May 10 to 16, 1999
I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, on October 10, 1943, to Ann and Jack Miller, residents of Marianna, Arkansas. I grew up in Marianna, a small Mississippi Delta town of about 5,000, where I began playing piano in the third grade (age 7) and flute in the sixth grade. In fact, the reason I chose flute, was that the orthodontist gave me the option of playing either the flute or drums. The flute was, by far, more intriguing, easier to carry around, shiny, and anyway, the main reason I wanted to be in band was to be a majorette/twirler, and one had to play an instrument to do that!
The summer after seventh grade was THE big change for me musically. I went to Dixie Band Camp, then in Monticello, Arkansas, for their three week camp, and found out just how much I didn't know. I thought I was a pretty good player, and after tryouts, ended up next-to-last in the last band. I was really humiliated, and just knew it was a mistake, but almost immediately, heard what a really good band sounded like(not to mention, a real flute player), and took lessons from an excellent college student. I was continually amazed that summer, falling madly in love with the flute, never having dreamed what a wonderful instrument it really was. The people in charge of Dixie were wonderful musicians of what must have been a really wonderful era musically: some had connections to the Sousa and Goldman bands, some had played in pit orchestras of all kinds, band directors, etc. The top band, the Blue Band, was just unbelievable! I will never forget hearing Capriccio Italien and Overture 1812 that summer for the first time, just being totally awestruck (the English horn player that summer is the longtime English horn in the New York Philharmonic!). So, each year, I lived for the following summer, where we all were totally immersed in wonderful music, much of it the old orchestral transcriptions, which our bands at home couldn't begin to play. I guess that first summer at Dixie was also when I knew that music was the only career in which I was remotely interested, and that the ultimate would be to be a teacher who could inspire students the way I had been inspired there.
I didn't study privately, on a regular basis, until college, where I had a wonderful teacher, Paul Eaheart. He was a Memphian, and had studied with Emil Eck in Chicago, where he attended Northwestern. Mr. Eaheart was just a phenomenal musician: an excellent flutist/teacher, orchestral conductor, opera coach, music history teacher, conducting teacher. Everything he did, he did well, and was also a good friend, confidante, and sort of father-figure to many of his students. He was interested in us and everything in our lives, not just flute. He insisted on the best from us too. I received the Bachelor of Music in flute performance, with a minor in piano, in January 1966. I briefly tried grad school elsewhere, but realized what a good music department we had at then-Memphis State University, so transferred back, and finished my Master of Music Degree in 1968.
After that I taught for a couple of years, and they married a Memphian, Bill McClain, and we moved back to Marianna where he worked at a bank, and I taught part time, and along came two children, Helen (now 28) and William (now 23). I didn't take a total vacation from my flute, as I did continue to teach a few flute lessons, but mostly piano (this was not by choice), and played whenever possible. Also during this time, I began to play golf, and loved it, and played avidly for several years. I have since given it up, as it is very time demanding, and I didn't feel as though I could have a music career, and play golf decently. I also briefly had my own business, a paint and interior design shop, which was successful enough to sell after three years.
In July of 1983, I was incredibly lucky to survive a cerebral aneurysm with little, if any, lasting effects. My husband says that this is when my personality changed! By this I think he meant that I became more aggressive in searching/doing what I wanted to, instead of putting things off. I mention this, because in 1984, we decided to put both of our children in school in Memphis, where I began teaching at the University of Memphis in the Music Prep program, and began studying with Bruce Erskine, Mr. Eaheart's' successor. I was amazed at the changes in the flute world, changes in flutes, headjoints, the NFA, and on and on. I guess I felt, and still do to an extent, that I had some catching up to do for those years when I wasn't studying, and was so out of touch with the flute world, and after my aneurysm experience, I was going to make up for lost time.
I still wanted to be the best teacher I could possibly be, and at the urging of a friend who was the Suzuki Piano Coordinator at the university, became interested in Suzuki Flute Pedagogy, and over the course of a few years, completed studies up through Book IV. I credit these courses, and the observations of other teachers at these courses, for enormous help in my teaching and communicating with students of all levels. It was then that I realized that trying to teach all levels and all kinds of students was to be my goal, and not "just the advanced students", which I still hear so many teachers say is their goal. I maintain that the advanced ones are the easiest to teach; it is the others who afford the most challenge. Because of this, I do not screen students coming into my studio. I consider each one individually, and try to get the best out of them. Some, in fact few, students will go on to become professional musicians, but I do hope that all will love music, go to concerts, buy recordings, and continue to play their flutes because they love playing.
In 1991, I was asked to become the Adjunct Instructor of Flute at Rhodes, a small liberal arts college here in Memphis. Rhodes is a wonderful, beautiful place to work, and has been very supportive in every way. It has also allowed me to have the opportunity to invite flutists from throughou the world to come here, which otherwise would not have been possible. It has supported and encouraged my web/computer endeavors, which I really enjoy doing, and has been the site of the Rhodes Flute Institute for the past four years, and also has hosted the Flute Festival Mid South on three occasions. In addition, I play around the area with Elizabeth Houston, harpist, and with John Ross, guitarist.
And last year I was so pleased and flattered to be invited to Slovenia for their convention, and while there did a masterclass and a concert of American music. The excerpt which I have included here is from the live concert at Rhodes before I went to Slovenia, and is from the Sonatina for Flute and Piano by Louisiana composer, Keith Gates. It is the beginning of the 2nd movement, Arioso. I really love this piece, and will also be playing it at the Flutewise Event at the Barbican.
So again, thanks to Larry and the list for this opportunity. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments by choosing the link in my name below, or visit the Rhodes Flute Connection, and "see you on the LIST!"
Ruth Ann McClain