Patricia Harper, flutist
I was born into a family where the love of learning and of classical music was deep. My mother, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, practiced the piano diligently every morning, gave piano lessons in the afternoons, and performed from time to time as piano soloist, accompanist, and chamber player. She was also the organist in my father's Lutheran church. My father was her greatest fan; he was also a devotee of opera. Every Saturday afternoon he stretched out on the living room rug to listen to "Live from the Met". By the time I was four, I was studying the piano with my mother and singing with a natural vibrato which I had absorbed from hearing those wonderful opera singers on the radio. I was also studying Dalcroze Eurhythmics because my mother believed it would help me to develop natural musical rhythm. This early training accounts for my moving with the music when I perform now.
I grew up in Red Bank, New Jersey, and went to public schools there. By the fourth grade I could choose another instrument, and I picked the flute because of those wonderful bird solos in Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf", to which my brother and I used to dance around the house. How fortunate that Frances Blaisdell lived in Red Bank! She agreed to give me lessons on two conditions: one, that I continue my piano studies; and two, that I agreed to practice one hour on the flute and one hour on the piano every day. At the beginning there was a lot of clock-watching!
Frances Blaisdell was the best teacher in the world. She inspired me to work hard and instilled my self-discipline. Because she was active in the New York musical scene, she knew what the standards were, and she gave me the very best and most thorough flute instruction a child could ever wish to have. She drilled me on technique and insisted that everything be memorized. She took me to concerts, had me sit in the pit while she played at the City Center Ballet, introduced me to "greats" like Kincaid and Toscanini, and arranged many performing opportunities for me. My mother was my permanent accompanist. At the time, I took all of this musical nurturing for granted, but, of course, I now realize how fortunate my formative circumstances were. By the tenth grade I was First Chair in both the New Jersey All-State Orchestra and the New Jersey All-State Band. My nickname was "Fingers".
I was also a keen student in high school. Both of my parents and Frances Blaisdell were insistent on my having a broad-based liberal arts education, and because I was strong both as a player and as a student, I received scholarships enabling me to attend Smith College. (In those days, the Ivies weren't open to women.) There I could continue musical study and be challenged intellectually. I gave solo recitals (all from memory) in my sophmore, junior, and senior years, won the concerto contest as a senior, and wrote an honors thesis on "Bach's Sonatas for Flute". I also studied French and English, ancient history and Shakespeare, botany and sociology.
Although I never wavered in my desire to pursue music as a profession, I think that the liberal arts education I received broadened my outlook on life as well as on music. It was not sufficient to be the best technician; I wanted to know about the history of musical style, the analysis of compositional form, and the specifics of each work in our flute repertory. Chosing Yale University for graduate work enabled me to strengthen these interests. I still recall the thrill of confronting that first authentic manuscript in juxtaposition with a published performing edition. How often surprising transformations occur! Those of you who know of my work on the Poulenc flute sonata and on the Sidney Lanier scores, are aware of how this fascination and persistence with score comparisons and interpretations has come to fruition. (Both the Poulenc and the Lanier works were Newly-Published Music winners of the National Flute Association in the year of their respective publications.)
My mentor at Yale was Samuel Baron. Sam loved learning and exalted musical understanding through score study - especially in the understanding of the music of J. S. Bach. While I was his student, he was reconstructing the first movement of the A Major Sonata, delving into an interpretive analysis for the A Minor Partita, and introducing me to the great cantata arias. The spiritual aspects of Bach's music were shared, too, and I felt a great kinship with this man whose love of God and of Mankind were much like my own father's. Many years later, in our on-going collegial friendship, when I had been directing my own "Back to Bach" series for ten years, I was rewarded with a musical collaboration on Bach's Trio Sonata in G Major with Sam. It turned out to be, regrettably, one of his last concerts.
And so, here are my three hats: I have become a performer dedicated to serving faithfully the composer's intentions by conscientious score study and on-going research. I have become an educator, modeling myself on the inspirational mentorship of two exceptional teachers who took the time to lead and to explain and to be interested in me as a human being as well as a flute student. And I have become a scholar seeking musical truths in order to achieve more comprehensive musical performances and to give something back to the musical community.
Since 1975 I have been the flute professor at Connecticut College where there continues to be an intelligent and enthusiastic flute studio. As a member of that faculty I became a founding member of the New London Contemporary Ensemble, Director of a "Back to Bach" series, and "Women in Music" series. I have performed much of our solo and chamber music repertory and all of Bach's chamber music with flute. Each June I lead an intensive flute seminar in California for adult players.
My life has been blessed in many ways. My late architect husband, like my father, was my most devoted fan, and I have two wonderful grown children: a son who is a financial analyst in San Francisco, and a daughter, a photo archivist, in Austin, Texas. I strongly believe that it is not how much talent each of us is given, but how we use these gifts, however modest they may be, which is of primary importance. In the end, the wise development of individual talents leads to professional satisfaction and to a richly rewarding life.
- Patricia Harper
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