FeaturedInterviewsMarch 2021

Amanda Blaikie: Playing in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra & Being A New Mama

Amanda Blaikie is the 2nd Flutist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, having been appointed in 2016 by Leonard Slatkin. Previously she was Principal Flute with the Michigan Opera Theatre, Sarasota Opera, Battle Creek Symphony, and the Miami City Ballet. An avid educator, Amanda is actively involved in the DSO's educational outreach program, coaches orchestral excerpts, teaches private lessons, and presents masterclasses around the country. 

Can you give us 5 career highlights?

In 2010, I performed on the New York Philharmonic's season opening concert Live from Lincoln Center broadcast premiering Wynton Marsalis' "Swing Symphony." That was really memorable, and I remember Marsalis sitting just a few feet in front of me with his band. About another month later, I went on tour with the New York Philharmonic to Eastern and Western Europe. Talk about an amazing memory with such a fine orchestra!  Of course, winning the 2nd Flute position with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was a career highlight for me. The audition was in November of 2015, but my trial week wasn't until May of 2016. Within a week or so I found out that I was offered the job. It was truly incredible to win a position in an orchestra where I had been a substitute and knew everyone so well. In 2018, I performed on three different occasions at the NFA Convention in Orlando with my best friend and pianist, Lindsay Garritson. Her mother, Dr. Marie Jureit, was my college flute professor and mentor. There are so many highlights, but the last one I would say was going on tour with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to Japan and China in 2018. I have always wanted to go to both countries and loved eating the cuisine. I also hiked Mt. Fuji while in Japan with a group of DSO musicians and my husband.

How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?

The first moment that truly shaped me is when I went to my first New York Philharmonic concert at about 8 years old. Maxim Vengerov was the concerto soloist. I remember meeting him backstage, which was amazing, and it was a backstage I would later walk the hall of when substituting many years later. That concert, though, instilled my dream to be in a symphony orchestra.

Another early pivotal moment was my first lesson with Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish as a senior in high school. I was at a boarding school at that time and began to doubt my passion and abilities for a career in the flute, not having my parents nearby to guide me. It turns out all I needed was the right teacher! My supportive band director arranged for the lesson and I immediately knew I wanted to study with Marie. She encouraged my innate expressive musicality, but was adamant that we get my technical skills up to par. I went on to study with her in college and she awarded me a scholarship to fund an extra ½ hour weekly lesson to focus on technique. Dr. Jureit-Beamish also insisted on perfect intonation, sitting at the piano and guiding my ear. Also a pianist, Dr. Jureit-Beamish accompanied every recital and competition I did in those four years. She was, and still is, an incredible mentor and support. 

The third pivotal moment was when I attended Orford Academy in Canada in 2003-- my first exposure to Robert Langevin. I was immediately drawn to his sound which encapsulated everything I conceived of for my own playing. Learning easily by ear and demonstration, I knew I needed to keep studying with Robert whenever possible. So I took lessons when I was home in Connecticut during the holidays, checking in with him and gaining more tools to take back to college with me. I ended up attending his masterclasses at Orford for 9 summers, culminating in my acceptance and attendance to Manhattan School of Music's Orchestral Performance program. My degree in New York was where my skills became really refined and when I first began to substitute with the New York Philharmonic. 

What do you like best about performing?

I love being able to express the feelings and emotions behind the music, to interpret the composer's genius, and to share all of this with an audience. While I'm pretty good at articulating myself with words, sometimes expressing one's feelings through an artform is the best way and this is what I love about music and the flute. There is so much depth behind classical music! 

CD releases?

I was actually planning on recording my first CD in June of 2020, but due to the pandemic it was not possible. I considered recording in September, but by then I was 8 months pregnant and felt it would be best to wait until I had more energy and a full breath capacity! I hope to record later this year, and at the very least, will continue to record solo flute repertoire to post to my YouTube channel.

What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?  

Now that I am back from maternity leave, I will be performing with the DSO for the rest of the season through July. Currently we are performing live-streamed concerts online from Orchestra Hall. Since the repertoire is generally reduced for social-distancing, I perform every other week. Additionally I do "at-home" work, including teaching weekly students, calling or writing patrons, and recording video recitals for hospitals, senior homes, etc. Outside of the DSO, I teach and coach private students virtually, am working on a number of different recording projects, including a virtual recital for the Hawaii Youth Symphony, and have an upcoming masterclass at Eastern Michigan University.

What are your goals professionally?

My goal has always been to be the Principal Flutist of a major symphony orchestra, but I'm currently tenured as 2nd Flute with the DSO and have now started my little family! And though I would still love to have a Principal or Associate Principal Flute position, I am truly grateful to have a tenured position in a full-time orchestra. I may still audition in the future, but I absolutely love this orchestra and community in Detroit. Other professional goals would be to release a few solo CDs, solo at the NFA Convention, and solo with the DSO.

What inspires you the most in life?

Right now, my baby girl! I've always been a very energetic, motivated, and inspired person, but having my own baby has heightened this even more. She makes me want to be better at everything I do and everything that I am. I want to be the best role model for her. 

What has been your greatest challenge?

A couple of years ago I had a major challenge with my ear. It was a very odd circumstance where I was hearing an extra pitch in my left ear, about a quarter-tone flat. The more I played the flute, the worse it got, and the hearing decreased more and more. Naturally, this resulted in me needing to be on sick leave for a while and getting some guidance from an ear specialist. The first ear doctor did a number of tests, spanned over a month, and resulted in him telling me that it was incurable. You can imagine how upset I was! I honestly have not been so stressed out in my life over my career, wondering if I would ever play again. So I sought new help. I ended up contacting a board member of the DSO, also a doctor, to find the best ear doctor he knew. This new ear doctor told me that it was basically stress (three major auditions, wedding planning, settling into a new house, a full DSO schedule, etc.) and he also suggested that I eat less sodium. After a month or two, everything was perfectly fine! I no longer had an "extra" pitch or any kind of hearing issue. This experience tested my faith, and I have not taken playing the flute for granted. Musically-speaking, this has been my greatest challenge. In my personal life, my Dad's passing in 2012 was definitely my greatest challenge as we were very close. This definitely resulted in more depth and meaning in my musical performances. 

Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?  

Decorating, baking brownies, playing fantasy football, gardening, and doing any kind of sport outdoors.

What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?

(1) Learn from every "rejection" and figure out how you can tweak your preparation for the next experience. (2) The less pressure you put on yourself, the better you'll do. Try to find the simple joy and love of music in your audition, recital, or competition instead of focusing on winning. (3) Be patient. You'll end up where you need to be. Do the work, put yourself out of your comfort zone, and you will end up in the right job for both you and your colleagues.

How is it going with the newborn?

Lily Claire is absolutely amazing-- I have never been in love quite like this! Becoming a mama has been the best thing that has ever happened to me, and my sense of purpose has expanded beyond music and the flute. I love being her mama! Of course there are tough days, but the majority of the time she is a real angel. Yet, just the past couple of weeks, she hasn't been sleeping through the night. Regularly interrupted sleep is definitely a challenge, so when this occurs I try to sleep in and nap when she does so that it adds up to a relatively-adequate amount. Otherwise it's really challenging to get through the day.

How are you managing to incorporate motherhood around your duties as a professional flutist? Does your husband help? Do you have a nanny?

With DSO performances on a rotation and private lessons occurring virtually, the balance of motherhood and my professional life has been relatively smooth and easy. Although it wasn't ideal to be pregnant at the start of the pandemic, I feel incredibly lucky that I've had much more time with Lily Claire following my maternity leave than I ordinarily would have had. This bonding time has been quite special and I'm definitely not taking it for granted. And as I mentioned earlier, Lily Claire has made me want to be better at everything, including the flute. So I have been inspired to do new flute projects and return to my polished level of playing as quickly as possible following my ten-week break from the flute. 

I'm also quite lucky that my husband is a realtor and has a very flexible job. When I do go downtown for rehearsals and concerts, he's able to be on Daddy Duty at home with the baby. And when he needs to be out showing homes, overseeing an inspection, or attending a closing, I'm able to take care of her while I work from home. So far, it's all been very manageable between the two of us and we haven't needed a nanny... yet! But I will admit that there are definitely days when I would love to practice four hours again and I simply cannot. Sometimes I can't even start my practicing for the day until evening, which I have just learned to accept. Like any new mama, there are days where it's easy and days where it's tough to juggle it all. I may at some point hire a sitter simply to get more work done, even at home. But I'm not quite there in my comfort during this pandemic.

Any time management tips?

Definitely! I have done this before the baby, but I always recommend having a planned warm up that covers all of the flute fundamentals: tone, colors, intonation, articulation, technique, etc.  And as a professional, I still warm up 1 to 1 ½ hours per day as I want to ensure that everything in my playing is polished and so that I can learn weekly orchestral repertoire quickly. In preparing for the DSO, I will typically start by listening to the piece along with my part, noting tempi and tricky spots to practice first. I will also listen with the score to fully understand the context of my part and its relationship to the first flute (and to the entire orchestra). This is all work that gives the practice session more efficiency and intention. As a mama, I will do whatever I can while breastfeeding. This might include listening to recordings or watching a video of my practice session. And knowing that my practice session could end at any moment by a waking baby definitely keeps me focused and on task! I highly recommend a practice journal to note what you practice (again for focus), to set goals, and highlight breakthroughs that occur.

Tell us about a typical day.

Generally, I wake up between 8:30-9:30am from the baby, but I'm also usually up once or twice in the night. (Sometimes I get an unexpected window of 6-8 hours of sleep which is glorious!) Depending on feedings, diapers, and sleep quantity, I might sleep again during Lily Claire's late morning nap. But sometimes I have a morning appointment, so sleep is a bit short. The rest of the day consists of feeding the baby, changing diapers, snacking/eating, and practicing whenever possible. Sometimes I can practice with her in the room (with hearing protection), but that doesn't usually result in a very long practice session. I've learned that nap time really is the only time I can practice unless Brett is home. And even when he is home, he is usually working at his desk. In addition to squeezing in practicing, I also do some sort of core work every day. I found this necessary following my C-section and ab separation in order to regain my core for the flute. In fact, I went to a physical therapist for 8 weeks to make sure the exercises were properly strengthening the core and bringing the abs back together. The exercises usually occur between 10pm and midnight! Somewhere in my day I also try to get to computer work and emails done, but I've found this to be so much more difficult now with a baby. Most nights I'm going to bed between midnight and 2am. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but I'm definitely finding that a little bit helps me get through the day! 

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