Listening Your Way to Success

By Caity Massoud

As I sit in front of James Galway, the living flute legend and inspiration to musicians around the world, I ask him questions about his career and personal life. I can’t help but feel a little nervous—what could we possibly have in common and how can I relate to such an icon? As the host of Flute Center of New York’s podcast, Flute Unscripted, I often feel this way during my interviews with awe-inspiring artists such as Carol Wincenc, Emily Beynon, and Stefan Hoskuldsson. I look up to these flutists and yet what puts me at ease every time I’m feeling a little unworthy is to remember that we do share a common passion for storytelling.

Since becoming the researcher, host, and editor of Flute Unscripted I have learned that despite it being a new medium to me, podcasting is essentially yet another way to tell stories and archive them. Combine that with a lineup of the most impressive artists in the flute community answering real, honest questions and you have a tool that helps connect flutists in their common pursuit of finding their unique voice and sharing it with others. For me, this experience of hosting and getting to know flutists I truly admire on a more personal level has been eye- opening. I have learned a lot of lessons about being a musician without even picking up my flute. For example, Jean Ferrandis reminded me about the true importance of playing from your heart, Emi Ferguson showed me that any kind of multi-faceted career is possible if you put in the work, and Amy Porter taught me that tenacity and unwavering belief in yourself is what it takes to achieve your goals. In every episode, I have discovered something new. Whether you are an avid podcast listener or have never subscribed to a podcast series before, I encourage you to listen and find out for yourself what is so special about these artists’ stories in Flute Unscripted.

Finding Your Way

If you told my unsure and inexperienced younger self (who was just starting to get serious about flute in high school) that I would someday have a career in music, I would be in disbelief. Initially, I wasn’t convinced music was the right path for me and wasn’t sure if I would ever be good enough to become a professional musician. Since those early days, I have done a lot of work to discover myself and define my goals, including earning a doctorate and finding success on the orchestra audition trail. However, getting a degree (or three in my case) doesn’t guarantee a collegiate teaching gig and years of auditioning (yup, years) doesn’t always earn you a full-time performing job with benefits. What I’ve come to realize is that sometimes it takes a lot of different kinds of jobs to make up the career of a full-time professional musician. Being open-minded, knowing your abilities and unique skills, and following your interests can be useful when trying to find your niche in this industry. Andrea Fisher did exactly this and it helped her to create her successful flute bag company, Fluter Scooter. She elaborated on her experience in her Flute Unscripted interview, saying, “While I was a student at Juilliard I didn’t really hang out with that many musicians. I was always in other circles. I would go to other places to meet other kinds of people, like photographers, fashion designers...those are the people that helped me really launch Fluterscooter.” I could instantly relate to her story. Just as Andrea knew she would always be interested in expressing her art through different mediums, I have always known that being creative in almost any capacity is what drives me. Her story reaffirmed for me that happiness isn’t necessarily where you land—it is found in every moment you are following your passion.

Trusting Yourself

To say that I don’t have anxiety about forgetting to hit the record button or saying something embarrassing in an interview would be a lie. Like a performance, there are a lot of mistakes that can be made and a lot of things that can go wrong: the audio levels can be off, the conversation can feel forced and unnatural, I can say something wrong, or worst of all, I can run out of things to say. Just as when I’m getting ready for an audition or performance, before every interview I try to be as prepared as possible. This way, when it comes time to have a conversation I can really tune into the feedback from the artist and ignore my own personal doubts and fears. If I have done my homework, I find that I have the leeway to focus on the bigger picture of the conversation and create an authentic finished product for the audience. It was fascinating to hear Demarre McGill talk about his own approach to creating a finished product and why setting the right atmosphere for a performance is essential in affecting the listener: “I think it’s so easy to forget that we can really be poets with our instrument. It’s fun to focus on the craft...to focus on the fingers and the tongue...but these, in my opinion, are all just tools to inspire, to make someone’s day...we’re learning the instrument in order to sing.” Demarre talked about coming to this realization after listening to his teacher, Julius Baker, play in his lesson and it was a story that stuck with me. It reminded me to trust my hard work in every facet in my life so that I have the freedom to enjoy those big-picture moments.

Real Talk

With each piece of advice I’ve been given and every motivational pep-talk I’ve heard over the years, I have most appreciated a healthy dose of real talk. With Flute Unscripted, it was important to me and the Flute Center of New York that the title of the podcast reflect the overall goal of the series, which is to have candid conversations about real issues that musicians face. While it can certainly be fun to learn about what flutes artists play and how many hours theyactually practice, learning about the day-to-day business of being a professional musician is important. Life in this industry is challenging, it isn’t always glamorous and is certainly not easy. But, for those of us that thrive in creativity and expression through art, knowing you are not alone can be a huge comfort. I appreciated how Seth Morris opened up in his interview about the financial realities of being a musician. He shared, “It was always a struggle for me to do everything that I wanted to do because doing auditions, competitions, requires a certain amount of funding. I always try to put my career first and everything else was contingent on making that goal a reality. The financial aspect is something that can be overlooked but is certainly an important one to consider.” While Seth did not have a lot of financial support, he did reference emotional support as a huge benefit and I think this is what helps us all overcome the struggles, moments of uncertainty, and failures we face. Talking with Seth made me appreciate my own support system and made it clear that commitment to making a dream become reality takes hard work and help from others, in whatever form it may be.

Room For Everyone

Just as there never seems to be a limit to how many inspiring artists I can interview for Flute Unscripted, I have come to realize that there is an infinite array of different paths to success as a musician. Even after recording numerous episodes, it is fascinating how no two stories are alike and how the unique personality of each flutist has directly shaped their career. As a result, my once-cynical mind that imagined there to be only room for a select few talented flutists at the top our field has come around to a new way of thinking: there is room for everyone. Everyone is inherently unique and therefore, everyone’s voice has a place and a purpose.

What has truly inspired me are the artists that use their voice and their accomplishments as means to an end. They have a clear vision of how they want their music to impact the world. All the guests on Flute Unscripted have shown me that by shedding away the masks and the facades to share your vulnerable and authentic self with others is a powerful experience. I know they all achieve this on stage and it is what makes their performances so captivating. I hope our interviews together have the same effect. As Nico Duchamp said to me, “I don’t see any interest in blowing on a tube all my life. This tube has to mean something else: it’s a voice.” These artists are not necessarily concerned with being flutists, but they are concerned with sharing music the most honest way they know how. The stories, advice, and information from Flute Unscripted has really made me think (and I hope it will make you think too), “What will you say with your voice?”

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