Thirty years ago, Norma Kelsey, then a music teacher for Frederick County Public Schools, received a memo asking if she would want to participate in a new flute choir forming in Frederick.
“I remember thinking ‘This sounds like fun,’” the Urbana resident said. “It gave all of us an opportunity to play in a serious group like an orchestra but unlike an orchestra we would be playing most of the time. Usually in an orchestra there are lots of times when the flutes just sit there, and there is only room for two or three flutists in the orchestra because that’s how the composers write the music whereas in a flute choir you are playing pretty much all the time. I just thought this just really fits the bill. I was delighted to join.”
Kelsey was one of six people to join in 1989 and has remained in the choir ever since. “I think that making music with other musicians who enjoy it so much is very important, and we are all friends,” she said.
To celebrate their 30th anniversary, the group will be hosting a concert at 3 p.m. on May 5 at Evangelical Lutheran Church in Frederick. There will be donation boxes there to support Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership—Frederick.
Currently made up of 16 members who range in age from mid-20s to mid-70s, the choir will play a wide variety of pieces including “Memories of East Tennessee in the 1940s” by Austin Allen Scott, “Blue Train” and “Songs of the Ocean” both by Ryohei Hirose, and “Golliwog’s Cake Walk” by Claude Debussy. “The pieces are basically the music that we have played over the years that we have really come to love,” said choir founder Jennings Glenn.
The event will also feature three other groups made up of current and former members. Four of the six founding members are still in the choir but will be joined by the two other founders to play Gustaf Holst’s “The Jig from the St. Paul Suite.” The low flute choir, made up of alto, contrabass and bass flutes, will be playing two selections, and the final group will feature current and former members playing patriotic songs called the “American Flute Salute.”
“If you would have said then (in 1989 that) you guys are still going to be doing this 30 years from now, I would have laughed at them,” Glenn said. “… Flute choirs were beginning to grow and expand nationwide in terms of having quality music written for them back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and it has just exploded since then nationwide.”
Kelsey was first drawn to the flute as a child. Growing up in Boston, her parents would take her and her sister to see the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. “I just loved the piccolo,” she said. “I found out you can’t really just start on the piccolo. You have to start on the flute. I started studying the flute and eventually I didn’t really like the piccolo as much, so I never really studied the piccolo. I stuck with the regular flute.”
With a love of music and a desire to share melodies with children, she became a music teacher and taught for many years in FCPS including Urbana, Walkersville and Glade elementary schools before retiring. Kelsey stayed with the group for so long because of her love of playing. “The music that we do is challenging and it is aesthetically pleasing,” she said.
Glenn, who is in his 70s, has been playing the flute since seventh grade and holds a master’s degree in flute performance from the University of Tennessee. In 1989, he was hired to teach at the Arts and Communications Academy at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School. “Instrumental folks (know that) if we don’t have something to prepare for, we don’t practice,” he said. So, he decided to start the flute choir knowing “if I don’t find some other folks to play with, I am not going to do any more playing.”
Most members are local to the county but some travel from as far away as Carlisle and Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and Stevensville, Virginia. Individuals must try out to become members and practices are held once a week on Wednesdays in Frederick from September to May.
Because the choir has grown over the years, Glenn now directs the choir instead of playing. “Everybody is equal,” he said. “I move the parts around so all the players get to play. Nobody always plays first flute. Nobody always plays fifth flute. Everybody gets a chance, and they love it.”