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An Adult Amateur Goes to Camp

 by Kay Ellickson

An amateur musician is one who “loves playing music” 

Now imagine: a beautiful lake setting with recreational activities, three healthy meals a day prepared for you, the companionship of friends who share your love of the flute, playing and learning about flute six hours a day with top level teachers who genuinely care about helping you learn more about the instrument and to play better. That is what one finds at Lake Sylvia Flute Institute. 

It is a basic premise of the Suzuki teaching method that learning takes place best in a combination of group and individual lessons. That is what was offered to adults this summer at Lake Sylvia. 

In addition to the Suzuki teacher training and Suzuki Method flute classes taught by David Gerry and Wendy Stern--Nancy Maloney brought in Patricia George for the benefit of the adult learners attending camp. This well- known educator’s presence at camp was made possible by a generous grant from UMFA which meant UMFA members were able to attend “Flute Spa” sessions at no cost. 

I have come to think of 2014 as “The Summer of the Big Sister!”--- referring not to chronological age but to someone who has been there before you in experience and knowledge. A big sister looks out for you, has your best interests at heart and shows you the ropes. And so it was for teens, amateur adults, teacher trainees and professionals gathering for a minimum of four hours a day to learn from Patricia George in her “Flute Spa”. 

The subjects Ms. George covered were tailored to the specific needs or desires of the group. Sometimes we were a small class of 4 or 5----then as trainees and day campers came during their free hours, we grew to 10 or 15. Ms. George interlaced her teaching with stories from her years of interacting with the “flute greats” as well as other well- known instrumentalists, scientists, and composers. She is the editor of Flute Talk magazine and shared information from many interesting articles. Our playing together covered an in depth study of “The Scale Book”, her collaboration with Phyllis Avidan Louke, which is an excellent one stop resource. It holds practice material for beginning students through the professional level. We went over each section in depth and reviewed basic warm-ups every day so we felt confident to--- as she said “open it to any page” and play. Ms. George has such a wealth of information and there she was imparting this to us. She made all of us ---from the least experienced to the professionals feel we could achieve better playing and showed us a road map to accomplish it. After the last class of each day, Ms. George invited any of us who wanted to stay----to practice with her for another hour!! --- Patricia George gives new meaning to the word stamina! 

For the more individualized setting, my other “Big Sister” was Wendy Stern, of Flute Force who travelled to Lake Sylvia from New York City. This was my 4th summer having her as a master teacher. What a blessing she is!!! This year I was in a master class setting with fellow adult student Mattie (who came out from New York to camp). Mattie and I each had individual time with Wendy as well as observing our partner’s lesson. Ms. Stern has a well-developed ability to quickly ascertain what would best help the individual player at this moment in time. She shows you what to do and why, helping you achieve some immediate success –pushing you a little out of your comfort zone—and has a “no excuses accepted” approach---but with humor!! For example you can’t tell her that you are too old to play fast----she doesn’t accept that and neither should you!! You surprise yourself with what she gets you to do and you leave your lesson with a real desire to duplicate that success ---practicing the steps to achieve that goal reliably –and to make it permanent. Wendy also had us playing in small ensembles where we were learning about making music “together” --in a trio, she encouraged us to share our ideas of interpretation with each other, then try each different way of playing the piece and finally decide as an ensemble what we wanted to do. In a duet, she taught us to plan where to breathe and to feel the music together. This is the way most amateur musicians will express their music and it was a valuable experience. 

One is never too old to learn new things and being retired gives me the luxury of picking up my flute whenever and for however long I want. Lake Sylvia is a real highlight of my year. Nancy Maloney once again organized a wonderful institute. I hope more adults will join me next summer!! 

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