FLUTE Member Of The Week
October 18 to 24, 1999
I was born in 1957 in Berwick upon Tweed, a very historic town right on the border between England and Scotland which has been much disputed between the two countries over the centuries. My mother was a pianist and singer so I grew up with music being very much a part of everyday life. I began piano lessons when I was eight or nine (canít remember exactly) dutifully rather than enthusiastically and when I went to Grammar school I was given the opportunity to learn an orchestral instrument. For no particular reason I chose the flute and within a very short time I was completely hooked on the instrument - it was at this stage that I realised that music was something very special and that this was what I really wanted to do in my life.

My first teacher was a wonderful musician whose instrument was the oboe but who taught all woodwind and brass instruments in schools in North Northumberland - a huge area of Britain (but perhaps not so huge by US and Canadian standards). He had a working knowledge of all band instruments because he had spent many years in the Army in the days when bandmasters were expected to be able to play anything to a basic standard. I learnt a lot about music and musicianship from this man, and heard many interesting and sometimes hilarious stories about life as an Army musician from him which may well have kindled my interest in military bands. After four years he told me he couldnít really teach me any more about the flute and so I started travelling the sixty miles north to Edinburgh every two or three weeks for lessons with David Nicholson, having replaced my Boosey & Hawkes Regent flute with a Rudall Carte Romilly student model. Studying with David was a revelation. Having lived in a smallish town with no professional music making I had learned a lot of the standard orchestral and chamber music repertoire from records and the radio but I had a very limited knowledge of the flute repertoire. I also had a very limited knowledge of flute players, other than those who frequently played on the BBC and on recordings such as Gareth Morris, Richard Adeney and William Bennett. David introduced me to the key works in the repertoire and to recordings of players from Europe and America, whilst also getting me to play in a much more relaxed style and sorting out some very dodgy fingerings ! At this stage my record collecting became an addiction, especially the orchestral repertoire, and I started playing with local amateur orchestras. I also joined the National Youth Wind Band of Scotland for a couple of years and at sixteen I auditioned for the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra and was appointed Principal Flute. I played with this orchestra for five years, the Principal Conductor being Tim Reynish, another great influence on my musical life.

After leaving school I gained a place to read music at Edinburgh University - I felt that a more academic degree would give me a broader base to work from in the future and I could still carry on my flute studies with David Nicholson. A holiday job in the summer prior to university earned me enough to buy a Sankyo flute. It was hard work combining the demands of a very academic music course with a serious flute study regime but Edinburgh is a wonderful city to be a student in and three years flew by. By the time I graduated I had started doing some professional playing, deputising in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, playing a season with Scottish Ballet (on piccolo, a real baptism by fire !) and doing the odd solo concert. I stayed on in Edinburgh for a few months and then decided that I really would like to go to London to continue my studies. The problem would be financing such a move. Many professional musicians at that time had done National Service in military bands in the 1950s and early 60s and talking to some of them the idea formed in my head that if I could get a place in a London-based band for three or four years I could gain a lot of experience, get paid a salary and study in my spare time.

After quite a lot of letter-writing and telephone calls I was offered an audition by the Royal Air Force School of Music in the Autumn of 1978. The audition went well and I was offered a position in the Central Band. The only snag was I had to sign up for a minimum of six years - this seemed like an awfully long time ! However, the band had a fantastic reputation and I thought it too good an opportunity to miss so in January 1979 I went off to my six weeks of basic training (which everybody had to do,regardless of trade) at a bleak and windy RAF camp in Lincolnshire. This was quite an experience, but I survived the six long, cold, tiring weeks and took up my place in the Central Band (if anybody reading this is thinking of applying for a job in RAF Music Services, I can assure you that the basic training is much more civilised these days !).

Having worried about spending six years in the RAF, I found that the time went very quickly and that I loved the job. I was able to study flute with the late Christopher Taylor and Trevor Wye and also took up conducting seriously.The bandís reputation as the finest in the services was fully justified, as it still is, and having been appointed Principal Flute after two years with the band my original intention of staying for the minimum time was abandoned and twenty years on I am still there. In those twenty years I have played with the band as a Principal and as a soloist in every major concert hall in Britain, made numerous CDs and radio recordings and travelled to the USA and Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Hungary and many European countries. I have also been fortunate to be able to have a parallel career as a soloist, freelance orchestral and studio player and as a teacher. In recent years I have played as a concerto soloist in Norway and Sweden as well as in Britain and given several masterclasses. Highlights of my career to date include playing as a concerto soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Festival Hall at a Royal gala concert, recording unaccompanied Bach and William Alwyn in concert for Hong Kong Radio and giving performances of A Lindisfarne Rhapsody, a work I commissioned from Philip Sparke as a musical memorial to my parents. I enjoy teaching, fitting a small number of private students around my playing commitments and occasionally deputising at Trinity College of Music Junior Department. I write for music journals occasionally and my Woodwind Teacherís Flute Handbook is published by Studio Music. Iíve had several flutes over the years but am now playing on a gold Natsuki with a Ewen MacDougall head and a wooden Robert Bigio flute.

I was promoted to Warrant Officer in 1997 and appointed Bandmaster of the Central Band, which means that I now do a lot of conducting, which I enjoy very much. I have had a wonderful twenty years in the Royal Air Force, spent entirely as a musician except for three months in the Gulf in the war of 1991 with a medical evacuation team (quite an experience). Defence cuts are a fact of life these days but all being well there should still be an RAF Central Band when I have to retire in thirteen years time.

Away from my professional life, I live in West London with my wife Alison (an oboist and woodwind teacher), eleven year old daughter Fiona (a talented cellist), seven year old son Thomas (threatening to take up the flute) and an elderly cat. I am now in my third year as Chairman of the British Flute Society, which continues to grow (some of you may have been at our Convention in Manchester in August). Thereís not a lot of time for non-musical activities in my life, but I do enjoy getting away from it all by going fishing when I can.

My sound-bite is from A Lindisfarne Rhapsody, written for me by Philip Sparke, and available on Great British Music for Wind Band Vol.5 (Polyphonic QPRM 129D).

Kenneth Bell


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