I’ve never written a story before, let alone my own, but I suppose the best place to start is the very beginning.
I was born in Manhattan, Kansas, in 1949, the first of three children. My father was a CPA of Bohemian origin, who loved music, and my mother was a piano and general music teacher.
I grew up finding it normal to have a piano in the house, and it was taken for granted that all of us would learn to play it. In fact, I learned to read music before learning to read words. The piano was a great love for me, and as I grew older and could do more, I would spend precious hours practicing.
When I was nine years old, the local music store offered wind instruments to us school children, on the rent first, buy later system. Again, there was no question but that I would learn to play one, as did my brother and sister later. My mother made some inquiries, and someone told her that it was wise to start with the clarinet, because it was easier, and then change if one wanted. That sounded all right to me, but I was influenced by a boy in my class, who wanted more than anything to play the flute. I hadn’t even considered the flute, I didn’t really know anything about any of the instruments, but when my mother took me to the music store, the salesman asked me a fateful question: If I had my choice of all the instruments in the world, which would I pick? The flute! My mother was astonished, but a flute was brought, I made a noise on it immediately, and that was that.
I had lessons for a couple of years, but then we moved, first to Concordia, Kansas, and later to McCook, so that was the end of my formal training until I went to college. For quite a while, the flute was my second instrument, fun and not too difficult, but my first love was the piano. Then, at the age of 14, I had another key experience. I went to my first band camp, in Boulder, Colorado, and in a student recital, I heard a young girl play a piece by Chopin, for my ears quite brilliantly. She was also a year younger than me. In that moment, I realised that I should change my focus to the flute. My level of accomplishment on the piano wasn’t nearly as good as hers, and she was younger, too. As it turned out, I made the right decision. I have come fairly far with the flute, and I still love playing the piano.
By that age, I knew that I wanted to be a musician, but without the help and support of my parents, it couldn’t have been done. There was another person, as well, who had great influence on the course of my life, and that was Kenneth Rumery, whom many in McCook will remember as being one of the finest music directors in high school history. His encouragement and thorough teaching methods gave me the fundamental knowledge I needed to go on.
I had no idea what I was getting into, of course. Most musicians don’t, unless they come from professional families. One loves music, and playing an instrument, one has a certain amount of talent, and the rest will take care of itself somehow. This is a fairly naïve approach, but I think if one knew how hard it was going to be, one might have turned and run the other way. On the other hand, I could never think of anything else that would be worth even half the devotion, so I probably would have done it anyway.
The road zigzagged for quite a while after I left home. First I went to Colorado University, at Boulder, and enrolled in a teaching course at the music college, after having been advised to do so by the head of music, Hugh McMillan. He advised everyone to do that. After a year, however, I realised that I did not want to end up as a high school band teacher, and switched to the performance course. It hadn’t really dawned on me that it might be harder to find a job that way, or even impossible. I don’t regret it, though. I still don’t want to be a high school band teacher.
After two years, I wanted more than Boulder could offer me, beautiful and fun as it was, so I applied for a place at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. After an audition, I was accepted. I lost a year of credits in the transfer, so I spent three years there, at the end of which I received my Bachelor of Music. Then I was confronted by the aforementioned difficulty of actually working in my chosen profession. After looking seriously at the opportunities in the United States for orchestral musicians, I decided to leave. There are far more excellently trained musicians than there are positions. There are relatively few orchestras which pay enough to live on, and few chances to actually get one of those jobs.
My first stop out of the United States was London in 1973, the same year Nixon was impeached, where I lived for three years. I arrived with my flute, metronome and some music in a backpack, and found a teacher and a couple of part-time jobs teaching private students, and survived for that long. Actually, I would have given a lot to stay there permanently, but it was very difficult to get real jobs, and even more difficult to get work permits for them. Also, the English government doesn’t let people stay forever on student visas.
So in 1976 I went to Germany, with a little more than my backpack, and knowing very little German, to stay with a woman flutist whom I had met at a summer flute course, and who is still a very good friend. Germany had, at that point, 96 state-supported orchestras, and the Americans were still an occupying force, so the outlook there was definitely better. Indeed, after several auditions, I got a job playing in one of the summer spa orchestras, and from there I went to the Bad Reichenhall Philharmonic in 1978, which is still where I am.
My days are varied, as we work at different times. We work six days a week, in winter we usually play 7 concerts a week, and have 5 long (2 1/2 hours) rehearsals. In the summer, starting May 1, we play 11 concerts, with only one long, but 3 short rehearsals. I also have 4 pupils. Since we have a chopped-up day (morning rehearsal, afternoon concert, e.g.) the day needs to be well organized in order to get in enough practice, never mind shopping, cooking and cleaning. On Mondays, I go to the adult education center, which is just around the corner, and take a class in French conversation, which makes a nice change from so much music.
It is now almost 27 years later, and I have experienced many things here. It has not always been easy, but I do not regret my decision to be a musician, there was never anything else for me. This is what I tell my students, too: if you don’t want it more than anything else, if you aren’t prepared to give up many things that other people consider normal, and dedicate your life to practicing and always trying to improve, then you shouldn’t try to do it. I read Robert Frost’s poem when I was a teenager, and I’m sure I was thinking of him, when I took the path less travelled by.