February 1 to 7, 1999
Let me tell you that I’m probably be the luckiest flutist on the list. I have a fantastic job. Let me tell you about it. Then, if you’re still interested, I’ll tell you how I got here…
For 16 of the last 18 years, I've been very fortunate to serve as the Principal Flutist of the United States Air Force Heritage of America Concert Band Currently, I'm also the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of the Concert Band. It's a GREAT job for a flutist. Joining the USAF as a musician has given me opportunities that I would never have had in any other occupation. Here's why...
I joined the USAF right out of college, as a musician. I got full medical benefits for my family, good dental benefits, a decent wage, and the chance to play with some of the best musicians in the world. In addition, I can RETIRE at age 41, and receive 50% of my base pay for life. That's about 40% of what I'm taking home now, because of the non-taxable allowances that the US Military uses. I can continue to work if I choose, and then my retirement pay goes up 2 1/2% for each additional year that I stay in.
I don't know of another musical career that offers this kind of a benefits package. College teaching doesn't. Orchestral playing doesn't. Public school teaching doesn't. And, freelancing certainly doesn't.
And, when I retire, I'm still young enough to teach, or freelance, or audition for the orchestral jobs. And, primarily because of my USAF musical career, I've got a resume that's tough to ignore.
Here's a sample listing that you would see on my resume: Recorded over 50 albums, both military and commercial. All of the commercial CD's have gotten outstanding reviews. Played principal flute on a CD that won a Grammy. Have one solo flute/harp album out that's doing very well ("Musical Colors", Flute World carries it…). This year Klavier will release our second flute/harp album. And, Klavier will release three more CD's of the National Chamber Players that I've played on.
The website of the USAF Heritage of America Band
Check out the schedule/calendar. We play all the time, and the band is very, very good. As the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of the band, I'm very proud of that fact.
Like I said, I'm the luckiest guy on the list.
If you're still interested, here's the "rest of the story…"
I grew up in Wytheville, a small town in Southwest Virginia. My family is a working class family and I have two brothers. (Steve used to teach High School and College and is now a free lance trumpet player in Roanoke, Virginia. Dale is a High School band director in central Virgina.) My family grew up listening to country music and bluegrass, and I have no clue how the family suddenly turned toward instrument band and orchestral music.. However, it must be infectious, because my parents continued to be active Band Boosters after all three boys left home.
I started playing flute when I was 9 years old (5th Grade). I really liked the flute and the trumpet, and fortunately made the "right" choice. When I was 13 (8th Grade) I made Senior All Regional Band, and first chair All County. By the time I was 14, I was lucky enough to play 2nd flute in the Roanoke Youth Symphony. When I was 16, I was promoted to the principal flutist of the Roanoke Youth Symphony.
My first teacher was Mr. Jim Hurt. Mr. Hurt was an amazing person, who positively influenced so many people in Southwest Virginia. He suggested that I study with my next teacher, Dr. Norman Todenhoft of Radford University. "Tode" was a student of Pellerite at Indiana, and is still a great teacher. He really helped me get a good foundation. My parents had to drive to Radford every week. Then, when I passed the Roanoke Youth Symphony audition, they had to drive to Roanoke for rehearsals and performances. If you look at a map of Virginia, you'll see that it's 80 miles between Wytheville and Roanoke and 35 miles between Radford and Wytheville. So, you can imagine the amount of time my parents spent driving their kid around for flute playing between 1973 and 1977. I really need to publicly thank my parents for being so supportive. Every child should have parents who work so hard to give their kids opportunities.
I also started learning to play saxophone when I was 14. At the time, it didn't seem to interfere with my flute playing. I went to James Madison University from 1977-1980 as a flute major. I also played tenor saxophone in the Jazz Band. In 1980 (on April Fool's day), I auditioned for the United States Air Force and was accepted as a saxophonist. I was short of money for college, and needed to find a job.
When I got to Langley in November and started playing. Shortly after getting to Langley, they found out I was really a flute player and the existing flute player was scheduled to leave.. They asked me if I would switch to fill the flute vacancy. I said, "Of course!!!" For the next three years, I played principal flute in the concert band, and played saxophone in their jazz ensemble.
In early 1984, I finally decided to serve only one master and put the saxophone and clarinet in the cases forever. I haven't played anything but flute and piccolo for last 15 years.
For me, it's the right choice. I certainly have enough talent to be a good doubler, but not enough talent to be a good doubler, and a top-notch flutist. I just don't have the talent to be a serious flutist, and spend any time on another instrument. The standards for serious professional flute playing are simply too high.
I had to have help, if I was going to stop playing saxophone and become a 100%-pure"classical" flutist. I turned to Mrs. Carol Noe, my teacher at James Madison. She had been so patient of my doubling during college, and I knew that she could help. And, for the last 15 years, Carol has been a wonderful friend, and a fantastic mentor. She guided me toward’s Gilbert’s classes, WIBB’s classes, and Lloyd’s classes. Carol is simply a remarkable teacher.
Since making that choice in 1984, I've been very, very fortunate. The band at Langley become a first-rate wind ensemble and began recording. From 1984 to 1991, the USAF TAC Band recorded 13 albums, ranging from Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," to original band music, to Christmas music.
In 1991, the Air Force changed the band's name to the "Heritage of America Band." We've continued our wind ensemble tradition and have recorded 15 albums so far.
My favorite literature is "The Old Warhorses"… the fantastic orchestral transcriptions of Eric Leidzen, Mayhew Lake , Henry Filmore, Larry Odom, Julius Safranek, and Mark Hindsley. I've played or recorded all of the major transcriptions and there is wonderful music there. It's something special about playing Berlioz or Respighi with a great concert band.
Colleges often overlook good wind ensemble skills. Too many college/university bands play "new music." I don't understand why. Many of these pieces are things like "Bands and Whale Songs" or "Music for Band and Taped Trees falling." There's a place for new music, but not so much in the training camps of future performers. If I had a magic wand, I'd have our colleges train band/wind ensemble players the same way we train orchestral players. The students should study and perform the standard band literature and they would learn the band/wind ensemble literature exactly the same way that we study the orchestral literature.
Band/Wind Ensemble music presents unique challenges. If you intend on auditioning for a professional band, expect to see the Leidzen transcription of William Tell in A-flat. The musical standard for a wind ensemble/band player must be identical to the orchestral standard, but in this case the key is much harder. In addition, we're often expected to play all of the string parts as part of the re-orchestration. Success requires a first rate flute technique (and a GREAT clarinet section! We're fortunate that we have a GREAT clarinet section)
Good wind ensemble playing requires the exact same skills as good orchestral playing. There is slightly less soloist playing and slightly more playing in ensemble choirs where the voices are combined into flute/oboe/clarinet line and flute/oboe/cornet 1 lines. This type of writing often makes intonation the obvious challenge, and that means that we have to learn to work well with other musicians. Regardless of the complexities of band orchestrations, the musical standard remains just as high for a wind ensemble/band player as the orchestral standard
Intonation is one of my "favorite" subjects. We have to learn to work within the limitations of the flute, and the limitations of all of the other instruments. That takes patience and flexibility on everybody's part.
In addition to my Air Force career, here's the "rest of the story" about my commercial recordings. I've been the principal flutist for all of the albums of the National Symphonic Winds, including Telarc's 1993 Grammy Award Winner, "PDQ Bach, Grande Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion." I was a featured performer on another PDQ Bach CD, "Two Piano's are Better than One."
I've been the principal flutist for all of the albums of the National Chamber
Players. Our first album "Nonets and Septets' received universal
praise. I liked The Clarinet's review when William Nichols said "This is a very
effective showpiece for winds and these performers. Balance and intonation are
strikingly good. Conductor Lowell Graham and all of the instrumentalists on this
disc are impressive. The level of performance is first-rate throughout this
varied, attractive, and not excessively recorded repertoire." We've recorded 3
more albums that are scheduled for release this year on the Klavier label.
The result was "Musical Colors" which has received outstanding reviews. The reviewer in Fanfare wrote, "The program, in summary, is excellent. And so are the soloists, both obviously experienced players…. The compact disc proves that both are indeed world-class instrumentalists…" I must have read that review 100 times when it was first published…. I hope they like the next album as well!!!
As you can see, I've had many great opportunities. Most of them have happened because I decided to audtion for a USAF saxophone opening. No one could have foreseen the luck that has come my way.
On a similar note, I'm married for 17 years to a stunningly beautiful redhead named Mitzi. We have two gorgeous and brilliant daughters named Jessica (age 10) and Katelyn (age 5). Jessica likes competitive gymnastics (and she's gotten really good!!!) and Katelyn likes music. Katelyn has just learned to read quite well, at age 5…<brag, brag, brag…)
Like I said, I'm the luckiest guy on the list!!!!