Thursday, October 05, 2023

Brief Biography

Circa 1980

Dear Flutelovers,

The other day I received an email from a new reader who didn't know what kind of a flute career I'd had, so I thought I'd re-introduce myself to any other new readers out there in the land of antique flute blogging. ;>)

My name is Jennifer Cluff and I've been playing the flute since the age of 11 (which would have been 1972!). My formal bio is here.

I had failed at being interested in the piano, had disliked the sound of beginner violin, and actually started on the Recorder in grade 4 with in-class lessons, but it was when I entered a new school in grade 7 that we were offered woodwinds and brass for the first time. My principal influences were "Tubby the Tuba" and a visit of a professional orchestra to our school, and I chose the flute because it sounded heavenly.

Within a week I'd learned the fingerings for three octaves, and within a year I was a soloist in front  of the school orchestra. (I played on TV too that year!)

But it wasn't until I was 14 that I took my first private flute lesson, at which it was discovered I wasn't actually reading music, but playing by ear and using written-in note-names only to figure out the rest.

From that first lesson forward, it was Royal Conservatory training all the way, taking grades 6, 9, 10, A.R.C.T. in the next four years, and all the requisite Theory, Harmony, Counterpoint, Piano, Ear Training and Sight Singing, as well as Chamber Music, Choral Music and playing in regional and student orchestras.

I then entered the University of Toronto Faculty of Music and studied an additional four years for a Bachelor of Music degree in Performance. We had conductors like Otto Werner Mueller, and were featured in live radio broadcasts performing things like Firebird by Stravinsky with me on piccolo. It was stunning! It was a thrill ride!

I injured my left scapula area in fourth year during my graduating recital preparation and then, as soon as the recital was successfully completed, I took 7 years off from playing to mend my muscles, changing study areas several times, and travelling to various parts of the country.

Then, after returning to the flute while living in a small town, I was suddenly named principal flute of a newly formed orchestra and then played in that group for 12 years. After the orchestra I played with a few chamber groups (videos). Eventually, however, I found myself emotionally crashing out with an arm injury that just wouldn't stop wounding me. I couldn't be perfect enough. I couldn't get my confidence back....and I gradually wound down my performing to nurse my injuries.

Then, after 27 years of teaching, at the intermediate level mostly, (most of my students were RCM grades 6-10) I retired from private flute teaching during Covid lockdown in the spring of 2020 in part to co-ordinate with staff changes at our school, and a newer flute teacher arriving, and in part because I couldn't see a future in teaching with a respiratory virus going around like wildfire.

I was happy to retire from teaching, and since Covid, have also taken several years off playing. To tell you the truth, I was a bit downhearted and certainly over-tired.

But now, rested somewhat, I'm beginning to dust off the flute and piccolo again and exploring new avenues in my 60s. It's not a time to restart a performing career, but I do know an awful lot now about people and about fluteplaying.

My musicality was my strength and I had imitative and complex interpretive abilities plus a great deal of heart when I performed and taught. But I still wished I'd had perfect pitch, was able to instantly memorize written music,  and I felt I would have gone farther if I had started quality training earlier, but there you go. So there's a biographical update.

If you have any questions, feel free to use the comment button below.

I've got a lot of funny stories about the early days of flute teaching and performing onstage..... Like the time the conductor had a stroke just seconds before the opening of the Nutcracker Ballet, and he forcefully "went on with the show" anyway with two ambulance assistants crouched down in the orchestra pit with us and an oxygen tank. By the end of the show he could barely move his arms at all, but wanted to bow and leave the pit by himself. It was a monumentally weird Nutcracker that night!

 Or the time I sat next to a famous clarinetist who'd gone deaf and he couldn't hear the conductor tell the entire orchestra where to begin playing in rehearsal, so we who sat near him had to gently tell him without telling him: "Let's go, Earl, five after B, NOW!" right in his ear.

Or the very first regional orchestra I played in, where the vioinists actually smoked while they rehearsed. It was all "smoke 'em if you got 'em" and empty tuna cans were set out under their chairs to use as ashtrays.

My absolute favourite orchestral performance that I played in as a profesh was with Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth. It was a thrill ride to be onstage with that powerful rhythmic fever! My second favourite was anytime the music made the musicians spontaneously cry as they finished a movement (Nimrod by Elgar) or the audience roar with approval (Pictures at an Exhibition/Tchaik 5/Scheherazade etc.). 

Hey....Tell YOUR story. Use the comment button. :>)

There are many colourful stories to be shared.  :>)

Best, Jen

Comments (6)
Anonymous Alberta said...

Hi, Thank you for letting us know a little more about you. You are nearly as old as me. I picked up my flute again about five years ago after taking fifty years off. I’m in the community band and I like to spend time not only practicing but reading about playing. I’ve already learned from you. Alberta

Saturday, October 07, 2023 7:23:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for the story Alberta, and I'm so glad you've found the website/blog with helpful tips. Excellent!

Saturday, October 07, 2023 8:47:00 AM

Blogger haydn12 said...

I started on the flute as an adult when I was in my 20's to play a couple simple solos like Chicago's Color My World in a band I played keyboards and guitar in. I got discouraged after about a year trying to teach myself and put the flute aside. My daughter saw my flute and decided she wanted to play it in 5th grade. I bought her a better flute so I could play along with her. I purchased an Azumi flute flute for her a couple years later using suggestions from your website. She started playing in flute choirs when she was in 9th grade and I thought that looked fun to do. So I decided to start practicing regularly. I started to take a flute lesson here and there from her teacher before she graduated from high school. I started to do lessons regularly after she graduated.

I'm now playing in a flute ensemble under the direction of Dr. Jenna Daum (2nd flute with Phoenix Symphony) and also in a community college concert band. I do the flute ensemble with my daughter. It's a great bonding experience!

Saturday, October 07, 2023 3:56:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Oh Haydn12 WHAT a superb story!!
Excellent in all ways!

Saturday, October 07, 2023 4:22:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jen, I've followed your blog off and on and also as someone who had to take long periods of time off after their BM and is back in it now, it's doing a lot to make me not feel like an outsider. Thank you so much for sharing!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023 1:15:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Glad we're not alone anonymous!
For sure that's true; not alone. :>)

Wednesday, October 11, 2023 4:01:00 PM


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