FLUTE Member Of The Week
February 28 to March 5, 2000

It's nice to be here, and to have the chance to share with all of you a little of my flute history, and other history. Many thanks to Larry Krantz for inviting me to do so.

I started flute studies when I was 8. I don't remember having any particular affinity for the flute at that age, but it was time for my older brother and me to choose what instruments we'd play. Trumpet and drums were out (too loud) so he chose clarinet, and I chose flute. I was also at that time blessedly unaware of how few other boys I'd have among my fellow flutists; I'm afraid that might have caused me to choose otherwise, had I known.

I lived on the far south side of Chicago. In my neighborhood, there was an excellent after-school music program run by a very generous man named Neil Dunlap, who in addition to being a history teacher was a very fine jazz trumpeter. He had a whole stable of teachers to whom he steered students, and an array of concert bands and jazz bands for the students to play in. It was all quite serious, and quite fun. My early flute years were spent gaining experience in these programs, and I'm grateful for them.

My first teacher meant well. He was an amateur musician who played a mean saxophone, and got by on flute and clarinet. I had a knack, or maybe even a talent, so I progressed very quickly, but developed some pretty terrible habits along the way.

When I began high school, I started lessons with Marie Moulton, who was then, and still is, a member of the Lyric Opera orchestra in Chicago. She was a fine teacher for me, and gave me my first real foundation in playing the flute correctly; fixed up those bad habits too, not without some difficulty. I studied a great deal of repertoire with her, and I loved her so much. She was one of the few adults in my life at that time who I felt comfortable with. She was also very beautiful, and she took me seriously, so the idea of pleasing her was good motivation. During my high school years, I played flute in the Youth Orchestra of Greater Chicago, and had my first orchestral experiences there. This orchestra, which was conducted by Dudley Powers and which played its concerts on the Chicago Symphony's stage in Orchestra Hall, was a very fine group indeed, many of whose members went on to professional careers. I spent my high school summers at Northwestern University, where I took lessons with Walfrid Kujala.

My family wandered out to the west coast around the time I was finishing high school. After an aborted attempt at college in southern California, I moved to San Francisco, and immediately began making what seemed to me a very good living playing music on the streets. There was a thriving street music scene in San Francisco at that time, and I would go out every day, to Chinatown, or the Wharf area, or downtown, and play either solos or duets or trios. Made plenty of money to pay rent and to eat well, and life seemed like a pretty grand adventure. In the autumn of 1973, as a result of the paranoia brought on by the oil embargo, my income dropped precipitously; people justed stopped giving money away, and I began to realize that I'd need to find a different way of living. I entered San Francisco State University, where I studied with Paul Renzi, then and now the principal flutist of the San Francisco Symphony. We went through massive amounts of repertoire. Paul is also an excellent pianist, who can play all the accompaniments. Orchestral repertoire was also a focus; his enthusiasm for the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies which he'd played so many times was infectious.

After I finished my collegiate studies, I still felt there was something missing in my playing, so I went to study with Merrill Jordan, a Kincaid student who had retired after a long career with the SF Symphony. Merrill gave me the Kincaid legacy, and turned me into a flutist. I'd pretty much gotten by on native talent up to this point, and he taught me how to work at the flute. I had only a couple years of his instruction before he suffered a disabling stroke, but it made all the difference to me.

In 1979, I won the piccolo chair in the Sacramento Symphony. I though it might behoove me to actually learn to play the piccolo, so I took some lessons with the SF Symphony's piccoloist, Lloyd Gowen. I learned much of my craft playing in this orchestra. We grew up together; by the time I had become an accomplished piccolo player, the orchestra was playing at a very high level. Working at flute day in and day out, learning to live with colleagues, seeing what the business of a symphony orchestra is all about, labor relations (we had plenty of those!), burnout (in many colleagues, never in me). We were the orchestra of the local ballet and opera company as well. The orchestra ran into serious economic difficulties in the 1990's and in 1996 went bankrupt. A sad story, and a long one, whose details will not be recounted here.

In the late 80's, I became the regular flute player for the Sacramento Light Opera, which produces Broadway musicals. I've always had a love for this form, and have had the chance to play dozens of musicals during these years, both in Sacramento, and in San Francisco.

In 1992, I joined the faculty of the University of California at Davis, where I teach flute and chamber music. The Davis affiliation also got me started in what has become a real focus of my musical life, performing contemporary music. I play flute with the Empyrean Ensemble, a contemporary chamber group in residence at UC Davis. Here's a sample from Empyrean's latest CD on Centaur Records, from Andrew Frank's composition "Range of Light". We have recently recorded most of a CD of the music of Mario Davidovsky. Next season, we will be premiering two new works of Mr. Davidovsky, which will complete the CD. Great composer -- it's a project I'm very excited about.

I also play with a Bay Area contemporary ensemble, Earplay and frequently appear with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Lots of orchestral playing too, sometimes with the orchestras of the S.F. Opera and S.F. Ballet, and most of the local orchestras in northern California.

So my musical life has variety: symphony, opera, ballet, Broadway shows, contemporary music, traditional chamber music, solo playing, teaching. I love the variety, and mostly I love the work. I feel as though I'm doing the work that I'm meant to do. I need to say too that it's a very difficult way to make a living. Without a major orchestra job (I've come very close to a few of these, but the numbers are very tough) there isn't job security. So, even though I am able to do much of what I want to do, I'm still trying to make my life work, in a material way. It would be hard for me to recommend a career as a flutist; it's not for those who want to do it, it's for those who must do it.

Oh... almost forgot... I have a life, too. It's been primarily centered around watching and helping my two children grow up. They're hardly children now: my son Christopher is 19, and is a piano performance major at Northwestern University. He's a very accomplished musician and person. I don't know what his career will be, but I think it will be illustrious. My daughter Amanda is 17 and a high school junior. She is a very talented singer and has ambitions to be a Broadway performer. These two have given me so much pride and joy through the years.

Outside of my family life, I am an avid cyclist who is lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful cycling areas on earth, a voracious reader, primarily of fiction, and a pretty good vegetarian cook.

My deepest appreciation to Larry, Nelson, Helen, John, David for giving us the flute list. I have made so many connections, and friends, and learned so much. It has really made a difference in my life.

Tod Brody


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