith Wilson, Professor of Music at Yale and President of the American Bandmasters, as piccolo player of the Yale Band. We had guest conductors including Morton Gould and Gunther Schuller, but the real high point of this period, for me, was a chance to play "Stars and Strips" shoulder-to-shoulder with Meredith Willson (just the two of us up in front of the band) to an audience of 2000. What a night that was!

After plying my trade as a warrior, I came back to graduate school, again at Yale, in Electrical Engineering. At that time John Mauceri had just organized the Yale Symphony Orchestra using players drawn from the entire University regardless of department or status. I became the piccolo player and remained so for 14 years while I taught engineering. The YSO was (is) an amazing orchestra. Its members ranged from freshmen to physicians, engineers to cartoonists. Indeed, most of the principal players did not major in music (I used to keep track). A extraordinary number of its alumni, however, did go on to professional careers. Probably the best known former principal flute player of the YSO is Linda Chesis, the New York and soloist teacher. I had lots of adventures with the YSO, including doing the European premiere of Bernstein's "Mass", and a chance to spend 3 hours alone after a rehearsal drinking beer with Vincent Price. In time, though, I left Yale to come to Boston.

No, I did not go on to a professional career as a piccolo player. Instead, I left my post as an engineering professor to work as an engineering executive in various high tech companies in Boston. I played piccolo in the Boston Philharmonic for three years and then joined the New England Philharmonic where I now play 2d flute/piccolo. Meanwhile, I also joined the Metropolitan Wind Symphony, an 80 piece wind band. Both the N.E. Phil. and the M. W. S. play a lot of contemporary music, which suits me fine. Several years later, I was also fortunate enough to be invited to join the Massachusetts Wind Orchestra, a professional level symphonic band composed of professional level players from all over New England, New York, New Jersey and occasionally even farther away. The M.W.O, founded and directed by Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. of the University of Mass. records and plays at Tanglewood each year. It plays literature at the very highest level, and has certainly been one of the most satisfying musical experiences of my life.

My first good flute was a Powell made for me in 1959 (headjoint by Verne; body by Ed Almeida); price: $450. That instrument remains a part of me. When I take it out to play it, I am just filled with nostalgia. When I could afford a proper piccolo, I bought a Haynes, and then another. They are beautiful instruments and I consider Lou DeVeau one of the great men of fultemaking history. Some years later, in 1985, 1 bowed to modern technology and bought my first Cooper scale flute from Bick Brannen. A year later, I bought one of Jim Keefe's fine Brannen piccolos. After a bit I bought a second all-gold Brannen flute and a second (cocus wood) Brannen piccolo. I also have two of Dana Sheridan's headjoints, and a gorgeous cocabola wood head from Howell Roberts that I use for chamber music and baroque stuff.

To a large extent I have stayed happy and committed to music exactly by not trying to make a living at it. I agree with Frances Blaisdell that flute students should not commit to a career in performance until very late in their training, if at all. Far too often, players fall into a trap of mediocrity -- can't make a living at the flute and can't fix that because they have to struggle too hard to make a living at anything else. I have many friends who are professional players and teachers, mind you, and who are very happy, but I also know a lot of frustrated souls who should not have tried to make a living at performance. I actually have come to think that "amateur" and "professional" are not opposites. Certainly there are also people, lots of them, who have lost their love of music and just play to earn a living. When I'm in a bad mood I call them "mercenaries." There are also amateurs who have no particular aspirations - they just love music. However, there are also people who make their living playing and love doing it. They are both amateur and professional. And, there are also people with day jobs who play for the love of it but at a professional skill level and with professional discipline. In that way they are both amateur and professional as well.

copyright 1999 John G.Zornig

John Zornig


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