In the early 1990’s, I was sitting in the front row of my High School band room with the rest of the flute players. I had no plans to become a professional musician, so I didn’t give much thought to playing after graduation. A little over twenty years later, I find myself wishing I’d kept up with my playing.
The Olympia Flute Choir is a group of local musicians, ranging from hobbyists to professionals, who gather together a few times each year to perform. The upcoming “Flutes in the Rotunda” concert on Mother’s Day is one of their favorites.
Jan Frampton Hillman began playing the flute in the fifth grade. She says, “They let us pick an instrument and I picked clarinet, but there were already too many. The band director told me that I had a perfect flute lip and he convinced me to play the flute.”
Jan, one of the longest active members, says the Mother’s Day concert has been around about as long as the Flute Choir has, though it was originally a partnership with musicians from Central Washington University. Other groups like the Rose City Flute Choir have participated over the years and guest musicians are often invited to join. There have been as many as thirty flutists some years, but there is a core group of nine or ten.
Judy King is one of those core members. She has been playing since fourth grade and she played actively through graduate school. Judy took a little time off when her children were young, but eventually got back to it after learning about the Olympia Flute Choir from a friend. “I wanted to enjoy music in my leisure time and I have found that I fit in well, though I don’t have a degree in music,” she says. “It’s a hobby now and a really fun one. Having several concerts per year and opportunities to play with instrumentalists that play different types of instruments is great.”
In the Flute Choir, those instruments include traditional C flutes, as well as altos, bases, and piccolos. In past years, there has been piano accompaniment during the Mother’s Day Concert, but this year they will be joined by a string bass, which the players feel is a great complement to the flutes. Many of the flutists play more than one instrument, too. “I really like the range, so it’s not all just C flutes, it’s got the other voices which makes it a tighter ensemble,” Judy shares.
Jan’s first band director had an alto flute that she coveted. “It was too big for me when I started, but I told myself I would learn to play one someday,” she recalls. She now plays both the C flute and alto after purchasing an alto from choir member Anne Lundquist’s father.
The Olympia Flute Choir is conducted by Diana Appler, a retired Army First Sergeant who has been playing clarinet for 50 years and has a Masters in Conducting from Central Washington University. She retired from the 56th Army Band and went on to become the manager and associate conductor of the American Legion Band for ten years, before stepping down in December. She is still the conductor and manager for the Capital Area Concert Band and has been conducting the Olympia Flute Choir for the last seven years or so. “They keep asking me back and I’m very proud,” she says.
This year, Diana has arranged one of the pieces the choir will be performing. It was originally written as a flute solo with a jazz band accompaniment, so she enjoyed transposing it just for flutes. The rest of the music was selected by the group. “Our group uses a consensus process for things we think would sound good in the Rotunda and have the right number of parts for the different flutes we have,” says Judy. “We have a few pieces we play every year because they’re favorites. We have a sponsor this year, Mansion Glass, so we’re playing a piece called “Stained Glass Images.”
Some of Jan’s past favorite pieces are those that have a personal connection to the choir. Founding member Nancy Curtis wrote a piece called “Resonance” that she particularly enjoys. She says “it’s beautiful because it goes back and forth and you can sort of stop and hear the music as you’re playing.” She also liked playing “Capital Rain” by local musician Nathan Jensen. Jan’s son Izaak Mills is a professional musician who wrote a piece called “Rachel’s Peace,” in honor of his friend Rachel Corrie. Rachel’s mother, Cindy, also played in the Flute Choir in the past.
Olympia’s Capitol Rotunda offers a special sound for the concert. “It has a seven second delay, so it’s like an echo,” says Jan. “Years and years ago, most music was religious and was written for cathedrals. It would purposely go with the delay that happens in a cathedral.” The rotunda has many of the same properties, so they can choose music that plays on the unique sound.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to create unique sounds, especially in an ensemble, so for me it is aesthetically pleasing,” says Judy.
Jan adds, “When I’m playing music that has all of these wonderful harmonies, I always say that I’m rearranging my molecules…it’s just a beautiful, positive, wonderful feeling.”
If you’re interested in joining the Flute Choir, there is an audition process to ensure that you’re at a comfortable level to play with the group. Although it’s probably not a fit for beginners, the range of abilities beyond that is quite wide. “Everybody is considered an equal,” says Diana. “Everyone gets a chance to play some of the “better” parts and some of the background parts. We switch around. It’s just a fun group. Lively, energetic, enthused about making music and doing the best they can.”
“Flutes in the Rotunda” will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Mother’s Day, May 14, and is free and open to the public. There is general seating on the Rotunda stairs, as well as some chairs available for those with mobility challenges.
The Olympia Flute Choir is a 501(c)3 non-profit that relies on member dues and donations. Donations can be sent to:
Olympia Flute Choir
1212 Olympia Ave NE
Olympia, WA 98506