Tootling Around: A Mix Of Sounds Makes A Flute Choir

November 05, 2009|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,tim.smith@baltsun.com

Aristotle warned people that the flute just didn't have a good moral effect - "It is too exciting," he claimed - but that could only have made it more popular. Centuries later, the flute is still going strong, a regular component of orchestras and bands, and a vehicle for soloists all over the world.

The instrument's lasting appeal can also be felt on Sunday nights at St. John's Lutheran Church in Parkville, when the 20 or so members of the Baltimore Flute Choir gather to rehearse. And when the ensemble gives public performances, as it will do this weekend.

"I had never heard of a flute choir until I stumbled on this group," says Amy Koren. "It seemed like a cool idea."

The Baltimore Flute Choir, now in its fifth year, is open to adult players, amateur or professional; no audition is required. Members pay $25 a year for sheet music.

Koren's path to the flute started by accident, when her mother signed her up for a summer school band program.

"I needed to pick an instrument, but I had no idea what I wanted," Koren says. "One day I walked up to my mother and said, 'I want a pickle-o,' because I wanted to eat a pickle. She thought I wanted to play the piccolo and called up the band to tell them, but they said I had to learn to play the flute first. I was too embarrassed to tell her I just wanted a pickle, so I ended up playing the flute."

Koren continued to play through high school and also college, where she majored in math, but still studied flute and gave a senior recital, as music majors are required to do. After graduating, she moved to Baltimore, taught math at Friends School and played in the Baltimore Symphonic Band, a community group, for a while.

"After my first child was born, I pretty much stopped playing for 15 years while life took over," says Koren, who lives in Pikesville and now works as a business analyst for a software company. "Two years ago, I started playing again by joining the Baltimore Symphonic Band for a year. Then I [found] the Baltimore Flute Choir while Googling musical groups."

Members of the choir "come from different walks of life," Koren says, and range in age from teens to 60s. Besides the flute, a common thread runs through the group. "We're almost all women," she says with a laugh. "It seems like most flute players have always been women."

The idea of many flutists making music together may suggest a limited sonic result, but there's a family of flute instruments. In addition to the standard flute (often called the C flute), there's the piccolo, pitched an octave higher. Lower sounds are produced by the alto and bass flutes. Mix some of each, and you've got a choir.

"We have our own spectrum of sound, with different timbres and lots of possibilities," says Ruben Capriles, conductor of the Baltimore Flute Choir.

That helps explain the presence of such groups around the country, from the Columbia Flute Choir in Falls Church, Va., to the Seattle Flute Society. All those eager flutists need music to play, and that has generated a significant amount of arrangements of works originally written for other instruments and new pieces composed expressly for flute choir.

For Sunday's concert, Ruben will lead the Baltimore Flute Choir in a transcription of the Overture to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" and such contemporary works as "Views from Falls House" by notable flutist/composer Gary Schocker, which Capriles calls "one of the best-written pieces I've been acquainted with."

Providing extra tonal spice will be a score by Deborah Anderson that features a solo bassoon, providing a dash of different tone coloring. Previous concerts have included pieces that added a string bass and even electric guitar to the mass of flutes.

"For me, working with the flute choir has been a revelation, a very inspiring learning experience," says the Venezuelan-born Capriles, who is finishing up his doctoral studies at the Peabody Conservatory and recently served as director of orchestral activities at the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Koren calls the arrival last spring of Capriles "quite a little coup for us. I think he's a great conductor."

The Baltimore Flute Choir, which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization to help with fundraising, does community outreach concerts throughout the season, including at retirement communities. There's also an annual side-by-side concert, where local students get to perform with the ensemble members (some of the choir members are flute teachers).

"It's a very friendly and welcoming ensemble," Capriles says. "They're totally involved and in love with doing this."

Koren finds that combination of camaraderie and spirited musicianship inspiring.

"I'm amazed at the different sounds and moods the choir can make," she says. "It is really cool. And it's fun for me to be surrounded by all those flutes."

If you go

The Baltimore Flute Choir will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday at Hamilton Presbyterian Church, 5532 Harford Road. Admission is free. Go to baltimoreflutechoir.com.

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