By Don Bailey
for the New York Flute Club Newsletter
Carol and I met in the faculty lounge at The Juilliard School, where she teaches. She was relaxed and composed, but I was distracted from having left my notes at home on my printer. (Yes, I do prepare for these talks.) It didn’t matter, though. Carol is a wonderful conversationalist and we had a great time. Her career is so multifaceted we found all sorts of interesting things to talk about. You’ll see!
You had an incredible environment as a child; your mother was a pianist and your father a professor of music and orchestra conductor. What was it like?
You know, it’s so interesting trying to recall all of that because my husband and I are going through it now. The script is basically continuing here with my son’s starting piano at age 5. I started violin at age 4. Those first impressions with the violin are indelible – working with the bow as my dad accompanied me. He was a natural teacher – very charismatic. He’s the same age as Julie Baker, and they’re very similar in many ways.
You’re the youngest of three children? Any other musicians in the family?
Yes, there were three of us. My sisters didn’t go into music professionally, although one is a programmer for young audiences in Boston. She works with Jill Ma, YoYo’s wife, and they do wonderful things for children. My oldest sister is a child psychologist/therapist, sings in a chorus, and listens to music all the time. While they’re both involved in music, they chose other professions.
Did you have a normal suburban school environment?
I did. I picked the flute at 9 because I wanted to play in the band. We began with group instruction and soon after, my parents arranged private lessons. I remember bursting into tears the day I had to tell my band director I was going to study privately. I felt I was betraying the group but they were all thrilled for me!
Was this a professional teacher?
Oh yes, I studied in Buffalo with Edna Karmachero, who was a pupil of Moyse. She started me with Moyse’s de la Sonorité right away. Other Buffalo teachers were Robert Moles and Anton Wolf. Then, for my high school senior year I lived in Italy where I studied with Gazzeloni before returning to start college at Oberlin. I found my outlets in the drama departments as well as in music. I was also a serious actress, and I studied ballet and had master classes with Maria Tallchief, Jacques Dambois, and Melissa Hayden – dance world giants. (Laughs) I was a spirited child, that’s for sure; and I have one myself now.
Gazzeloni is known for contemporary music; you must have felt his influence.
Yes, there I was living on my own – fully immersed in the world of new music. I was only seventeen and already playing in contemporary ensembles. It was a great experience, and I couldn’t wait to return to the states and go immediately to Juilliard.
But you detoured by way of Ohio…
Yes, my parents wanted me to have a normal campus life, and since they both graduated from Oberlin, the decision was made. It was an adjustment, but I stayed for two years and then came to New York. I had fabulous training at Oberlin. I studied with Robert Willoughby who was wonderful. My Dalcroze eurythmics teacher was Inda Howland, who was a giant, and I sang in Bob Fountain’s Oberlin College choir, which performed and toured extensively.
Who were your teachers at Juilliard?
I studied flute with Arthur Lora (of the Italian tradition that I was used to) and Sam Baron was my woodwind quintet coach.
What was the Juilliard experience for you?
It was great. As you know, there were so many good flutists there at that time. Let’s see, my classmates were Nadine Asin, Michael Parloff, Trudy Kane, Renée Siebert, Ransom Wilson, Rebecca Troxler, and Christine Neal. I thrived at Juilliard and was finally where the action was. I felt very much “at home”.
Weren’t all of you at each other’s throats?
Well, it was definitely competitive! Everybody was off doing his or her own things. Nadine and I bonded right away and would take our solace by going off to play duets. It’s so different with the students now. I think it’s more like a little family.
Was the course of study geared towards taking auditions?
Absolutely! It was all geared towards an orchestral career – no question about it. In our own prayers, of course, we all wanted to be like Jean-Pierre Rampal!
Did you do much freelancing before going to St. Paul?
Yes, I did things with John Nelson and PDQ Bach.
Those are awfully nice freelance gigs. Did you ever play in the shoe department of Bloomingdale’s?
No! But what a great idea! I never played in the subway either, although some of my students have. About the time I was finishing my Master’s and before I left for Minnesota, I played in an opera orchestra with Ransom Wilson in New Jersey, and with the National Orchestral Institute with Leon Barzin. All of our concerts were at Carnegie Hall. David Shifrin was playing clarinet; Trudy Kane and I played flute. I also played in a woodwind quintet that got performances through the school.
It must have been difficult to leave New York for the St. Paul job.
Yes, it was a tough decision. So many people were telling me that I shouldn’t be leaving NY because I was getting such a good toehold here. But, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was my first seriously offered job – with a contract and benefits. I would be on my own, independent, learn how to drive, have my own car… And thank goodness I went, because it was the catalyst for my wanting to become a soloist.
How is that? Did you leave to be a soloist?
Well, the actual reason I left was to do the Naumburg competition. The orchestra started to tour in the last two seasons, and I just felt I wasn’t working hard enough with all the repetition of the programs. So, I took a leave of absence and did the competition.
What did winning the Naumburg do for your career?
It was instant credibility back in those days. I was heavily under Moyse’s influence at the time, and the recording that came about is still one of my favorites. They’ve not had another flute competition since.
Have you had any other orchestral jobs?
Through those summers in St. Paul, I also played the Grand Teton Festival for four seasons – big orchestra repertoire. Then when I came back to NY, I played with Orpheus and St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble until I started getting engagements as a soloist through my manager, Charles Hamlen. I didn’t play again in an orchestra until I played in the Boston Symphony one summer for two weeks when they were looking for a principal flute. It was like getting back on a bicycle.
Was the Boston job of interest to you?
You know, it was. I flirted with it; my son was little and my family lives in Boston. But it just wasn’t meant to be. I need diversification; I thrive on different kinds of projects and venues. Not that you can’t have that in a symphony orchestra, because you can, but for me, maybe it’s too much music all the time. Now I teach, I have chamber music, I play concertos and travel.
You’ve commissioned numerous new pieces for the flute repertoire. How did you meet Lukas Foss?
Lukas Foss was a mentor to me as I was growing up in Buffalo. He was the Music Director. One day while I was still a student at Juilliard, he called me out of the blue and asked if I would collaborate with him at a concert at Kennedy Center. I nearly fainted. Imagine!. He’s a masterful artist. He wrote his “Renaissance Concerto” for me in 1985. I’ve performed it over fifty times now and still love it.
You have quite a roster of composers you’ve worked with. I read somewhere that for you it’s just a matter of asking.
Well, I had established friendships with several composers. Joan Tower and I are real buddies, Paul Shoenfield and I spent summers together at Chatauqua, Lukas and I had the Buffalo connection. Gorecki was introduced to me, and I went to his home in Poland, and I’m from a Slovak family, so it was like two peas in a pod. He loves folk music, and I adore it. I met Rochberg through the Naumburg, and Ezra Laderman and I have the same birthday! I knew Peter Schickele from all those years doing PDQ Bach. He’s the one who said, “People wondered, how did she get me to write a piece for her? Well, she just asked.”
Do you think flute playing has changed since you were a student at Juilliard?
Hmmm, interesting question. Well, Julie’s still here. I mean, the Baker tradition is like a bloodline – the royal bloodline. Hearing him play was an amazing thing. Then there was the French tradition, through Rampal and Moyse which I identified with also. To answer your question, I would say that today you will hear lots of diversity among the students. You might not be able to tell who’s studied with whom, whereas back in the old days you could probably guess.
What about national styles in flute playing?
I don’t think there are national styles so much anymore. Galway had such an influence for years and everyone wanted to imitate him. I don’t think you can tell by someone’s playing what country they’re from. People are becoming more themselves as far as styles go.
(Laughing) With your varied past in the arts, you must sound like a real hybrid…
AND, it depends on whom I’m playing with. My sun sign is cancer, the moonchild, so we adapt…. For example, when Nadine and I play together on the concert coming up, we’ll have to mix and match that way. But it’s true, many people say they can pick out my sound. I think it’s the amalgam of all the experiences I had in music and dance and theatre and singing….. I still think, though, that it goes back to my dad and the violin; I still try to imitate the sound of the fiddle. The choice of vibrato/non-vibrato – I see it now, because they have open strings….I tried to imitate that.
Where do you teach now?
I teach here at Juilliard and at Stony Brook. I’ve taught at Indiana University, and I taught at Rice University in Houston for eleven years altogether. I was offered the Rice job full-time, but there was such a pull to come back to New York. There’s a way of life here. It’s a wonderful city.
What are your students expected to accomplish by the time they graduate?
It’s so selective here that I have to formulate things on an individual basis. I’m a confrontational teacher and might not be the ideal for some students – I’ll get them on the floor or dancing a gigue if they’re having physical problems. Of course, I don’t force anyone, but I do place a big premium on what’s happening physiologically with a player. Etude-wise, we try to get the Andersen etudes in, but these kids are so busy very professionally minded. They have rehearsals for productions and chamber music obligations, so I find that I cover a lot of repertoire with them. Of course, we do scales and warm-ups together. I’m a firm believer that everyone has to do the Taffanel Exercise No. 4 in every imaginable way by the time they leave. Everybody’s style is different. Some students want to give a recital right away to stay motivated, others don’t – they may prefer to take their time and branch out. And most of the students who come here are competitors, so they’re always getting ready for some kind of competition. Their lessons reflect their needs at the time.
It’s also my hope that the students who leave Juilliard will be good teachers as well as flute players. I think their becoming educators is critical. Very often in master classes, or in my chamber music classes, I’ll have the students get up and teach each other to get them thinking more that way.
Yes, I adore orchestral excerpts. The students are required to study them, and they have routine auditions twice a year behind a screen.
What’s your teaching load like?
At the moment I have 12 individual students, and I have two chamber music courses – The NY Woodwind Quintet Seminar and my own chamber music class, which is for winds, harp, and guitar. I also take part in a freshman course called Colloquium, which is a study of all the disciplines, dance, drama, and music. This class gives them a feel for what everybody’s doing all day long here at Juilliard.
Are you still involved with the International Flute Festival that you started?
Not at the moment. I would love to resurrect the festival, but I’m glad the NFA took the ball and ran with it. There’s a lot of ethnic music at the conventions now, which is as it should be, because it’s the common thread among us all. Carlos Nakai and I will be collaborating this summer at the Santa Fe Festival. Carlos attended my International festival when he was just emerging. Now, he’s world famous.
What’s your view of the state of the arts?
Each year we hear 100 flute players here at Juilliard for three or four openings, which is a shame because there will be at least 25 who are totally eligible. It just breaks our hearts that we can’t accommodate them. These days musicians have to be creative. There are many wonderful careers out there in music. Look at all the flute choirs and ensembles like the Three Flute Moms with Laura Gilbert, Linda Chesis, and myself. These ideas of enjoying music make a real statement.
What kind of flute do you play?
I have a silver Brannen body and a Powell platinum head that Lillian Burkhart cut while she and Jim were still at the company. I’ve played silver all my life except for a period when I played Tom Nyfenger’s 9K Brannen. I recorded the Mozart Quartets with the Emerson Quartet on the gold flute.
Can you hear a difference on your recordings between the silver and gold flutes?
(Very long pause)…..Isn’t that interesting? I’ll have to go back and listen. However, it’s very individual. Many of my students play gold and sound great! For me, though, playing as a soloist with orchestras, I could never get that “zing” that I love so much with the silver flute. I don’t think the flute has to sound pretty all the time. I mean, it may need to sound gritty, ugly or grotesque, as well as scintillating and beautiful. My platinum headjoint is great. I enjoy getting lots of colors in the sound.
What’s a typical warm-up for you?
I start with Taffanel & Gaubert’s No. 5, the chromatic scale. I have this whole system of breathing through my nose; it’s like a walking meditation. I start the scale and walk around the room slowly. I play non-vibrato, breathing through my nose, taking as much time as I want. This is something I got from Alexander Murray, and it changed me forever because it slows me down and gets me focused. Then I do my T&G No. 4 – all legato, then all staccato, then changing the articulations. After that, I take out the Boehm octave exercise, and then, if there’s time, I’ll do the de la Sonorité. It’s interesting – I don’t do the Moyse first. I like to slowly get my fingers going and the air and the movement of the air. Then, if I’m really luxuriating and I have the time, I’ll do some orchestra excerpts like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the St. Saens Voliere. You see, I feel my big weakness is fast-moving things so I’m always on the lookout for that. Others may not perceive my technique as weaker, but we all have our “zones.” I think there is real merit to playing those tricky orchestral passages.
Speaking of the Voliere, do you use the real fingerings?
No, I use the D-E trill fingering at the start.
What are your views about auxiliary fingers in general?
Oh, use them constantly! I hate being out of tune, so I’ll try everything possible to get it right, and I won’t let my students get lazy about pitch. Also, I might use harmonics in fast passages – like in the Joan Tower Concerto. What matters is the finished product. Be creative if you need to, but don’t cheat in order to avoid a correct fingering.
Let’s talk about your concert with Nadine on the 28th..
First of all, this is a reunion of sorts with Nadine. We were close at Juilliard but were out of touch when I went away to Minnesota. We’ve always enjoyed playing together, and we wanted to plan a concert with some interesting colors and effects. As far as repertoire is concerned, it was a mutual decision to do the Debussy Chanson de Bilitis. I’ve coached it and I love it, but I’ve never played it. And we’ve chosen some flute favorites with harp – the Berlioz was a must. There’s a variety among the Rigoletto , the Bach G major, the Hindemith, and Takemitsu. And we’ll each do something solo. We hope that the duo performance concept will encourage other flutists to program non-solo events. In fact, I think two flutes sound better than one in many ways.
How would you define yourself?
I don’t really think of myself as a flute player, although my name, Carol, comes from Old French, which is Carole (to sing) and aulos, which in Greek means the reed flute. Together it means a song of joy. I picked the flute because it was lightweight, had a feminine quality and was portable! Actually, I could have gone in any number of directions – I’m sort of an airborne dreamer… And because I love all forms of art from painting to movement and sound. I picked the flute to convey the images from all these mediums. I’m a channeler, so to speak!