IssuesJuly 2024

Artist Interview with Stephen Schultz


Stephen Schultz, called “among the most flawless artists on the Baroque flute" by the San Jose Mercury News and “flute extraordinaire” by the New Jersey Star-Ledger, plays solo and Principal flute with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Musica Angelica, the Carmel Bach Festival, Oregon Bach Festival, and Bach Collegium San Diego. He has also performed with other leading Early music groups such as Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Apollo's Fire, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Wiener Akademie, Chatham Baroque, Cantata Collective, and at the Oregon and Carmel Bach Festivals. Concert tours have taken him throughout Europe and North and South America with featured appearances at the Musikverein in Vienna, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Royal Albert Hall in London, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Carnegie Hall, and the Library of Congress.

A graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Holland, Schultz also holds several degrees from the California Institute of the Arts and the California State University of San Francisco. Currently he teaches Music History at Carnegie Mellon university and is director of the Carnegie Mellon Baroque Ensemble. Mr. Schultz has also been a featured faculty member of the Jeanne Baxtresser International Flute Master Class at Carnegie Mellon University and has taught at the Juilliard School and the International Baroque Institute at Longy School of Music.

Can you share the story of how you began your journey as a baroque flutist? What drew you to this specific period of music?

I started playing flute at age 9, in 4th grade band and orchestra. As I started college, I was always drawn to 18th century music. I loved the openness and freshness of Baroque music and I loved anything that was a fugue. I heard a recording of Baroque flute and fell in love with the sound. Beautiful wooden and warm and I went to Holland to continue my studies.

Who have been your greatest influences in your musical career, and how have they shaped your approach to playing the baroque flute?

Studying in the Hague in the 1970s, I was among the first generation of American students learning from the master musicians of the historically informed movement, Frans Vester on modern flute and Bart Kuijken on Baroque flute. When I came back to America and started my career in the early 1980s, I exclusively played the Baroque flute.

When did you first notice the symptoms of hearing loss, and how did it initially impact your music career?

In 2002, as a lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University, I noticed it became more difficult to hear students’ questions from the back of the large classroom. I was teaching a class on the Beatles for 200 students. I went to an ear doctor, was tested, and was told I had Otosclerosis. An inherited disease of hearing loss that affects the bones of the middle ear. I was in denial for a few years because I was worried how this would affect my career and people’s view of me. I got hearing aids, but had long hair back then and no one could see them.

There's a significant stigma that hearing loss means the end of a musician's career. How did you confront and overcome this outdated belief within the music industry?

I decided to finally get hearing aids and it made a world of difference. Most aids are meant for clearer speaking voices, so I brought in my flute to my audiologist and we worked a lot on getting a good, natural sound of the flute, without feedback or tinniness. After wearing different aids, I cut my hair short, so the aids were now noticeable to my friends and colleagues. 

What specific adaptations or techniques have you developed to continue performing at such a high level despite your hearing loss?

Having gone through a number of different hearing aids, on a recommendation from my audiologist Dr. Ray Crookston, I now wear Widex Moment 440s. They are fantastic for listening to music and flute sounds. Getting the perfect setting so my flute sounds natural and I can hear all the other musicians around me, we came up with a special setting called “Concert”. It works brilliantly. 

How important has your support system been, both personally and professionally, in helping you navigate your career with hearing loss?

My wife and family and close friends have been extremely supportive and ever since I decided to make my hearing loss known to my colleagues and the public, everyone has been great. Lots of conversations, with many of my colleagues admitting to me of their own hearing issues. I have been happy to guide them towards a better hearing experience. It’s not just in rock bands where people lose their hearing. Classical orchestra can be extremely loud and damaging to ears if protection isn’t used. Musician earplugs or plastic shielding.

Have there been any technological advancements or innovations that have particularly helped you in managing your hearing loss while performing?

Just finding a hearing aid that deals so well with musical sounds. That’s the most important issue. And my Widex aids have all the bells/whistles I need for my hearing loss. Using the phone app to control the aids is remarkable. It is a very deep program that can be tweaked in many ways to meet your listening needs, depending on what environment you are in.

How do you advocate for other musicians facing similar challenges? What message do you hope to convey to the music community about hearing loss?

Everyone should go get their hearing tested and not live in denial like I did. If you need aids, get them. Things sound SO much better and your family and friends will thank you.

Looking back on your illustrious career, what are some of your most memorable performances or collaborations?

As principal flute in Philharmonia Baroque and Musica Angelica and the Oregon and Carmel Bach Festivals, over the last 42 years I have played in many great concerts. Playing Handel’s Sweet Bird aria with the great Mark Morris Dance Co, performing the St. Matthew Passion throughout Europe and Latin America, playing gorgeous Bach cantata flute arias with the Cantata Collective of Berkeley, and many more. Also recording the Bach flute sonatas and Couperin’s Concert Royaux have been incredibly rewarding experiences.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians, particularly those who may be dealing with hearing loss or other physical challenges?

Just do it! Get tested and get hearing aids if you need them. In the end it will only enrich your musical and human experiences and you’ll be able to more fully hear the beautiful sounds all around us.

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