In this edition of Let's "Talk Story," Jeri Evans tells us about growing up as a flutist on Oahu, and how she came to be part of the esteemed Royal Hawaiian Band!
Aloha, Jeri! Tell us, how did you begin playing the flute?
I started learning to play the flute in 7th grade at King Intermediate. The band director, Mr. Yonamine, told us where each section of instruments were in the room and that we could choose. It was a bit chaotic! I initially went to the percussion section but saw that a lot of boys were already there- shucks! I then remembered that I had seen a clarinet before but didn't feel inclined to choose it. I finally decided to sit in the flute section even though I didn't really know what one looked like. The teacher then told the flute section to go outside the portable classroom we met in & blow into the head joint. The others were successful pretty quickly but I think it took me about 3 days to get any sound out of that thing.
I think we can all remember a similar story! Clearly, after coming from not making a sound to the amazing player you are today, you must have had some amazing instructors. Who was your most influential teacher and why?
Jean Harling, first flutist of the Honolulu Symphony at the time, was my first and only flute instructor from the 8th grade through college.
The band director at my school, Mr. Yonamine, had me audition for something at Punahou School and before my 8th grade school year began, Mrs. Harling phoned my mother and asked if I wanted to take flute lessons. I nodded "Yes" to my Mom enthusiastically.
My first lesson with Mrs. Harling was at Harry's Music Store. When she first played for me, I was struck by how loudly she played and was intrigued by the wave in her sound. (Within the first year she had me doing the same thing!) I don't recall much of that first lesson but, as I was leaving, she said in a very firm voice, "Practice 30 minutes a day!" I didn't dare to not listen to that bit of instruction.
Starting in my Junior year at the University of Hawaii, Mrs. Harling started having me play with the Honolulu Symphony as a flute/piccolo substitute. It was spooky and exciting to play with those experienced professionals and it never occurred to me to say, "No".
I am grateful that Mrs. Harling -- I could never refer to her as "Jean" -- called to offer me lessons.
She sounds like an incredible person and instructor. So, after your time as a student, you developed a wonderful, multi-faceted career! How did you come to be a flutist in the Royal Hawaiian Band?
In December 1986, my husband and I took our 3 children, then 9, 4, & 2, to see the Kaneohe Christmas Parade. We secured our place in front of Windward City Shopping Center to get a good view. The Royal Hawaiian Band marched past and I glimpsed my friend from Youth Symphony and University of Hawaii, Susan Gillespie. She was the first female to ever become a full-time member and I remembered seeing the television news story about her. In that moment, a thought flitted through my mind: "Hmmm, I wonder if I could ever do that?" Surprisingly and coincidentally, two months later, Susan called me to ask if I would like to be a part-time flutist with the Band! I discussed it with my family first then said yes!
After 5 years as a part-timer I was privileged to become full time and this past July marked my 25th year with the band!
It was a blessing for me to see the Royal Hawaiian Band for the first time in that parade and then to be asked to play with them. I give the credit to God.
Wow! It was meant to be. So, what is a memorable musical moment/performance from your career?
One afternoon years ago, the Honolulu Symphony personnel manager called to ask if I could play in a concert that same evening. The third flutist had unfortunately taken ill.
After scrambling to cancel or reschedule students, I rushed to the concert hall to practice the music. After I received it, I was taken aback. I thought, “Music? What music? Black splatters on 2 or 3 pages is not what I call music!” We -- I wasn't the only one -- had to ad lib!
During that concert, was grateful to Mrs. Harling, who had exposed me to some contemporary flute solos that I didn't like at the time!
There may have been a couple of other “normal” pieces that night but I don't remember them. The contemporary piece was certainly unforgettable but not in a good way!
I do have happy memory of when I played piccolo on the 4th movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. I was stressed about entering cold after what seemed like a thousand measures of rest. I used two piccolos; one tuned for entering soft & the other for the louder, higher ending.
The soft entrance required a tremendous amount of support and concentration but none of my notes cracked and I think I played in tune! Then, the high, loud ending was just plain fun!
After the concert, I felt like that was the best I'd ever played and that I'd never be able to do it again!
Great anecdotes! Do you have any advice for flutists who want to pursue a career in music?
Practice hard & learn much when you're young; then become a doctor or lawyer so you can afford the instruments you want.
Lastly - If you were to pursue a career other than music, what would it be?
I'd have been happy as a stay-at-home mom/grandma.
Jeri also wanted to share the following:
The Hawaii Flute Society is a wonderful opportunity for flutists of all ages & skill levels to come together to read ensemble music & play for the community.
Thank you to Lance Suzuki for taking everything to a whole new level with his ideas & the wonderful website. And thank you to Aileen Kawakami, who started it all by inviting others to join her & her students in playing ensemble music. Their love of flute playing is an inspiration to all.
Mahalo to Jeri for taking the time to be part of the Talk Story Series! Stay tuned for the next installation!