How did it come about that you began to study flute?
I sang before I spoke, so they all say! Then, I played the piano. My father was an amateur pianist, and worked for the DuPont Co in Wilmington, Delaware. The flute was introduced to me during an in-school demonstration. I looked at the flute and saw all the fingers move and I was entranced. I made a sound the very first time I tried on the head-joint and advanced three classes in three days in the beginning band program. I ran with it – until I met the trumpet the next year. I played both – trumpet in the tiny band at my private school and flute in the Youth Orchestra of Greater Philadelphia until I was 17. I had to leave the trumpet behind but still have an infatuation with it and sometimes have fun with it on April Fools Day!
What was your early musical education like?
Piano lessons, note spellers until age 14, then theory and ear training and woodwind quintet at the Settlement Music School and playing in the Youth Orchestra of Greater Philadelphia and the Delaware Symphony Repertory Orchestra. I attended Brevard Music Center when I was 14 and Tanglewood’s BUTI program.
I believe that your parents had backgrounds in music.. Please tell us about them and how they influenced the direction of your musical journey.
My mother was from southwest England and ended up in Wilmington, Delaware in her 30s. She met her second husband, my father, in church and it was love at first sight. In England she had been a chorus girl in many of the shows written by Gilbert and Sullivan, Romberg and other operetta composers of the time. She was never the leading role, always a chorus member – but she passed along a view from the soloist perspective to me. She raised me as a future musician, giving me opportunities in music that were great fortune for a career in music. I went to the opera from age 8.
By age 12 I was given chances to play in retirement homes, churches and other venues by a mentoring group called Community Showcase. At age 14 I sang Beethoven’s Symphony #9- in German- with the Northern DE Oratorio Society. My parents had to beg permission for me to sing in this adult group. My father drove me to Philadelphia countless times for rehearsals and to attend Philadelphia Orchestra concerts. It was their dream come true for me to have a career in music and they revolved their lives around it. My mother lived to be 66, dying of cancer when I was just 26 years old. Then my father passed a year later at age 77. They never knew I won the job in the Atlanta Symphony. My mother used to say ,“You should go play in the Boston Symphony!” I would reply, “Mom – you can’t just go and PLAY with the Boston Symphony.” In 1994, after winning my prizes at the Kobe Competition, I played 6 weeks with the Boston Symphony as their principal flutist. I played Beethoven Symphony #9 at Tanglewood, my old stomping ground, with Christoph Eschenbach. I looked up at the stars and said “OK Mom, I guess I can play with the Boston Sympony.”
You are currently Professor of Flute at the University of Michigan, but we’d like to know about earlier aspects of your career in music.
Again, starting with Community Showcase, I was performing with the flute from a very early age. I then was admitted as the only freshman flutist at the Juilliard School that year. I graduated with two degrees and spent four years auditioning and freelancing in New York and New Jersey. I won the Associate Principal flute position in Atlanta Symphony right after the death of my mother and was there for eight years. Before I was 30, I auditioned for some international prizes and won – and realized I had something to say through my music that was quite powerful. My heart wasn’t singing in the orchestra. I was introduced to the position of Professor at the University of Michigan and saw it as an opportunity to touch more lives and work with the next generation of classical artists. I had no idea that it would serve as such a platform for my solo career. I am happy to say that I just signed with Sciolino Aritsts Management in New York City as one of their performing artists. I will tour performing Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears Concerto, written for me and will be performing it in Carnegie Hall in March 2012 with the American Composers Orchestra. I also have an emerging small business I call Porter Productions, encompassing my work as a creator of DVD study guides, CDs, music arranging and books. My next DVD project is a three DVD set called “Anatomy of Sound” stemming from the lessons I teach at my workshop.
Our readers would surely like to know about your summer flute workshop at the University of Michigan. How is it structured and what is the emphasis?
This holistic four-day intensive workshop presents an opportunity for adults and young
adults to participate in master classes, and join in-depth discussions about the study of
flute tone, breathing and body awareness, both in flute practice and in performance.
Fifteen performers are selected by taped auditions, based upon level of playing for the various sessions. Every age and performance level (student, amateur, semi-professional, professional) is encouraged to apply. The repertoire-based workshop focuses on all aspects of practicing and performing; the movement classes focus on performance efficiency, and reducing stress and tensions while increasing the performer’s capacity for expression.
My featured guest at the workshop teaches their own themed masterclass. This year, for my tenth anniversary, June 2-5, 2012, my guest is Paula Robison. “The Anatomy of Sound” class is taught by me and we work on how to discover one’s own individual tone through long tones and non-vibrato practicing, Professor of Theater Jerald Schwiebert begins with “How the Body Moves” class and moves on to classes that include acting theory and skeletal study. He has a centrist’s approach to movement, combining various schools and disciplines including the Alexander Technique, Tai-Chi, Laban, Feldenkrais, Rolfing, Trager, Modern Dance, Afro-Cuban, mime, yoga, stage combat, improvisation, acting, anatomy & physiology. Laura Dwyer teaches “Yoga for Flutists”, about managing performance anxiety through increased body and breath awareness.
To whom is this workshop open?
All adults. This year as a performer we had a Bio-physicist and a Youth Orchestra Manger as well as conservatory students. As participants we had students, amateurs, people fighting stage-4 cancer, as well as a head/neck surgeon from the U of M Hospital who plays the flute.
You have had a significant recording career. How do you make a recorded performance done in the studio sound spontaneous, as it would before a live audience?
I practice to perform and the performance will – most always – come out as planned. That is how I can offer so many live performances on the web. If it wasn’t perfect I still offer it to my student’s for study purposes.
Do you have a favorite among your recordings?
No. I have loved creating them all and each one is very special. I have so many live recordings that I share among my students for reference. I am happy that as a Professor, I can turn many live concerts into useable recordings for my students.
At our Flute Fair, you will be performing in recital. How do you go about structuring a recital program?
Three major components I look for in programming a recital are educational pieces; inspritational pieces; sensational pieces. I also include video and audio in my recitals when I can. I believe concert artists should be playing music written by living composers or works especially written for them so I try to include a new work for the flute lovers.
While in Rochester, you will also be teaching a masterclass. How do you approach this sort of teaching experience? After all, it’s not possible to hit all aspects of flute playing and interpretation in the roughly thirty minutes allotted to each student. How do you decide what to emphasize with each student?
I often listen for what the person is trying to say through their music. I try and lead everyone to the music through the flute, not just play the flute. I try to help the player make the instrument disappear and let the music come forward. Anything that detracts from the goal of the music will be my focus. I then have to discern quickly what issues I have time for and which lessons would best benefit the entire class. I try not to repeat myself unless it’s necessary. I also take notes on a dry/erase or chalk board so everyone can take notes.