By Jeanne Galway
On her tours around the World, Jeanne Galway meets many wonderful flute players. She has offered to ask interesting people the questions Flutewise readers have set.
What is your name and nationality?
Jeanne Baxtresser. Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA.
Describe your flute playing job.
I am Principal Flautist of the New York Philharmonic. I also teach flute to students from all over the world. The three schools where I teach are The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It is necessary for me to do a very good practice session in the morning so that I am prepared for rehearsals in the morning and afternoon with the New York Philharmonic. The students I teach are very interested in having careers in music, so I make time every day to work with these young people in preparing for solo recitals, competitions, and orchestral auditions. My students come from all over Europe, Asia, New Zealand, as well as the United States. They are all very good friends and help each other a great deal. Sometimes, a student friend can help you to learn as much as a teacher. In the evenings, I play concerts with the orchestra or I attend concerts of my students, or play chamber music concerts. As you can see, my life is very full with music performing and teaching.
How old were you when you started the flute?
I started the flute in third grade, when I was nine years old at Robert Fulton public school in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Why did you start playing?
I chose the flute because I loved the sound and I also loved the way it looked. There was no other instrument that had the magical appeal of the flute and I never stopped loving it.
What make of flute did you start on?
The first flute I played was rented from the school and it was a student model Artley.
What make of flute do you play on now?
I now play a Haynes silver flute with an Albert Cooper 9K gold headjoint. For me, the combination of gold and silver gives me a nice balance of warmth and brilliance in the sound. The Albert Cooper headjoint also suits me as I can make a rich sound without forcing and it is beautifully flexible.
What was/is your most influential teacher?
My mother, Margaret Baxtresser is a concert pianist, and I learned many things from her about musicianship and becoming an effective performer. She was a great guide to me and I was very lucky to have this help for so many years. My first flute teacher was Mary Wilson, and she gave me a wonderful foundation on which to build . Julius Baker was my teacher at Juilliard. As I was growing up, I listened to all of his records and studied his flute playing. I couldn’t have picked a better example of truly great flute playing. He is one of the most honest instrumentalists I have ever known. He always insisted on intonation, clean technique, beautiful sound, and strong musical ideas. I will always feel very fortunate for the years I had with such extraordinary musical teachers and players.
What is your favourite instrument to accompany the flute?
Perhaps because my mother accompanied me on the piano when I was a little girl, I feel very comfortable with the flute and piano combination. I also love to have the New York Philharmonic accompany me!
Which historical figure would you most like to meet and what question would you ask?
I would like to meet William Shakespeare and I would ask him how one man, living one life, could know so much about people—the innermost thoughts that guide us through our lives for better or for worse.
What single piece of advice would you offer a young flute player?
For a young flute player in the beginning years of playing, the most important element is to have joy and love for making the sound and for learning about music. Hard work begins in the teens, but the beginning should be full of love and fun and commitment.
When is your birthday?
My birthday is August 2—so I am a Leo.
What is your favourite colour?
My favourite color is green—every shade of green.
What is your favourite food? Do you like Brussel sprouts?
I love Indian food, Chinese food, American food, Italian food and anything else you can think of. I love Brussels sprouts—they are so cute, they look like baby cabbages. Try this recipe—after they are cooked, add equal parts vinegar and honey, with a little butter and drizzle on top.
Who is your most influential musician (not necessarily flute)
I love to listen to the recordings of great singers. Not only classical singers like Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, but also the popular singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Garland. I like to imitate the natural flow and vibrato these singers have. I also like to listen to Annie Lennox— she plays the flute, too!
Who is your favourite composer? What is your favourite piece of flute music?
I feel very close to the music of the 20th century, from Debussy to Hindemith, to Stravinsky. I also love the flute music of J.S. Bach. My love of different composers keeps growing and I know I can’t pick one favourite because I always feel totally committed to the music that is in front of me, whatever it is.
Do you have any pets? If so, what?
My husband and I both work in the Philharmonic. We are away from home so much that a pet would be very lonely. So we don’t have any pets, but I wish I could have a dog.
What is your favorite TV programme?
As a musician, I work many nights, when other people are watching television. So, I don’t know many television programmes. I do like to watch Masterpiece Theatre for the great dramas that come to us from the BBC, as well as our own programmes on PBS (Public Broadcasting System).
Family? Are/were any of them musicians?
I am from a family of six children and they are all musical. I am the only one who plays music for a profession, however. My husband, David Carroll, is a bassoonist in the New York Philharmonic with me. It is very nice to have your best friend sit so close to you at work.
Ambition, not necessarily musical?
My greatest ambition at this point in my life is to continue to enjoy playing music. But most important, to make time to share with young people all that I have learned in these many years about music and musicians. I have been very fortunate in having had so many wonderful opportunities. Because of these opportunities, I have learned about music from many great musicians. I look forward to sharing all of this and much more with young people for the rest of my life.
Funniest/most embarrassing musical story?
The most embarrassing story for me happened some years ago. I was playing the Poulenc Sextet for winds and piano. Before I walked out on the stage, I cleaned my flute out with flute swab which was bright red. We were called out onto stage very quickly, and I forgot to remove my swab. I started to play and, of course, no sound came out, but I didn’t know why. I thought I was having a bad dream! Everyone in the audience could see the red cloth hanging out of my flute and even the people on stage could see it, but I could not. I finally decided to stop because I was getting nowhere fast. I then saw what had happened I stood up and explained to the audience what I had done and why this red cloth was hanging out of the end of my flute. And then, I made the audience promise not to tell any of my students!!