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The Development of Flute Clubs in America

Kathy Melago | November 2012

    The flute club movement in the United States began to take off in the 1920s, when Emil Medicus, editor of The Flutist, a magazine published only from 1920 to 1929, used his publication to encourage the formation of flute clubs in the United States and around the world. Medicus wrote many articles and letters from the editor pleading with readers to establish flute clubs in their cities. New flute clubs were congratulated for their formation, and flute club events were described in
The Flutist. The passion with which Medicus approached the topic of flute clubs was remarkable. He was likely a primary reason for the formation of many clubs in the 1920s. He wrote in a July 1921 editorial:

Boys, let’s get together and play flute trios and quartets, thereby breaking the routine of business and drinking in harmonies that breathe of heaven. That is the idea behind every flute club, and that is the idea which must be developed in every city, town, and settlement if flute-playing is to attain those heights desired by the true disciples of Pan.

He also wrote:
    It matters not whether you are a professional or an amateur; whether you are highly proficient in the art of flute-playing or just the average; the flute club will broaden your art and whet your appetite for better music for your instrument, incidentally spurring you on to greater effort.

While only the New York Flute Club boasts a continuous history since its inception, Medicus listed approximately 30 clubs that began in the 1920s, with locations ranging from Brisbane, Australia, to Kristiana, Norway, and all around the United States. Medicus commented on the first flute clubs in the United States, stating that “Prior to January 1920, there were, to the best of our knowledge, two flute clubs in America, the Los Angeles (Cal.) Flute Club and the Rhinelander (Wis.) Flute Quintette.” According to Medicus, the order of the formation of the other early flute clubs was Seattle, Washington; Twin Cities, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New York, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts.
    The earliest flute clubs in the United States were certainly encouraged by Medicus, but also influenced each another. The Los Angeles Flute Club, founded in 1916, honored Georges Barrère on January 26, 1919, with a soirée and recital and inducted him as an honorary member of the club. Barrère graciously accepted the club pin and noted that in 30 years of travels he had never encountered such a group. The following year he founded the New York Flute Club.
    The occupational diversity of flute club members in the 1920s was vast. In the editorial comments in the October 1921 issue of The Flutist, Emil Medicus wrote about the state of flute clubs, including a quote from a reader describing the membership of his flute club: “First flute is a newspaper man; second flute, an insurance agent; third flute, a surgeon; and fourth flute, a jeweler.” Amateur members were common in the flute clubs of the 1920s.
    Most of the flute clubs that began in the 1920s ceased activity after a few years, with the New York Flute Club being the exception. Some clubs experienced breaks in periods of activity but are active today. Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego, and Texas all have active flute clubs and offer excellent opportunities for flutists. This series of articles will look at their history and plans for the future and may offer ideas for flutists to join, start, or improve a flute club in their area.

The Pittsburgh Flute Club
    Pittsburgh flutist John M. Hierholzer (left) was one of the pledge-signers and advance subscribers to The Flutist, and he was among the founders of the Pittsburgh Flute Club in 1920. In the December 1920 issue of The Flutist, Hierholzer described his delight in this new organization:

Now I know you don’t like Jazz and the like but really, my typewriter is fairly shimmying with eagerness to tell you the big news. We have organized a “flute quartet” and it is the greatest thing ever.
    I have played in many and various combinations, some quite wonderful and beautiful, but last Sunday at the first meeting of the Pittsburgh Flute Club, when we played the introductory bars of the Kuhlau Grand Quartette for four flutes, I experienced the most wonderful, exquisite sensations possible this side of Heaven.
    We sat there, the four of us, so thrilled with the wonder and spell of the music that we could not even stop to express our feelings but played on and on in ecstacy [sic] until the “fine,” when we paused and raved over its beauty.

    On April 27, 1922, the Pittsburgh Flute Club made history by being the first flute club to have a live performance broadcast on the radio when the club’s Quintette Concertante performed a live program from the Westinghouse Radio Laboratory, KDKA. The Pittsburgh Flute Club was mentioned several times in early issues of The Flutist, but after that, the only indication that the club was still in existence was their presence on The Flutist’s regular list of flute clubs. If they remained active throughout the 1920s, the Great Depression was probably causal in its disbanding, but it is possible that the club had ceased to exist earlier in the 1920s.
    After what was likely at least 20 years of dormancy, the Pittsburgh Flute Club was reestablished in 1950 by Bernard Z. Goldberg, Victor Saudek, and Albert Goldsmith. The first recital of the newly formed Pittsburgh Flute Club was held at the Arts and Craft Center, now known as the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, on December 7, 1950. Goldberg, who served as principal flutist of the Pittsburgh Symphony for forty-six years, was the program chairman of the Pittsburgh Flute Club when it began in 1950. Saudek, who served as the president of the Pittsburgh Flute Club in the 1920s, was Goldberg’s predecessor as principal flute in the Pittsburgh Symphony. Goldsmith was an educator and an amateur flute player.
    The membership of the Pittsburgh Flute Club in the 1950s consisted of the flute section of the Pittsburgh Symphony, many members of the woodwind section of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the students of members, as well as many adults, amateur flute players, and people who played in smaller orchestras around the area. In March 1951, the Sun-Telegraph indicated that about 50 professionals and amateurs were members of the club, which was newly formed at that time. Interestingly, quite a few engineers and physicists were also members.
    Dr. John Coltman, an amateur flutist, was one of the first members of the reorganized Pittsburgh Flute Club. He came to Pittsburgh in 1941 to work as a nuclear physicist at Westinghouse after winning a company fellowship, and then switched to radar research. After his retirement in 1980, Coltman continued to spend time with the flute, playing flute, making flutes, and writing computer programs for the flute. Coltman amassed a very large personal collection of flutes, second only to that of Dayton C. Miller, who was Coltman’s inspiration to collect flutes. In an interview, Coltman commented on the membership of the Pittsburgh Flute Club during his tenure:

    There were mostly amateurs, but some professionals. There was Goldberg, of course, Ethan Stang, who was the piccolo player for the Pittsburgh Symphony for many years, Victor Saudek, as a professional. Alois Hrabak. Collin Stern. But I think the majority of them were amateurs. Many of them quite skilled. There were also some other musicians, clarinetists, cellists, who came from time to time to join us and play certain pieces that were available for them and flute.

John Coltman, an early member of the club, amassed a vast collection of flutes

   According to the 1951 by-laws of the Pittsburgh Flute Club, the purpose of the club was to “promote interest in flute-playing, solo or with other woodwinds and other chamber combinations, to stimulate knowledge and love of the flute.” Coltman described the mission and purpose of the Pittsburgh Flute Club as “for the entertainment and pleasure of the members and the ability to get together in groups and play music and learn some things.” A secondary mission, according to Coltman, was “to sponsor or attend flute performances by professionals so that one could learn by listening as well as simply by enjoying it by listening in the concert.” After approximately 30 years of activity and progress as a club, however, the Pittsburgh Flute Club became dormant, perhaps because of leadership. Around 1980 interest waned, club membership dropped, and regular meetings ceased.

    In 1986, Duquesne University student Karl Barton, along with Wendy Webb Kumer, reestablished the Pittsburgh Flute Club under the name of the Allegheny Flute Association. Barton, who currently teaches at Thomas University in Thomasville, Georgia, was studying with Kumer at Duquesne and became increasingly involved in student activities. Barton was inspired after returning from the National Flute Association convention in Denver and with Kumer established the Allegheny Flute Association. The group did not continue the previous monthly meeting format of the Pittsburgh Flute Club, but rather centered around various events. Barton recalled the club’s mission and purpose as “to get the broader flute community to come together for the common cause of learning more about the flute and performing music together and for one another.” While the earlier manifestations of the Pittsburgh Flute Club in 1920 and 1950 focused heavily on playing the flute recreationally, that was no longer the focus. Kumer described the Allegheny Flute Association as “unrecognizable from its early form” as the Pittsburgh Flute Club.
    The Allegheny Flute Association was fairly short-lived, possibly even waning in activity after only a few years, as Barton graduated in 1987 and moved away. The organization did continue throughout the 1990s with varying degrees of activity, holding masterclasses, hosting guest artists, and having member recitals. In October of 1999, the Allegheny Flute Association decided to become a not-for-profit corporation and return to the original name of Pittsburgh Flute Club.
    Today the Pittsburgh Flute Club strives to find new challenges. They have held several special events in recent years, including outdoor concerts at parks throughout Pittsburgh for an hour before James Galway played with the Pittsburgh Symphony  and a performance by the 180-piece Pittsburgh Flute Club Flute Choir for a gala concert at the 2006 N.F.A. convention in Pittsburgh.
    The Pittsburgh Flute Club of today is comprised primarily of teachers and their middle school and high school flutists. There are also members who are professionals in the area. The club gathers mostly for masterclasses, recitals of renowned flutists, and member recitals, and rarely meets to play informally. The focus is to educate members and expose them to leading performers, whereas during preceding years, the main goal was to simply make music together. Since 1920 the Pittsburgh Flute Club has been a valuable resource for flutists to network, socialize, learn, and perform.

Upcoming: A look at other successful flute clubs around the country, including Atlanta, Chicago, Portland, San Diego, and Texas

1 The Flutist 2, no. 3, (March 1921): 348.
2 The Flutist 2, no. 3, (March 1921): 348.
3 Nancy Toff, Monarch of the Flute: The Life of Georges Barrère (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 174.
The Flutist 2, no. 7, (July 1921): 444.
The Flutist 2, no. 7, (July 1921): 444.
The Flutist 2, no. 10, (October 1921): 516.
The Flutist 1, no. 1, (January 1920): 4.
The Flutist 1, no. 12, (December 1920): 270.
The Flutist 3, no. 5, (May 1922): 680.
10 Bernard Z. Goldberg, interview by Kathleen A. Melago, May 9, 2009, transcript in the possession of the interviewer.
11 “New Flute Club,” Sun-Telegraph (March 4, 1951): 12.
12 Ralph Lewando, “Who’s Who in Pittsburgh Music Circles,” The Pittsburgh Press (October 28, 1951): 66.
13 John Coltman, interview by Kathleen A. Melago, March 23, 2009, transcript in the possession of the interviewer.
14 “Constitution of Pittsburgh Flute Club,” By-laws, approved February 1951.
15 John Coltman, interview by Kathleen A. Melago, March 23, 2009, transcript in the possession of the interviewer.
16 John Coltman, interview by Kathleen A. Melago, March 23, 2009, transcript in the possession of the interviewer.
17 Karl Barton, phone interview by Kathleen A. Melago, April 19, 2009, transcript in the possession of the interviewer.
18 Wendy Webb Kumer, interview by Kathleen A. Melago, March 23, 2009, transcript in the possession of the interviewer.