Discovering the Contemporary Relevance of the Victorian Flute Guild

VFG Committee member, Alice Bennett, completed her Honours degree in music at The University Of Melbourne and submitted a thesis entitled ‘Discovering the Contemporary Relevance of the Victorian Flute Guild’. Below is an abridged version. 

Alice mentions:

“I wrote a couple of chapters on the history of the Guild (using The Flautist as the main source of info), used it to see how the Guild has been successful and where what its difficulties have been, then discussed the four main aims of the Guild with reference to interviews with Annette, Fred Shade and Margaret Crawford, and the results of a questionnaire sent out to members.

The result was that by changing along with the needs of the membership and complimenting the education system and other organisations rather than competing with them, the Guild has remained relevant and important throughout its existence. 

… I would like to draw your attention to the questionnaire results in appendix G. While they are quite limited, you might find them interesting.”


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Leslie Barklamb with the VFG Flute Ensemble

Chapter One

Introduction

The Victorian Flute Guild (VFG) was established in 1969 by Leslie Barklamb, a virtuoso flute player and the first permanent flute teacher at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (Tregear, 1997). The VFG is one of very few flute societies still operating in Australia that promotes flute music and flute playing at all levels. The Guild runs several events annually including the prestigious Leslie Barklamb Scholarship, ensemble competitions, masterclasses, and recitals from leading Australian and international flautists, workshops and professional development days, as well as the running of several flute ensembles.

Since its inception, the Guild has maintained four main aims:

1. To promote and encourage the learning and study of the flute, flute playing in all idioms and to support and encourage all forms of music education.

2. To promote close relations and cordial co-operation between flautists of all grades (both professional and non-professional) and all other persons interested in flutes, flute playing and musical education in all forms.

3. To promote and organize gatherings of flautists both formally and informally and to encourage groups of players to meet and play together.

4. To encourage and assist in the importation, writing, publishing, performance, recording, broadcasting and appreciation of flute music.

Although the main goals and activities of the Guild have not greatly changed, the society in which it operates has. This study aims to discover the current impact and importance of the VFG. It will investigate how the VFG fulfils their stated objectives, problems that they have faced (and are facing), how they have overcome them, how they have changed over time, and by doing so will ascertain how well the VFG’s aims meet the needs of their membership. This is the first study to investigate the VFG, though it is limited by the amount of time allowed to complete the project (one semester) – the effect of which is outlined in the methodology. Despite these parameters, the study will shed some light on the VFG’s function in fluting society and how this has changed since its inception, and it will also be significant for the organisation itself, by reflecting on their past in order to inform future endeavours.

Vernon Hill and guitarist

Vernon Hill and guitarist at the first VFG concert (1969)

Methodology

This project uses three main sources of information to inform its investigations. The VFG’s archive reveals the objectives and operations of the Guild since their inception, as well as membership statistics, attendance at and reception of events, financial information, and activities of the Australian fluting community.

Due to the relatively small amount of information available on the Guild in its infancy, interviews were conducted with VFG members, shedding light on the Guild’s early history as remembered by those who were active within the organisation when it began. Due to time limitations, only three interviews were conducted, with Frederick Shade, Annette Sloan, and Margaret Crawford. While Crawford has been away for most of the history of the Guild, she has had close contact with its members, and has had similar experiences during her time as president of the Sydney Flute Society, and is therefore in a position to comment on the Guild from a point outside of its internal operations. In her interview she discussed the attitudes of tertiary students, and the impact of busier lifestyles on music and organisations. Shade discussed the process in which the Guild was formed, the function it served, and the man behind it all, Leslie Barklamb; and Sloan discussed the aims of the Guild and how they have been met, both in the past and with the current activities of the Guild.

As the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee (MUHREC) does not allow access to interviewees’ contact details, interview participants were selected by VFG president, Annette Sloan, based on their involvement with the Guild since its inception, their ability to contribute knowledge relevant to the study and their ability to be interviewed by the researcher. Due to the small number of people who met these criteria, Sloan selected herself as a participant, and forwarded letters of invitation to participate in the study to the two others on behalf of the author, along with the interview questions and the explanatory statement, with both agreeing to be interviewed. Each participant then contacted the researchers to organise the interview time and place. A risk assessment was conducted and concluded that, for the safety of the interviewer, interviews were to be conducted in a public setting. The date, time and place of the interviews were communicated to the School Executive Officer, Sue Jedynak, and the supervising researcher, Honours Coordinator Dr Joel Crotty. The interviewer, Alice Bennett, contacted Crotty via telephone upon arrival at the meeting destination, and again upon leaving. Consent forms were signed and collected before the beginning of each interview, and participants were given the option of being identified in the report by name or pseudonym, or remain anonymous. The interviews were recorded, and the transcripts sent to participants for editing and approval before the information was used.

A questionnaire was sent to twenty VFG members asking about their thoughts on VFG events, and the aims and contemporary relevance of the Guild. Again, due to the size and time limits of the project, only twenty members were invited to participate. Those members were selected from the list of flute teachers held by the VFG, as they had agreed for their contact details to be made publically available. So that the researcher could remain detached and unbiased in the selection process, Annette Sloan chose the twenty participants to include a broad range of demographic details in order to represent members who may have different needs or expectations from the Guild. Those details include some who had been members for more than ten years, some who had been members for less than five years, professional flautists, committee members, teachers who enrol their student with the Australian Music Examinations Board, those who enrol students into other examination systems, primary school teachers, secondary school teachers and those who teach in a private studio. The selected participants were emailed an invitation to participate along with the explanatory statement and the questionnaire itself, and asked to email back their response. Those who chose to participate filled out the questionnaire on their own computers using Microsoft Word, and emailed back the completed form to the researchers. To ensure each participant’s ability to answer questions openly and honestly, all answers were anonymous. While the author did receive the senders name with every emailed response, this information was not recorded. Responses were allocated a number so that any participant discussed in the report was referred to by a pseudonym, e.g. Participant 4 feels that…

As only six members chose to participate in the questionnaire, the responses cannot deem to represent the membership as a whole. The results are skewed towards members who are flute teachers between the ages of 30 and 69, with a representation of members living in rural Victoria. Consequently, a large part of the questionnaire will not be used in this project, as the limited results are inadequate to draw conclusions from. Only the questions in relation to the Guild’s aims and contemporary relevance will be used to inform the discussion in Chapter Four, outlined below.

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Leslie Barklamb with the VFG Flute Ensemble at the first VFG Concert (1969)

Literature Review

Currently there has been nothing substantial published on the VFG. One article in The Australian Journal of Music Education (Anon., 1971) announces its foundation and listsactivities during its first year, though it goes into little detail. The evidence used to support this study will be mainly archival data, including all issues of The Flautist, the official journal of the Guild, the first issues of which were most informative as they explain Leslie Barklamb’s ambitions and intentions in forming the Guild and the way in which he wished it to proceed. Of similar use was a tape of an interview in 1989 with Leslie Barklamb by Robert Brown, with the contribution of Guild members Annette Sloan and Jim Scroggie, in which Barklamb describes the formation of the Guild and also the flute society he started in the 1920s.

The Flautist also provided enough information to form a complete list of chronological events organised by the VFG, and showed how well attended different functions were, how well different events were received, who was involved with the committee, and some information on the fluting community in other parts of Australia. Other archival data includes the original constitution of the VFG stating their rules and aims, minutes from committee meetings including information on the organisation of different events, reflection on events, financial information and correspondence with other Guilds and musicians.

Mary Sheargold’s research into Leslie Barklamb (2003) provides much insight, not just into Barklamb himself, but also the establishment of the Guild and other flute societies around Australia. A four part article titled The Life and Times of Leslie Barklambsheds light on Barklamb’s life from early childhood until he was awarded the honorary Degree of Master of Music at the University of Melbourne in 1976. Sterman’s book John Amadio – Virtuoso Flautist (2002) describes Barklamb’s teacher and shows how he might have been influential in both practical and pedagogical ways. Fairweather’s book on Alberto Zelman (1984) gives an account of the rivalry between Zelman’s Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Heinze’s University Orchestra and Barklamb’s role in each of them. John Wion’s autobiography (2007) describes Barklamb’s generosity and commitment to his students, providing a case study of Barklamb’s relationship with his students.

Chapter Outlines

The discussion of the contemporary relevance of the VFG cannot take place without reference to its history. Chapter Three will provide an account of the Guild’s activities from 1970 to 2012, as well as discussing their success and failures, difficulties they have encountered and how they have overcome them. Chapter four will discuss the aims of the Guild, how well they fulfil them and how relevant they are in modern Victoria, with reference to the interviews and questionnaire results. In order to understand the motives of the Guild, Chapter Two will give a brief description of Leslie Barklamb’s life, his agenda in creating the VFG, and the launch of the Guild.

Chapter Two

Formation of the VFG, 1969

This chapter will explain how and why the VFG was started. It will first discuss Leslie Barklamb, the man whose vision it was, in order to understand his motives for starting a flute society, how he came to came to be such an influential figure in the Australian fluting world, and how he was successful in his venture.  It will describe the flute club Barklamb started in the 1920s, how he attributes its failure and how he addressed those problems in his second attempt in 1969. This chapter also will recount the events in July 1969 that effectively launched the Guild, and describe how the Guild was organised, the functions it aimed to fulfil and the ratification of its constitution.

Leslie Barklamb

Leslie Barklamb (1905-1993), is widely known as the “father of the flute” in Australia (Sheargold, 2003), as by the time he founded the VFG in 1969 there were professional flautists in every state of Australia who had been a student of Les’, including Vernon Hill (Melbourne), David Cubbin (Adelaide) and Linda Vogt (Sydney) (Sheargold, 2003: 57-58), as well as successful expatriates such as John Wion and Douglas Whittaker.

Barklamb grew up in Benalla, Victoria, and played the piccolo from a young age, taught by his father. In 1917 he auditioned for lessons with John Amadio, “one of the worlds’ first acclaimed flute soloists”(Sterman, 2002), travelling to Melbourne by train for weekly lessons until the family relocated. After Amadio’s departure overseas Barklamb learnt from AlfredWeston Pett. During his time at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium where he obtained a Diploma of Music in 1925, Barklamb played with Alberto Zelman’s amateur Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for the then Madam Melba (later Dame Nellie)’s series of concerts. He also took part in the Opera seasons of 1924 with conductor Paolantonio, 1926 with Bavignolo, 1928  with Wurmser and 1929 with Kurtz, the orchestras for which were recruited from all over Australia in order to produce the finest orchestral performance the country had to offer.

Barklamb was one of only two musicians to play for two rival orchestras in Melbourne in the 1920s: Bernard Heinze’s University Orchestra and Alberto Zelman’s Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) (Sheargold, 2003: 17). Heinze’s orchestra received financial support and was able to pay professional players for both rehearsals and performances allowing the conservatorium students the opportunity to play alongside and learn from them. Due toHeinze’s circle of support and the number of professionals involved (Sheargold, 2003: 16), the MSO amalgamated into the University Orchestra which took on its administration, funds and eventually its name. By this stage, after playing in Heinze’s orchestra as a student, Barklamb now played as a staff member of the University of Melbourne Conservatorium. About six years after Zelman’s death, the key members of the original MSO formed the amateur Zelman Memorial Symphony Orchestra (ZMSO) in 1933, whose aim is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in an orchestra if they truly love music(Sheargold, 2003: 17).

Fred Shade conducting at the first VFG concert (1969)

Fred Shade conducting at the first VFG concert (1969)

Throughout the 1920s Barklamb also performed at the State, Regent and Capitol Theatres, playing music for silent films (Sheargold, 2003: 15), and participating in John Bishop’s Chamber Music Guild (Symons, 1989: 94). In the 1930s he was influential in developing musicians’ rights, particularly for orchestral players who were often persecuted by the conductor in front of their peers; consequently on several occasions he confronted conductor Bernard Heinze in defence of other players (Sheargold, 2003: 19). He organised an Orchestral Committee so that the players had a spokesman to negotiate with the management of the orchestra and also set up the Provident Fund for which money was collected weekly from all permanent players in the orchestra so that when a player became ill and had to take time off work, they would have an allowance from the fund. Previously, players who became ill would often be stood down without pay.

Having become a Chief Study teacher at the Conservatorium from 1929, teaching became a large part of Barklamb’s life. Thus when a “dysfunction of the fingers of his left hand” untreatable with surgery along with his unsuccessful audition for principal flute of the MSO in 1958 (Sheargold, 2003: 2) caused him to retire from the MSO, Barklamb dedicated his life to his students and the wider fluting community.

Barklamb became the flute teacher in Melbourne. Not only was he the predominant teacher for advanced flute students in Victoria, he also welcomed players for which flute was a secondary instrument and those who wanted to teach, believing that everyone should have the opportunity to learn the instrument if they wanted to (Sheargold, 2003: 24, 27). According to his students, Barklamb was also a mentor and father-like figure. Annette Sloan, former student of Barklamb’s and current President of the VFG remembers him:

He was such a wonderful person in lots of ways, it wasn’t just flute playing. He’d do anything for his students. I can tell you, John Wion was a very poor fellow when he was young, and what did Les do? He bought him a flute and encouraged him and gave him lessons and everything, and look where he got to in the end!

John Wion was the principal flautist from the New York City Opera from 1965 to 2002. He was Professor of Flute at the Hartt School, Connecticut, before retiring in 2007, and has performed as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestra member in Australia, U.S.A., New Zealand, Italy, Mexico, England, Finland, Peru, and Canada. All this began when he playedThe Whistler and His Dog on his tin piccolo for Barklamb as a sixth grader, and Barklamb arranged for him a high pitched wooden Rudall Carte flute, and sent him to have lessons with former student Dorothy Jelbart (Wion, 2007: 12-13). Wion describes Barklamb:

When Dad died we had no money for lessons, but Mr. Barklamb insisted on teaching me for free… He was a very generous man and a wonderfully enthusiastic teacher and person. He was always lending flutes and music to people, and I know that he lost a lot of both.(Wion, 2007: 16)

As well as being kind and generous to his students, Barklamb had a knack for talent spotting and often tailored lessons to each student depending on what he thought they should do for a career (Sheargold, 2003: 25). Some he would push to be orchestral players and soloists in Australia, such as Fred Shade who he encouraged to perform as much as possible, evenpersuading him to perform a concerto movement at the age of twelve with a Junior Symphony Orchestra:

I was terrified, I didn’t think I was up to it, but Les did and he made me believe I was. On the day of the concert, he presented me with a signed copy of the concerto wishing me luck in the performance (Sheargold, 2003: 45)

In other students Barklamb saw great potential as teachers, as Annette Sloan remembers:

I would never have become a teacher if it hadn’t been for Les coming and saying to me “right, dear, you’re going to teach!”  I said “no, I know nothing about teaching” and he said “yes you will!”, and forthwith he sent me someone to teach.

Sure enough, Annette has spent 40 years teaching flute at the Presbyterian Ladies College among other professional and musical ventures.

CommitteeList1969

Original handwritten list of VFG committee members in 1969

The Inauguration of the VFG

In the 1920s, Barklamb had formed a flute society similar to those in America, whose magazines were the single source of fluting news for Australian players. With about twenty members, mostly amateurs and students, the club lasted about nine years. Barklamb described the demise of this club as going into a “slow but uncontrollable diminuendo and eventually into silence” and considered that a “lack of support from professional players, together with the factors mentioned above (talkie pictures, recordings, tapes, wireless, television etc.” werethe primary causes.

Thus in his second attempt, at retirement age, he used his many contacts – mostly former students – to garner support from professionals all over the country. Barklamb formed a planning committee consisting of Frederick and Elizabeth (Libby) Shade, John and NariidaColeman and Jim Scroggie, all of whom were active members of the Guild for many years.Taking advantage of the presence of two former students and successful international artistsat the time, Wion and Whittaker, Barklamb sent out several hundred hand written invitations to a concert at Melba Hall, featuring the two expatriates as well as Linda Vogt (Canberra), David Cubbin (Adelaide), Vernon Hill (Melbourne), Arnost Bourek (Czech, principal flute of the MSO) and pianist Margaret Schofield. Approximately 300 people came to the concert,and were asked to produce a flute to gain entry. They were each given a piece of manuscript paper which had one of four parts of a Bach chorale, and were asked to pin the paper onto the back of the person in front of them because there were not enough music stands or room to put them. Barklamb described the event to Robert Brown in his 1989 interview:

When it came time we started to tune up, well you’d never heard such a sound in your life, it was miraculous! … There were high pitched flutes, low pitched flutes and recorders and all sorts of things, and when they played it all sounded all right!  It was so out of tune, but it’d sort of came back to be in tune! So we played these things and it was a real knockout.

At the end of the concert each person was asked to answer whether or not they wanted a flute society and if they would be willing to become a member of such a society. Annette Sloan collected the paper and reported that there was not a single ‘no’ to either of the questions, thus the 298 attendees became the first members of the VFG.

Barklamb’s intention behind the Guild can be found in the first volume of the Guild’s journal,The Flautist, which was first printed in 1970, one year after the inauguration of the Guild.The first President’s Report from Barklamb describes the climate after World War I as leading to an “enormous body of folk who wanted to play music” as “amateurs (which word took on a new meaning)”. It was during this time, in the 1920s, that flute societies flourished in America and other parts of the world, and when Barklamb started his own group in the same fashion. As mentioned above, this fervour did not last much longer than ten years, the world over. It was Barklamb’s mission to resurrect this enthusiasm and “lead to a furtherworldwide awakening of a practical interest in the flute, flute players and flute performance”.He urged members to participate in the Guild as much as possible by attending at events,providing feedback and suggestions, playing in ensembles and contributing to the journal; his final comment was “let us all to the task”.

The main function of the Guild in its infancy was to facilitate group playing, as demonstrated by their first meeting in 1969. In 1970, the Guild hosted a seminar in Bendigo withworkshops and ensemble rehearsals, a ‘Flutarium’ (gathering of flute players with workshops and rehearsals) in Deepdene with 30 young flautists playing with professionals, and a ‘flute-in’ similar to the first meeting at Melba Hall, as well as several recitals and talks. Fred Shade recalls:

We’re dealing with the 70s, 40 years ago, when there were limited outlets for music making for flute players. The idea was, as I recall, providing an opportunity for flute players to come together, in big groups and small groups. What came out of that, with varying degrees of success, more so then, was ‘flute playing in the home’.

‘Music in the home’ began in March 1971 with three volunteer hosts in different areas ofMelbourne inviting Guild members to their houses, usually once a month, to rehearse chamber music. By August there were seven groups running, and nine by July the following year. Annette Sloan describes the purpose of the Guild in encouraging people to play together:

I think it made people aware of the possibilities of joining together and playing. Instead of being a lonely person playing the flute by yourself, you could join with a group and have great fun.

Similarly, Margaret Crawford describes the Guild as having “a strong social feel and a philosophy of ‘we’re all in this together for music, flute, fun and fellowship’.”

In 1970, the Guild’s Constitution was drafted and ratified, with their aim being “to promote and encourage the learning of the flute, flute playing in all idioms, and to support all forms of music education”. This aim was to be attained through several objects including the promotion of closer relations between flautists, music educationalists and any other body having similar or like interests; assisting in the setting up of student curricula and/or examination standards in flute music; to promote and organise gatherings of flautists; to assist students in the preparation and presentation of examination music; to encourage and assist in the importation, writing and publishing of flute music, especially Australian compositions; to encourage the broadcasting of works played by international artists of all idioms, and the performance of Australian compositions; to encourage an international appreciation of the flute and flute playing; to be a central medium of useful information on matters pertaining to the flute and flute playing; to establish, build up and maintain a library of music of all types, and a museum of instruments, manuscripts, paintings, etc.; and to raise sufficient funds by annual subscriptions, donations or otherwise to enable the Guild to realise its aim and objectives.

Conclusion

Leslie Barklamb’s outstanding commitment to his students formed a generation of flute players loyal to him, allowing his dream of creating a flute society in Victoria to become a reality. When he called the professional flute players of Australia together in 1969, being mostly former students of his they accepted and did what they could to make the launch of the Guild a success, and that it was. The concert at Melba Hall was a historic event for the Victorian fluting community marking the beginning of a flute fraternity intent on promoting not just the instrument, but playing at all levels, the sharing of knowledge between professionals, amateurs, teachers and students, the supporting of new music and composers, and facilitating group playing. The Guild then organised several avenues of group playing for all of its members, providing an outlet for music making in a friendly environment that encouraged flute playing and music education. From there the Guild hosted a range of events, some successful and some not, forever contending with ongoing difficulties as well as facing new obstacles, and always attempting to fulfil their stated aims.