The Chicago Flute Club celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with nearly 400 members including professional performers and teachers, music industry representatives, students, and amateur flutists. The club began in the winter of 1988-89 when flutists Sarah Cifani, Kay Ragsdale, and Mary Stolper performed together in the pit orchestra of The Nutcracker Ballet at Chicago’s Arie Crown Theater.
Although there had previously been a successful Chicago Flute Society run by Janet Bergman, which functioned mainly as a flute choir, it eventually dissolved. Some of the members of the Chicago Flute Society went on to become the Lakeside Flutes, which is still an active flute choir in the Chicago area. However, Cifani, Ragsdale, and Stolper wanted to form a new club where they could discuss flute events, teaching methods, playing techniques, and other ideas with one another.
They decided to include fellow professionals Kaye Clements and Carlyn Lloyd in their initial planning session. After many months of planning, the five founders laid the groundwork for the new club. With the help of pro bono lawyers provided through the Illinois Arts Council, the newly formed Chicago Flute Club officially gained status as an Illinois not for profit organization twenty-five years ago on September 12, 1989. Sarah Cifani served as the first president.
After much discussion the bylaws were written, and the club began publishing a quarterly newsletter, agreeing on the name Pipeline. (Various other titles had been discussed, including Transverse Trivia, Transverse Times, Whistletone Tableau, and Tweeters Tabloid.) In the early days of the Pipeline, the newsletter was manually typewritten, cut and pasted together, and printed on a home printer. Eventually founder Carlyn Lloyd digitized Pipeline on her 1MB Mac Classic computer and had it printed professionally. She remembers, “There were no camera phones or Facebook in those days, so we didn’t take pictures at our meetings. All we had was a typewriter, telephone books, mailing labels, and everyone’s list of all their friends’ names. There was no email.” With the advent of the internet, the Chicago Flute Club created its website, www.chicagofluteclub.org, in 1999.
An artist friend designed a logo and stationery for the club. Meetings were moved from DePaul University to Mary Stolper’s house and then on to Sherwood Conservatory. Dues were collected, bank accounts opened, budgets created, and a mission statement written. It was decided that the mission of the club would be “to foster the highest artistic potential of all its members through teaching, listening and performing. We provide a forum for activities of interest to flutists of all ages and abilities. Our activities are designed to promote, encourage, and nurture appreciation of flute music and technique, as well as provide an opportunity for social interaction among flutists.”
The first program, attended by 44 members and guests, was held on October 1, 1989. Walfrid Kujala, beloved Northwestern University flute professor and longtime principal piccoloist for the Chicago Symphony, presented a recital and lecture. Kujala performed Geraedt Sonatina, Foote Troise Pieces, Musgrave Piccolo Play, and Barrère Nocturne. In 1990 Victoria Jicha, Flute Talk Editor Emeritus, chaired the club’s first informative teacher’s exchange panel. That spring Donald Peck, principal flute of the Chicago Symphony, presented the second recital. When given his payment for performing, Peck immediately tore up the check and donated the performance fee back to the club. A grateful board granted him an honorary lifetime membership.
Other early events included a recital by Lyon Leifer on the Indian bansuri flute, a workshop on specific medical problems associated with flute playing, and a workshop on flute repair. Recitals and masterclasses were performed by Jean Berkenstock, Carol Wincenc, Walfrid Kujala, Richard Graef, Judith Bentley, Steve Kujala, and Michel Debost. In the following years flutists Jeanne Baxtresser, Emmanuel Pahud, William Bennett, Denis Bouriakov, Bonita Boyd, Leone Buyse, Michel Debost, Robert Dick, Mathieu Dufour, James Galway, Marco Granados, Jennifer Gunn, Rhonda Larson, Susan Milan, Nicole Mitchell, Greg Pattillo, Paula Robison, Trevor Wye, Matthias Ziegler, Jimmy Walker, Ali Ryerson, Claire Chase, Jasmine Choi, and Lorna McGhee presented recitals.
The first annual student competition was held in 1992. Students performed Faure’s Morceau de Concours and a composition of the student’s choice. This competition has grown to include three age divisions and more than 90 students. Competition winners are awarded monetary prizes and an invitation to perform in a Chicago Flute Club sponsored recital.
An adult competition was added in 2003 plus a series of three rotating competitions: orchestral excerpts, chamber music, and solo artist. Today the Chicago Flute Club alternates the Solo Artist Competition with the Kujala International Piccolo Competition. The most recent Solo Artist winner was Won Lee, and the most recent Kujala International Piccolo Competition winner was Mariacelli Navarro Salerno.
Chicago Flute Fair
The first Flute Fair was held in 1998 at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory with Paula Robison as the guest artist. The goal was to have an event that was “fun, with a traditional fair/carnival atmosphere.” There were performances by flute choirs, a recital, masterclasses, and 10 exhibitors. The CFC board decorated and sold chocolate pretzel piccolos and chocolate bars with gold, embossed CFC logos.
In 2007 the Chicago Flute Fair was expanded to a two-day event that began with a banquet to honor Lifetime Achievement Award honorees. Through the years lifetime achievement awards have been presented to Walfrid Kujala, Donald Peck, Bickford Brannen, Michel Debost, Jeanne Baxtresser, Mary Louise Poor, and Jim Keefe. The 2007 guest artist was Emmanuel Pahud with classes presented by Nancy Toff, Mary Stolper, Patricia George and others. In recent years, recitals have been performed by William Bennett, Denis Bouriakov, Matthias Ziegler, Marco Granados, Jim Walker, Claire Chase, and Ali Ryerson. The club is currently planning the November 13-15, 2015 Chicago Flute Fair which will be held at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport.
One of the original objectives of the club founders was to commission new works for flute. In 2002 Martin Amlin was offered the first commission. His Sonata No. 2 for Flute and Piano was premiered by Mary Stolper, flute and Martin Amlin, piano. Five years later Lita Grier wrote Echoes Over Time for flute quartet as the second commissioned work. To commemorate the CFC’s 25th anniversary Ian Clarke wrote Spells for flute choir, and Shulamit Ran wrote Birds of Paradise. All four commissioned works were performed at the 2014 NFA convention. Spells and Birds of Paradise were world premieres.
In an effort to give back to the community, the Chicago Flute Club recently established a community concert series, Flutes about Town. This program presents concerts by members of the club at hospitals, senior centers, and children’s homes. There are also annual membership recitals for members to share performances with each other and their guests.
The Chicago Flute Club looks forward to many more years of concerts, festivals, classes, lectures, competitions, and commissions to spread the love of all things flute related. Club members look back fondly at their history while anticipating and planning for growth and future events.