Flute professionals ponder the future

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Susan Valot/KPCC

Louise DiTullio performs in front of a crowd at the National Flute Association Convention in Anaheim.

Hundreds of flute players and flute enthusiasts packed the Marriott ballrooms in Anaheim last week for the National Flute Association’s annual convention. For them, flutes are fun. And for some, they’re a career.

George Pope is one of those who has made the flute his career. He has been teaching flute at the University of Akron in Ohio for more than three decades.

Pope makes playing the flute seem easy. Inside a hotel ballroom in Anaheim, he belts out a jazzy tune written by a friend.

The audience is captivated. Some tap their feet. They love flutes. But Pope says the flute and classical music audience seems to be dwindling.

“Classical music has been struggling in this country for a while. And in this country, I mean, you see a lot of the smaller orchestras will not be able to carry on because of finances," Pope says. "And even the large orchestras struggle at times. And so I just tell anyone who wants to play the flute, ‘You’ve got to do it because you love it, you know, not because you’re going to be famous or have a huge career.’”

As orchestras struggle and schools cut music programs, there are fewer jobs for professional flutists. George Pope sees that. But he sees innovation, too.

“It’s not a lot of work out there, you know. The primary jobs are playing in an orchestra and teaching at a college, you know," Pope says. "And what a lot of people have done though, is they find their own niche. A lot of people have gone into jazz. A lot of people start their own chamber music groups and are very successful at doing that.

Some people just do recording. And I always tell my students, ‘If you want to have a life in music, you could make it happen. It may not be exactly what you planned, but you can have a life of music because there are many options out there beyond the sort of standard choices.’”

Louise DiTullio’s fingers fly across the flute like sand crabs scurrying on shore when a wave recedes. When she was 19, she made a “standard choice” and became a flutist with the L.A. Philharmonic. That was 1960.

DiTullio went on to stints with the Pacific Symphony and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra – and she caught the ear of conductors recording Hollywood scores. Her flute is part of the score in nearly 1,200 movies, including “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Hook” and “Dances With Wolves.”

DiTullio still plays with the Pasadena Symphony. She says orchestra work put her in front of the Hollywood audience – and that helped her break into movie music. She says today’s up-and-coming flutists need to find that exposure somewhere.

“You have to get onto the public somehow,” says DiTullio. “People have to hear you. And when I was coming up, it was easier. It was easier because the community orchestras weren’t under contract and so they could hire who they wanted to hire. So if they heard about somebody, as in my case, they could ask me to come play. Now the union’s gotten in and everybody’s under contract.”

That means fewer openings in mainstream classical music for new professional musicians. Not many TV shows use live orchestras. And there are only so many Hollywood movies each year. DiTullio says it’s always been hard to find a job.

“Would I recommend that somebody try to get into the business anymore? You know, and I don’t just mean Hollywood," she pauses. “I don’t know. You have to be driven. First of all, you really have to be driven. And you have to get yourself out there and be heard. And that’s the hard part.”

Pope says he’s hopeful about the future of the flute and classical music.

“There’s always hope for making beautiful music,” says Pope. “And if you make people – if you reach their hearts, you know, with the music that you play, then that’s... that’s the greatest reward.”

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