Under the Influence

We’ve all been shaped by the influencers in our lives and the reality is that the accumulated gifts, talents, and abilities we possess are a combination of the time, energy, and resources of those that have faithfully invested in us coupled with our own discipline and dedication. In terms of my development as a flute player, those that have had a significant influence on me include Jean Pierre Rampal, Hubert laws, James Galway, Herbie Mann, Ian Anderson, Robert Webb, and my flute mentor/private teacher Johnny Haws. I remember early on in my flute journey having private teachers as well as band instructors, with the best of intentions, doing all they could to get me to change my embouchure. The embouchure has to do with the position and contact of the lips and mouth on the mouthpiece of the flute. According to proper textbook technique, the opening in the mouth while playing the flute should be directly centered in the middle of lips. Mine was not. I had developed the habit of playing out of the corner of my mouth and was able as a very young beginning flutist to produce good tone this way. While I attempted to change this at the urging of my instructors, the “correct” embouchure according to them was not working for me. This became a source of challenge and conflict for both myself and my instructors. It was not until I had the distinct honor of attending a master class conducted by Jean Pierre Rampal (arguably the most influential and accomplished flutist on the planet at that time) in Denver, Colorado, in 1970 that I was once and for all freed from this conflict. While listening to and critiquing the performance of one of the flute players in attendance, Rampal addressed this issue of the embouchure in a way that forever changed my playing. Quite simply, he told the students in attendance that as long as good tone was being produced, one’s embouchure did not have to change and any attempts by teachers to insist on conformity was misguided. This is by no means to say that even those instructors who were attempting to change my embouchure did not also contribute very positive influences in my development as a flute player, however the reality is that sometimes unconventional means of accomplishing your goals are just as legitimate even if they are in contrast to established norms. Another very interesting and potentially negative influence in my formative years as a flute player occurred during junior high when I faced relentless teasing and mockery by some of the male band members for playing an instrument that in their view was clearly meant for only girls to play! So grateful am I that I did not cave to the peer pressure at that time. So what is the takeaway from all of this?

If we are to be successful in those areas we are passionate about, we must incorporate critical thinking when evaluating these comments and recommendations from our influencers. More importantly, we must be sure that those within our sphere of influence that are impacted by our opinions and biases are receiving nurture, encouragement, and support in those areas they are passionate about and gifted in!

Please take time to listen to the song below entitled Rejoicing Together. I am playing both the flute and Penny Whistle on this selection. This song was composed, arranged, and orchestrated by my good friend and extremely talented musician, Steve Millikan, and is the title cut on the second solo CD I had the opportunity to record - Ceremony & Celebration.

Enjoy. Engage. Enrich.