FLUTE Member Of The Week
August 2 to 8, 1999
I've been a member of the FLUTE list since its inception. I have learned a great deal, made many new friends, and gotten another one of those pushes that expands and improves my musicianship from what I've read on FLUTE. Thanks to all of you for making FLUTE such a great thing! I am pleased Larry has offered me the chance to present my flute-playing story.

I am a third-generation flute player who grew up in South Bend, Indiana. My grandfather, an architect and civil engineer, played flute for years in the Hartford Symphony. My father, a mathematics professor, played flute in ensembles and spent 5 years in dance bands in the '30s. With this background, there was always music in the house, but I got a late start as a musician. When I was 14 I went with a friend to his student recital rehearsal. It was so obvious he was having so much fun playing 'cello that I decided then and there I wanted to play music too and get in on the fun.

I'd been going to symphony concerts since I was 7 so I recognized most of the instruments in an orchestra. When I told my Dad I wanted to play an instrument he asked me, "Which one?" Since I didn't know, he hauled out a flute, a clarinet, and various saxophones and showed me how to put them together and get a sound. If I wanted to try a string or brass instrument, he'd get one to try. So for a couple of weeks I fiddled with the winds and decided that I wanted to play flute. I really liked the sound of the flute (as I heard it in orchestra, not as I was playing it then), it was easy to carry, and it required no reeds that squeaked at unpredictable times.

That summer my Dad had to be quite persistent to convince the first flute in the South Bend Symphony, George Opperman, to give me lessons. George was quite surprised when I showed up for my first lesson with one of my grandfather's Haynes flutes, learned I could read music (elementary school part singing and recorder classes were useful after all!), and even play a chromatic scale from low C to high G.

In the fall I entered high school as a sophomore and asked to join the band, which was a full-period class. I was really surprised to find out that the band marched, and that there were 47 other flute players in the band -- all girls. Since a flute didn't make sense in a marching band my Dad gave me a piccolo to play.

After the football season ended, everyone in the band auditioned for placement in the various concert bands. I got the solo piccolo chair for the top band. That also let me get my first experience playing in an orchestra whenever the school orchestra needed a piccolo player.

The next summer I got a copy of Dover's reprint of Boehm's book. I read it several times. I was fascinated by the description of how the schema was constructed and how the mechanism was designed. Since the flute I was playing at the time was quite tarnished and dirty, I decided I should tear it down, clean it, and oil it. So with Boehm's book on my desk, I set a towel down and followed the directions. At my next lesson I got yelled at for messing with a professional flute. But Mr. Opperman checked the flute and discovered I'd done nothing bad to the flute and actually accomplished my goal of cleaning it and oiling it. He told me that if I ever wanted to do anything like that again I must seek his help. I ended up trading my time helping to make piccolos in his shop for his teaching me flute and clarinet repair.

I formed a quartet with three string players to enter the yearly state music contest. After that we started playing for craft fairs and parties. When we had learned all the flute quartet repertoire, we went on to the string quartet literature with the flute playing the first violin part. We played Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and even some Cherubini quartets all around town. All these rehearsals and performances did a lot to improve my playing and spending money.

The last two years at high school I played for My Fair Lady (flute and piccolo) and then West Side Story. For WSS, with its unbelievable doubling requirements, I learned tenor sax and some clarinet. I had a great time and got hooked on playing in show pits, in spite of the reeds and lugging lots of bulky cases and instrument stands.

In my senior year at age 17, I started teaching flute with George's blessing and encouragement. He and I spent a lot of time in his shop talking about students, teaching techniques, and problems. He cautioned me that many things that came easily for me could be stumbling blocks for other students. I quickly gained an appreciation of how inventive and adaptive a teacher has to be to isolate a problem and help each individual student find her way to overcome it. (I think only 2 of my hundreds of students have been boys.) I bought many neglected student flutes at garage sales, overhauled them, and rented/sold them to my beginning students. I didn't have to wonder whether their flutes were in proper adjustment.

The second result of reading Boehm's book was that I decided to play open G# flutes. I asked George about this and he told me the first flute he played was an open G# flute. For my first open G# flute, I converted an Armstrong flute with George's supervision. Then I played Moyse's Scales and Arpeggios book over the next 40 days. I was actually able to play the open G# flute after about 5 days, and dared to play performances of Show Boat with it after I'd done the rehearsals playing a closed G# flute.

I joined the Union the summer before I went to college because I had been offered a job in a band playing Music Performance Trust Fund concerts. By the end of the summer I was also playing in the 35-member orchestra in the parks. Now I was playing with the local professionals, many whom I knew as the high school band directors and orchestra directors. That boosted my playing level again.

I went to Notre Dame as a math student and spent my second year in Innsbruck, Austria where I was able to study at the city Conservatory. I also stumbled onto the university orchestra and got to play with them. When I returned to the US for my junior year, I won an audition for the South Bend Symphony. But the expected opening for 3rd/piccolo didn't materialize. A few weeks later the first flute left and I found myself with just a week to learn the second flute parts to Dvorak's 8th Symphony, Khachaturian's piano concerto, and the Overture to Don Giovanni. I was too busy learning the parts to die of nerves for my first professional orchestra concert. After having done one, the rest went along just fine.

After a getting a master's degree at Brown University, I returned to South Bend to study chemistry and played another three seasons for the orchestra -- this time as 3rd flute and piccolo, for a different conductor. In my five seasons I played a lot of major works by Mahler, Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy and Shostakovich that I was really fortunate to get to perform.

I got to know Mary, my wife, when I was the contractor for the summer symphonette. Both the local union oboists took their vacations at the same time that year leaving me without an oboist. I called from Chicago to Fort Wayne to find a union oboist who would drive a a long way for a small check. Having exhausted all the options, I was allowed to hire a local non-union oboist, who turned out to be Mary.

When we moved to Maryland in 1982, I was working for a research lab investigating fault-tolerant, multiprocessor computer systems and Mary took a job as a clinical nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Within a year we started playing in the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, a university/community group. The next year we also starting playing for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Orchestra. Friends from the Hopkins Orchestra got us connected with a community theatre that did two musicals each year. For many years we got to play for their shows, and I worked on improving my clarinet and sax playing.

A favorite social activity is having a musical evening at our house. We invite musicians from the orchestras and show pits to share food and music. We see what we have on hand for instruments and sight-read music in various mixed ensembles. Some of the playing is done at a very high level and we all enjoy it. But we do have fun too, such as the time a clarinetist and I played Telemann canonic sonatas on two baritone saxophones. (That was well received by those present, but the public probably isn't ready for Telemann on bari saxes yet. ;-) Learning how to transpose and to read alto, tenor, and bass clefs has been a great help playing these in the ad hoc ensembles and for shows.

Mary and I now have three children: Stephanie, 13, who is our fourth-generation flute player; Eric, 9, who has just started viola lessons; and Elizabeth, 7, who is learning piano. Mary and I still play in two orchestras and for shows when we're not being nurse and scientist or Mom and Dad. I've had very good luck in being in the right spot with the right instruments to get chances to play great music with good musicians, and I've enjoyed my experiences teaching. I've played as soloist with 5 different orchestras, given recitals, and played all sorts of music from duets to massive orchestral works and enjoyed it all. I'm hoping my kids will enjoy music, and the community of musicians, as much as Mary and I have.

Steven Haaser

Return to Featured Member Archive