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Typical Filene: the halls are alive with the sound of music. But for a week in August, what seeps from the practice rooms is the singular sound of flutes. Directed by senior artist-in-residence Jan Vinci and open to amateurs and professionals, the Skidmore Summer Flute Institute draws thirty to forty-five participants each year—mostly female, high-school-age players from the Northeast. What impresses Vinci about all of them, she says, is their “integrity, discipline, and passion.”
During the week Vinci gives about ten master classes. Jeffrey Khaner, principal flutist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, gives two more, and recording artist Mark Vinci gives one on jazz improvisation. Four other instructors—including Rachel Malinow Bergman ’92 and Rebecca Hale Quigley ’93—coach ensembles, teach private lessons, and offer post-breakfast talks such as “Careers in Music” and “Understanding and Conquering Performance Anxiety.”
As one student noted, the fluting goes “from the minute you leave breakfast at 8:30 a.m. until the minute you drop into bed at 10 or 11 p.m.” (The intensity is cut now and then with a flute-free outing: an evening at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, downtown shopping, breakfast at the racetrack). Jennifer Wang, a demure tenth-grader who plays with the New Jersey Youth Symphony, admits it’s all “a bit exhausting,” but she attended the program for a second summer because “it’s just a really loving environment.”
North Carolinian Caroline Wright is seventy-four years old and hasn’t missed a summer yet (eleven so far). “I come for the inspiration—but it’s also my vacation,” she drawls. A church organist and choir director, she taught public-school music for thirty-five years (she learned to play flute along with her sixth-graders) and intends to keep playing “as long as I’ve got the wind.”
Bergman, a former Filene scholar, has taught at the SSFI for ten summers. She finds that director Vinci is “always full of new ideas and innovative suggestions.” The master classes are especially beneficial, she says, because “you’re able to see immediate results.”
Take Christopher Martinez, a music performance major at the University of North Texas-Denton, who played for Jeff Khaner’s master class, attended by about forty people. As Martinez glided through Doppler’s “Fantaisie Pastorale,” Khaner listened thoughtfully for several minutes before cutting in: “Beautiful! But I need a little more discipline…it’s too rushed.” As Martinez played the passage again, Khaner snapped his fingers like a metronome. “Good!” he cried. Later, when Martinez blew through the cadenza, Khaner called out, “Too many notes!” Finally, the young flutist got it right. “Yeah!” praised Khaner, in a near-growl. (“It was a little nerve-wracking at first,” Martinez said afterward. “But I really liked what he had to say.”)
Instant improvements were also apparent in smaller settings—like Quigley’s ensemble rehearsal. As she conducted her quartet in a Scherzino movement, it was evident they knew the notes; but they were playing at the same volume all the way through. “I want you to be drastic about your crescendos,” Quigley said. “And I’m not hearing any pianissimos.” The piece has a short, trick ending, preceded by a long rest. The players aced it, and Quigley responded, “Yes—cool!”
An ever-popular highlight of the flute institute is Mark Vinci’s sizzling improv class. Besides coaching students, he offers advice and wisdom (“Never do anything faster than you can do it right”), good humor (he often laughs with delight at the students’ playing), and a demo (this year he played along with two Hubert Laws recordings that feature astonishingly swift flute solos).
On the last day, after the SSFI’s final concert, Jan Vinci stood on stage with her extended family of flutists and said, “It’s been an incredible week. I learned so much.” The students thanked her too and presented gifts. Then there was a lot of hugging and dabbing of eyes—and several promises to come back next year.
|© 2004 Skidmore College|