Hadar Noiberg: The Self-Sufficient Flutist

As long as I can remember, I have always loved to play music. It didn’t really matter on which instrument it was. For me, it was a means of self expression. I picked up the flute because my older sister played it and I liked how it sounded. The idea of blowing air into a tube and making a sound was wondrous to me. Still today I believe that the flute is a very special and spiritual instrument. In many cultures, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures for example, the flute acts as a sort of a spiritual guide and plays a main role in ceremonial gatherings. I love how close the flute is to the human voice and how I can almost ‘sing’ through it.

Growing up in Israel, I studied Classical music and was a part of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. I practiced and studied with the best teachers Israel had to offer, but I always felt like I needed my own channel of expression through improvisation and composition and that led me to explore and teach myself how to play other instruments. I taught myself to play keyboard, piano, guitar and bass guitar and I’ve always been searching for more- for ways to express myself in a broader sense. Both on the flute and beyond.

In Israel I had the constant feeling like I didn’t belong to any musical scene. I wasn’t dedicating myself solely to Classical music, I wasn’t only a Jazz player and I wasn’t only a Latin flutist. I felt kind of lost. I knew from a very young age that staying in Israel wasn’t an option for my musical growth and that I wanted to leave and live somewhere else. I wasn’t sure where that place was and only around my nineteenth birthday, with encouragement from my former teacher, I realized that I should probably move to a place like New York City. A place where people like me, who didn’t belong to any scene, had their own scene and felt validated. Felt like they belong.

When I was 21 I left Israel and that was shortly after I came out as gay both to my parents and to myself. On top of that I had moved straight from my parents’ home to living on my own in New York City. That was definitely, by far, the most risk-taking leap of faith I’ve ever taken, and the first few years in New York were rough. They were rough because I wasn’t sure of who I was musically and personally. They were rough because I had tried to follow the dream which had brought me to New York, the dream to become a world renowned Jazz musician, and it took me some time before I was able to slow down and let things unfold naturally.

The thing New York has taught me the most is how to go with the flow, how to follow the open channel, how to seize the moment and how to know that there’s an actual moment to be seized. New York has taught me to live beyond labels. To know that I don’t need to call myself a Classical musician who plays Jazz who also likes Latin music who is also heavily influenced by my Middle Eastern and Israeli roots and also plays Brazilian music and choro because that just sounds ridiculous. That sounds like I have no focus, like I have no personal voice, like I’m a Jack of all trades. And that can’t be further from the truth. In my work with musicians and, especially, younger musicians I see that labeling and fitting into a specific scene can stop them from being more true to their musical self and, as a result, more playful and experimental in their playing.

Being playful and wanting to think outside the boundaries of my instrument have brought me to start my own trio. A non-harmonic trio of flute, bass and drums, which I put together around eight years ago and we have been touring the world ever since. I wanted the freedom to experiment- to learn about effects and loops, to create harmonic layers with my flute, to use the flute at times as a bass and at times as percussion, to teach myself to play semitones and be able to slide in and out of them combined with my Western technique and scales. I created this trio because I wanted to be a ‘Self Sufficient’ flute player. A concept I’ve been working on in my own playing as well as in my teachings.

I have met many flutists from the Classical, Jazz and World music fields who are very focused on improving their sound and technique without being aware of the existence of a bigger picture. Whether it is an orchestra, a flute duet or a jazz ensemble, we are always a part of some kind of musical fabric. Only when we realize this concept, we can transform ourselves into being more ‘Self Sufficient’.

In my field of Jazz and World music, that concept means that I must be aware of what is around me- what kind of line is the bassist playing? What is the drummer’s groove? What harmony is being played by the piano/guitar? My goal is to have this harmony in my ears and in my body and then be able to express it with my flute. I want to know the rhythms which are being played around me- to be able to sing them, clap and play them. With my students, we practice being each other’s ‘bass players’. We comp each other and take turns in playing the melody and improvising. This is a very liberating process and I came up with several exercises to be able to present this concept in a more methodical way. Eventually, you become so strong and independent, that you don’t need the rhythm section, the piano or the orchestra to feel supported. You can actually now support them as well as yourself and be more of a participator as well as a leader. You are no longer a flutist who is just playing their linear part, you become aware of the actual musical pulse. Every kind of music has a pulse- Classical music has one too.

Along the years, I have been asked many times about how I feel to be a woman in the jazz world and, especially a gay woman. I wish that this question had no relevance. I wish that being a female jazz musician would be the same as being a male jazz player, but the truth is that it is not the same. The truth is that being a woman in my musical field has brought its own challenges. I believe that is an additional reason for why I am so happy to be a bandleader and why I like to have the option of choosing my immediate musical surrounding very carefully. I am very proud to say that most of my students are women. Strong and unique women of all ages, religions and cultures who have found some inspiration in my personal story and want to be able to express themselves through their flute and music. Being a teacher, to me, means a lot of responsibility towards my students and towards myself- I push myself to constantly grow as a musician while finding the best ways to help my students push their own boundaries and become ‘Self Sufficient’ musicians.

 

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