Principal flute of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 1990, Randolph Bowman is a graduate of the New England Conservatory and has taught at the Cincinnati, Boston and New England Conservatories.
In looking back at a career in music that now spans four decades, it is interesting to note how a few seemingly random events can determine the path one follows in life. As a child, I was certain I was going to pursue a career in the visual arts. My father was a painter and I seemed to have inherited some degree of natural ability from him. As I was growing up in Los Angeles, I was happiest when at my desk drawing and painting.
Except for a brief (unsuccessful) stint with the clarinet in third and fourth grade, music was not part of my plan. This started to change in high school. My love of the great British Blues Bands of that time (Cream, Zeppelin et al) prompted me to start playing the blues harmonica, which was great fun – unlike the clarinet. I began listening also to the great Chicago blues harp players, especially Paul Butterfield. When Butterfield brought his band to L.A., I was there! Opening the concert was a new British band, Jethro Tull. As I watched and listened to Ian Anderson perform, I was struck by thunderbolt number one: I wanted to learn to play rock flute.
I bought a flute for around $40 and began tinkering. A friend showed me the basic fingerings, and I was off and running, but without a clue what I was doing. About this time, my family moved from Los Angeles to Carmel, California because my mother took a job as the director of the Carmel Sunset Cultural Center. I began attending Classical concerts there which opened up a wider musical world to explore. I was immediately struck by the emotional power of this music and began listening to more and more of it. Meanwhile, I met some classmates at Carmel High School who shared my other musical interests, and we formed a garage band of sorts.
None of this altered my initial plan to major in art at the University of California at Santa Cruz. However, random event number two occurred the summer before college. I attended a recital (and subsequent masterclasses) given by Julius Baker in Carmel. I was astonished by both the playing and the music and so, my fate was sealed. I returned to his classes in Carmel for many summers, and they were one of the most important components of my flutistic education.
Was it difficult to pursue a professional career in music after starting serious study of the flute so late?
When I started at UCSC, I only enrolled in music classes. Of course, I realized I had a massive amount of catching up to do, but I was absolutely steadfast in my determination. I only recount this early history to offset the notion that a career in music is only possible when study begins at age four or five. Hard work can accomplish much at any age.
During my two years at UCSC, I was fortunate to have excellent flute instruction from the start. My first teacher was Ray Fabrizio (who incidentally was the organizer of the Summer Baker classes in Carmel). He very patiently set about undoing the tight embouchure I had unwittingly taught myself, as well as teaching me the basic fundamentals of successful flute playing. I also commuted to the Bay area for lessons with Lloyd Gowen, of the San Francisco Symphony. He had been a student of William Kincaid at Curtis and was a formidable player, trained to be able to meet the demands of life in a top orchestra.
What did Gowen teach you?
Of singular importance in his teaching was the necessity of winning the battle between dynamics and intonation, the bane of so many flute players. He felt that in order to be truly expressive and communicate a wider range of emotions, the lip muscles had to be trained to respond automatically to ones’ internal musical ideas. This is a common theme that runs through the history of flute pedagogy, but it is easier said than done.
Lloyd immediately started me on exercises to build this skill. Long tones throughout the entire range of the flute starting at niente and slowly crescendoing to triple forte, then back to niente while maintaining pitch and tone quality. When I finished this torturous course, we began practicing dynamics in simple melodic studies. We also worked on vibrato in varying speeds and widths to further enhance the palette of colors. Needless to say, I have passed on these exercises to my students over the years, and I hope they will do the same (and I still practice these exercises – the muscles involved always need to be reminded of what is required).
Where did you go next?
After two years at UCSC, I moved to Boston and finished my degree at New England Conservatory, studying with James Pappoutsakis, a longtime member of the Boston Symphony. Mr. P. was a renowned teacher and a wonderful human being. He had a direct link to the French School through his teacher, Georges Laurent, former principal flute of the Boston Symphony. Laurent’s teachers in Paris were Taffanel and Gaubert, so for me, there were only two degrees of separation from that legacy.
Pappoutsakis, true to the French ideal, stressed the importance of complete homogeneity of tone and resonance throughout the range of the flute. He possessed, like Laurent before him, a uniquely beautiful tone, always rich, resonant and singing. It was never pushed, but carried easily through the orchestra.
At about this time, James Galway was releasing his first solo LPs after leaving Berlin. I would come into my lessons trying to duplicate the tremendous energy and brilliance of Galway’s playing, but was wholly unsuccessfully. Mr. P would calmly say, “Randy why are you blowing so hard?” and talk about using warm air. I was gently brought back to reality.
Unfortunately, he was nearing the end of his life and succumbed to emphysema shortly after I graduated. I am glad his legacy is kept alive at NEC through the Pappoutsakis Competition, and hope his beautiful tone lives on in others.
What were your first ventures into the professional world?
My graduation coincided with Mr. Pappoutsakis’s retirement from the Boston Symphony, and he encouraged me to take the audition – my first – for his job. I was unfamiliar with much of the music, but I worked very hard and survived to be among the final three candidates. Nobody was chosen at that time, and although I was naturally disappointed, I thought that maybe this audition business was not as difficult as it was reputed to be. Wishful thinking, as it turned out! It took another 10 years and many auditions before I landed my current job. In the meantime, however, my near miss in that first audition caught the attention of local contractors, and I began to do an increasing volume of freelance work in Boston – extra in the Symphony and Pops, ballet, opera, Broadway shows, choral societies, regional orchestras (principal flute of Portland Maine symphony for a number of years), chamber groups, etc.
I also played in a number of contemporary ensembles during these years. While at NEC, Gunther Schuller (who was then NEC president and conductor of the student orchestra) formed a student contemporary music ensemble and asked me to play. Gunther’s ability to hear everything was legendary and almost preternatural. When he was on the podium, nobody would dare fake anything. He was not shy about calling out people for careless playing. He taught us how to play the most complex contemporary rhythms with great accuracy. After graduating, I continued to work with Gunther in the Collage ensemble, which was comprised mostly of Boston Symphony musicians. His tireless pursuit of excellence could be scary at times, but I learned much that has helped me through the years.
During this time, I also taught at Boston Conservatory and NEC Prep department and had many private students. In my twenties, I really enjoyed the freelance life, especially the increasing amount of travel, both nationally and internationally, primarily with the Boston Pops and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. However, as I neared my mid-thirties, I began to wonder if a quieter, more stable life might suit me better. I decided to take a few more orchestra auditions before throwing in the towel, and so, in 1990, I joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
What were your impressions of Cincinnati?
Cincinnati (and indeed the Midwest) was a complete unknown for me at first, but I quickly learned that there has always been a uniquely strong and enduring tradition of support for the arts here, owing to the many German immigrants who brought their culture with them and established one of the first orchestras in America. That tradition has allowed the CSO to survive the financial ups and downs that have plagued many orchestras in recent years.
I am especially appreciative of this fact because I have four children, ranging in age from 8 to 27. When you choose to be a parent, finding a balance in life can be tricky at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Children are one’s true legacy, and they also keep you from taking yourself too seriously.
After 28 seasons with the orchestra, my love of music and the flute is as strong as ever. Music is such a vast universe; you can never feel you have conquered the whole of it. Strive to enjoy the learning process; there will always be more to learn if you are open to it.
What are they looking for?
The simple answer is: a player who fits in with the prevailing concept of that section (and/or conductor) in that orchestra. This will vary from one orchestra or conductor to the next. The more complicated answer is: the player that all the committee can reach a compromise on and then, hopefully, the conductor agrees. Imagine nine people going to dinner at a restaurant with a wildly varied menu, but for some reason, they can choose only one entrée for everyone. To decide, they could either vote anonymously, discuss it endlessly, or both. Finally, they decide, and then the chef (conductor) comes in and vetoes the choice This analogy may give you some idea of what is going on while you are waiting for news, seemingly forever.
Reality and the Bottom Line
In your preparation, double, triple and quadruple check every note, rhythm, articulation, dynamic (forte has to be loud, piano has to be soft and not sort of the same), intonation, tempo, and enunciation and diction. Listen to recordings, study the scores, know what happens before, during, and after the excerpt. There is a vast array of resources to help you in all these details. In other words, don’t give the committee any ammunition they can use to eliminate you. Some things are black and white.
What did I do wrong?
Here is where it is not either black or white. Successful candidates are able to show a musical awareness and intelligence in their phrasing which sets them apart. In addition, every musician strives to make sure the music heard internally (which is always beautiful and perfect) is what is actually coming out of the instrument. We work all of our musical lives to narrow the gap between this external and internal hearing. The players who come the closest are able to express themselves more effectively and move people whether in a concert or in an audition. The perfect, boring player may win sometimes, but most committees are looking for a player who transcends the difficulties of the instrument and enables the listener to hear the piece as if the other 80 or 90 players of the orchestra are playing as well.
Often, non-flutists on a committee will ask me why some candidates accent the first note when it is not marked as such. Since we are not struggling to be heard above an orchestra, why, indeed? Take advantage of playing alone and save the accent for the arrival on G natural (bar 330). Principles of Classical style come into play on the downbeats of bars 333 and 335. Play them longer than the two preceding quarter notes, but not louder – the phrase resolves gently. Direct the sound of the arpeggio eighth notes downward towards the stressed appoggiatura but with no accent on the second F# of bar 338. Finally, make sure the Ds in bar 351 and 352 match in pitch, but are remarkably different in volume. A crescendo in bars 350 and 351 is natural and helps create the dynamic contrast.
Brahms Symphony #4 in E Minor, Op. 98, movement 4 flute solo bars 89 – 105
This solo presents one of the great difficulties faced by all wind players which is connecting a phrase through a breath. The danger in this case, is starting the note after a breath with a bump (i.e. louder than the preceding note). The overall shape of the line is a large arch with many mini-dynamics along the way. Make sure the airstream and vibrato do not create an unwanted accent on the resolution of the many appoggiaturas. It can be helpful to practice this solo without the eighth-note rests and just grab a quick breath where the rest used to be. Then, add the rests without changing the shape or creating large, disruptive gaps in the line. One last thought is that on most modern flutes, playing in E minor (in just intonation) yields an F# that is too close to the E. Listen for this at both the beginning and end of the solo.
For the birds…
In both Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals, the technical demands are obviously considerable, but beyond technique, a musical outcome can be achieved by remembering that the flute represents little birds. Too often in auditions these solos sounds as if a condor has gotten hold of a machine gun!
The Two French Excerpts
One could write an entire book about the myriad possibilities of phrasing, color, nuance, rhythmic flexibility, etc. in the Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and the Ravel Daphnis et Chloé. These are solos that require the ultimate in imaginative, expressive playing, and everyone should strive to own them and to sell their personal interpretation. Therefore, I offer only one observation – they both require a lot of air and careful breathing choices – but if you need air, take it. Follow the tactics discussed above in relation to the Brahms 4th excerpt so that there are no gaping holes in the line. Otherwise, some problems that bother non-flutists on committees include easily fixable intonation problems.
In the Debussy, the top G# in bar 3 often ends up sounding flat and dead. I suggest hearing the G# as the dominant of C# minor, rather than the third of E Major. The key has not yet been decided at this point in the piece. Also, in the fifth bar of rehearsal figure 2, listen to the repeated half steps between C and B – it often sounds too wide (since the B is on the flat side).
In the Ravel, the opening intervals should all relate to the key of F# minor, which is not the easiest key to tune on today’s flutes. Also, pay particular attention when descending to the C# downbeat two bars before rehearsal #177. If you are not sharp, you will earn many brownie points for your effort. Finally, much of the melody is comprised of ascending and descending intervals of fourths and fifths (the perfect intervals), often over the break between first and second octaves. The left-hand intervals tend to be flat, if unchecked. Tune them carefully.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that committees are comprised of human beings who recognize the extreme difficulties inherent in this less-than-ideal job interview. They have all been there and do not enjoy the task of eliminating all but one. I encourage all to press on, keep digging deeper, and never forget why we put ourselves through it all. Beauty in art is hard-won.
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Why do almost all woodwind auditions (whether it be flute, oboe, clarinet or bassoon) always start with the Mozart concerto? For a committee, it establishes immediately whether the candidate is aware of the subtleties of Classical style, which is the best indicator of general musical intelligence. Without this awareness, Mozart can potentially sound like a simple series of scales and arpeggios. So, what is Classical style? Here are a few thoughts on the subject:
1. The music is subject to rapid and frequent changes of character and/or dynamics (think: yin/yang, happy/sad, dark/light, masculine/
feminine, etc.). Such juxtapositions of character usually don’t affect the basic tempo. To hear an example of this, listen to the opening of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (The Jupiter).
2. A holdover from the Baroque era, Classical music has rules governing the hierarchy of beats in a bar, some being stronger than others. (Realize though that there are many exceptions – Haydn loved to surprise his listeners by turning these expectations on their heads).
3. Classical style is characterized by clearly defined shapes and direction in the line attained by careful attention to dynamic details.
4. Articulation should be clear and elegant and calculated to fit the acoustical environment so that the character of phrases is unmistakable in its intent. Space is needed between notes, especially repeated notes, and before grace notes, etc. to ensure that enunciation is never blurred. Think of a great Shakespearean stage actor.
Next, apply these principles to the first phrase of the Mozart G Major Concerto to see what you should listen for:
1. Character: The first two bars are strong in nature – like a military fanfare. However, this abruptly changes on beat four of bar two. The remainder of the phrase is now dolce cantabile in nature.
2. Hierarchy of beats: In bar one, the first beat should be the strongest. The fourth beat should not be stronger than the first – many people make this mistake in leading the first bar to the second. In bar two, the second beat is not quite as strong as the first, and the fourth beat is the beginning of the cantabile line, so it should not be accented.
3. Shape and direction: The third bar should descend with direction from the first to the third beat and then the phrase should resolve gently on the fourth bar without an accent.
4. Articulation: The repeated Ds in the first bar, should be clearly defined (especially the 16th note on the second beat). In bar two, there should be a clear enunciation of the two Cs between the first and second beats without accenting the second beat. The fourth beat should start with a slight tenuto on the first sixteenth, but without an accent. As the sixteenths descend, there should be enunciation between the last and first sixteenths of each group of four.
This level of attention to detail is an example of what could possibly help set a candidate apart – and this is only the first four measures. All of these principles regarding shaping can be applied to any style of music. The flute, left to its own devices, can easily create unwanted accents and bulges in the shape of any musical line.