Olympia Flute Choir Creates a Mother’s Day Tradition

olympia mothers day
The Olympia Flute Choir has been performing a Mother's Day concert inside the Rotunda since the late 1990s.


By Tom Rohrer

color graphics logoThe marble staircases, sculpted walls and impressive dome makes the Washington State Capitol Building Rotunda a beautiful structure.

However, the rotunda has qualities extending beyond its aesthetic beauty.

Thanks to the open space and sturdy marbles surfaces, sound is extenuated and able to linger (in a good way), making the rotunda an ideal venue for a concert.

On Sunday, May 11, the Olympia Flute Choir will hold their annual mothers-day concert, a tradition that dates back to the early 1990s.  Catch a YouTube video of last year’s performance here.

olympia mothers day
The Olympia Flute Choir has been performing a Mother’s Day concert inside the Rotunda since the late 1990s.

The concert is free and will begin at 1:30 p.m on Sunday.  With a favorable forecast (fingers crossed) on tap for Sunday, a family walk on the spectacular Capitol Grounds could be highlighted by the concert.

“It’s music everyone can enjoy in a setting everyone can appreciate,” said Olympia Flute Choir member Ellen Silverman, who has been playing with the group since the late 1990s. “People like to walk up to the different levels because the sound varies so much.  It’s pretty incredible to listen to.”

Lifelong flutist, Nancy Curtis, has been Involved since the inception of the Mother’s Day performances in the early 1990s.  An Olympia resident since 1979, Curtis inspired by the setting of the concert.

“It’s a unique (concert) and that space goes well with flute sound and produces such a pure sound,” said Curtis, who performs in Olympia throughout the year.  “The way the sound hangs in air is really unique. (The rotunda) is a special phonic space that people like to take in.”

Curtis will be joined by a collection of local flutists, a percussionist and a string bassist.  Flutes in use during the concert range from the piccolo to the bass and the well-known “C-Flute.”  Music is selected and composed to accommodate the large group and the acoustics of the Rotunda.

“In that space, the sound hangs in the air for 2-3 seconds after it comes out.  So, we don’t want (the music) to clash with the sound already out there,” Curtis said.  “It’s what we call lower moving music.  When I wrote my piece (which was performed at the 1998 concert), I wrote rests into it, so people could hear the sound hanging there.”

olympia flute choir
Members of the Olympia Flute Choir play together year round.

“It takes a commitment to play as an ensemble and you have to have willingness to create space where everyone’s voice is heard and where each player is paying attention to the others,” said Silverman.

The group looks to perform new music annually in order to provide the audience and the ensemble with a fresh sound.  This year, the Olympia Flute Choir will be performing original pieces by a pair of Tacoma composers along with a collection of carefully examined pieces.

“It takes a fair amount of listening and work,” said Silverman.  “Our conductor Diana Appler points stuff out if it’s not in balance.  Others take a leadership role and it’s never a blame thing.  Everything is positive and collaborative.”

The carefully selected music and ideal venue has turned the concert into a popular concert event in the area.

Silverman estimates as many as 200 people took in the concert one year and that the attendance rarely dips below 75 over the course of the hour and fifteen minute performance.  Seeing an event she helped create turn into such a tradition has been an accomplishment for Curtis.

“You see the mothers come in and sometimes it’s the same faces and other times new,” said Curtis, who began playing the flute as a fifth grader in band class.  “I feel very proud to see what it has become.”

For a newer member of the group like Silverman, the performance is always special.

“This is a special group that wants to produce something for the benefit of the community,” said Silverman.  “Just playing together, hearing that sound hang and seeing the audience enjoy it, it’s a special feeling for us.”

You can find the Olympia Flute Choir in the Capitol Rotunda on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Photos courtesy Olympia Flute Choir.


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