Artist Spotlight: Cobus du Toit
South African native, Cobus du Toit, is the Assistant Professor of flute at University of Massachusetts Amherst and Florida State University (starting Fall 2022). He is a W. Ms. Haynes artist and can be heard on the Naxos and MSR Classics labels. His main teachers include Christina Jennings at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he received his MM and DMA degrees.
How has the pandemic affected your career?
As musicians, we tend to spend a lot of time in a reflective state, which also makes us measure our creative output post-pandemic to what our careers looked like before the world shut down. I do not think anyone's goal should be to reproduce their creative activity and professional presence in a pre-pandemic fashion. The rebuild of the sector shows some resemblances to what we knew and loved before, but I also think this is a great time to become imaginative and reach audiences in a way that makes more sense for the 21st century.
My engagements with established organizations are slowly returning with reduced seasons, but it will definitely take a while to reflect 2019 levels of activity.
What creative ways have you focused on to combat the challenges brought forward by the pandemic?
I am a firm believer that the flute should be an inspiring and challenging presence in your life, not your entire identity. Living an abundant existence with friends outside of the performing arts, traveling to experience new cultures and food, and achieving personal goals that are not flute-related, allow one to stay aware of the beneficial role the flute should be playing in your life.
A large portion of my pandemic focused on strengthening my family unit at home. Some highlights include completely homeschooling my 3rd grader (ask me any multiplication table, I dare you!); investing a lot of energy into becoming a good skier with my two boys; taking a substantial amount of time away from the flute to reenergize my love for the instrument; organizing one of the most successful online flute events of the pandemic (MA Flute Festival); worked closely with a nutritionist to understand how our bodies break down calories; completed my first full-distance Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.4-mile run); and became obsessed with Formula 1 racing (way to go Max Verstappen!). All while keeping the studio at UMass Amherst fed on an artistic and intellectual diet of music-making.
Tell us about your new appointment? Where were you before, and what inspired the transfer?
I am very excited to transition to Florida State University in the Fall of 2022. Teaching at a Top 20 University with a College of Music consistently ranked as one of the most prestigious programs in the United States is a dream come true.
The resources that students have access to at FSU are unparalleled. The institution is not unique in having two flute professors, but nowhere else can a student genuinely have unrestricted access to two professors for lessons and support. The opportunity to create a highly collaborative and supportive program with the impressive Karen Large is very exciting. Karen is selfless, considerate, nurturing, and an incredible player. She is everything you want in a colleague to create a community that models support and professionalism.
The robust flute community that already exists in Florida also closely aligns with my ethos of our instrument being a tool for connection and friendship. The comprehensive exposure for students to traverso playing, low flutes, actively participating in a flute association at FSU, and the opportunity for me to guide Doctoral students through their studies reflected an environment that my current employment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst could not support.
What are your goals personally? Professionally?
I design my life so that my professional and personal goals are closely intertwined. My main personal goal remains to live a life that would still feel authentic, satisfying, and creative even if I did not have the flute as an outlet. On the other hand, classical music is an art form that equally values innovation and tradition, both facets which I enjoy thoroughly. Therefore, my primary professional goal has always been to pursue projects that I find mentally stimulating, artistically fulfilling and push me to grow as an artist regardless of period or style. Another professional goal is maintaining a high level of proficiency on the instrument, never stagnating but always asking questions to find the shortest path to highly skilled performances.
What inspires you the most in life?
I find selfless acts of kindness, patience, and self-control most inspiring in life. Unfortunately, many individuals have habitually turned toward rudeness and impatience toward others. That translates as unregulated emotional volatility and can also have severe professional impacts. When one can truly master energy around yourself that exudes an extreme amount of grace, I think that is the highest level of existence available to humans.
What has been your greatest challenge personally? Professionally?
The composition of my nervous system reflects that of a fixer and doer. I always gravitate toward the disposition that any problem is just a set of action steps away from being entirely resolved.
With that in mind, the most overwhelming challenge I ever encountered was obtaining United States citizenship. Many natural-born citizens do not know what a visa is, never mind the process of navigating a tremendously complicated, expensive, and slow immigration system with ever-changing policies.
Patience has been my biggest challenge professionally. Trusting those great opportunities will follow if the work is good, but not necessarily on the timeline you hope for, has been a lesson I learned a few times. But, I do believe that everyone has a musical home that will find them.
What is the most exciting thing in your life keeping you busy right now?
Moving to Florida State University provides significant access to a new funding pool for creative endeavors. As a result, I am swimming in a creative wave of thinking up new projects I want to pursue. A few commissions for flute and Tibetan singing bowls, a flute tutor inclusive of all races for the absolute beginner, and organizing the 1st African Flute Festival are all in motion. I am also excited to see what Karen Large and I will be collaborating on once I start at FSU.
One habit you wish you could break?
My TikTok addiction.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
The power of instantaneous healing. Recovering much faster would be a fantastic asset to have. Maybe it is also because I am getting to the age where things are starting to creak and squeak more in my joints than they used to!
What is one thing you wish you knew at 19?
Accumulate intangible things. Gather as many life experiences, significant risks, travel memories, and friendships as your nervous system can handle. Take that trip, make the big move, reach out to the person you find interesting! A wholesome life is a content life!
What is your Spirit Animal?
I owned a horse throughout elementary school and have always felt a connection with this member of the Equestrian family. Horses' strength, athleticism, loyalty, wild spirit, and directed energy are all traits that I find extremely beautiful in the animal.