IF YOU GO
What: “Magical Evening of Harp and Flute Music” with Flute Cocktail and harpists Dickie Fleisher and Janelle House
When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
Where: North Naples United Methodist Church, 6000 Goodlette-Frank Road N., Naples
Admission: Freewill donation to Naples Music Club Scholarship Fund
Information: Visit www.naplesmusicclub.org/concerts or call Jeannette Boucher at 273-6622
Convention is a sticky thing. Think fruit cocktail. The ubiquitous cafeteria staple is actually mandated by the USDA to contain little to no cherry halves to 30 percent to 50 percent diced peaches. The proportions are not so different from those found in the traditional instrumentation of a classical orchestra. For 12 violins, there are usually two flutes.
There’s probably not much to do about the cherry disparity. However, a local group is piping up to tip the musical scales.
Sowing the seeds
In 2006, retired Cincinnati Symphony flutist Chellie Doepke and freelance flutist Wendy Willis had a fruitful conversation, out of which Flute Cocktail emerged. Doepke is currently pursuing other musical interests, but the ”by invitation” ensemble has seven current members and is tuning up for a busy season.
The group will present its opening concert Sunday at North Naples United Methodist Church to benefit the Naples Music Club Scholarship Fund. Harpists Dickie Fleisher of Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and Janelle House, winner of the Naples Music Club’s Turiel award — the organization’s top prize — will also grace the stage.
Aside from Willis, the players are: Diane Ball, Marjorie Huelsman, Julie Meschko, Martie Miller, Sandy Stein and Nancy Frost Tate.
Convention or no, flute ensembles are one of the more common specialty extractions from an orchestral setting.
“They are all over the country,” according to Meschko, “And the music out there for flute choir is just overwhelming these days.”
Meschko has helped run a flute choir master class at Wildacres Flute Symposium in North Carolina for the last 20 years.
She said the 1970s marked the start of an explosion in flute ensembles. The instrument is a popular choice for young musicians. Because of the limited number of orchestra seats, though, flutists often need to find their own creative outlet.
Although built around one basic instrument, Flute Cocktail is far from a monoculture. In addition to the standard concert flute, the players switch off between parts for alto flute, bass flute and piccolo.
Among their set list for their opening concert are selections from “The Planets,” Gustav Holst’s immensely famous suite for full orchestra.
Such big instrumentation might seem an ambitious endeavor for a bunch of flutes.
“I have the tuba, here,” Stein asserted, hefting up her bass flute. “It’s an octave below a regular flute. It’s fun! I actually play the bass part.”
Mercury, it turns out, is a brilliant choice. The nimble, yet ethereally breathy tones of the seven flutes reflect the planet’s dizzying rotation around the sun. A surprise multimedia element will add a visual dimension to the celestial experience.
After all, what’s a cocktail with only one ingredient?
Tending the rows
The caliber of musical ability Flute Cocktail brings makes it possible to set a high standard of professionalism and enjoy the satisfaction of playing challenging selections. All of the members received a college-level music education. Without it, certain logistical aspects of dealing with the music might prove rather thorny. During a recent rehearsal, Willis surprised the group with news they’d be performing one of the pieces in a different key from the one they’d mastered.
It turns out Gabriel Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine,” which had been adapted from the original choral version, posed a serious issue for the harpists. The pedal changes were simply outrageous in C major. They requested Willis transpose the piece up a half step to Faure’s original D flat major.
The women took it in stride. “That’s how flexible we are, to go from no sharps or flats to five flats in a heartbeat,” she said. “If we weren’t music majors we might not have any idea how to transpose a piece and make it work.”
Off to market
Their adaptability also allows them to play in many different genres and venues. On Feb. 6 and 7 the group will be performing with the Naples Orchestra and Chorus for its program “Music and Movement.” Selections include works of composers ranging from Berlioz and Brahms to Dvorak and contemporary favorite Leroy Anderson.
Following a recent interview with co-founder Doepke, local radio personality Dave Elliott recently invited the group to perform live on his show early next year.
Even with these commitments, Willis said, “We’re open for gigs.”
Churches offer plenty of performance opportunity. However, Willis has noticed their programs often omit the ensemble’s whimsical name. She doesn’t know if it’s a type of commentary about alcohol, but she said, “We do need name recognition.”
The talent that fortifies Flute Cocktail surely won’t be hidden under a bushel basket for much longer.