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Planning a Masterclass

Patricia George | May 2017

    One of the most rewarding things studio teachers can do is to expose their students to the teaching and playing of a prominent flutist. Creating and providing an event offers lasting benefits for students and other flutists in the area. Careful planning at the early stages ensures the event is successful artistically, pedagogically, and financially.

What kind of class?
    There are two kinds of masterclasses: traditional and participatory. In the traditional masterclass, several players are invited to perform for a master teacher. Usually thirty minutes is devoted to each player. The flutist performs with a pianist for about half the time and then the teacher offers suggestions for the other half. The audience is comprised of flutists, teachers and interested people. The duration of a traditional masterclass is usually between 90 to 120 minutes. This type of class works best if the performance level of the studio is high, and the flutists have a thorough command of basic fundamentals. The downside of a traditional masterclass is that audience members may not be familiar with the repertoire being presented, and will not relate well to the suggestions of the masterclass teacher. The venue for this type of class may be a classroom with a piano and seating for the audience or a recital hall. For a traditional masterclass, masterclass teachers may be specialists on piccolo, C flute, traverso, or the low flutes.
    In participatory masterclasses, the master teacher teaches from a predetermined curriculum that can be presented in a handout or projected on a screen via a PowerPoint presentation. All flutists play together trying the suggestions and reacting to the teacher’s guidance. This type of class may last from one to six hours and is especially beneficial if the level of advancement of the flutists is varied. There are many benefits to a participatory masterclass; no matter a flutist’s level of performance, there usually will be something presented that is helpful. A band room, choir room, or other rehearsal hall works best for this type of class. Each flutist needs a music stand with plenty of room to spread out. Usually rooms like this are also equipped with white boards, so if questions arise, the teacher can write clarifications or exercises on the board for the participants to read. Generally, the emphasis in a participatory masterclass is on C flute.

Traditional Masterclass
    When Michel Debost was teaching a traditional masterclass at Pocatello Flute Week, a student asked, “In a traditional masterclass what is the role of the teacher and that of the student?” Debost said the masterclass teacher should spend half of his time teaching the student and the other half entertaining the audience. The student should consider the experience as half lesson and half performance.

Participatory Masterclass
    The masterclass teacher for a participatory masterclass is generally one who has developed a strong pedagogical curriculum besides being an excellent flutist and musician. To prepare the handouts, the teacher should have a strong overview of the subject with explanations and exercises that have proven success. Primarily, the participatory masterclass teacher should have a well-thought out agenda with times allotted for sharing stories about famous players and teachers. The important thing is to make the curriculum as rich as possible so that everyone goes home inspired.

Assessing Your Studio
    When I first moved to Idaho, I wanted to continue the flute week masterclasses that I had begun in my teaching in Illinois. However, in Idaho there were few flute teachers, so the playing level of the students coming into my program was low. The first thing I did each year was to start about 20 beginners who would develop into well-taught, informed flutists who would eventually become leaders in my university program.
    I was very interested in the work that Robert Dick was doing at the time. I felt like his ideas were the future of flute playing and flute repertoire; however, he was not the type of teacher that my studio needed at that time. My students would benefit more from someone who had figured out how to start beginners, knew how to help them advance quickly and efficiently, and could direct them to new goals. Dick’s teaching would come later when they were better prepared for it.
    The first years I was the only teacher, but as their playing level improved, I selected outstanding university professors who had experience starting beginners and taking them from the elementary level through a college curriculum. I also wanted to hire teachers who had taught flute methods to music education majors because I knew they would have a sense of the continuity of the curriculum. We continued to improve until we were ready for masterclass teachers like Michel Debost, Trevor Wye, and William Bennett. One of the most important decisions in creating a successful masterclass is selecting the right teacher for your community.

Getting Started
    Select the length of the class. Do you want to host a one-day event, a three-day event or week-long event? For years, I hosted a week-long event, but with people’s increasingly busy lives, I found that either a one-day or three-day event was best attended. One-day masterclasses are usually held on a Saturday or a Sunday.
    Selecting a good date helps ensure a successful event. Avoid fall dates that conflict with football games and parades. Most flute clubs hold flute fairs in the spring and longer classes in the summer for a reason. (For ideas about masterclass programs, see the Flute Talk March 2017 Directory of Summer Masterclasses online at
    Select a location for your program. Consider classrooms or recital halls in high schools or colleges. One of the classes I teach each summer is held at a local hotel in Portland, Oregon. The hotel offers special room rates for participants, and we pay a rental rate for the teaching space. With this room comes a supply of fresh coffee, tea, and water. We are given a key to the space so flutes may be locked there during breaks and off-site meals.
    With some masterclasses, the guest artist also presents a recital. I often have played duet recitals with the masterclass teacher. This can be a good way for you to present yourself to your community, especially if you are developing a new program. I treasure the duo recitals I played with Michel Debost; they were a wonderful musical experience for me. To increase revenue for the event, open the recital to the community. The ticket sales will offset the masterclass teacher’s fee, the cost of hiring an accompanist, tuning the piano, and perhaps stage hands.

Hiring a Masterclass Teacher
    Make a list of possible teachers. Since the number one choice on your list may not be available for your date, have a plan B. Select a teacher with strengths that match your students’ needs. While most professional masterclass teachers are comfortable with the traditional masterclass format, many have never taught a participatory masterclass. Hire someone on their known strengths, not for what you hope they might present. Check out their ideas beforehand by talking with others who have attended their masterclasses. Don’t hire a Baroque master to teach contemporary techniques. Be sure their overall concepts about playing and teaching the flute are in consort with yours.
    Make a budget that includes the masterclass teacher’s fee as well as the cost of the rental space, copying handouts, and so forth. Most masterclass teachers’ are paid for travel, food, and housing expenses as well as a fee for the class. Payments for a one-day class without a recital are in the range of $500 to $1500. A recital will add another $750 to $2000. Several times I have been able to hire a masterclass teacher because I was flexible about dates and was able to host a masterclass with the artist on a free day in between two previously scheduled events. The flute societies in Portland and Seattle have worked together for years to host the same guest artist on a Saturday in Portland and on a Sunday in Seattle to cut down on transportation costs for the artist and exhibitors. If you hire a non-US citizen as the masterclass teacher, you will need to check about obtaining a work permit for the artist. Many of the flute manufacturers graciously underwrite the work permit and perhaps the travel expenses or part of the artist’s fee. Additional support may be found through a grant from a local or state arts organization or from a local music store in exchange for the opportunity to exhibit at the event.

Making the Call
    Contact potential guest artists by email or phone. Be organized and  clear in your initial contact. List what you want the person to do and the dates of the event. Ask the guest artist’s fee. I have been surprised several times that the fee the guest artist wanted was much lower than what I was prepared to pay. Ask if you should purchase the airline ticket, or whether they prefer to do it themselves and be reimbursed. Most like to purchase their own so they can select the time of travel, airline carrier, and collect frequent flier miles. Several times I have had parents in my studio donate frequent flier miles to the flute event.
    If the guest artist agrees, you may wish to write a simple contract, although this tends to be somewhat rare. In all of the years, I have been teaching masterclasses, there was only one time when a host failed to pay what was agreed upon. Luckily, I had underwriting from a flute manufacturer so I did not lose too much.
    Once the teacher agrees, ask for publicity materials. This will include several high-resolution pictures, including a headshot, a current biography, a list of the repertoire for the concert, and perhaps a list of recordings and publications. (High-resolution photos are generally one MB or larger. Photos taken from websites are usually low resolution and will not print well in publicity materials.) Ask for a photo that has not been actively on Facebook, Instagram, or on a website. You want your event to seem fresh and up-to-date. Also, discuss whether the guest artist is comfortable with your recording or streaming the masterclass. Guest artists will have varying thoughts on this.
    Invite artists to sell their CD and publications at the event. You may have a student or a parent take charge of this aspect. Remember to have a cash box with some change. Arrange to hire a pianist for the guest artist’s recital and for each performer if you are hosting a traditional masterclass.

    Make a one-page flier that includes information about the event and a registration form. The form should include the participant’s name, address, phone number, contact information, year in school, list of three recently studied etudes and solos, current school/college, private teacher’s name, email address, tuition, who the check should be made out to, and your contact information. Early registration benefits, such as a slightly reduced tuition, will encourage many to make a commitment more quickly. Start building a database so that recruiting in future years is easier.
    Send this flier to all area flute and band teachers in hard copy and attach it in an email to as many area flutists as you can. Facebook can be another good venue for dispersing information. Write a press release for the local newspaper and ask for it to be included on the weekly arts page if possible. Place posters in colleges, middle and high schools, community music schools, and music store windows. Consider offering a discounted price to teachers who bring five or more students to the event.

Day of the Event
    If this is a traditional masterclass, make a program listing what each performer will play along with a short paragraph-long biography for each performer. The program should also include a biography of the masterclass teacher and information about the upcoming recital. Provide water for the masterclass teacher and the performer. If the event is in a larger hall, supply a microphone so everyone can hear the teacher’s comments clearly. At the end of the class don’t forget to say thank you and provide the payment without the teacher having to ask for it. 

The Participants
    While most masterclass teachers would rather you did not record their sessions, some may agree. I encourage students to bring a spiral notebook to take notes. The act of writing information down is the first step into incorporating it into their playing. In a traditional masterclass, the performing students should thank the masterclass teacher after their time is over and then return to the audience and sit quietly until the entire class is over. After the class, the student should take a few minutes to write comments in a journal for future reference.


    When there is little money to bring in masterclass teachers, a practical option is to do a trade with another university professor. Doing this creates more opportunities for students of both studios to learn from other teachers.