FLUTE Member Of The Week
December 14 to 20, 1998
I took up the recorder as an adult and that got me seriously interested in baroque music and performance practices. I read Hotteterre and Quantz, etc. A couple years later, in 1977, I bought my first flute in an antique shop in Amsterdam (it was an English four-key boxwood flute made about 1830). Since then I've become a serious player, student, and collector of historical flutes.


I'm a mathematician (Professor of Mathematics at Caltech) during the day. Some think music and mathematics are related. Well, for me they are mostly very different. For one thing, the music is social (I like to play with others) while I do mathematics mostly alone. But I cannot really explain how I got *so* interested in flutes.

I perform whenever I can (which is not as much as I would like), mostly on baroque flute (copies by Rod Cameron and Folkers & Powell). I've been a member of the Huntington Ensemble and the Hollywood Early Music Players, and have played with numerous other groups in the L.A. area including the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra, the Harmonia Baroque Players, and with fortepianist Susanne Shapiro. (I can't just play with any group because I play funny instruments at funny pitches and must find others who do the same.)

I worked with a harpsichordist, Nancy Sartain, in Los Angeles from 1980 (when I moved from Ohio, where I was on the faculty of The Ohio State University) until she moved to Germany a couple years ago. We did recitals and would occasionally do weddings and parties. The parties were fun, though perhaps not really the type of thing I wanted to do. It was the only way I was able to get into the Beverley Hills Country Club, though. I'm glad I never played at a party that any of my students or colleagues attended as guests. Nancy and I were the core of the Huntington Ensemble, which included, at various times, one or more of a viola da gamba (two of them one year), a baroque oboe, and a baroque guitar.

The Hollywood Early Music Players did 'early vaudeville'. We had four singers, me, a theorbo, a viola da gamba, and sometimes a fiddle. We did 'shows', not concerts; we were theatrical. We would have a theme, like 'The 99 Cent Opera', or 'A Day at the Zoo', and would pick pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries that would never go together in a formal recital but work them into a script along with bad puns and sight gags. We did Playford dances, Purcell, French cantatas and brunettes, songs from the Beggar's Opera, and sometimes even Bach, etc. At first I wasn't at all sure that this was the type of thing I really wanted to do either, but I came to enjoy it tremendously. It stretched me. I had to learn to play dance music in a folk style; I had to learn to work with singers and imitate their phrasing and articulation. It was so much work for the director (Marisa Rubino, gamba) to get all of us and the script together, that the group isn't active at the moment, unfortunately. Too bad; I think we had a good thing going. I miss working with good singers.

High points in my musical 'career' include doing the B minor and E major Bach sonatas with harpsichordist Jessica Madow as part of the Los Angeles Bach Festival in 1991, playing flute with the L.A. Baroque Orchestra when they did a concert version of Cher While on a sabbatical leave in London in 1978-79, I studied baroque flute with Stephen Preston. Other than those lessons, and an exposure to clarinet in junior high school, my formal music training consists of my participation in workshops and masterclasses including the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute (during the 1980s, where I've worked with Robert Willoughby, Michael Lynn, and Chris Krueger), the Wildacres Flute Retreat (where I've continued working with Stephen Preston), and Boxwood Traditional Flute Camp (with Chris Norman).

My flute collection contains over 100 European and American flutes made between circa 1750 and 1930, most of which have been put into playing condition. My favorites are perhaps the early nineteenth century Viennese flutes. Instruments from my collection have been on special display at the Fiske Museum of Musical Instruments in Claremont, CA, in 1993 and 1998. I've given a number of lecture/demonstrations at colleges, universities, and workshops on the development of the flute.

I find myself more and more interested in 19th century flutes, and 19th century music. My teacher Stephen Preston was a pioneer in recovering the techniques of playing the 19th century keyed flutes. I try to learn enough about the various systems to understand the instruments and what the makers may have been after. I do dabble with Boehm flute and have some interesting ones that I really like. I want to know more and have been learning a great deal about the modern flute world from the flute list.

I do appreciate the many fine qualities of Boehm flutes, and the fine qualities of some Boehm flute players like all those on the flute list, yet my heart lies with the 'old flutes'. They have great charm and character, though you shouldn't think it is always the same character since playing characteristics vary greatly over time and from maker to maker and country to country. I'm talking about instruments, usually wooden, with a conical bore and six open holes which when uncovered one by one produce a D major scale. They had one key for most of the 18th century but then acquired a number of keys (four, five, six, eight, nine, eleven, and thirteen are common numbers; sometimes more) that when opened produce notes outside the D major scale. Some of the keys added later were for trills. Such instruments (they can be called 'keyed flutes' or 'simple system'; the later ones are often called Meyer system or Ziegler system) were used well into this century side by side with Boehm flutes, Carte 1867 System flutes, Reform flutes, and others.

Baroque flutes and other instruments are becoming more common, but there are still very few who are seriously interested in 19th century instruments. Maybe this will change when the year 2000 arrives. But at this time, I must, for example, travel to San Francisco to find others with whom to play the Kuhlau Quartet on instruments that Kuhlau would have recognized. Once I traveled to Santa Barbara to meet and play duets on keyed flutes with Jimmy Galway, who, by the way, can get around them quite well!!

I get a lot of motivation and inspiration by studying 18th and 19th century flute methods and treatises. In most endeavors, we all tend to do what we already know; we imitate what we hear, what others are doing, what our teachers did. Perhaps that is fine for the most part, yet maybe not always. It is difficult to make 'leaps', to do things that are really original. Coming into contact with long forgotten or discarded information and taking it seriously can help one get to someplace new, to go somewhere different. The old instruments too can suggest interpretations and teach things about the music, things one might not think of otherwise.

I'm looking forward to some concerts I will do in the L.A. area in March, with Preethi de Silva, fortepiano, and Dennis James, glass armonica. The latter is the instrument invented by Ben Franklin and for which Mozart wrote an adagio and other pieces; it consists of glass bowls of different sizes that rotate on a horizontal axle and which are sounded by touching with wet fingers. I will play a glass flute by Claude Laurent (Paris, 1834; see photo), among others.

Rick Wilson


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