Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

The month of October was rich with foreign travel: Belarus, Latvia, and Italy. This is one of the great gifts offered by music: a Magic Carpet that flies you off to the far reaches of the globe. We are, after all, itinerant pilgrims, we performing artists. I can think of no greater privilege than this! To present what one has to offer through this mysterious act of making and giving music seems to me an ambassadorial role, with great responsibility which I take very seriously. We perform our music for friends we have not yet met, people whose language we don’t speak, and whose culture is different from our own. This is an inestimable honor. It is a life of dedicating your art of music-making to the uplifting of the human heart, because it is essentially an act of transparent giving through a universally understood language.

To look at the other side of the great gift of traveling for ones vocation, there are legions of challenges involved. Firstly, the scrutiny of my luggage with so many flutes can be alarming. I realize it is my job to remain as calm as possible, and instruct the TSA agents how they should properly open my flute case so as not to dump it out. Instead, I am rarely genuinely peaceful as to this procedure while they causally examine the instruments of my soul! My dear husband has learned to stay clear of me as much as possible during these times. More travel challenges are the upkeep of one’s body: to be able to sleep on flights abroad when one’s body is not tired, or not being able to sleep when exhausted; to eat when one is not hungry due to the current schedule, or famished but access to food is impossible. To not be able to have regular exercise but keep energized day after day for all the essential work being done and called to do, such as rehearsals, interviews, teaching, performing, receptions, etc., is very challenging. On the road, nearly nothing is in my control, so I have to be as flexible as a gymnast. But at the end of the day, even all these inconveniences are simply part of the package in bringing the music out into the world. Otherwise, I would simply be a mere practice-room flutist, never coming out to give the ‘flute of my labors’ back to the world in which I live.

Perhaps these travel challenges are God’s way of keeping us humble in allowing struggles in the midst of something that is so privileged as world travel and cultural influence through music. As Garrison Keillor says, “we each have the back-stage view of ourselves”, meaning this should be humbling enough, but reminders to further humility can only be a good thing, fostering wakefulness. All I know is, this is where I most learn the truth of the phrase, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” I live to play music, but without a doubt it is an enormous physical and psychological feat out on the road.

Being in a country where one does not speak the language always fills me with awe. In Belarus, we cannot even read words because of the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s almost like being a child again, needing things explained, translated. When I talk to audiences of my own language, I have a very free approach that is the same way I approach the music. I abandon myself wholly to the moment at hand by putting myself into the responsibility of the Benevolent Force that gave me the music in the first place! Since I’ve already done the work of assiduous preparation, performing is an act of freely delivering. How this giving of oneself is received by the listener is actually not my responsibility, I’m simply responsible for offering myself whole-heartedly to the goal of uplifting, serving. But requiring verbal translating alters this approach.

We had fantastic translators in both Belarus (Olga) and Latvia (Ieva). In concerts and in teaching, pacing is crucial, as I must simplify, be brief and to the point—not always personal strengths of mine. It is times such as these that I am reminded how wonderful it is that music is its own universally understood language, interpretations left to each listener. But when word translations are part of that package, the impact still needs to be visceral, not literal. For this, I marvel at the translators, as they are agile with a second language in a way I can hardly accomplish with my first!

I digress here for this opportune moment for a “translating” joke. I mentioned previously that on the road one is reminded how, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Someone translated this biblical phrase from English into Russian, then back into English. The final translation came out, “the vodka is wonderful but the meat has gone bad!” It reminds me of another hilarious translation, one given by my husband, Lee. He speaks fluent Italian, but on one concert night in Italy he was very tired, and in translating “crystal flute”, he apparently said in Italian, “flute of Christ”! I see no problem, here.

It was my second time traveling to Belarus, but it was most of the band’s first. It is great traveling with a group of good souls, together having experiences that bind us in a familial way—Lee, Tim, Eliot, Chris, Les, and Carolyn. We tried food we have never had in our lives, sometimes due to not being able to read the menu, and sometimes to be daring. On the latter, we vowed never to try those boiled pig’s ears again. We approached the food the same way as the culture: be completely open, especially to the unfamiliar. This is the only approach that enlarges the ‘stakes of one’s tent’, as the saying goes. Our breakfasts at our Minsk hotel included the entire 16-hour cycle of what might be eaten throughout one long day, though presented in entirety as the first meal of the day, no exaggeration. Seven or eight tables were filled with varieties of food, every morning. There were soups, meats of every delicate, dense or spicy style, cheeses, macaroni and cheese, breakfast cereals, lunches, suppers! I cannot name it all.

One morning, I caught up with Les, our sound engineer. He had arrived at breakfast earlier because a group of the band was going out looking for a musical instrument store, whereas I was staying behind, going for a walk on my own. He was just finishing his breakfast and an odd assortment of unidentifiable though tasted parcels were remaining on his plate. In his perpetual humorous demeanor, he stood up to leave and touched his stomach saying, “Well, Stomach, I’ve given you what I can. Now it’s up to you!” I laughed about that for the next couple hours, out walking around!

We had good energy for our packed-house show, helped no doubt by a dinner of sushi! Who knew one could have sushi, here? The concert was, for me personally, blissful. As I mentioned earlier, the performing artist life is only its most real when you get to give it away, beginning with the moment of walking out onto the stage!

The next day, I was transported 3 hours or so to Mogilev, to perform for their Music Academy. Though I was very sleepy, I did not want to miss the countryside. There were birch bark trees, aspens, pines, and multitudes of green fields. The landscape was flat, familiar like Michigan in that way. I like musing as I see the forests and landscape when traveling. I imagine myself being in THOSE woods, right there. I can smell them, hear them, feel them. But in fact, they remain physically inaccessible outside our traveling vehicle on a sunny day. I’m reminded that every where I travel, I long to get to know the place by going into the woods, near rivers, or on top of mountains—anywhere in nature. It is a hunger, a dis-ease that has been with me all my life, due to the good fortune of being born and raised in the glorious Big Sky Country, outside Bozeman, Montana, the Last Best Place.

Mogilev brought the most animated Conservatory experience to date! The entire student body and their professors were completely attentive, and afterwards asked astute questions. One professor in particular entertained us to tearful laughter with his question that would never-become-a-question. Each time I was going to answer his first hint at a question, he would interject with more of what he wanted to say, to roars of laughter, including myself. After this back-and-forth from him at least four times, I asked him, through our interpreter, if he was a flute player. He said, “trombone”. I shot back, “that explains a lot!” More roars of laughter, followed by wild applause. Such was the spirit of these beautiful people, a consistent representation of everyone I met while in Belarus. Full of life, curiosity, playfulness, and gratitude for life! I will be back to this place, for sure!

Next up: three days off in Italy after this superb Belarus experience. But now I find myself ill….It was even my birthday, but I spent that day in bed, in our home in Italy. I’m guessing if you are sick on the day of your birthday, your age does not go up another year! Our time in Italy was supposed to be three days of time-off and rejuvenating, but it was three days trying to come back to life. More humble pie, served up along with the beautiful, serene Italian countryside. Then off to Latvia, feeling no better. There is no calling in sick on the road.

This was my first time to Latvia. I am in love with that country, too. It has qualities of Western Europe in its architecture as well as the food. We were largely ensconced in Riga, but drove to Jelgava, Cesis, Leipaja, and Daugavpils for my work of performing and teaching. On one of the evenings, Ieva (fellow flutist and my translator in Latvia) invited Lee and me to a concert she was part of, a new Latvian work representing the history of the country and its people, including video along with live chamber orchestra and singers. I was stunned by this performance. We sat at the very back of the cathedral, and I had goose-bumps from the start to finish. The vocals were some of the best I have ever heard, anywhere. It was a breathtaking performance. I was already impressed with how high the standard of music-making was as evidenced during my work with teachers and their flute students, and now it was completely confirmed by this performance. This is a country with music deeply embedded in their souls.

Several nights I had little sleep due to being sick. We never learned the cause, either bad food or bad water, but it was with me for the next three weeks. No other band member got sick, evidently their need for humility being far less. But each day I was so grateful just to be able to do my work, and do it wholeheartedly, dissolving into a comfortable bed at each day’s end.

We went from Latvia back to our sweet, silent abode in Italy for my only “official” vacation (i.e. time spent without having to deliver anything whatsoever according to my art/calling). It is the first time I have been in Italy in October, and I experienced a whole new world around me—-trees that had changed color, olive trees that were pregnant beyond belief for harvest (the reaping was quite late this year). Though I was still not physically well, it helped that I could simply get back to physical activity here in the Sabina Mountains, no matter how I felt.

Upon returning home, I experienced renewed gratitude toward living my life being deliberately productive: specific time for hours of practice, specific time for physical exercise, food I can choose and when, etc. There is a time for all seasons, and this is back to the season of building up, the nuts-and-bolts work of honing one’s craft, exploring new music, working the work, creating. It will soon again be that other season, the one when I put myself at the mercy of the universe, the one of giving out, back on the road. My life consists of going back and forth from these two, exquisite worlds. A privileged way of life, indeed!

Blessings to everyone, especially if you made it all the way to the end of this story! Along with requiring translators, I probably also need an editor!
Rhonda (January 15, 2012)

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

Rhonda Larson’s Flute For Thought

Life has been full and rich since the last time I have written my ‘Flute For Thought’. I hardly know where to begin, but probably the likely place would be that we moved to a new location (somewhere in the fall season of 2009), nearer to civilization. Mind you, I loved most things about the remote location in which we lived, but having had an enormously rainy spring that season which continued to flood our basement several times, I was finally willing to leave without hesitation…

In our new location, I am first struck by that wonderful word called “convenience”…the convenience to consumer-ism, I suppose. I no longer use up half a day just to get groceries, or a full day just doing business in town—trips which were carefully planned so the most activities could be accomplished on one trip. (Probably not unlike the horse-and-buggy days). Here in our new place, the only downside for me is hearing the unfamiliar, far-off ebb and flow of traffic. Delicate as it may be, I’m simply not used to its blood-through-veins drone.

We moved to a place that had creative, inventive first-owners: the house was built in the 1940’s, and has great space inside, in readiness of entertaining visitors. But what makes this place completely unique is that directly in the back yard, at the beginning of our 11 acres, there is a cabin that is replica of a 1600’s Williamsburg Cabin. I have never been to Williamsburg, so am behind the lure, here. But I know many friends who have been seduced and hooked by its wonderful representation. What I do know is that every time I walk through that door, I am stunned. Another time zone, here, silent and simple, exquisitely placid. (Cabins are a recurring theme in my life and writings). There is a hearth at the far end extending from one side of the room to the other—a spit ‘big enough for a cow’, as we say. I think of this serene cabin as a ‘writer’s cabin’, and I have proven this true. Besides sleeping there most summer nights, we have used cooler fall nights to sit in front of the fire. Sometimes Lee and I grill Bratworst as we sit there in a, should we say, ‘siamo contenti’ world. Then Lee brings out his mandolin, rocking in the appropriate chair while cooing out bluegrass or folk music with a smile across his big mustache. Life is good, and this kind of quiet, simple living is food for the body, mind, and spirit.

As if that were not enough, across the yard from this is a genuine one-room schoolhouse built in 1878. This building stands regally, in full “mountain” pose [yoga], as if to say, “You who are curious, come in and learn new things!” As the story goes, the original owners owned a salvage company, and created wonderful worlds/surroundings with their findings—they built a small village around themselves that supported and reflected the passions of their lives. The husband had the schoolhouse moved here IN TOTAL from a location about 20 miles away, as it was a 50th wedding present for his wife, who had been a career school teacher. That sounds like love to me! So this schoolhouse is where I now get to hone my craft, day after day, learning how to play the flute, and to live as one who practices Art as a being in a constant mode of PRACTICE. (Isn’t all life this? We can only ‘practice’ who we wish to be, and hope we can deliver this in the final delivery, at every moment, out in the world). See more pictures and info about my masterclass in the schoolhouse here.

Without meaning this to sound clichéd or trite, it is simply true that I feel so blessed to live in such a place! Everything here teems with abundance and possibility, and not a day goes by that we don’t recognize how fortunate we are, how fortunate I am. That recognition becomes more prevalent as we find the season changing from summer to fall, where the long winter is never far behind.

Since moving here, I’ve been hustling and bustling around, all to the gracious service of being a performing musician. It is challenging to remember all the wonderful places I have been since we moved here, but off the top of my head, there are some which immediately spring to mind. The first is Poland. I gave a concert just outside of Warsaw last summer, and fell in love with the place and its people. It is always a great privilege to enter into a culture not my own—as if to dip ones toe into someone else’s beautiful lake. Here in Poland, I experienced a soft, quiet empathy due to all they have suffered and endured in their history—that suffering was palpable to me, but in a form like someone walking silently through the woods.

My concert was in a beautiful, ancient church, lighted brilliantly with blue/lavender hues, all for the performance—a modern, yet ‘you-are-in-heaven-NOW’ touch. The whole event felt sacred and mystical. Perhaps it helped that in the front row of this audience were five priests, all fully identifiable from their clothing, and peaceful faces. By start time, the concert had standing room only. What is more, they listened far more deeply and intently than American audiences. You could have heard a pin drop the entire night. It was stunning. In between pieces there was enthusiastic applause followed by unison chanted words I did not recognize from a language not my own. These kinds of auspicious events never cease to amaze me in that I am permitted this richness in doing what I do out in the world. By the end, we saw many, many people with tears rolling down their faces. It was a more poignant concert than it may have normally been given that just weeks before we arrived, their president had died in the plane crash in Russia. I fought tears myself when playing a particularly lamenting piece which I dedicated to them in sharing their tragedy. What I realized is that tragedy itself is universal in its depth of pain. The form in which tragedy appears becomes specific to place, event, and circumstances. Music is a constant healer in these circumstances. And it is obvious that the love and mystery of music is profound in this culture. I will forever feel a special place for this country and its people.

I find it difficult here to transition to another subject, so let us see it as if walking a mountain range, high and low, winds blowing and ceasing, and now you find yourself in an entirely new territory…a different vista, sun peeking out through colorful clouds…

In July, 2010, I attended the International Native American Flute Association (INAFA), held last year in Wisconsin. All my life I have felt as if I were a Native People—or certainly thought I should be considered one. Not just because of being born and raised in a mountainous canyon outside Bozeman, Montana, but because my entire upbringing had more to do with my grounding and happiness in the mountains and woods than with what I viewed even then as the rather un-natural ways of society in which I found myself. I used to say, as a child of thirteen or so, that “the woods raised me”. It sounds humorous, now, but it was deeply true for me in that I valued everything about nature, as I first learned was true with our First Peoples.

For example, I honor the fact that we are at nature’s mercy in all its unpredictability (this takes us out of our human narcissism); it provides us with food though we must labor on that front and exercise genuine gratitude that we live another day (teaching us to savor life); that nature may seem, at first glance, like chaos and happenstance, but in fact everything is ordered in a divine, life-perpetuating measure; and that Nature Speaks. This last point has always been the most important part for me—it not only speaks and teaches, but speaks directly to me, or its hearer, should we care to hear. This is the voice I now call the Benevolent Force, God, if you will—whose gentle voice I have found loudest in nature.

So it was with a bit of trepidation yet hopeful expectation that I came to this convention to perform what I have to offer for this organization of people whose heritage was initially grounded in the freedom of the natural world. (As an aside, I must say that I also resonate profoundly with the historical and present suffering of these people—that they were America’s first ‘occupied’ subjects. To this day, I believe we still have not dealt with this injustice in a public manner. Even slavery has received its public apology from the highest, presidential platform, but not so with these First Peoples. I long to see that day come…

Back to the convention: EVERYTHING about this happy gathering was deeply gratifying. Many performers presented themselves in full native costume, which were as magnificent to look at as they were to hear and experience. (I found myself collecting all the loose, costume-less feathers back stage—I could not let them just stay there, floating around, so I have a small hand-full of colorful feathers by which to remember this weekend!) One performer came all the way from Australia (Jeremy Donovan), and performed on the didgeridoo, scantily clad with beautifully painted flesh. He blew our minds and took us on a performance journey into the mystical, haunting aboriginal world. It was an indelible performance for me. In the end, I felt that all of us in attendance at this convention shared much in common, not least of which was the love of flute, in its various forms. This event was a great embrace in the LARGEST possible circle (I think of the symbol of the tipi, here).

February 2011 we found ourselves at a Victorian castle in northern Scotland. It was procured by our friend Adrian to celebrate his 50th birthday, with his friends from around the world. There were the kilt-wearers, the lovers of football, the priests and those trained by priests, professors, the gourmet cooks and fine wine connoisseurs and those of us who benefited from the same, business people, friends and ex-es, and of course—there’s at least one in every crowd—a musician (who could not play her flute due to some bronchial incapacitation that happened on the day of arrival!). It was one of the finest times I’ve ever had: the shared company, the location, the food, and the daily pace. We were all there for several days in this estate castle that had, if memory serves me, nine kitchens, 33 rooms, a sauna, and views to live for, overlooking the Isle of Mull. One day we took a ferry to Iona, something I had longed to do. The ancient church was worth the whole trip, and though I could barely breathe properly, I did sing a few lines in this reverberant space—giving me a feeling of leaving something for them, while taking something from there with me. It is difficult for me to describe this trip to Scotland, because it is more how it made me feel. There was a consistently prevalent, gentle, misting rain the whole time we were there, which gave everything an effervescent golden hue. I filmed everything, everywhere. This is simply how I carry on these days, hoping to capture such timeless beauty, never to forget.

In March, I drove 12 hours to Tennessee. (I like seeing the country by way of car, getting to know the overall landscape from one hour to the next—and prefer driving to flying whenever time allows for such). I worked with flute students in Cookeville, and performed in Nashville. Then I repeated the drive all over again the next week, farther east this time, to Harrisonburg, Virginia, performing at James Madison University. All were wonderful events and people, with some happy re-acquaintances and many new friends entirely.

In June, a 16-hours drive, first to Boston, to rehearse with my pianist Tim Ray (who played for many years with Lyle Lovett). Tim is an amazing player—he’s far more quiet than me, mind you (I’m a talker and laugher), but he speaks through the keyboard all that needs be said. We rehearsed at the Berklee School of Music, where Tim teaches.

Now the drive back to Connecticut, which is the concert we made the trip for. Just outside of Litchfield is my beloved Milton territory, my second home (where I lived for 14 years in this general area). It may surprise you to learn I have my own mountain there—and it is always waiting for me every time I return. It is usually the first place I go when I arrive back in this territory. Of course, I’m the one who designated it ‘my’ mountain; it is my prayer mountain, though its official name is “Prospect Mountain”. I know every tree along that trail, and know when anything has changed even slightly. We went there as soon as we arrived in the territory, as is to be expected…(I have no pictures that do this place justice).
Two days later, Tim Ray and I performed at Milton’s Trinity Church (where I ‘breathed and moved and had my practice-being’ for six years.)It could not have been a more glorious summer day, with the sun streaming in at what I always used to call the “gloaming hour”—golden light through stain-glassed windows at just the right time of day. It was a “good day to die” as the saying goes—happy, full, content, surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world. (But I’m happy to report that I lived and flourished the next day, also…)

Another 12-13 hours drive in late July to rehearse with the trio version of my band in Asheville, North Carolina. A great, productive week and deepening friendships with noble musicians and their spices (spouses), followed by an elating hike in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (old growth trees) on our trip back.

The summer season finished off with Rhonda Larson & Ventus performing for the National Flute Association annual convention, held this year in Charlotte, NC. (Way back in 1985, I won their Young Artist Competition). What a great time, as these events always are! We performed in the Belk Theater, one of the most beautiful theaters I have performed in. The first half of the concert was given by the incomparable Turkish ney (end blown middle-eastern flute) player, Omar Faruk Tekbilek. It has taken me literally two years to get a proper sound on the ney, and yet, it is still not ready for the stage…But Omar sings from his soul on the instrument…For our performance, I felt blessed to have the fantastic band of musicians joining me: Tim Ray (Boston) on piano; Chris Rosser (Asheville) on guitar and keyboards; Eliot Wadopian (Asheville) on bass [we’ve known one another since my Consort days]; River Guerguerian (Asheville), percussion; and my long-time friend and colleague at the sound board, Les Kahn—someone who can either make or break your show, and he always MAKES our show! [I have known Les since 1986, when I first joined the Consort].

I will finish with what I think is one of my most meaningful moments at this year’s NFA convention for me. A flute player who is originally from Belarus, Gene, came up to me at the Pearl booth (my brand of flute, so I hang there because I love them). He heard that Rhonda Larson & Ventus would soon be performing in Minsk, Belarus. He had written out a lullaby for my use that he said is well-known in the country. Not wanting to just look at the written notes, I had him play it for me on flute, and I immediately got goose-bumps! Since then, I have been LIVING this melody, it is so beautiful and haunting, yet simple and memorable, and a melody that has the richness of coming from another culture. Day after day, when I’m not working on the melody, it plays itself through my head. We will indeed play it in Minsk, for sure! If we do it well, they will be weeping! Well, I hope so, for the right reasons, anyway. It is good to know that in music you hope to make people weep—for overwhelming beauty touching a soul. When else can this ever be the case, on so positive a soul-level? This trip is coming up very soon. October 11! Then I’m solo to Latvia for a week of performing and teaching! A new culture, yet again, then a short stint in Italy. I cannot wait! These are the events I live and ‘play’ for.

Thanks for enduring my long-winded writing, and I send you the gentle sound of crickets and the few remaining cicadas from our quiet place here in these exquisite early fall days of Michigan.

— Rhonda
September 19, 2011

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

I happened to be home on the Tuesday of Obama’s inauguration, so I witnessed many of the events that took place, including the great parading troupes of some of our nations finest musicians. I found it to be so inspiring and magical—not something that normally happens to me toward politics or governing practices in general… I’ve never seen this level of optimism, hope, and true joy, as an entire COUNTRY before. It really was the meaning of our name: United States…I’m sure there have been events in the past that have offered this level of re-defining, but I have never personally been a witness to it. It makes for an auspicious time in our country, where all things New are possible, and we can sweep the kitchen clean!

Because of the inherent inspiration I found in all of this, I allowed those feelings and perspectives to seep inward—to feel them belonging to me, personally, even though they are coming from “out there”. I realized how rarely I do this in life—take mass majority ‘hoopalah’ experiences and make them mine. There are the best legitimate reasons why I’m not prone to that, but more than that, it made me realize how rarely we get this opportunity to decide to take inwardly something POSITIVE from the outside! It is its own magical opportunity: where is there Good in life, and Think on These Things. That is the message to Self.

This idea of taking the outside world as my inner world works the opposite for me with things that are “wrong” and unjust. I take them in completely, try to learn factual things about these actions, wars, tragedies, injustices, and it becomes grist for the mill in my music so that I might eventually turn it into Flour. Mind you, I don’t ‘want’ to see any of these things, by choice, but I cannot help but see and feel them all. At its end, my response can be none other than as if to breathe out a prayer for Peace and Love into the universe by the act of playing the flute! (Any of you non-flutists didn’t know flute had THIS power, did you?!) I’ve always said that being an artist, or at least being this said “artist”, means taking the world in on a raw level, and giving it back out in the form of salve to the soul through music, and our lives. It means being quite shaken up, deeply shaken up, by things that are not ‘right’ out in the world, but having some way to process it and re-form it as manna from heaven. Not an easy way to live, I tell you. Just ask my loving and patient husband, Lee! But I know no other way, and I feel utterly grateful that this IS the life I lead, and the work I’m called to do (for lack of a better explanation).

I’m always struck by the reality that it is our own private perspectives on any given situation that makes it ‘what it is’. If I view something as “good” and life-giving, then it truly is. The opposite is also true. It is rare that the world around us ‘gives’ us our perspectives—it is in fact the world inside us that creates what color of glasses we are looking through, out into the world. As the saying goes, it is not what happens to us, it is how we choose to respond to what happens to us that matters. As someone once put it, “sometimes you don’t make the right decision, but you have to make the decision right.”

I know first-hand that it really does come down to DECIDING/CHOOSING what kind of person I want to be, and what kind of people I would like to have surrounding my life. This perspective of what quality of choice I will make will never ultimately come from me first, but can only come from a Divine source, into me, then out to the world. For me, that is the most awe-inspiring aspect of God, (or Love, or the Divine, or whatever you choose to call it for yourself): God Speaks! As David Steindl-Rast says, (a Benedictine monk whom I so often mention because he’s brimming over with such goodness), the best name for God is: “Surprise!” Nothing can be surprising or inspire awe if we are asleep while we live.

Realizing God Speaks, it becomes clear that we hear it according to how we align ourselves. When we align ourselves to be one of the Peacemakers and fixers/givers in life, we are SPOKEN TO, directly, because we have aligned ourselves to be Listening. It’s like water: there is always water, but we cannot harness it or drink it in unless we either have something to put it in, direct it, or simply put ourselves into IT and allow it’s life-giving properties in so simple a form. Again, this asks of us what kind of person we want to be in the world: A consumer/taker? A destroyer/intorlerant? A peacemaker/ giver?

I like how the Dalai Lama characterizes the qualities of how to be as Humans in three succinct words: Compassion, Patience, and Tolerance. He said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them at least don’t hurt them”. I think how many individuals or ethnicities of people we hurt daily because we despise them in our thoughts—we have prejudices and we do not see past these. Perhaps we think our standards are far higher than what we are being served, or encounter, or perhaps we are simply arrogant in our view! This is usually based upon ignorance, no less. Not only that, sometimes one is so engrossed in their own lives they cannot see that their response should be to reach out, expand the posts of their tent, whether they approve of the circumstances that may have led to this or not. The Dalai Lama suggests that it is good to have “vexing” people (or worse) in our lives, because it teaches us what WE yet lack. It should be about supporting a human being, a PERSON not unlike yourself, not the end”product” that may have come from desperation, really. Isn’t this real love to one another, and isn’t this what we are asked to do from the Divine source? Only a few of you will know what I speak of here, but that’s ok…

So here we are, in this magical new time of Beginnings with a new Leadership of governance. Let’s just accept that there will be mistakes, because humans are the weak link in the chain, here. And let us understand that there will remain those hardened characters praying for such mistakes. It’s all about the Content of your Character.

I know which side of the human race or marathon I want to be on, in life. I’d like to be a contributor, peacemaker, a magic Tinkerbell sprinkling special dust that makes everything right for all of us…if I only could, pray that I would!

This seems to be the moment we now find ourselves in, historically: who ARE we, individually, alive at the same time in this world, and with what qualities do we proceed, individually? Not just with theory or words or an historical holy book of writings to smack people with, but for REAL, from the flesh of our hearts that can believe in love. “You will know them by their fruit.” Right now, it is such an indelible time in our collective lives: the tree is either just now beginning to grow, or it is already starting to bud—either way, I love that! May the bees not sting me, but they surely will, because my face will always be pressed deeply into those most fragrant blossoms! I’m inspired and happy to be alive, right here, right now.

January 29, 2009

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

The Yo-Yo Ma competition in Three Parts:
Part One by Rhonda
Part Two by Rhonda
Part Three, a few Reader Replies


Four days before a December 31 deadline, an astute friend informed me of a Yo-Yo Ma competition (which apparently began in October!) For the competition, you were invited to create a musical submission based upon the sacred”Dona Nobis Pacem” melody, in the hopes of winning a collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma. I would dearly love the opportunity for that collaboration, so I set to work immediately!

Over the four days, I worked hour after hour and into the night, between and during unbelievable winter weather outside! Also during this time, I was heart-stricken by the escalating troubles happening in the Middle East, going from bad to worse. As many of you know, I spent 2006-2007 living there, teaching music to children at a wonderful music conservatory, so I experienced the situation first-hand. Back in the studio, working on the music for the Yo-Yo Ma competition, I could not think of a better melody to be playing: “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Give us Peace). I tell you, I played it on my flute like playing a genuine prayer out into the world!

Between world-strife and the strangest winter weather ever, I finished my rendition in time to submit to the competition.

Now it is your turn…you can vote for me on the website! Please don’t hesitate to contact all your friends to vote, too! Competition voting ends on January 10.

—Rhonda Larson
January 2, 2009


Of first importance, I thank every single one of you who took the time to vote for my submission for the Yo-Yo Ma contest! Because of you, I placed third, for which I’m very happy ! As for the second part of the competition, where Yo-Yo Ma chooses his winner, I received only an honorable mention, and that only because of your votes! It means that at this moment I am not invited to collaborate with the master. That’s too bad, because I was so ready for that opportunity and I saw this as the most perfect of serendipitous happenings (that is an entirely different story!), with exactly the right person at exactly the right time in my life. I was already there in my mind, working with Yo-Man, and God said, “it was Good”. But here is why I cannot feel bad, and in fact, feel much personal satisfaction—pride, even, with this entire experience:

I had only three days to invent something (Ok, I had FOUR, but I took one day off). I did not know if I was capable of doing anything with the melody, let alone finishing something I would not be embarrassed about. To refresh your memories as the contest details, the required melody was a sacred ancient one, Dona Nobis Pacem, whose meaning is, “Give us Peace”. My first instinct was to do what gives the best impression, and I love doing: strut my virtuosic stuff, wow ’em with my abilities! But when I truly lived with the melody and thought about what it “meant”, I thought it entirely inappropriate to create a virtuosic flute piece out of it, because it would be just self-indulgent arrogance—I thought the melody deserved to become a new World Anthem for Peace (and that is how I did my version, complete with tears, says I!), and I wanted it to have that nobility. (Hence my version titled “Dona Nobis Pacem–nobilis”.)

Turns out I was exactly wrong: they only chose on virtuosity, period! Mine really wasn’t “out there” like the ones they chose, which seemed to me quite self-indulgent and rather un-listenable versions (except for the Handbells, did I mention those sweet but sloppy things that also won?), but in my opinion, none who won offered music you really want to put on your CD player and contemplate the Universe… Obviously, that was not their goal for the chosen. I completely read the wrong book for the test, and I’m pretty sure I ditched class that day that the announcement was made that the melody was only to be a vehicle to self-indulgence, never mind it’s meaning. What a dork I am.

But that is why I can feel good about my contribution, as I had made the conscious decision that it should be about Peace, with a loving mood. Now I can finally take the time to expand/finish the piece….this was only the ‘beginning’, from three day’s work, and I’m happy I COULD do it!

I already have an amazing and happy career, and have been privileged to be a musician full time, all of my life! I lack no good thing, and when I think about “Give us Peace”, all I can think of is my dear friends in the Middle East who aren’t even sure if they will live through the day, have food to eat, experience the luxury of electricity–even a home to live in, or have anything to live for in their future, never mind a goal such as personal freedom or recognition. This puts everything into perspective for me.

Still, I can’t help but hope for an eventual collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma. He just doesn’t know what I bring to the table, because I didn’t flaunt my flaut. Perhaps I will write him? Rent a plane with a banner flying behind it with my web address, and “Contact her or Stagnate”—something wistfully subtle like that? Or maybe I’ll just let it go, and get on with the vacuuming and taking out the garbage (in my concert clothes, of course–in case someone important shows up while I’m working)!

Thanks again, dear friends. It truly was you that allowed me to stand out, in whatever subtle way I did! If you want to hear my version and the final chosen few, click HERE

Love and peace,

January 18, 2009

PART THREE – Readers Comments

Just heard the lovely “Dona Nobis” and then read about the circumstances surrrounding it’s creation. I was driving through your area on the 21st of December and got caught in one heck of a blizzard…
It was as if nature was saying STOP, let go of all of the hectic joys and weary blues that surrounded me. Put aside your schedules, your plans and schemes.. just STOP.

And now I hear this lovely rendition of a melody I have known most of my 54 years, and it seems to float out at me from it’s own special place in it’s own special way.. free from the constraints of time and of gravity. And it was being made just up the road from where I was being taught a lesson in humility by the forces of nature. That just tickles my imagination in about a million ways.

There was NATURE showing her power and beauty to us all.

There I was, pounding the steering wheel and railing against nature.

There was Rhonda Larson, hunkered down with her flute and keyboard, digging deeper into herself and into the truth of the tune while the winds pounded around her.

And now that piece of beauty forged comes to the traveler who just happened to be passing by at that moment….

Cool. And, YA GOT MY VOTE!



….I’m a 21 year old flutist on your mailing list, and just wanted to drop you a word in response to your updates with the Yo-Yo Ma contest.

I do not study flute in school, but I’ve been playing since I was ten years old and can say that involvement in music has changed my life. The musical people – the artists – I have met during my years of learning and growing have changed me forever. My high school flute teacher, my friends from flute choir…we grew up together in music! And a few of the most memorable experiences I have had with them were the priviledge of experiencing your music, Rhonda.

Seeing you at the Pittsburgh 2006 convention, showing off the beautiful Hall Crystal Flutes and playing your compositions, I was so impressed and affected by your performance in that small room. And I am moved by your thoughtful and beautiful entry in the Yo-Yo Ma competition. I voted for you with all of my heart! Whatever comes of this, I’m sure that God has His plan for you and that your music will continue to inspire people you never even met, like me.

Thanks for sharing your music and your poise with all of us, especially the children you work with around the world. Thank you also for inspiring a student (who won’t spend her professional life as a musician) to continue practicing and participating in music.

The best of luck and blessings to you,


… Hold your head high. You did what was best, and for the right reasons. Virtue does not always win every game, but there is a peace that comes with the recognition that you wanted to make a really musical statement. After all, “Peace” doesn’t focus on the “I’, but rather the “we”. In the realm of cosmic knowledge, you played for Peace, and that is all that matters. As you know, competitions are never lost for those who enter and grow as a result. Only those who must win, and cannot accept any other outcome, are the real losers.

We have been heart sick about what has been going on in Israel/Palestine. What in God’s name can we do? As Bob Dilan and others sang, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.” Let’s raise our heads to the wind and listen. In so doing, we will clear out our own prejudices and let in the refreshment of new ideas….



…. whatever “wrong book” you’re reading … keep reading it!



Well said Rhonda! You composed/played from conviction…which led to your eviction…yet ultimately redemption….cause it ain’t over yet!

The sounds of healing that you sent out to the world, especially Gaza, cannot be measured by votes of popularity/polarity.

Proud of You,


….Keep following your heart and who knows – someday Yo-Yo Ma may enter a contest to play with you!

There is no substitute for loving what you do, and you bring joy and love to everything you play.



I am VERY disappointed with the results of the competition….

I just want you to know that to me (and to a lot of other flute players I know), you are the best.

You are the one who sets the standard for amazing flute playing and music making, you are the one who inspires hundreds of boys and girls who start playing the instrument and need inspiration, you are the one who goes directly to our hearts and amazes our senses.

You are a true winner, no matter what….. I know you will not give up! If Yo-Yo Ma were smart, he would invite you to play an entire album with him! I hope one day he realizes that, so the music world would win.

In the meantime, please keep up your superb flute playing, which makes this world a better place to be.



I read your Yo-Yo Ma competition report with great interest. Those of us who know your work, and your spirit through your artistry, are not disappointed that you stayed true to yourself. The Lord has a way of working through these twist and turns in life and eventually speaks to and through us in renewed and deeper ways. When Nathaniel, in John the first chapter, believed in Jesus, Jesus addressed him saying, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Mundane reality is always transformed by eternal reality. Life’s artistry given to an eternal message will not be contained in one venue.

Blessings upon your ministry of musical transformation in the lives of people all over the world,



….I will be awaiting the celestial conclusion. In the meantime, keep on with the vacuuming and garbage disposal, though please wear your jeans so the neighbors don’t think your outta yer mind. Those are the tasks that keep us grounded.



…….Well, those of us who love your playing and admire your skills respect you even more for what you say here, for what you did! You stood against the tide of mediocrity and presented /real /music. Right on, Rhonda!! I can only imagine that you will get to work with someone like Yo-Yo, if not Yo-Yo himself (Mark O’Connor is pretty fabulous, or Bela Fleck would be a trip to work with : ).



…..In the course of paying one’s dues there comes an epiphany that nothing good ever (ever..? Ever.) arises from a ‘battle of the bands” competition…

I reached that moment of clarity when a band I was in that had a recording contract was asked by a promoter to act as a ‘ringer’ in such a contest to elevate the talent for those assembled. The night before we played to 3000 fans opening for Molly Hatchet to rave reviews and lost the battle of the bands to a group of kids whose lead singer played heavy metal saw with a bow. They were getting booed off stage until the kid accidentally lacerated his forearm and sprayed blood all over the stage. The crowd loved it and we placed second barely eking out in front of yet another KISS tribute band that used a dwarf woman dancing seductively in front of them in mini skirt and go-go boots.

Show biz…

Stay true to your gift. Yo Yo Ma and others will notice.

p.s., I voted twice for you. – ahem…


….I would suggest you continue to create your version of the piece and let others hear it. Release it.

I would also suggest you continue down this road. People enjoy virtuosity, it impresses them, but what touches a heart………well that is another matter. Continue to listen to your heart and take the new melodies that come to you. Express what is deep within you…



….You are a champion – you had the right idea and you should be proud – I am always inspired by entertainment that uplifts and helps the world to be a little better. At the end of the day you can have peace with your goals and ambitions to make this world a more peaceful place – that matters so much more than any marketing scheme. Your version should be heard and we , your fans will look forward to hearing it being inspired to try a little harder to bring world peace and recognize that it is in the mundane and difficult tasks of life that we truly help one another. It is when we make personal sacrifice that we help others the most. Good luck to you! Thanks for your music!!



….I think it IS imperative that you send Yo-Yo Ma a recording of your work…Your talent is so unique that it is important for him to hear what you do..

Glad to hear you are doing housework in your concert clothes – it adds class to a somewhat less than classy task….



Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

Spring has finally sprung here in Michigan, and not a moment too soon! It amazes me how a change in season affects my state-of-being. Right now, it is like coming out of a long slumber, the winter time hibernating effect, as I refer to it. Not slumber in terms of obligations, duties and busy-ness, but slumber on a very deep level that one is not aware of until the sun starts shining again, bringing warmth and opening the eyes wide as if for the first time.

It has reminded me of some very important lessons I have learned in the past, but apparently forget about. The first one has to do with ‘time’. I find my biggest challenges in my life are with ‘time’ these days. There is never a shortage of things that need doing, and more that demand attention, and there never seems to be enough time. But just the other day, one of our FIRST warm and sunny spring days, I stopped everything and plainly saw what my problem was. I have neglected my decades-long practice of being STILL. Instead, I am constantly ‘running’ and doing things—running ‘toward’ things, running for productivity and completions, running to satisfy others expectations or needs, or running ‘from’ things that are negative. You name it. It is the ‘spinning wheel’ world—spinning like the mouse on that wheel, running and running but he gets nowhere—just keeps spinning that circle. What all this really shows me is how it is possible to not be fully present in any of the busy-ness if I am not coming from a foundation of ‘stillness’. I believe that the definition of full aliveness is full presence/awareness in the Now. Stillness is the only path I know to practice living in the Now—this moment, this opportunity, not my agenda, but this surprise agenda that asks for stillness, with hearing and listening ears.

I have always had this fascination with the archetype of the Monk—the monastic way of life. I read books about it, have my favorite monastic authors (David Steindl-Rast being first), and have tried for years to learn from THIS way of life about how one ought to go about living in this full aliveness. It is the paradigm that I look to for living my life. The monk’s job is to learn how to be present in every moment. Truly present, listening and hearing what opportunity might be at hand, and then in that full, pure listening, be able to respond from the highest perspective. Some orders of monks follow the “Hours” of the day in this practice, which I find illuminating about how to practice being fully present. Every hour has its virtue and ‘devil’. The practice is acknowledging both sides of this, and deliberately pursuing and living the virtue.

What is this stillness? How do I practice it? Over the years, I have practiced it by starting my day with journal writing, and reading edifying writings—even if only a sentence or two, and ruminating over them, letting them sink into the crusty, dry ground of the “busy-ness” mindset. The next crucial element for me is Nature. I have to be in nature, because that is where I ‘hear’ the loudest. Walking through the woods, where nothing is man-made and all is pure gift, as I see it. Combine that with warm sun after a long, cold, dark winter, and there is more than loudness, there is astounding beauty and perfection—and this, all before flowers have even begun to bloom! All is well, all is as it ought to be—that is what this moment speaks. It is truly giving oneself to the surroundings that are given as Gift: singing birds, sensations of the crisp pine-ground under my feet and their sweet fragrance, the smell of the earthy soil coming alive again, the slight breeze on my face, and even the happy sound of the far-off train whistle, which I have always found comforting since I was a child. All is perfection, and I am not only emptied out, but re-filled with what is more real and alive. In a word, it always seems to come down to one: gratitude. Gratitude requires being present in the moment, and acknowledging what is there. Right now, I am alive and all is perfection and beauty in this moment—my response can only be gratitude, which is the deepest form of prayer, it seems to me. No, my mind pleads, don’t look out at the world and see all that is so wrong, and all you are supposed to “do”. Instead, stay in this moment, listening, allowing all the senses to take over and leave the world to itself just for now. I watch my dog have her ‘gratitude’ moment rolling again and again on the dry ground, scratching off the winter’s deadness for her, too. She is in ecstasy, rolling from side to side and groaning her thankful prayer—all is fullness for her in this very moment.

Several years ago in Connecticut, I practiced this stillness at a cabin owned by my dear friends the Litwins. The austere cabin was nestled far back into the woods, right next to a gorgeous river. That cabin had no electricity or plumbing, but was equipped with a wood-burning stove and an outhouse. I have never lived in a more complete and perfect place in all my life. The first time, I spent over a month living there. It was late summer, and I took my baths in the river, dried off in the hot, shining sun, and cooked with boiled river water. It was pure bliss. My days consisted of journal writing (which always includes the “search for God” as part of that practice), walking through the woods and largely living out-of-doors, and practicing flute. No matter what activity I did there, I learned about being present in the moment—the Now. Even brushing my teeth down at the river in the cold early-morning was a whole new experience of brushing my teeth, for example. Inside the cabin’s silence, there was such a palpable presence of fullness, it is difficult to explain. Reading and writing at night by the light of an oil lamp is magical and unforgettable. There is something to be said for not having the hum of electricity subwoofing its way around your daily sound-scape. The hum of the refrigerator, the water pump, the little lights shining from whatever equipment or appliance is plugged in, etc. There is something magical, mysterious, and enlightening that this cabin gave me, the knowledge of which I will always have with me.

After that month of living there, time went by and I moved away for a short period. When I came back to the area, I happened to find a place to live on that same river, farther upstream. My generous friends who owned the cabin had now renovated it in an amazingly noble and creative way, while choosing not to add electricity or plumbing. They spaced enormous stones across the river, which I learned if you ran just right and jumped just gracefully enough, you could “fly” over them one foot per stone—something I did time and time again. These same gigantic boulders would surprisingly become completely covered by the spring runoff—an exciting and dramatic time to be sitting next to this torrent of whitewater. The Litwins granted me permission to go there one day a week, every week. It happened to work best on a Wednesday for me, and I would wake up with a start because I couldn’t wait to go there. I would walk through the woods to get to the cabin with my flute and journal and tape-recorder and necessities all in my backpack. I would enter the life of stillness, and live in it for an entire day. It was the one day a week that I gave myself permission to do WHATEVER I wanted. That meant, possibly, nothing. Permission to do nothing—-not something we usually allow ourselves! The amazing thing is, not only did I not end up doing ‘nothing’, I found I was far more productive than on any other day of the week! I wrote in my journal for hours, literally, and then could not wait to play flute, and ended up writing several pieces of music right from there. It was silent and still, and yet that singing river just outside the windows permeated every moment with celebration—and the best possible music. I recorded that river, and to this day, I begin most of my practice sessions with that recording playing (with birds and whatever sounds were present at the time), as it keeps me in that great space of peace and natural-ness.

So once again, I have gone back to this forward way of living by being reminded of it by the coming of Spring. I do not often have the available time I once had to spend an entire day doing this, but I most certainly have the time, and more importantly, NEED to make the time, to give this practice of stillness the priority of all I “do” in a day. Suddenly, in that stillness, as I sit writing in my journal out in the newly warm sunshine, I remember what I always knew: Be still, and Know God. (Just a little editing to make the point clear?the original phrase from the bible is: “Be still, and know that I am God”). I think of what I heard someone once say: we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS. I have had this proven again and again with my own experience of it—stillness is required, to be alive humans. I know it, then I forget it, then I remember it again. Life seems like it is this cycle, does it not? Summer, then Winter, then Spring!

May any of you who read this also remember the fullness of taking time to be still, with no distractions. There is not one person with whom I have come in contact within the past month alone that I would not recommend this to. We are all too busy, spinning away. Are we present? Accomplishing anything? Pretty soon, ten years go by—-I don’t want to miss my life while I’m still living! So, thank God for Spring! Everything starts anew, and it is our opportunity to start anew.

With blessings and joy,
April 6, 2008

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

As a performing musician, it is an interesting time in society in which I find myself. On the one hand, I literally practice, much like a monk, aligning and searching my soul toward greater freedom from the shortcomings of Self, specifically those which hinder my flute playing on any level. It is a search for ‘excellence’ at a diligent pace. I have literally dedicated myself to this process as a Way of Life. It is also what I tried to teach the beautiful kids in Palestine—living in pursuit of excellence, whether they would ‘become’ a flutist or not had little to do with it. It requires the deepest listening, much like listening for a silent answer from an unseen, divine source. It means hearing what is, not hearing what I ‘hope’ or ‘want’ it to be—a complete, honest transparency, with a dedication toward improvement.

It means living in a world where there is a constant self-confrontation of my soul, as I know no other way to explain it. I daily live out these elements that come into play here: truth, beauty, mystery, perseverance, stepping outside comfort levels in search of depth—not only applying to things musical, but directly applying to my daily walk through life. I live the phrase, “require more of yourself”. This is literally what I practice while ‘practicing’. It is the Artist’s Life, as I am fond of calling it. It means that I might function with indefinable concepts, rarely concrete, on a path that is usually not linear—the exact opposite of the non-artistic world. But this whole pot of stew to the service of what? For me, it is to serve the world in an uplifting, positive way through music. To bring oxygen where the breath is shallow, as it were.

Contrast this nebulous though purposeful world in which I spend the majority of my time to another world where my music must present itself: the business world (of music). I will not get to exist and flourish as a performing artist unless this segment of the world says, “yes, come here and play”. Only then am I permitted to bring everything I stand for into the world. My music is never fully complete until I get to bring it out of the practice room and happily give it away to the beating hearts sitting before me. What a daunting situation we performing artists find ourselves in—we can only be ‘real’, like the velveteen rabbit, if someone invites us to perform on their particular stage. At its core, it is a symbiotic relationship between venue and artist, since their portion is the ‘stage’ and audience offered me, and my portion is what I offer their audience.

However, in the past few years, it has been fascinating to observe that this quid pro quo has shifted. The problem has become our current Celebrity culture. One might not be invited to perform, because they have not already been heard of in name. One cannot become more ‘heard of’ unless invited to perform. Never mind what it is you bring, they need to already know your name. They have a responsibility to fill their hall, and the risk is high for an unknown name. They have minimized taking risks and hire only mega stars. Nothing new from the venue’s point of view, just a perpetuation of our celebrity culture to the service of the bottom line.

For many years now, by default I have been my own ‘booking agent’ for concerts. As defined above, it requires making contact with people who have not heard of me, hoping to interest them in what I do so I might be permitted to do it. However, being the artist speaking to them, I have never had the constitution to make this argument. I have never enjoyed any process that has to ‘sell’ myself. I became a performer because I MUST, as my own life breath and a way of living, that I then may bring this to the public to experience as they will. I did not become a performer so I could become ‘famous’ (celebrity), but so I could simply DO it, by the world’s permission. Making those calls or contacts on my own behalf is where I always fell short…I did not have the heart to be my own sales person. Who would believe the artist, themselves, anyway? Someone must speak on their behalf in order for it to be credible.

Further, I deliberately chose to go the Solo Performing Artist route, with no side job whatsoever. I am not a member of an orchestra, nor an instrubtor in a university–though I admire greatly those who can do this, however.. (I must confess I have enjoyed cleaning many a house in the past to support this music habit of mine—I viewed it as getting paid to exercise and make something better than when I first arrived—a lot like my music life, so it was still within my realm). But ultimately, I have never enjoyed wearing the hat of ‘booking agent’, and frankly, I didn’t really apply myself to it in any effective way. Trusted people over the years have been telling me, “Rhonda, you really need to promote yourself”. I just didn’t have the stomach for it, and too many other things on my list always happily took priority. In fact, one of my ‘mottos’ over the years has been this quote that happens to come from Confucius:

A man should say, “I am not concerned that I have no place;
I am concerned how I may fit myself for one.
I am not concerned that I am not known;
I seek to be worthy to be known.

Therefore, for years I have had my ears and eyes open looking and hoping for someone who would and could do this concert booking on my behalf. It is like searching for the holy grail, I kid you not! Wish me luck!

January 4, 2008

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

March, 2006

My most recent travel was to New York City to perform for the prestigious New York Flute Club at their annual Flute Fair.  The Flute Fair was held at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, just behind Lincoln Center.  My masterclass was at 10am, and I thoroughly enjoy giving these, as I love to teach.  As I see it, my job is to build people up, and help them find their best selves while playing the flute so they have something to “give back” to their audience.  It is showing them how to be free of any barriers to the music, whether technical, musical, or visual, so the audience can truly receive what the performer has brought them.  The most common barrier I witness with students is merely a lack of belief in themselves—what they can really do.  This reticence and holding back is never based on facts concerning their actual abilities, only a feeling they have—a fear— and so it is my job to help dispel these feelings that keep them from shining.  I have people work on projecting themselves in strength, not weakness, since every single person has strength that is uniquely their own, and I for one would like to experience the good they have to offer.  After all, we are all there because we love music, and we love the flute!  This “love” is our greatest strength, for starters.


Another job I have as “teacher” is to deepen one’s perceptions in hearing themselves.  It is learning to listen on a microscopic level so we can fix whatever needs fixing because we ourselves hear it, not because someone else tells us.  It is learning to be your own teacher, essentially.  This reminds me what I learned from my mother about house cleaning:  my mother was brought up in how to clean like an expert, so of course my three sisters and I couldn’t get away from that same teaching!  But what a gift this became toward our abilities to “perceive”.  We were taught to look deeper than mere visible surfaces, and truly learn to see the “lint”.  Believe me, we each tried our own versions of pretending to have cleaned something, but my mother always knew if this was the case.  We never understood how she could know, since it looked just fine to us!  It was learning to clean what would be invisible to untrained eyes.   So it is with flute:  being honest with yourself when listening to your playing to find those “hidden” hindrances to playing your absolute best, working it out (fixing it), and then believing in yourself to deliver those honed goods.  How is your tone on that note?  How is this phrase?  Are you making it musical?  Can the audience hear you at the back of a 1000+ seat hall? I have always said this about flute practice:  it is a confrontation of the human heart with what for these purposes we can call the Great Artistic God.  It is attuning oneself to a larger “input” by simply agreeing to open your ears and mind while working, as if someone was there guiding you.


After everyone was done playing for me in the class, I shared some thoughts about watching the women skaters in this year’s Olympics, since I think the analogy is exactly pertinent to ourselves as flutists.  I think it is best represented in Sasha Cohen, in whom I experienced a totality of Artistry to the highest, poetic degree, embodying all the elements of beauty that is what the art of skating is all about.  Pure grace and noble beauty in the way she skates.  She has worked all her life on perfecting her art—to again and again practice making the technical aspects so filled with artistic elegance and precision that you forget anything about technique, but instead have an experience watching her.  There she was, skating in her final event that would determine her medal.  But then what?  She fell.  Jumps that she has worked on a million times (like all our repetition in practice), and at the moment of delivery, the landing was off.  But here is the decisive point for me:  as a “receiver of her art”, she was by far the most complete embodiment of skating-as-Art.  I got goosebumps watching her.  It did not dampen my experience of her artistry that she fell.  Further, she did not let the fall color her mood for the remainder of the performance!  Like integrity-in-action, she kept skating like a gliding angel, a true example of “living in the Now”, unconcerned that her fall just forfeited the Gold Medal opportunity.  It wasn’t about the “end prize”, it was about the journey, and how far she could rise above her self to create art and beauty at every moment possible.  All of the women skaters were the highest- trained individuals, but for me, only Sasha had the golden, artistic package.


So too is our goal with music.  The end goal is not about technical perfection, but Artistry.  But let me be very clear here:  we absolutely work for technical perfection at all times, honing our craft, but at the time of performance it is really no longer up to us—anything can happen.  It is no longer ours, but now it is “given”. Our immediate goal is to simply pour ourselves into the delivery of the music from our deepest self, and whatever happens along the way we must anchor ourselves in the present moment as if there is no other.  I believe that the real Art lies in the essence of what you are giving your audience–the soul of what you are delivering.  A complete embodiment of beauty and grace in the music, so the music is truly experienced—not as intellectual head-journey, but a soul journey through the music as it unfolds.  Are we delivering music?


When we have done all our work and it is time to perform, making it a moving experience will encompass everything we work on separately—from stance, to tone, to technique, to precision, to musicality—all summed up as the Art of flute playing.  Better yet, the Art of Performance.  Art is full of mystery, and in my opinion, it ought to be uplifting to experience our Art—at least this is what I strive for, and what drives me.  The greatest magic about playing music is that it first lifts me up, then it is given “back” to the listener in that happy spirit, and I can only hope for the same joy for them.

Rhonda Larson
March 26, 2006

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

Nearly ten years ago while on tour with the Paul Winter Consort we met and collaborated with an amazing group of musicians from Galicia, Spain who played celtic music indigenous to this region. The group’s name is Milladoiro, and I instantly fell in love with their music. For several years after that, I had begun writing some of my music with the idea of future collaboration with them in mind, should the opportunity ever present itself.


Milladoiro consists of eight musicians: Moncho on percussion; Anton on keyboards, accordion, and guitar; Pep� on pipes and oboe; Xos� on flute; Nando on pipes and whistles; and new members Man� on Guitar and Bouzouki; Roi on harp, and Harry on violin. These are superb musicians who play their music with flair and vivacity, borrowing from the ancient celtic music of their region and transforming it into modern renditions while maintaining the original authenticity. They are a pioneering group responsible for bringing celtic music of the Galicia region back into the current culture some 25 years ago, and they remain the premiere group in the region today.

The long-awaited idea of another collaboration with them began January 2005, when I was asked by the group if I would record with them on their upcoming CD. Of course the answer was an easy yes, and thanks to modern technology I received a CD mixdown of two pieces they wanted me to play flutes on. They didn’t say anything about what they were specifically looking for from me on these tracks, so I had the freedom to invent whatever flute lines I thought added to the music. I recorded all this in my studio here in Michigan straight into my computer, and then sent them my finished tracks on a CD for them to “fly in” to their larger mix and do as they pleased with them.


Months went by and Milladoiro’s manager Quique—a beautiful soul who speaks at least four languages fluently— contacted me again to ask if I would perform with them in Spain for the release of this new recording, entitled “Milladoiro: 25” (25th anniversary recording). Another easy yes, we would finally get to re-unite in person after all these years! In June, 2005, I flew to Santiago de Compostela, Spain and we had a great reunion both personally and musically. Strengthening of previous relationships and happy new friendships with Roi, Harry, and Man� ensued.


The concert was held in an exquisite old theater (seats approx. 3000) in Vigo. Three more soloists besides myself joined Milladoiro in this concert, as they also had done for the recording: the wonderful celtic fiddle player Eileen Ivers (violinist from the original Riverdance show), Italian singer Claudia Ferronato, and Galician piper Susana Seivane. All-women soloists joined with an all-male group— perfect chemistry for everyone!

Besides the tunes that we each recorded with Milladoiro, we all performed en masse at the finale which brought the house down. It was like one vast community celebration, with music as the feast we all shared. In addition to the great music, Milladoiro puts on a stellar visual show with state-of-the-art lighting. This concert was so much fun that during the reception, we four soloists were asked if we would like to return again at the end of July to play two more shows with Milladoiro.

In July, we had the good fortune of playing outdoors, which is definitely one of my favorite venues due to being so much part of the natural world while making music from the depths of your soul. The first concert was held in La Coruna in an ancient plaza walled-in by luxurious apartment buildings on three sides, and an ancient, ornate government Hall directly behind the newly-raised stage. For this production, they had a six-camera shoot for a future DVD release, and two large video screens for the audience to enjoy close-ups of the band during performance. It was another magical evening, ensconced in music of pure beauty, and looking up from the plaza walls while playing and seeing the sparkling stars in the night sky. The finale ‘en masse’ collaboration ended with fireworks, true to Milladoiro’s flair for the spectacular.

After this show, we all went out and experienced a little night life in Santiago, getting to bed around 5 a.m.! I am told that this is the typical hour of “turning in” from the night life in Spain�.thank goodness we had the next day off!

Our second show was in Moana, also an outdoor concert with an ocean bay directly behind the stage, so the audience faced the water while facing the stage. They had tents set up for the band “green room” right next to the stage. Quique humorously said, “step into my office, please”, as we entered the tents to see an enormous spread of fresh seafood and tortillas. This night was very different than the La Coruna show, as the weather had turned unseasonably cold. And I do mean cold. Unfortunately, I had only brought hot-weather clothing, so I nearly froze except when I was on stage under the hot lights.

The Moana concert was different in that Eileen Ivers’ group of four, Immigrant Soul, opened for Milladoiro. Eileen is one of the most talented musicians I know, iconoclastic just as a great musician ought to be. Their show started at 10 p.m., and the Milladoiro show began at midnight. Typical Spanish hours, but definitely not easy if you aren’t used to it. It was great getting to hang out with all of these folks in the tent chatting about music, touring, life, instruments, etc. We were one large group of people with completely kindred spirits, getting to know one another in English (the Americans), Spanish and Galician (Milladoiro group, though both Roi and Harry speak English very well), and also Italian, which worked well if you couldn’t remember the Spanish words (thanks to my husband Lee’s fluent Italian). I spoke a short bit of Spanish to the audiences on both of these shows, but on this show the members of Milladoiro taught me how to say what I wanted to say in Galician instead of Spanish. The only thing I got wrong was the name of the town, as I forgot where we were, so I just made something up�with an “Americana” accent like mine, they probably didn’t know the difference.

After this show we went to a pub nearby where many fans were waiting with their instruments for a jam session with Eileen and her group. This was priceless, people playing music they were hearing for the first time, including Eileen. No one there wanted to leave despite repeated pleadings from the establishment (it was about 3 a.m. already), until finally the owners turned out the outside lights (where we all were seated), and we were forced to say good-bye to one another: a great day, fantastic music, wonderful friends, and a memorable mini-tour.

After leaving Spain, Lee and I returned to Italy where I performed a solo concert a few days later, and was treated to an entirely different cultural experience in Casperia, Italy. This was also an outdoor concert in a piazza in front of a church, which began at 10 p.m. It was a beautiful, memorable time hearing the flute echo off the stone buildings, and basking in the sultry temperature and moon-lit night. I don’t speak Italian very well, but I say what I can in Italian, and then switch to English and Lee translates for the audience. After one of my more involved and metaphorical stories that went on for a bit, it occurred to me as I was speaking that the significance of my words might be difficult to translate. When it was finally Lee’s turn to translate, he simply responded, “oh, Dio!” (oh, God!). After a hearty round of laughter, we just left it at that, letting the music work its magic of speaking universally as it pleased to each individual soul, while participating together as one body.

I can’t think of anything finer than to live this traveling-minstrel music life, visiting other cultures and meeting new family members, as it were, all over the world. A day never goes by that I don’t thank God for the privilege of what I get to do!


January 2006

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

Visiting Italy? Find out more about our house in Roccantica

(Beautiful Italy, our medieval dream)

I’ve been in love with Italy from the first time I was there with the Paul Winter Consort fourteen years ago.  At that time, we literally had only a few hours to see Rome after our performance on a television program.  Between the hours of midnight and 4AM we crowded our five bodies into a small rental car and sped through the city, stopping at magnificent places every few minutes.  I’ll never forget seeing the Coliseum with a full moon shining overhead, and how silent and mysterious this place was in these early morning hours when there were no tourists but ourselves.

Years later, when I had met my soon-to-be husband Lee, I discovered that he also had a special affinity to Italy, having previously attended the North American College in Rome for four years.  Having recently moved from Connecticut to Michigan, we were in the process of planning our wedding and resolved we should just keep moving forward into the future by getting married in neither location. Instead, we decided to throw ourselves into the romantic arms of Italy.  After endless paper work with the Italian and American Embassies to make this “official”, we left for our blissful trip.  In a picturesque medieval village called Fara in Sabina within the small, ancient chapel of St. Clare, we not only married each other, but a piece of Italy at the same time.  It was the very wedding we had previously only dared to hope for, like a medieval dream.

That was four years ago.  Two years ago, Lee’s father Leo gave us a beautiful gift of inheritance that would further that dream, though it was up to us how to actualize this.  We decided exactly how we would best honor Leo while expanding our life’s adventures at the same time, so we traveled to Italy and found a house to call our own!  That is the short story, of course, since it took about 30 showings of houses until on our last viewing, literally, we found OUR house.  About one hour north of Rome in a beautiful medieval village called Roccantica, right in the center of the town-carved-from-a-mountainside, there it was.  The whole time we were viewing various properties, I kept asking myself what it was we were really looking for, since we already owned our house in Michigan.  It was only when we saw this place that I had my answer:  we were looking for an experience—a place that makes your heart jump from the moment you arrive.  The streets of Roccantica reflect its ancient beginnings (around 700 AD) and are designed so narrowly that cars cannot drive within its gates.  This is part of the silent charisma offered to its residents:  without the noise of traffic, we are present to the purity of beautiful bird songs and an occasional ringing of an ancient church bell.

If that weren’t extraordinary enough, it happens that there is a Medieval Festival every August in Roccantica, celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.  All year long the town’s residents prepare for this festival.  From flag throwers (Sbandieratori) to drummers (tamburini–all male tom drum players in their festive, matching medieval garb), to planning and rehearsing the medieval plays whose themes illustrate Good versus Evil.  There are about 500 residents in the village, and everyone from young to old participates in the festival.  If they aren’t one of the many varieties of entertainers, they are probably one of the remarkable cooks of wild boar (cinghiale) for the festive dinners served out in the village piazzas during the break between the evenings’ events.

Still others help to outfit all the town residents with the exquisite costumes which are worn for the Procession at the beginning and conclusion of the festival, with each color of garments distinguishing a particular noble family.  There exists more costumes than residents, with an entire separate store to house all these remarkable outfits.  Every single garment is hand made to perfection, and the pains taken for authenticity result in stunning beauty.  Women’s dresses have trains ten feet long, some even longer, dragging these heavy velvet fabrics along the cobblestone streets.  When draped with this clothing, one feels enveloped in the true medieval era as if it were the era of the present moment, and I saw this mysterious time swap reflected in all the town’s people.  In fact, it seemed to me that this was the one time of year that they were “permitted” to be their true selves, an un-contemporary, un-modern village of people where true beauty and social elegance were paramount, and technology was primitive, faint, or completely undetectable.  (Life seems exactly opposite, nowadays). Of course we know that the medieval era, roughly from the years 544-1250 AD, was anything but romantic, but this clothing seems to capture and retain an elegance that I believe would have been present then.  In the grand scheme of this ‘Medioevo in Festa’ are nobles, peasants, soldiers, fools, children, musicians, and entertainers—just to name a few—and all become who they are by the clothing they don. It is nothing short of magic, walking along these ancient cobbled streets among the chiseled stone buildings by the light of burning torches propped high on the walls throughout the village.  Yes, it is the year 1100, in the year 2004.


I was privileged enough to be invited to play my flute at this Medioevo in Festa last August on several different occasions, as well as in the town of Rieti in a subsequent event.  Playing music brings the meaningfulness of the experience that much deeper, a language only the soul knows, with the added benefit of it being a universal language that all can understand, each in their own way.  The audience is packed 6-deep in standing room, and sardine-like on the risers lining the edge of the entire village wall.   I performed solo a few times directly to the audience, and in a trio of stellar musicians who were playing recorder and lute (Carlo and Claudio Bernabei) for “the Queen” as part of one of the plays.  What I remember most while playing was the overwhelming feeling of enchantment that the whole festival invoked within, and the bright, full moon high over the village wall, without.

The entire festival ends on the fourth night at the midnight show with a Grandioso Spettacolo del Fuoco—a grand fire spectacular.  Having never witnessed anything like this before, it was absolutely mesmerizing.  During the previous several hours, many of the village men were coating giant metal wheels, maces, bells, and swords with kerosene.  When the time arrives, these apparatus were alight with blazing fire. Fire eaters (mangia fuoco), like blow torches, spit flames into the air.  They came so close to the audience that the heat they generated was palpable.  The narrator spoke of the ‘reverence for fire, separating light from darkness, day from night, and life from death’.  Thus is the medieval era summed up in such an axiom.    At the final moment, a cascade of fire fell like water from the far wall, where there hung a sheet of fireworks falling like an endless meteor shower.  It illuminated the whole piazza with its brilliance. The emotional impact of the display brought me to tears.

The whole experience was like a Medieval Dream.  This year we will get to participate in this ‘Medioevo in Festa’ once again, when it celebrates its 10th anniversary, give or take a few millennia.

Archive for the ‘Flute for Thought Blogs’ Category:

Travel, Language, Flute of my Labors, and Humility

In working with student flutists, whether adult, college, or high school age, I have come to realize I have specific expectations.  It turns out that these expectations come from my own work ethic and style—philosophy, if you will—so I thought it might be useful to briefly outline some of these details.  I hope they might be found useful not only for playing the flute, but in the process of living life as well.

Number one:  no matter your age, you must be teachable if you hope to evolve in life or in playing the flute.  Being teachable means that you are willing to make yourself vulnerable, which requires courage. This means opening yourself completely, by acknowledging that you do not already know everything you could know (no matter your age and experience), and every opportunity offers new lessons to learn. This is what has been referred to as being a “Life Student”, because an internal open-ness to all lessons life offers is the most alive approach you can receive from.  Perhaps that is a better way to put it:  open your mind and heart to receive, if you wish to evolve.  Open your mind and heart to evolve, if you wish to receive.

Having innate curiosity follows from a willingness to learn, and by this I mean questioning/examining everything.  As Socrates put it, “the unexamined life is not worth living”.  This, too, requires courage, because it might make us different from our neighbor, and our human tendency is to congregate in herds so we feel we belong and are accepted. Questioning also requires special effort, and effort is also something we would rather avoid—whether examining traits in our own psychology, personality, work habits, or our overall approach to life.  We tend to frequent the well-worn paths of least resistance (least effort) because we won’t have to stick out and be different, where more might be required of us, or where others might “judge” us for being different. I am a firm believer that one way is NOT the only way, no matter the topic.  So expending this effort in questioning everything you have been told means you will ultimately find your own truths and methods, and this is the sure path of truly knowing anything—byknowing it internally.

It is interesting to note that most of our schooling—grade school through high school—more consistently taught us a method of learning by taking in a horde of information.  It most often did not teach us toquestion.  Look at the word education.  It is derived from the Latin word educare, which means “to draw out, lead out”.  Notice that it does not mean “to put in, to stuff full of ”.  Drawing out means that something magnificent is already inside you, and a teachers’ job is to bring it out of you and get you to think for yourself.  In the end, you must be your own best teacher, and you cannot come to this if you have merely accepted everything an authority figure or person you admire says.  After being “taught” something, why not ask yourself questions about it, so you can go to a deeper level of understanding? For example, how about the actual sound you wish to produce on the flute?  Do you just produce it as you are told, or do you ask yourself questions about what kind of sound you want?  If you ask yourself what kind of sound you want, you will need to make yourself familiar with as many different flute sounds as possible, to determine what might be possible, what you like best and why (or don’t like, and why), and then try to accomplish it for yourself.

One of the many magical things about honing ones craft on an instrument is that it is a perfect Teacher toward life itself.  We get to work on the large to microscopic philosophical, intellectual, and psychological aspects of our own being within the perimeters of music.  Everything that needs work in learning to play both the flute and music itself will be a perfect analogy and insight into your own being.  I say both flute and music separately, because learning flute is primarily technical, and learning music is a sublime act originating from ones soul.

This active process of learning ones craft also requires courage, because it is actually an act of constant self-confrontation in seeking your own truth.  Your heart will be confronted, as if you are being questioned by an external Examiner.  Only if you can respond with an open, inner yes, show me, can you start to work at “fixing” or honing the perceived problem.  (Again, becoming teachable). You will soon be confronted with so many of life’s personal challenges, and you will get to work on them directly:  impatience into patience; frustration into persistence; sloth into diligence; self-critic into compassion; stagnate and un-flowing into passion; emptiness into soulful-ness.  Look at your self-critic, for example.  Make note of how you speak to yourself internally while you are working.  Are the words harsh, cutting, and somewhat self-punishing?  If so, is that making you a better player?  Is that the best way for you to be taught?  Of course not.  After you catch your own internal dialogue that is busy criticizing your playing, try turning it around to compassion toward yourself.  Think how you might speak to a young, innocent child if they were playing in the way you would have just described yourself.  You would speak to them lovingly and with encouragement as to how to progress—you wouldn’t dare be chastising them.  It would be good for us to learn how to be this way toward ourselves, then.  Thus, what we truly practice is how to become a better human being, not just a better player of the flute.

While you work on your Human Condition, you will become more unique and authentic both in your playing and personally.  It is the opposite of being an imitator.  It’s good to imitate in order to learn something, but then one must grow beyond imitation into authenticity.  You don’t really want to sound like so-and-so, because you are not them, and they are not YOU.  Learn from them to expand yourself, and then return to center, as it were.  Only you alone have been given your particular makeup as a human being—it was Given to you.  Dedicate yourself to honing what has been given, and look for the paths that allow all of this to flourish.  As you do so, you will then be giving back your gifts to others, as life seems to work in this circular way.  It is like breathing in, and then breathing out.  You open yourself to learning, examine everything possible and grow to greater understanding and depth (honing your craft), and then you give it all back to the world in a new and alive way.

Finally, give your music-making purpose in life.  Try to find deeper meanings of why you play the flute (remember joy?), and what it is you want to do for your audience or anyone listening to you. Personally, I think it’s great that music is “entertaining”.  We are said to be in the entertainment industry.  But that description falls far short of how I view it for myself.  As I mentioned earlier, music is matter of the soul.  It first touches my own soul, and then my job is to simply give it away in performance and hope that it can touch any other souls.  I hone my craft as much as possible, and the moment I walk out onto the stage I am no longer in “honing” mode, I am walking out there to literally offer up everything I’ve been given, no holes barred, and allow the great Mystery that is music to do its own work. After all, when you have finished your practicing and move into performance mode, the only thing TO do is to let go and let it fly, because you are doing what you love, and that is why you are there in the first place.  Keep sight of that in all your participations with music, whether practicing, listening, or performing. It is the greatest of privileges—loving what you do.

10 recapitulating suggestions:

  1. Be Teach-able.  Through everyone and everything you encounter.
  2. Question everything.  Be curious, so that your own unique way and methods will evolve.
  3. Practice viewing the world through learning the flute.  (View the “Bigger Picture”). It is a perfect analogy and insight into your own being, in all the complexities of soul, personality tendencies, and intellect, with positive goals.
  4. Your most essential work in practicing the flute is to become a better (happier) human being, not just to become a better flute player.
  5. Practicing is an ACTIVE process, and it is largely based upon REPETITION. Be happy to work hard with your mind alert to all details.  Repeat, repeat, repeat. (That is, your phrases you are practicing to learn, as well as this sentence).
  6. Be unique and authentic, not just an imitator. Breakthroughs and discoveries will sprout from within all that you alone have been Given. (That is why some will call you “Gifted”).
  7. Be kind to yourself.  You are a Life Student, not just a once-for-all-time learner.  Dis-empower the self-critic by learning to diagnose a problem and simply work the solution with compassion toward yourself.
  8. If you want to save yourself time, practice SLOWLY.  One thing at a time, all the time it needs.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  9. Blow your Soul wide open.  Blow the flute from your soul, not just your lungs.
  10. Be bold.  Create a purpose for yourself:  think about what you want your music to be for YOU, and what you would like it to be for your LISTENERS.


Rhonda—July 2004

Rhonda Larson