FLUTE Member Of The Week
June 5 to 11, 2000

Dutilleux Sonatine (Centaur Records)
I currently live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with my fifteen-year-old son, Jonathan, and my husband, composer Paul Hayden. I am the flute professor at Louisiana State University where I have taught for 13 years.

I was raised in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Neither of my parents was particularly musical. When I was in fourth grade, I decided to play an instrument because all of the music students at my school got out of class for 30 minutes a week for lessons and they all won medals!! The only problem was deciding which instrument to play. At that time, there were very few students in the music program, only about one per instrument. I went to a meeting at which all the music students demonstrated their respective instruments. I was immediately attracted to the flute because I thought it was "different" from all the others. After all, it was made of silver instead of wood or brass, and it was held out to the side instead of to the front. I remember thinking that this was probably an unusual instrument that not many people would want to play. Boy was I wrong!!!

My first real professional flute teacher was Mark Thomas, founder of the NFA. At that time, I was thirteen, and he was principal flute in the National Gallery Orchestra and taught at American University in DC. He was a wonderful teacher, and I made great strides under his guidance. When I was sixteen, he took me and several other students to Sewanee Summer Music Center in Tennessee. That was the first time I played in a decent orchestra and I loved it and decided I wanted to major in music in college. One of our conductors at Sewanee was Kenneth Moore who also taught bassoon at Oberlin. From that moment on, I was determined to go to Oberlin.

My parents were not very keen on my going to a conservatory and I felt that a BA degree with a major in music would be a better option in case a career in music did not work out. So, I applied to Oberlin on the basis of my grades and SAT scores, was accepted, and just showed up expecting to study with Robert Willoughby, the flute professor there. I didn't realize how competitive it was to get into the conservatory and to study with him. However, I was extremely lucky. After playing for Willoughby, he decided to accept me as a student. Since I was a BA student and had entered the conservatory through the "back door" so to speak, I was very insecure about my ability as a flutist. I didn't even audition for the orchestra or wind ensemble until my senior year, and then was very surprised to be accepted for both.

My experiences at Oberlin confirmed my desire to go into music as a career. I decided to continue in graduate school. I enrolled at the State University of New York at Stony Brook because they offered me a huge Fellowship and because I had heard wonderful things about the flute professor there, Samuel Baron. Sam was a great teacher and human being. He helped me to believe in myself and to make me feel that I had something to offer in the music world. In the summer of '74, he took me to the New College Summer Music Festival in Sarasota, Florida where I performed the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 as second flute soloist with Sam and the great violinist Joseph Silverstein. That was one of the highlights of my life!

After completing my Master of Music degree in '75, I found myself in a position like many other flutists....unemployed. So, I returned to the DC area feeling a bit forlorn and frantic, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting years of my life! I joined the Musicians' Union and started freelancing. I played with four different orchestras, did some chamber music, and got a job teaching part-time at a local junior college where most of my students were cute guys with pony tails. I sent off some tapes for various teaching jobs, took some auditions and was accepted to Tanglewood for the Summer of '76, where I played under Ozawa, Bernstein and Colin Davis! However, while I was there, I was offered a job over the phone to teach part-time at the University of Wyoming! At that time, I wasn't even sure where Wyoming was and had to look it up in the encyclopedia at the Lennox County Library. (Geography had never been my forte.) I was so confused, but after Doriot Dwyer (who was teaching all the flutes at Tanglewood) told me that if I did not want this job, she had six students who would take it, I decided to go for it.

In order to accept the job in Wyoming, I had to get permission to leave Tanglewood early because school had already started. I drove home to DC, made arrangements to have my car driven to WY, and flew out as fast as possible. I had never seen a wide-open space before. When the flight attendant on Frontier Airlines announced that we were landing in Laramie, I looked out the window and realized that there was NOTHING there. I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I felt like I had landed on the moon and I vowed not to stay more than three years. I ended up staying there for eleven. My first year was part-time at the enormous salary of $7,500! However, I had some good flute students and I enjoyed teaching there and performing with the New World Wind Quintet. Because Wyoming was a kind of "cultural wasteland", the University (the only 4-year institution in the state) served as a cultural center for the entire state and region. There was a special program called "Cultural Outreach", generously funded, that constantly sent us out on performing tours. I toured as a soloist with piano, with my quintet, with guitar, and other combinations. I was performing all the time and it was great. Some of the towns I performed in were quite small, but every chance to perform is a valuable experience and I learned a lot and was able to experiment with lots of new repertoire and performance situations.

After my first year, I was promoted to full-time Assistant Professor. This meant, however, that I had to teach something in addition to flute, so I was assigned to Music Appreciation, a class of 300 students that met three times a week. I had never taught anything besides flute in a classroom before, so this was a rather terrifying experience. I was very nervous for my first lecture and I spoke so fast that it was over in ten minutes! I also had the entire football team, ski team, and various cowboys in my class. The class met in a large concert hall with 700 seats. Many would sit in the back and chew tobacco and spit on the floor!

Overall, my years in Wyoming were pretty good. I had a number of great students and many performing opportunities. I also met a zoology professor named Mark Boyce and we were married in 1982 in a real western style wedding which included a stagecoach ride from the church to the reception. We spent our first year of marriage in Oxford, England where Mark was doing a postdoc at Oxford University and I was able to study there as well, applying my work towards a doctorate at SUNY, Stony Brook. I was also able to study flute with William Bennett and Adrian Brett, perform a Wigmore Hall debut in London, and do a solo broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The contacts I made during that year have enabled me to be a regular visiting tutor at the Oxford Flute Summer School to this day. My son, Jonathan Henry Boyce, was born in 1985 adding a whole new dimension to my life. Unfortunately, my marriage ended in divorce in 1987. Although this was a difficult time, a new opportunity opened up for me with a flute professorship at Louisiana State University and Jonathan and I moved to Baton Rouge in August of 1987.

LSU has been a fantastic opportunity for me. My colleagues are all great players and nice people and I have continued to grow and learn as a teacher and performer. With the help of generous grants from LSU, I have been able to record three solo CDs with Centaur Records, Inc., VIRTUOSO AMERICAN FLUTE WORKS, SKY LOOM (for flute and harp), and newly-released SONATINA (with a short sound sample included in this feature). LSU also offers a very generous scholarship program with which I have been able to recruit wonderful students. Every teaching day is a joy to me!

During my years of teaching at the University of Wyoming and LSU, I have had several opportunities to perform and teach masterclasses abroad. My first "foreign" performance was in September of 1982, when my first husband traveled to Poland on a scientific exchange program. I decided to go with him with the promise that I would be able to perform a recital there. It was a crazy time because the country was under martial law. There was very little food and not many tourists. I was told to go to a coffee shop, order a cup of coffee and sit at a corner table. A man approached me and asked in English, "Are you a famous American flutist?" , to which I bravely replied, "Of course!" The next thing I knew, I had two recitals set in Krakow, one for the Society of Polish Artists and Musicians (S.P.A.M.), and the other at the Polonia House. My accompanist didn't speak any English but we both spoke French, so we were able to work together very well. At that time, it was almost impossible to get anything printed, so I asked the American Consulate to print my programs for me. As I was walking back to my hotel with my printed programs, I noticed that people were craning their necks to read them every time I stopped on a street corner. (They probably thought that this was some kind of subversive literature against the government.) So, I just started handing them out in hopes that people would come to my concert! The entire experience was so interesting and exhilarating that my appetite was whetted for more foreign performances.

When I returned to America, through my contacts with the Western Arts Trio in Wyoming, I was able to work with an agent named Pietro Menci and International Artists Personal Representation. I did several European concerts but the most memorable was a tour in 1990 as soloist with the Orchestra Medicea Laurenziana to Naples, Salerno, Matera, and Paestum in Italy. This was also a crazy experience, as nobody spoke much English and the personnel of the orchestra seemed to change from rehearsal to rehearsal and performance to performance. Concerts were scheduled for 9:30 p.m. but never usually started until 10 p.m. Dinner was eaten after the concert around midnight and nobody got to bed until 3 or 4 in the morning. At least, I didn't have to suffer much from jetlag because I just didn't bother to adjust my hours and everything seemed almost the same.

After Pietro Menci passed away in the early 90s, I was on my own. With my contacts in Oxford, I began teaching at the Oxford Flute Summer School every other summer. I have already written to the list extensively about my adventures in China and Hong Kong, so I won't go into much detail here. In 1995, I was invited to teach at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and perform a recital in the Beijing Concert Hall. With some financial help from LSU and $900 of my own money, I was able to take advantage of this opportunity. In 1997, I was invited to return to teach and perform a recital at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. I was fortunate this time that Powell Flutes, Inc. sponsored my trip and got me another concert and masterclass in Hong Kong as well. Although this was a wonderful experience, it marked a turning point in my life, as it was during this trip that my tongue cancer first presented itself!

During my trip to Shanghai, I woke up one morning to find a huge canker sore on the underside of my tongue. Although quite painful, I didn't think much of it because I was pretty stressed out by all of the traveling, performing, teaching, trying to speak Chinese, etc. After returning to America, it did not go away. I went to my dentist first, then to my doctor, and ultimately to seven doctors over seven months, most of whom told me it was nothing! Finally, I had a biopsy done by an ENT. The results showed carcinoma in situ and I had to have surgery that week to remove part of my tongue! This, of course, would not be good news for anyone but especially not for a flutist! The diagnosis was particularly surprising since I have never smoked, don't have a family history of this, and despite all those years in Wyoming, I have never chewed tobacco. I had also always thought of myself as a happy and healthy person, who eats well and exercises several times a week. At that time I was already a member of the flutelist and I posted my crisis for all to see. It was so heartwarming to receive tons of email everyday from flutists all over the world full of compassion, hope and prayers. With all of this support, I bravely went into surgery and thought that would be the end of it. However, there was more bad news. Although they got the entire tumor out, they did not get a wide enough clear margin and it was squamous cell cancer....the worst kind ...the kind that spreads fast and can kill you. Now I was really terrified. I went at my own expense (my HMO would not cover this) to the Cancer Treatment Center in Tulsa for more opinions and options to more surgery. I found out that radiation was NOT a good option for me because it has the PERMANENT side effect of a completely dry mouth and I would never play again. However, the doctors in Tulsa were VERY impressed the wonderful job that my surgeon in Baton Rouge had done and advised me to go back for more surgery. So, less than two weeks after my first surgery, I was again going under the knife to have more of my poor tongue removed. However, this time the results were all clear.

During the following year, there were more scares and another biopsy, a catscan that showed enlarged lymph nodes in my neck and another three months later that showed them doubled in size. However, subsequent MRIs have shown everything to be clear. I have been very lucky and I have been able to regain all of my ability on the flute. In fact, I may even be able to doubletongue faster now because there is less tongue to do it with!

While this entire experience was nightmarish to live through, in retrospect it was a blessing in disguise. It made me reexamine my life and my priorities. I had been dating composer Paul Hayden for eleven years long distance, since he was a full professor with tenure in Illinois and I was a full professor with tenure at LSU. After my surgeries, I proposed. He quit his job in IL and moved here so that we can be together. He is composing music full-time and helping me with my son. We are very happy! Also, this experience has changed my attitude towards my flute. I used to think that if I made a huge audible mistake in a concert at a flute convention, it would be the end of the world! I no longer think that way. I am very grateful for every aspect of my life and every day that I can just play my flute is a blessing!

Katherine Kemler


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