ArticlesFeaturedIssuesJune 2023

Three Takeaways from Playing at the Met Gala with Lizzo

By Kim Lewis

In early April, in the middle of my work day at the Flute Center of New York, I got a call for a gig I could have only dreamed of. At first, I only knew I was being asked to perform at the Met Gala, and I was already freaking out! As a New Yorker of 8 years, I’ve taken on a love for the yearly parade of celebrities up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in some of the most extravagant clothing anyone has seen in their lives, so it was insane to be asked to be any part of it. When I found out that the headlining performer was pop superstar and flute queen Lizzo, I nearly fell to the floor. The hardest part: I couldn’t tell anyone! The performance and all its details are kept under tight secrecy until the moment it happens, even by those attending the Gala. From the rehearsals to going through fittings, hair, and makeup to the performance, it was a wild experience that I will never forget. Aside from the event itself, there were some deeper takeaways from the experience that I would love to share with the flute community.

Flutes are friends, not foes.

The question I was asked the most after the Met Gala was, “How did you get that gig? Did you have to audition?” The truth is, in some ways, I have been auditioning for years. During my master’s degree at MSM, a prominent Broadway flutist came in to give a masterclass. There was one thing that she told us that really stuck with me. She said, “Look around the room. All of these other flutists are the people you need to be closest with. They will be the ones to get you jobs.” As musicians, we can often feel like we are in a race to the top and have to be the best by defeating anyone that may be standing in our way. The truth is t

hat the people who share our craft are the people that we need to keep closest and forge relationships with. In every school, festival, conference, workshop, concert, job, or gig I’ve been to in the last 13 years, I have loved meeting other flutists that are navigating the same world that I am, who can share empathy, knowledge, experience, and great music making. Creating these connections is one of the elements that led me to play at the Met Gala. When a call was put out for 18 flutists, I was one of the flutists that received that call. When I got to the first rehearsal and saw the other 17 flutists, I was ecstatic to see many faces I had crossed paths with over the years. One of the best parts of the experience was getting to meet new flutists, hang out with flutists that I already knew, and form deeper relationships with flutists that were previously only acquaintances. Our community benefits when we put down our egos and our judgments, make connections be nice and share these experiences with one another.

There are more paths in music than you think.

We are all familiar with the trio of choices we are presented with when deciding to pursue a career in music: teach (K-12, collegiate, or private), perform (make a living off a full-time freelance performance schedule), or play in an orchestra (win a job in a field that’s openings are decreasing along with the pay). And don’t forget to have a “backup plan”! If you don’t see yourself walking down any of those direct paths, it is easy to get discouraged about your potential in the world of music as a whole. What I saw throughout rehearsals leading up to the Met Gala performance was a conglomeration of dozens of musicians with as many different focuses and career paths. From the diversity of the 18 flutists of the flute ensemble to the impressive resumes of those coordinating the musicians and arranging the music, I was inspired at every turn to think outside the career possibility cages we’ve been locked into. 

There is also a stark divide between pursuing a career in “classical” music and other genres such as pop, rock, hip hop, etc. Of course, the most prominent example came from the surprise feature of the Met Gala performance: the duet between Lizzo and Sir James Galway! Can you think of two more genre-estranged musicians? Regardless, they both started the same way - playing the flute - and had an individual vision of a career in music that was best suited for them. The flute is what took them both to the top of their divergent careers, but also ended up uniting them in a single performance.

Your path is unique, valuable, and important.

It is so crucial to know that even if you are not Lizzo or Sir James Galway, you can forge a valuable, meaningful, and fulfilling path in the world of music. 

The persisting assumption when deciding on a career in music is that unless you make it to the top or are the best at what you do, your career has less value. When you make music for a living, your success is often based on the opinions of an audience that approves or disapproves of your output. However, it was evident how every person involved in the production of the Met Gala performance had an equally important role, even if they weren’t the one dancing on a table in a disco ball cape in the middle of a sea of celebrities. As long as you are contributing in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling to you, whatever that path may be, you are contributing to the depth and breadth of the world of music and how it reaches others. Our job as individual musicians is to figure out which unique path we can take to make the most impact on those around us.

Kim Lewis is a New York-based flutist with immense passion as a performer and teacher. As a
soloist, she has performed with the Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Chelsea
Symphony in NYC. Kim received first place in the New Jersey Flute Society Concerto
Competition, as well as the Central Ohio Flute Association Competition. Active in chamber
music, Kim is a founding member of NU, a NYC based woodwind quintet that celebrates and
expands the wind quintet by reimagining repertoire, performance, and the classical music
culture. As a freelance musician in NYC, Kim has performed with the Chelsea Symphony for 8
years. She is also passionate about teaching and has consistently taught private lessons for
over 15 years, working with children through adults. Kim attended Bowling Green State
University, where she studied with Conor Nelson and the Manhattan School of Music, where she
studied with Linda Chesis. She is currently a Resident Flutist and Sales Manager at the Flute
Center of New York.

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