FLUTE Member Of The Week
April 9 to 16, 2000


When I was in the second grade, we studied various great works of art--and my favorite was Manet's "The Fifer." It must have been an omen (although my very first musical instrument was a 59-cent Lamston's drum that I took up at the age of six months). Then came a few years of piano lessons, and in the fifth grade I started playing the flute in the elementary band--because all my friends were.

After studying with several local teachers, I was fortunate to be referred to Arthur Lora. That was a very intimidating experience for a fifteen-year-old; not only was he a very formal, European-style gentleman, but everywhere I turned in his spectacular, formal apartment on Riverside Drive there was a portrait of a beady-eyed Toscanini staring at me. Nevertheless, it was a match made in flute-teacher heaven, and I learned a tremendous amount from that "grand old man" of the flute, who immediately fastened on my fascination with music history.

I was already playing flute and piccolo in the Westchester (N.Y.) Philharmonic, but by the time I graduated from high school I knew that I wanted to be a musicologist, not a performer. So I majored in music history (with a lot of work in "regular" history too) at Harvard, and continued my flute lessons with James Pappoutsakis--a very different teacher from Arthur Lora. Mr. P. demonstrated, and I imitated. No analysis, no history, just gorgeous sound. At that time I did a tremendous amount of playing--orchestra, Bach society, pickup orchestras, Gilbert & Sullivan, and solo recitals. For my senior honors thesis, I undertook a study of flute history--which later turned into my first book, The Development of the Modern Flute (1979). During the summers, I worked at Music Minus One, where I did a little bit of everything, including producing several recordings by Doriot Anthony Dwyer.

Publishing

After college I moved to the Washington area, where I became a researcher and writer with Time-Life Books and Music. That enabled me to work in the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection at the Library of Congress every Saturday. I was able to revise the manuscript for the first book, and then wrote The Flute Book, which was published by Scribners in 1986.

In 1984 I moved back to New York to work for Vanguard Records and the New Grove Dictionary of American Music. From there I moved to Chelsea House, a publisher of young adult and reference books, where I was vice president and editor-in-chief; then briefly to Silver Burdett Press; and in 1991 to Oxford University Press, where I'm vice president and editorial director of trade and young adult reference.

Very little of what I publish at Oxford is about music--it's mostly history, which I also love. I'm very proud of discovering the manuscripts of several unpublished children's books by Langston Hughes. One, an alphabet book called The Sweet and Sour Animal Book, intersected very nicely with my flute work: Because of my contacts at the Harlem School of the Arts, where I was running a community outreach program for the New York Flute Club, I was able to get children from HSA to make the animal sculptures that illustrate the book. The next year, we republished Langston Hughes's The Book of Rhythms (1954), a forgotten masterpiece that every musician should read.

Flute research

In tandem with my publishing career, I've pursued an independent career as a musicologist and as an active member of the flute community. In addition to my books, I've written many articles on flute history. Since moving back to New York in 1984 I've developed an active interest in New York's musical history, which led to lectures on flutemakers and flutists in New York and articles on William Kincaid and John Wummer, among others.

Not long after I returned to New York I joined the board of the New York Flute Club, where I served three years as president. I'm now the archivist, trying to fill in gaps in our historical program collection. In this position, I enjoy answering trivia question from flutists around the world who need information about flute playing in New York.

For the National Flute Association, I started the oral history project with the goal of documenting flute playing, flute making, and composition for flute in the United States. I was also lucky enough to participate in the NFA cultural exchange trips to China and the Soviet Union.

Georges Barrère

My major research preoccupation (some would say obsession) for the past eight years has been the work of Georges Barrère. It happened this way: In 1982, Frances Blaisdell reminded me that the fiftieth anniversary of his death was approaching, and she'd like to edit and republish his Nocturne and flute-and-piano arrangements. We worked on the project together, and two years later Schirmer published The Barrère Album.

Then it occurred to me that 1994 would also be the seventy-fifth season of the New York Flute Club, which Barrère had founded and of which I was then president. After some preliminary research, I proposed to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center that the flute club and the music division sponsor an exhibition on Barrère. Ultimately, thirty private lenders and several libraries contributed scores, programs, and other memorabilia, and I wrote a catalogue, Georges Barrère and the Flute in America. The entire season of NYFC concerts was devoted to Barrère's repertory, including many, many pieces written for him or dedicated to him.

The project convinced me that Barrère's life was not only fascinating in its own right, but would also be a window onto music in Belle Epoque France and 20th century America. So I have continued my research with the aim of writing a full-length biography. The Barrère family has been most supportive--though they have little information themselves. Fortunately, the research has required annual trips to Paris--who can complain?--as well as work in a variety of libraries throughout the country. I've also been trying to interview every surviving Barrère student and colleague, of which there are a surprising number.

Among my recent finds: the sign-in sheets for substitutes at the Paris Opera in the late 1890s; Barrère was an extra and Adolphe Sax was the contractor. I found real estate records of his father's office furniture business, which turned out to be quite a prosperous enterprise operating at three locations. In Otto Kahn's papers at Princeton University, I was looking for programs that Barrère conducted for Isadora Duncan. They weren't there--but I did find lots of evidence that Kahn helped finance the Barrère Little Symphony. At the San Francisco Performing Arts Library, I discovered that one of Barrère's colleagues on tour in the World War I era was a soprano named Lucy Gates; a little more investigation revealed that she was a granddaughter of Brigham Young and founded an opera company in Utah--where I'll be going to look at her papers.

The research is seemingly endless-and fascinating-but when it's done I believe that Barrère's life will delineate major themes in the development of French music education (notably at the Paris Conservatoire) and state support for the arts, the growth of French woodwind music, the support for new music composition and performance both in France and the United States, as well as the history of American flute pedagogy, literature, and chamber music performance. Just as one example, so far I have documented more than 150 premieres by Barrère and his various performing ensembles, encompassing most of the major strands of composition in the first half of the twentieth century. And of course, I hope that once I've tracked down the scores, there will be lots of forgotten music to be performed and perhaps republished. The work continues.....and I'm always happy to hear from anyone who has relevant memorabilia, information, or even tantalizing clues.

Nancy Toff


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