August 2013 Convention
New Orleans, LA

Man in the Street: Flute in the Lobby

Years ago, there used to be special news features where reporters interviewed the “man in the street.” These weren’t the Dave Letterman or Jay Leno “let’s see how dumb the average American is” kind of thing, and they weren’t limited to men. These were sincere attempts to find out what the average American thought about issues that might affect them. In honor of that practice, I went old school at NOLA, just talking to folks who showed up to hear flute ensembles playing in the lobby.

As long-time director of the Houston Flute Choir, I’ve conducted my group in various lobbies; hospital lobbies, university lobbies, festival lobbies, we’ve done it all. As a result I have a deep fellow feeling for the lobby groups. They prepared well and dressed carefully, and they sound good despite poor acoustics and constant noise from passersby who always, always include at least one person with the most abrasive laugh in existence. On the other hand, there are always family and friends to buoy up spirits and music lovers attracted by appealing performances of flute groups.

The University of Texas-Brownsville, from down near the Tex/Mex border, favored convention attendees with a small flute ensemble and, later, a guitar ensemble. Bystanders stopped in their tracks as the music caught their ear. People on their way to exhibits or sessions or sight-seeing took a few precious moments just to enjoy the music on offer in the third floor lobby. Both ensembles of engaging students were certainly worth the time.

Orquesta de las Américas

Orquesta de las Américas brought a huge number of players together from several South American countries. Before they started, I chatted with Linn Annett Ernø, a board member for the three-year old Norwegian Flute Society. So far, there aren’t many flute choirs in Norway, but Linn Annett made it clear that they are growing in popularity. The one to which she belongs is the largest in the country, with around 20 members. “Do they play in lobbies?” I asked. She said no, “But I like it. We have conventions in schools and churches.”

At this point the Orquesta got started. Beginning with the beloved North American hymn “Amazing Grace,” the program then celebrated the flutists’ own cultures. They dressed in basic black with brightly colored sashes draped over shoulders, tied around waists, hanging from necks and music stands.

Music from Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil and a Canadian arrangement of a mambo theme had the audience swaying to enticing beats. Of course, this was Latin music, so the flutes were supplemented by a grooving percussion section. Claves, drum set, guiro, with contrabass flutes swinging like tubas in a marching band—the infectious rhythms clicked easily into place even when this massive group zipped lightly through the intricate rhythms of composer Ernesto Nazareth.

Orquesta de Flautas de las Américas Concert

Adrian Dee, a flutist with the Newport Symphony in Oregon, hadn’t attended a flute convention in twenty years. He joked, “I feel like Rip Van Winkle.” He had never played in a lobby, but while taking a break from enjoying his time with the Jambalaya Flute Ensemble, he noted, “What a wonderful thing, to pull together all these people.” I caught up with a buddy of mine, Ema Armanious, a flutist and flute choir director in Houston, as she kept track of repertoire she might want to use with her groups. She considered for a moment before saying, “It’s so important to hear the singing, ringing of the flute sound in open public spaces.” She saw the lobby players as ambassadors for the flutists and the flute, getting us outside our bubble and out in the world, letting others know what a special instrument we play.

Cheers, saludos, congrats, gratulasjoner, felicitations, shuugi! to all the lobby playing groups. Our musical ambassadors are doing us proud. Whenever you can, stop by and listen.

—Yvonne Kendall

photography by Yvonne Kendall and Brian Covington