August 2012 Convention
Las Vegas, NV

Breakfast with Walfrid Kujala

Walfrid Kujala speaking on a "Feast of Ideas"

Walfrid Kujala spoke to a packed room for the third annual Teacher’s Breakfast, sponsored by the NFA Pedagogy Committee. Kujala’s topic was mentoring. The audience might have anticipated stories about his mentoring of students at Northwestern, but instead he spoke about the people who had mentored him during his career. After 50 years of teaching, many of Kujala’s students at NU and other places went on to be successful flutist and teachers, so trying to name any of those at the breakfast would undoubtedly have been quite a phonebook-reading experience, and would hazardously omit good names.

The first mentor Kujala discussed was his own father, Arvo Ausgust “Gus” Kujala. While a bassoonist, Dad “Gus” provided a wealth of foundation training on all matters of music.

Kujala limited the rest of his comments to on-the-job mentoring, as opposed to mentoring provided to him as a student by private teachers. Even though some were private instructors prior to professional collaboration, Wally’s remarks were intended to underscore the function of this professional peer guidance. He learned the ropes from those around him, even many non-flutists. Wally’s application of the term “mentoring” meant helpful guidance on a somewhat informal, non-structured, gratis, sort of “being there” basis.

Walfrid Kujala

Parker Taylor was Wally’s first teacher in West Virginia, who also worked as a mentor on the job when a teenaged Wally had his first professional opportunities. Teaching in the private studio was one thing; guidance on the job, a different function.

Joseph Mariano was in fact Wally’s teacher at Eastman, but in terms of mentoring, Wally cited Mariano’s on-the-job, in-the-section guidance sitting next to him in the Rochester Philharmonic. Wally also spoke extensively about the mentoring he received from Ray Still, first Oboe of the Chicago Symphony.

Just as time was running out, Wally’s son Steve approached the podium to suggest that Wally discuss his own mentoring of Louise Dixon, a former student who became the second flutist of the Chicago Symphony in the early 1970s. Dixon entered during a stressful period in the CSO woodwind setup, and Wally mentored her into a comfortable sense of belonging. (He was generous and skillful at guiding other new Chicago Symphony members through the tenure phase, as well.) This was a completely different mentoring function from his role as Dixon’s teacher while she was a master’s candidate at Northwestern. Louise Dixon served as a major example of how the ever-modest Wally served as a mentor himself.

At the close of Walfrid Kujala’s talk, he was met with enthusiastic applause that would have continued indefinitely had it not been drawn to a close as people pulled themselves away to move forward in their day of convention activities. It was an honor to be in his presence as he spoke about his life.

—Stacey Steele

photos by Brian Covington