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Professional Flute in Utah – An Interview with April Clayton

Victoria Jicha | February 2009

     April Clayton has an incredible heritage, both personally and musically. Her great-great-great grandfather, William Clayton,  was Brigham Young’s friend and secretary on the 1847 trek across the plains from Nauvoo, Illinois to what would become Salt Lake City, Utah. On that journey William Clayton wrote the words to the most famous and popular Mormon hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints.” April now hears the first line of that hymn every day, emanating from the bell tower as it chimes the hour on the Brigham Young University campus where she works. The first classes of Utah’s other major college, the University of Utah, were held in the home of her great-great-great grandfather John Pack, an ancestor on another side of the family.
     Music has run in Clayton’s bloodline for over a century, right down through her parents. “My dad has a doctorate in physics from Cornell University, but he is also a very good amateur pianist. He is funny about playing the piano these days because he doesn’t want to be heard playing, now that he has children who are musicians.
     “My earliest musical training, however, was with my mom. I remember vividly my mother sitting at the piano with my older brother while she gave him ear training lessons. He would face away from the piano so he couldn’t see it, and she would play a note, tell him the name of it, and ask him to name the next note that she played. I was about two or three years old and remember thinking, ‘When will it be my turn to do that with mom?’”
     Clayton’s younger brother, Christopher, is also a musician. He earned his degrees in voice at the Manhattan School of Music and just completed a Young Artist program with Portland Opera. In the Fall of 2008 he sang the role of Schaunard in La Boehme with the Milwaukee Opera.
     Clayton started Suzuki violin when she was three. “It felt more like playing than taking lessons, which is the best way to learn music I think.” A year later she began piano lessons. “One day I was picking out tunes on the piano, and my mom asked if I would like to learn to play. Because my mother’s family didn’t have much money, she only took piano lessons every other week, and most of her piano background is self-taught. She also taught herself to play guitar and because she had very nice voice, she became a voice major in college. She is a very intelligent musician and was very good about teaching us kids.”
By age nine Clayton switched from studying piano with her mother to working with Douglas Humpherys, who now chairs the piano department at the Eastman School of Music. “He was teaching at Brigham Young University then, and I was lucky that my mom knew the ropes well enough to find me a good teacher.” At about the same time Clayton began to play the flute. 
     “My first teacher was Stephanie Kirkham, the Bountiful High School principal flute, who was a friend of my sister’s. After a year I started studying with Marcia Bramble, who played in the Utah Symphony. In a few years, she passed me on to Elaine Jorgensen, and I studied with her throughout high school.”
     By her own admission, Clayton took off early on flute. She was 11 when she heard the Ibert flute and Copland piano concertos for the first time. “I fell in love with them and learned to play both.” She won the Utah State Fair Competition at age 13 – a remarkable feat because there was no division for her age group. She had to compete in the high school division for ages 15-18 and won with the Ibert Concerto performed from memory.
     “Band wasn’t a big deal at my high school. The choir was the place to be. I was in band for only one semester. I was just bored there, so I switched to choir, sang in the chamber choir, and accompanied the groups.” Similar to other teenage musicians, Clayton entered numerous competitions and at 16 won the Music Teachers National Assoc-iation and Jefferson Symphony Young Artist competitions. At the same time she was a finalist in the National Flute Association High School Competition. When it came time to choose a college, a former Salt Lake City resident, as well as her mother, were major influences in the decision.
     “Joan Bauman was originally from Salt Lake and returned to visit her family in the summers. I took lessons with her for two or three summers while she was in town. The summer before my senior year in high school she asked what schools I was going to apply to, and I admitted that I didn’t know. She responded with, ‘Let’s make a list,’ and proceeded to put Oberlin at the top, with stars and Michel Debost’s name off to the side. She had studied with him at the Paris Conservatory.
     “For that reason Oberlin became the number one school in my mind, so much so that I didn’t even look at other possibilities. Years later, when I applied to Juilliard for doctoral work, the admissions office loved it that I had gone to Oberlin. In fact, three out of the nine doctoral students in my Juilliard class had done some of their undergraduate work at Oberlin.
     “My mom knew that if I wanted to go into music, I needed to go East to continue my studies because I had already studied with the best teachers in Utah. Academics were important to me as well, and at Oberlin I could work on a double degree – in the College and the Conservatory.” Clayton did a double major at Oberlin in music and math but only stayed for two years. She transferred to a less-expensive school, the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She had met Bradley Garner during the N.F.A. High School Soloist competition, and he welcomed her into his Cincinnati flute studio.
     “At Cincinnati they discouraged a double degree and made me choose. It was the right time to make that decision, and of course, I chose music. After dropping the double degree, however, I discovered that I had many more academic credits than I needed to graduate. On top of that, I had tested out of Cincinnati’s ear training and history requirements. All I needed were electives, flute lessons, and a senior recital to graduate.”
     To put this into perspective, Clayton had skipped a year of high school and taken numerous advanced placement courses as  well, which put her at Oberlin at age 17 with college credits already earned. She received her bachelor’s degree at age 20 and had to decide about graduate school.
     “I didn’t realize that I would be completing my bachelor’s so early. When I talked to Brad Garner about graduate school, I had only been at Cincinnati for a couple of months. It was November, and although I had just barely arrived, I was talking about leaving for graduate work. Audition tapes were required for master’s programs by December at other schools, so I decided to finish a master’s degree at Cincinnati.” She took the graduate entrance exams and tested out of the music history and theory requirements, which meant she could finish the master’s degree in one year, while simultaneously completing the few undergraduate credits that remained. In essence she completed a four-year undergraduate degree and a two-year graduate degree, in four years. She was just 21 when she moved to New York.

On To Juilliard
When asked whether she experienced any problems entering a doctoral program at such a young age, she replied, “It was hard because I was faced with getting used to living in New York by myself. The doctoral classes at Juilliard are small.  Mine had just nine students in it, and seven of those nine had done their masters’ degrees at Juilliard, so they were already used to the environs. I was the youngest in the class by three years. The other students my age were juniors and seniors in the undergraduate program, so I felt like I didn’t belong. Things have worked out so well for me, however, that I wouldn’t change a thing.”

At Juilliard with Carol Wincenc
     “The flute faculty at that time included Jeanne  Baxtresser, Julius Baker, Carol Wincenc, and Samuel Baron. I worked with all of them a little bit, but I chose Carol because I was interested in solo and chamber music. At an early age I knew that I wanted to communicate more directly with the audience, and Carol has done such a great job of that with her career. She has been an amazing, positive mentor. I have never heard her say anything negative about other flute players and really admire that.”

The French Connection
     Clayton had touched base with the French School in high school while studying with Bauman, and later with Michel Debost for two years at Oberlin. “I think working with him got me interested in French music. At Juilliard I chose “The French Flute Sonata and Sonatine from Debussy (1915) to Boulez (1946)” as a dissertation topic – an interesting time span because it encompassed the interwar period. Debussy wrote the Sonata for Flute, Harp, and Viola (1915) late in his life, and Boulez wrote his Sonatine for Flute and Piano (1946) very early in his career. My doctoral advisor was Philip Lasser, who is a half French composer who studied with Nadia Boulanger just before she died. He continued on with Boulanger’s closest disciple, Narcis Bonet.” Years later Clayton’s doctoral work with Glasser would play a major role in her chamber music career.

Going Home to Teach
     Teaching, like everything else in her life, began at an extremely early age. “I’ve always loved teaching, although when I was young I didn’t plan to be a college professor. I just wanted to play the flute.
“I got my first flute on May 28, 1984 and wrote about it in my journal. My two best friends – one in the fourth grade and the other in fifth, had flutes within months, largely due to my passion for the flute. The fifth grader’s family decided against providing lessons for her, so I taught her every week. After a while they felt so guilty about it, that they started giving me $3 a week for the lessons. When she moved to the junior high school, I was in still in 6th grade, and she had been studying with me for two or three years. She placed first chair in the band and became my first success. I remember feeling so proud.”
     Now Clayton is Associate Professor of Flute at B.Y.U., where she won a full-time position at age 25. She insists that her youth has never been a detriment to her work there. She muses with a smile, “I had two masters students the first year, and one of them was 24. I think the reason that no one has ever given me any trouble about my age is partly due to the general attitude on campus. The studio is very positive, and the students support each other.
     “The School of Music has about 800 music majors. The culture breeds a love of music, so I usually have around 17-20 flute majors. Utah has a strong choral tradition, and most of my flute students have grown up singing in choirs, which is excellent for their general musicianship and ear training. An assistant takes some of the technique classes, and I oversee two flute choirs, one for non-majors and one for majors, although I don’t direct them. It is a huge flute program. There are two graduate master’s students who help with the instrumental methods classes and teach the 30-40 non-major flutes.
     “Students receive hour lessons and a two-hour studio class each week. The undergraduates each receive three technique lessons a semester with a faculty member, Hillary Kimball, so that each student has 12 lessons – nine with me and three with her. There are also pedagogy classes. I am in charge of the private lessons and the studio class. Once in awhile I teach flute literature and coach chamber music, but B.Y.U. is very good about avoiding an  overload situation.” In addition to her studio roster, Clayton is also a member of the faculty woodwind quintet and head of the graduate area of the Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion Division.

The Importance of Chamber Music
     “In 1994 Lasser started the European American Musical Alliance (E.A.M.A.). In the beginning of the program, he experimented – with a piano program for a while, and then one for violin – but eventually he opened it up to a more general chamber music program. When he did that he invited me to join the faculty.”
     Clayton joined the E.A.M.A. faculty in 2006 and became the director of the new Chamber Music Program in 2008. “Held each year at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, the program offers studies for composers and chamber musicians in the tradition of Nadia Boulanger, who did not distinguish between the disciplines that should be developed in the training of composers and instrumentalists.       Instrumentalists who attend find a very disciplined approach to music, and they analyze the pieces to be performed in much the same way that composers do. They also have the opportunity to work with many rising young composers. While the chamber music program is just in its third year, the composers’ program is well-established and has an excellent reputation among composition faculty at top universities.
     “In recent years, composers who have taught at E.A.M.A. include Robert Beaser, Lukas Foss, Claude Baker, and members of the Paris Conservatory faculty. In July 2008, one of the most famous female composers of our time, Sofia Gubaidulina, joined the program. We have had four flutists each summer, and that will most likely remain our target number. During my three years there, student flutists from Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and B.Y.U. have attended.” For more background information on this program see        

Recording Projects
     The other new music projects Clayton is pursuing are recordings and a Carnegie Hall concert of premieres. “Last year, I recorded a C.D. of flute concertos with the Brigham Young University Chamber Orchestra. Included were the Mozart D-Major Concerto, Lukas Foss’ Renaissance Concerto, and two new concertos that I commissioned by Murray Boren and Todd Coleman. Todd and I received a Barlow Endowment grant for the project. The C.D. will be available in 2009.”

What the Future Holds
     Clayton has accomplished much in a short amount of time. When asked what was left for the future, she replied, “This past school year  was so good for me because I took a sabbatical and really reflected upon my newly-earned tenure and what having that could mean to my future. At B.Y.U. professors can either take a sabbatical semester at full pay or take a full year off at half pay. I chose the year and spent six months in France and three months in New York City. During that time, I thought a lot about where to go from here. After exploring several options, I came to realize how good things are at B.Y.U. It’s a great school, consistently ranked at the top in college rankings, and has excellent grants for research and travel. They have been very good to me, and I am extremely happy to be returning. 
     “Faculty members can take classes at B.Y.U. for free, so I could take business classes and start a flute program in France or a chamber music program in upstate New York. The options are all open. I am always looking for new projects.”