Monday, November 4, 2013

A second chance at music

Not everyone gets a second chance later in life to participate in something they loved in younger years. I was a total band geek in high school and an exceptional flute and piccolo player, but once I got to college and had to fully support myself, it was difficult to stay in school, much less spend the hours necessary to reach a level of proficiency needed to "make a living" at performing music.

So I made the painful decision to put music performance behind me. For a long time I even had trouble attending concerts because the loss was so painful. I did keep my flute, even though there were times when I was tempted to sell it because I needed the money. I even played for a few weddings and other small events, but marriage and babies and homeschooling became my new focus and love in life.

It wasn't until we moved to Kerrville in 1993 that things started happening. First I discovered the high school band director was my old junior high director. He remembered I was a good flutist and asked if I would help his students with private lessons and sectionals. I was reluctant at first because I was so "rusty." Then his assistant went on maternity leave during marching season, and I subbed long-term, being fully immersed in band directing. That experience gave me the nerve to start a homeschool band when we brought our oldest back home after going to public school for 5th and 6th grade.
Newspaper picture of me (right--wow, look at that hair!) with two of my favorite students.

Then I read in the local paper about an upcoming flute recital by a man who had played in the New York Philharmonic for 36 years with THE Leonard Bernstein. This man, Paige Brook, had recently retired to our small community. So I rounded up several of my flute students and attended his recital.

Afterward my students and I met Mr. Brook, and I asked if he still taught private lessons. He wanted to know if I meant the students, and I said, "No, for me. I used to be pretty good, but I feel like I need to 'catch up' and get some of my skills back." He said, "Well, this isn't New York City, so I won't charge you $50 a lesson, just $25."

Our lessons began in his beautiful hilltop house. Paige's music room had great acoustics. A full-sized grand piano and a beautiful harpsichord filled much of the space. But I soon discovered that even though he was a formidable taskmaster, he had a kind and generous spirit. He said I was "very responsive" and our 30 minute lessons quickly grew to an hour, and then 90 minutes. He threw sightreading pieces at me, one after another, so he could accompany me on piano or harpsichord. I think he had fun playing along with me.

During one lesson we used his new recording equipment to make a tape of me on flute and him on piano as we played two solos for my students so they could listen to the recording while they learned the pieces. Paige would often say he wanted to "teach me his secrets" so I could pass them along to my students, since he no longer had the patience to teach "the kids."
From our newspaper's front page dated 1996.

Sadly, Paige Brook died in December 1999 from leukemia at the age of 79. He was an amazing person, and I was privileged to know him and be a recipient of his amazing musical talent and generosity.

About this time the local university started an orchestra. Periodically the conductor would ask if I would play with them, but I was overwhelmed with teaching the homeschool band, other homeschool classes, and my public school flute students, so I politely declined.

Then in 2005 I underwent nuclear-bomb strength chemo for fast-growing lymphoma, and for several months I couldn't play my flute, either because of the horrible mouth sores or because my blood counts were so low I had zero energy. It was summer before I was able to practice again, and the conductor called. By this time the university orchestra had grown to become a regional symphony. Most of the string players came from the San Antonio and Austin Symphonies, and most of the wind players were area band directors. They needed a piccolo sub for a patriotic pops concert.

I jumped at the chance. And even though I had to stand for the piccolo solo in "Stars and Stripes Forever" for three performances while I was still almost bald (the stage lights were too hot to wear a wig), it was a joy to play with a group of that caliber. The following spring there was an opening in the flute section.

Since 2006 I've been the piccolo player for Symphony of the Hills, doubling on flute. I needed a better quality instrument, and one of my husband's co-workers just happened to be looking for a new home for her vintage Haynes flute (made the year I was born--how cool is that), which I've dreamed of owning since high school, and I bought a brand new Pearl piccolo (serial #2--I also got to try out #1), which I'm able to play in tune (the most important consideration, in my opinion). Every rehearsal, every concert, I'm fully aware of how blessed I am to have this second chance at playing music.
Symphony of the Hills; me playing 3rd flute (closest to percussion section).


  1. Hi Katy! What an inspirational "life" journey! Amazing gifts God has given you - Thanks for sharing your story - TLKay

    1. Thank you, TL! Yes, God has been very gracious to me. :D