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From Quito to Kansas: Talking with Daniel Velasco

Flute Talk Editors | April 2020

    Daniel Velasco is the Assistant Professor of Flute at the University of Kansas and flutist with the NuDeco Ensemble. He was the first prize winner of several competitions including the 2008 National Flute Association’s Young Artist Competition. Velasco served on the faculty at the University of Akron and was a member of the Solaris Woodwind Quintet. He was appointed chair of the NFA Young Artist Competition in 2018. Velasco earned degrees from the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Michigan, and the University of Miami. His principal teachers were Angeleita Floyd, Marianne Gedigian, Amy Porter, and Trudy Kane. He was the first prize winner of the 2009 WAMSO Minnesota Orchestra Competition, the 2009 Claude Monteux Flute Competition, and the 2010 MTNA National Young Artist Competition, and 2nd prize winner of the 2013 William C. Byrd Competition. He is a Yamaha Performing Artist.

What led you to the flute?

    I grew up in Quito, Ecuador in a family of non-musicians. My father is a chemical engineer, and my mother is a part-time accountant and homemaker. When my older sister and I were about eight and six, my mother started looking for extracurricular activities for us to explore. We took some tests, and it was determined that my sister had a facility for physical activities, and I was more adept at music or the visual arts. My sister ended up enrolling in ballet at the National Institute of Dance, and I started at the National Conservatory of Music.
    The first three years at the conservatory were mostly devoted to solfege, dictation, recorder and choir. After successful completion of this introductory phase, we were expected to choose an instrument and start private lessons. My initial desire was to play the piano. However, there were not enough piano teachers, and it was required to have a piano at home. We did not own a piano, so I turned to my solfege teacher for advice. She suggested the flute. Señorita Fanny Andrade thought that I was really good at the recorder, and I remember her saying, “If you play the piano, you will rarely get a chance to play in the orchestra. But if you play the flute, they need at least two of you!”
    My first flute teacher was Luis Carrera, and I started lessons with him at nine years old. Luis was a young flutist at the time, still in his early twenties, and I believe that I was his first student. In many ways it was like being a first child. I received so much attention and amazing information from him: recordings, scores, flute magazines, books, etc. His love for the instrument was contagious, and I cherished my time with him.
    At the time, the French school of flute playing was the model for us in Ecuador. That meant that we had to get through the entire Taffanel et Gaubert and Altés Complete Method Books by the time we graduated from the conservatory. I particularly enjoyed my Altés exercises, as I would get to play them with my teacher on the second flute part.
    As I went through my education at the conservatory, I also had the opportunity to become involved with the Festival Internacional de Flautistas en la Mitad del Mundo. This is an international flute festival organized by Luciano Carrera, the most notable flutist in Ecuador (and Luis’s father). Every year Luciano invites flutists from all over the world to Quito for a week of recitals, masterclasses, and flute choir. This festival was crucial for me to be able to have an idea of what the level of flute playing was outside of Ecuador, and it gave me the opportunity to meet Angeleita Floyd, who would become my teacher and mentor in the United States.
    Competitions were an important influence in my early years. The Festival Internacional de Flautistas en la Mitad del Mundo organized its first competition in 2002, and I was named the winner and given the opportunity to travel to Italy and study in Rome, Pescara, and Chieti. This was my first time travelling outside of Ecuador, and I still remember being overwhelmed with everything about this experience. A newfound love for travelling came out of it as well.
    During my high school years, I was selected to be a part of the Latin American Youth Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela. This orchestra of young musicians from all over Latin American and the Caribbean was conducted by Claudio Abbado and Gustavo Dudamel. Being part of this massive orchestra and playing Debussy’s La Mer and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 under Abbado is something that I will never forget. It inspired me to pursue a career in music.
    From the beginning, I have been fortunate to have the support of my parents, especially my mother. I never took this for granted, as I saw many of my peers having to go in different paths because of the opposition of their parents. Choosing a career in music always seems risky, especially in Ecuador, where music is only slowly being considered a serious profession.

How did you decide where to continue your studies?

    The process was difficult. At the time, some schools were still figuring out their websites, and it was hard to find all the information needed online. I relied heavily on my teachers’ guidance. Unless you have a lot of money, it is practically impossible to do school visits and sample lessons when you live in a different country from where you want to study. Fortunately, Luciano Carrera’s yearly flute festival allowed me to take lessons with many of the flutists who came to the festival, including Angeleita Floyd.
    I started my undergraduate studies with her in 2005 at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. It was the first place I had seen in the United States, and I experienced a strong culture shock. My English was terrible, the winters were rough, and there were no mountains. (Quito is surrounded by incredibly beautiful, snow-capped mountains.) However, I was surrounded by some of the kindest people I have ever met.
    The resources I had access to at UNI were vast, especially coming from Ecuador where music libraries are extremely limited. I tell this to my students all the time. I checked out as many CDs, DVDs and scores from the library as was allowed. I watched opera DVDs over the weekend, returned them, and went back for more. It was wonderful.
    I trusted my teacher 100% and practiced many hours to accomplish what was asked of me. Angeleita became an important figure in my life. As a teacher she was kind, nurturing, and very demanding. I model a lot of my own teaching after what I saw in her. She created an environment in her flute studio that was cordial, constructive, and competitive, and always left room for fun and wonderful flute parties.
    Lessons were very structured and included tone, technique, etudes and pieces in every one. I was encouraged to organize my practice sessions this way as well. This is very productive method for undergraduates, who are in the process of building strong fundamentals.
    Another important part of the curriculum was flute choir. Every studio member was expected to perform, and we were given challenging pieces. My favorites were arrangements of well-known symphonic pieces, including Mozart or Rossini overtures, movements from a Mendelssohn, Dvorák, or Haydn symphony, or Vivaldi concertos. When it came time for me to perform these pieces in orchestra, I had a level of comfort and familiarity with the music because of the intensive work we did during flute choir.
    At this time, and for a long time after my undergraduate studies, I did not have a clear idea of what exactly I wanted to do professionally. I wanted to become the best flutist I could be, but I had not thought about whether I wanted to play in an orchestra, teach, or be a soloist. I started entering competitions from the moment I arrived in the U.S., but nothing was really happening until my junior year when I won the School of Music concerto competition followed by the Presser Scholarship competition. Then, I was selected to participate in the NFA Young Artist Competition and won 1st prize at the 2008 NFA Convention in Kansas City. In 2009 I won the WAMSO Minnesota Orchestra Competition and the Monteux Flute Competition in Indianapolis. This was by far the best year of my life! Winning the NFA competition opened many doors for me. The exposure that one gets from being featured at this event is wonderful.

Where did you attend graduate school?

    I went on to pursue a master’s degree with Marianne Gedigian at the University of Texas. Having the opportunity to attend Marianne’s performances on a regular basis in Austin was such a privilege and an infinite source of inspiration.
    An important revelation came to me when I started my specialist degree (artist diploma) at the University of Michigan. After I was accepted, I received a call from Amy Porter letting me know that her current DMA student had gotten an offer to join the New World Symphony, so the teaching assistantship was open, and she needed me to step in. I quickly accepted although until then I had never taught flute lessons and was a little uncomfortable about having to do so. I started teaching non-majors who were interested in flute lessons at the University of Michigan and realized that I loved sharing the ideas that I had been working on for so many years. Seeing them work on other people was extremely fulfilling, and that is what ultimately led me to pursue a doctoral degree after I finished at Michigan.
    I believe that every teacher I have had has come at the right time and for the right reasons in my life. My last teacher was no exception. Trudy Kane was crucial for me being able to transition from being a good student into a professional, ready to win a job. When I came to Trudy, I was already a good player, knew the repertoire, and had a decent resume. What I was lacking was the confidence and the right mindset to know that I was ready for a job. After some successes in my undergraduate years, I went through a phase of questioning what I had accomplished and even my potential to continue in a career in music. One summer I even looked into starting engineering school back in Ecuador. All of this affected my playing and state of mind.
    Trudy was committed to reminding me that what I had to say musically was important, and that I needed to get back to that. She is a nurturing teacher with a sixth sense about what people need to hear. I admire her ability to know exactly what to say to help students. I find myself quoting her often.

With KU colleagues Erin Wood and Boris Vayner for Kansas Public Radio at the Lawrence Public Library, October 2018.

    Studying with Trudy also gave me the opportunity to learn and relearn all of the orchestral excerpts in much more depth, including opera excerpts. Her expertise from her many years performing in the MET Orchestra was shared generously with us. We had rigorous classes and mock auditions addressing all major excerpts, including piccolo solos and lesser known pieces. The thoughtfulness and level of detail (and tricks) that Trudy shared with us is something that I am fortunate to have and happily share with my students now.

What were your experiences as a young professional performer?

    During my time in Miami I started to work professionally with many of the South Florida orchestras. I was offered full seasons with the Florida Grand Opera and the Palm Beach Symphony, and started as a founding member with the NuDeco Ensemble, a genre-bending chamber orchestra. All of this helped me build up the confidence I needed to believe in my strengths again. I put together a good set of materials to apply for jobs that resulted in my first teaching position at the University of Akron. In 2018, I became the flute professor at the University of Kansas.

What advice do you have for high school students getting ready to apply for college?

    I advise all aspiring high school students to take trial lessons and visit the schools that interest them. I enjoy meeting prospective students who come to the University of Kansas for a lesson. It is a good opportunity to share ideas on what to work on as they get ready. The way they implement (or not) these ideas by the time of their audition becomes an important factor in my decision making.
    Many schools of music offer honor band festivals or summer camps that give high school students a chance to be on campus, play in the ensembles, take private lessons with the college flute professor, and get an idea of the daily life of a music major. At KU we have a wonderful program called Prairie Winds Festival that takes place every year in early February. Prairie Winds participants are promising high school flutists who are often interested in our undergraduate programs. They can even schedule their audition during the festival. We also offer a summer camp called Midwestern Music Camp. This summer music festival offers intensive work for a full week on campus and has been a KU tradition since 1936.

With the KU Flute Studio

What are the benefits of entering competitions and how do you prepare?

    I have been interested in competitions from an early age. During college, I would take breaks from practice sessions and walk around the halls perusing the boards of the faculty offices to find as many competitions to enter as possible. I have always approached competitions as a way to advance my career by making connections, learning new repertoire, and getting exposure. Another nice incentive was the cash prizes which allowed me to purchase my first computer and fly home for the holidays.
    I prepared for these competitions the same way that I prepared for any other performance. I tried to memorize as many of the pieces as possible. I had a strict daily schedule of tone exercises from the Trevor Wye Tone Book, scales (Moyse Daily Exercises), an etude or two, and then the repertoire.
    When I entered the Minnesota Orchestra WAMSO competition, I happened to be in Quito for the holidays during the three weeks leading up to the semifinal round in Minneapolis. Quito at 9,350 feet is one of the highest capitals in the world. This was really good for my breath capacity and allowed me to prepare like an athlete would do to run a marathon. I played my repertoire over and over so many times that when my parents were driving me to the airport, they were whistling the Jolivet concerto!
    Not advancing or placing in a competition was hard at first. All of the work seemed to mean nothing. However, once I recognized the amount of talent that is out there and the subjective nature of what we do, it made it easier to handle. Rejection is a huge part of the life of a musician, and competitions certainly prepared me for the process of job applications and orchestral auditions.

What are your goals?

    I have a wide range of goals that I think is reflective of the type of career that I have. First, I am a flute professor, and my goal is to be as helpful, thoughtful, and supportive as I can in shaping my students’ careers. I enjoy the time I spend with my students and consider it a privilege to be a part of their lives.
    As a flutist from Ecuador, my goal is to make the music of Ecuadorian composers better known in the U.S. To that end, I am working on my first solo album that will feature pieces by Gerardo Guevara, Leonardo Cárdenas, Jacinto Freire, Sixto María Durán, and others, who have written beautiful works that should be heard and played. To complement this project, I am also working on publishing editions of all this music to make them available to the public. I also just wrapped up a recording project with my colleagues at KU on the music of Ecuadorian composer Luis Humberto Salgado. This prolific Ecuadorian composer is the subject of the research of my colleague and musicologist, Ketty Wong, who is from Guayaquil, Ecuador.
    I also want to be able to give back to the younger generations of Ecuadorian flutists. I am delighted to be a part of Luciano Carrera’s International Flute Festival in Quito as a guest every year. Supporting Luciano’s vision is important to me, and I know that many of my friends who were able to pursue flute careers through this festival feel the same way.
    I am also becoming involved in other projects in music education in Ecuador, including the Festival Internacional de Música de Guaranda. This is a relatively new summer orchestral academy that offers full tuition to three flute fellows every year and the opportunity to study with excellent faculty from around the world. The festival will be touring Panama, Colombia and Ecuador this summer.
    I am also involved with the Festival Internacional de Flautistas Perla del Pacífico. This new flute festival takes place in Guayaquil, the most populous city in Ecuador. I participated for the first time as a guest artist last year, and it was a rewarding experience of giving back and playing for the public of Guayaquil.
    I also want to continue to perform in the orchestra as much as possible. I often substitute with the Kansas City Symphony (only a 40-minute drive from Lawrence), and I have been a member of Miami’s NuDeco Ensemble since its creation in 2015. I am committed to this wonderful group and travel to Miami about six times a year. NuDeco is starting an education program called NuDeco Next to train young orchestral players from South Florida. During the summers I perform in the orchestra for the Utah Festival Opera in Logan. I have been working with this group for four years now and enjoy the camaraderie as well as the opportunity to spend the summer in the mountains.
    Lastly, as part of my recruitment efforts, I have been visiting universities in the U.S. and abroad where I offer masterclasses and solo recitals. I enjoy meeting other flute professors and students from all kinds of backgrounds. It is very enriching, and my goal is to continue developing a network of flutists and musicians all around the world.

Masterclass for the Greater Cleveland Flute Society Fall Festival, November 2018.

How do you determine recital programs for your students?

    I try to make sure that there is enough diversity of styles and that the program is appropriate for the level of the student. I think that students should play at least one unaccompanied piece and one chamber piece and that they speak about the music. Adding a piccolo or alto flute piece is always a nice way of adding variety. Many of my music therapy and music education students learn to play a variety of instruments throughout their time at KU. It has been wonderful to see some of them include a short piece in which they play the harp, guitar, or percussion on their recitals.
    For studio class performances, my students are all encouraged to research the composers’ lives, the historical context of the creation of the piece, and any other relevant information that might enhance the experience for the listener. It is really interesting to see what they find, and many of them give in-depth presentations that we all learn a lot from.

What advice do you offer to graduating DMA flutists about finding a job?

    I think that in order to be qualified for a teaching job it is important to have a level of comfort with being a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral performer and also be familiar with contemporary music. Students should start checking all of these boxes as early as possible. That way their credentials will not look like those of a good student who has just graduated, but rather those of a young professional who has been active in the field for a few years.
    One of the most difficult rounds to get through for a teaching position is the first one. Committees review over a hundred applications in some cases. Think about important parts of your resume to highlight that might grab their attention and encourage them to keep looking through your materials. These might include prestigious schools you have attended, study with well-known teachers, success in national or international competitions, success in orchestral auditions, prestigious summer festivals, recordings made, current positions, and students’ successes.
    It is also important to create a network of people and develop a good reputation of being an excellent professional and colleague wherever you go. There probably will not be any flutists on the search committee, so be sure to get to know musicians outside of the flute world.
    One way to do this is through summer festivals. As a result of some of my competitions, I was given scholarships to attend orchestral festivals. I still keep in touch with many of the people that I met during these intensive weeks of performing, living, and touring together, and people like Richard Sherman and Leone Buyse have become mentors and cherished role models.
    Word spreads quickly, both positively and negatively, so keeping a high standard in any professional situation will go a long way. It is remarkable how often a comment from a former colleague, classmate, or teacher will help you advance or get a second look from a search committee.
    Crafting a concise but informative cover letter is also crucial. This might be one of the few materials that receives the full attention of a committee. Make sure that it is well written and offers a complete summary of what you are all about. Include a section about your accomplishments, teaching philosophy, reasons for applying, what you can offer to that particular program, and so on. A page, or a page and a half is probably a good length. Common mistakes that are easy to avoid include avoiding spelling errors, writing the correct name of the institution and position, and directing it to the right person.
    A few jobs open every year, and while the field is very competitive, it is helpful to think that someone will be winning those jobs and that someone might be you. I like to stay optimistic and things tend to fall into place.

My Daily Warmup

Begin on Low C and overblow to the octave. Then slur from the octave into the real fingering. Continue partial to partial alternating the harmonic fingering with the real fingering ascending and descending. Repeat chromatically ascending.

Marcel Moyse De La Sonorite
No. 1, descending to low B, quarter note = 52, with six vibrato cycles per beat.

Taffanel & Gaubert 17 Big Daily Exercises, No. 4
First with breath attacks (Hah), then followed by all articulation patterns plus double tonguing. Whole note = 76.

Favorite Etudes
(In the order I teach)
1. 18 Etudes for the Flute by Tranquille Berbiguier
2. 24 Studies, Op. 33 by Joachim Andersen
3. 8 Etudes de Salon by Johannes Donjon
3. 30 Caprices by Sigfrid Karg-Elert
4. 14 Arabesque Etudes by Eugène Bozza
5. 24 Caprices by Niccolo Paganini