FLUTE Member Of The Week
October 4 to 10, 1999
Flute was by no means my first musical passion. I come from a family with seemingly little or no music in it's genetic code. In fact, it has often been joked that I must had gotten every musical gene 300 hundred generations of my family could muster...all three of them! Not much to work with I suppose, but by some quirk of fate I was born a musician. As a toddler I sang--usually at the top of my lungs. As a kid, as a teen-ager, as an adult I have sung--often at the top of my lungs and sometimes in public. My childhood music teachers were Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, and Barbara Streisand. A good Broadway musical is still the fastest way to set my heart going pitter-pat!

When I was eight, my Mom decided that I should learn to play the piano. I studied with a wonderful teacher, but it wasn't for me. I would protest...but I want singing lessons, I want guitar lessons, I want flute lessons. I'm not even sure now that I actually knew what a flute was, but I knew I wanted to play it. I muddled through 3 years of piano before my parents finally relented and agreed to let me take flute in the school band--that by the way, was in Springfield, Virginia just outside of Washington DC. At the last moment I decided I wanted to play clarinet instead. My Mom just said "No. I've heard nothing but 'I want to play the flute' for three years now. I am not renting you a clarinet." So I began flute ... 25 years ago this month, and I've never looked back.

I'm still pretty convinced that my parents only gave in because they thought I'd hate the flute as much as I had the piano--that I'd be over and done with it in a matter of months. OOPS! I did all the things ones does in music during high school (Lake Braddock Secondary in Burke, VA). I studied with a wonderful woman and mentor, Lois Wynn...that is, once I convinced my parents that I really shouldn't be taking piano lessons at all. She taught me so much about so many things--flute, teaching and much, much more. I played in band, marched for 4 years loving every minute of it, played in Regional Band and Orchestra most years, All-State Orchestra the last two years, Pep Band, Solo Festival, summer bands in the park. I even got to play "back-up" for Chuck Mangionne when he did a benefit concert in DC for the Special Olympics. Somewhere in there I got a hold of a piccolo and found my musical soul-mate. I was an "okay" flute player--good but not outstanding-- but my piccolo playing got me places! The whole thing was so fun, I had no real choice but to pursue a musical career.

I had great grades and really could have gone into just about any field I wanted and done quite well, but I wanted to spend my life with music. Sometimes I wonder if my parents thought I was just pulling-a-leg when I went off to university to study music...after all, I would have made a fine engineer or lawyer! Of all the fields I could have chosen, music would definitely present me the greatest challenge. Flute never came easy to me, where as so many other things did. I think, looking back on it, that's why I enjoy flute and music so much.

I spent my first year at university at James Madison University in the lovely Shenandoah Valley of Virginia studying with Carol Kniebusch Noe. She was great! but Harrisonburg was a small town and I just wasn't happy. I transferred the next year to study at the University of Michigan with Keith Bryan. Mr. Bryan and I worked together brilliantly right from the start. He gave me such a good grounding of fundamentals. Not that I didn't get this from other teachers, but he just wouldn't let me get away with not doing it all the time. What a vital, energetic, inspiring musical atmosphere there was at U-M! And Ann Arbor suited me to a tee--football, snow, old movies on the parkade during the summer, double features at the restored 1920's Michigan Theatre, walks in the arboretum, book stores galore, ice cream on every street corner, internationally renowned musical artists performing weekly, beautiful concert halls (acoustically and aesthetically), farmers' market, wonderful Korean food, and Drake's Coffee Shop which at the time hadn't changed in over 60 years. And the people...oh my, the wonderful people I met.

I was in heaven and I flourished. I finished my B.Mus. in performance and education there in 1985 and stayed on for one more year to do my M. Mus. The year I graduated Mr. Bryan confessed that I was no where near good enough to get in when he accepted me, but he knew I could learn. By that time I had proved him right by moving to the top of the Orchestra AND Wind Ensemble rotations, plus the Contemporary Directions Ensemble. I had also had the chance to tour Europe with an ad hoc band from Washington, D.C. through which I gave 9 performances of the Vivaldi piccolo Concerto in C...indeed with band accompaniment! Along the way I had also had the chance to study with Judy Bentley and conducting with Elizabeth A.H. Green--both for brief, but very influential periods. I studied with Toshiko Kohno and Clement Barone during the summers. Perhaps most influentially...I met my husband, Mike, who studied oboe at Michigan. Mike was quite a bit further down the road to a professional career than I was when we met. Just after my graduation, he won the job of principal oboe in the Victoria Symphony (full-time position). When he came back to Detroit to pack-up, he proposed on I-94 right by the Ford Plant in Ypsilanti, MI on our way home from the airport. Suddenly, I was off to Victoria, BC, CANADA.

Just after coming to Victoria I auditioned for the symphony...I didn't even make the finals! I decided that in that case maybe I ought to bulk up my resume some other way, so I went and enrolled at the University of Victoria to do Ph.D. work. I decided that I wanted to work on 19th and 20th-century flute performance practice and pedagogy--just to combine as many of my interests as possible into one document. I worked with three of the big French pedagogical treatises--Coche, Altes and Taffanel-Gaubert. It took me five years, but after a lot of hard-work and temper-tantrums I finished. In the end, my dissertation was well-received. I now had BIG letters after my name. For the sake of poignancy, I waited four extra days until April Fool's Day to go in and sign my paperwork to complete the process. My son Colin was born 10 days later!

Despite the heavy academic emphasis, I by no means gave up studying flute. I spent six wonderful summers studying at the Johannessen International School for the Arts her in Victoria (sadly, the Festival closed up a few years ago). I had the chance to study with Steven Kujala one summer and Bonita Boyd for five summers. Working with Bonita was an amazing experience. I had previously worked with a number of teachers who had studied with Joseph Mariano. Bonita did such a marvelous job of synthesizing all of these differing perspectives into what have become for me "essential truths." I came into my own during these first years in Victoria. Better late than never, I suppose!

I have, of course, taught at the Victoria Conservatory for 9 years now. I love teaching! I like helping students discover what they can do. I know from experience that anyone can love music if they catch the bug. I also know that music study gives a person so much more than musical knowledge. I teach both private flute lessons, flute classes, academic classes related to the flute and pedagogy, as well as composer studies for the older members of Victoria's audiences. I can't give up any of them, as I learn so much in the process. I play frequently with the Symphony...when they need a third flute. I do a lot of chamber music--even some renaissance recorder last year. I don't give solo concerts as frequently as I used to, but that's an issue of parent-time more than anything else. We've had a second son, too..Andrew is now 2. Until Andrew arrived I conducted junior choirs, produced student musicals, and hosted innumerable concert events in the city. I still sing as much as I can, but flute is my musical love. I really enjoy my academic musical pursuits, but nothing beats playing! I have a very lovely musical life that I wouldn't trade for anything, ANYTHING in the world.

Mary Byrne

Return to Featured Member Archive