This article appears in the February 2024 online magazine
We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Central Arizona Flute Ensemble (CAFE Flutes) a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Central Arizona Flute Ensemble, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Can you talk to us about how you learned to do what you do?
Leslie: Sure. First of all, there are seven flutists in our group, and all seven of us will take turns responding to your interview questions: myself, (Leslie Etzel-CAFE‘s Manager), Sue Norton-Scott, Nora Welsh, Kristin Caliendo, Les Lewis, Susan Borgers, and Rhonda Bowen. You can learn more about us individually on our website at www.cafeflutes.com.
We’ve learned the craft of not only playing high-quality flute choir music but how to share it with our community. In 2014, I brought together seven friends who were superb flutists and who blended together both musically and personally around the vision for the ensemble. Five of the seven original members remain active in the ensemble today.
Sue: We learned by doing. Musically, we already knew how to play our instruments, select music, and rehearse. What we learned by trial and error was how best to connect with our community. For example, early on we realized that audiences were absolutely enthralled by Leslie’s rare 10-foot-long contrabass flute. Therefore, the contrabass became prominent in our promotional materials.
Susan introducing a song
Susan: We also learned to be more business-minded. Following the challenges posed by the pandemic, we transitioned into a 501c3 nonprofit charitable organization. This pivotal step opened doors to grant funding from various city, state, and foundation sources. These grants allowed us to perform 28 concerts last year, bringing our music to audiences that do not have access to traditional music venues. This commitment to community outreach continues into 2024.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
Kristin: Of course. Our mission statement says what we do most concisely: CAFE enriches, enlightens, and inspires audiences by presenting interactive concerts and educational programs that showcase the diverse flute family. Our most popular program, “CAFE Blend,” weaves seasonal favorites with classical melodies, inspirational patriotic songs, golden oldies, jazz standards, and peppy show tunes.
Nora: We play at libraries, senior communities, lobbies, music festivals, private homes, art galleries, and concert halls. Each piece is introduced in a friendly, clear manner, with intriguing trivia about the music and composers. Right after we play our opening selection, we introduce the piccolo, C-flute, alto, bass, and contrabass flutes. People are fascinated because they’ve never seen those instruments before.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
Les decorates the birthday cards we distribute during concerts
Les: The absolute best part is connecting with our audience during concerts. Seeing their faces light up when we play a familiar tune or sharing the stories behind the music—it’s pure joy. And when folks come up to us after a concert, sharing their own musical memories or asking questions, it’s incredibly rewarding. Actually, we’re not just flutists; we’re storytellers through music. The audience becomes part of that story.
Rhonda: Playing one on a part is a musician’s dream. Unlike playing in a large flute section that requires many players to balance the band’s overall sound, each CAFE flutist is solely responsible for their musical contribution. Each musical voice can be heard clearly. That brings a sense of pride and appreciation for creative musicianship because there is “nowhere to hide.” We have to be “tuned in” all of the time, which we find challenging and rewarding.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
Nora introducing a CAFE song
Nora: Oh, absolutely! For the longest time, I thought being a great musician meant sticking to the notes on the page, playing perfectly, you know, the traditional conventions. But in CAFE, we had to unlearn that. We embrace connecting with our audience in every way possible. No more hiding behind music stands. We greet our listeners, encourage them to sing along, and even pass around demo flutes. It’s about breaking the barrier between performers and the audience, and unlearning that old mindset was a game-changer.
Kristin: Another way we connect with audience members is by acknowledging those celebrating birthdays that month. After putting a party hat on top of the contrabass flute and a birthday cake banner on a music stand, we perform a quirky arrangement of the Happy Birthday song for the celebrants. In senior communities, we even travel into the audience to hand-deliver personalized birthday cards!
Rhonda chatting with audience member
Rhonda: We not only un-learned the traditional practice of not breaking the “fourth wall,” but we barge right through it by sending a demonstration flute and piccolo out into the audience. As the instruments circulate, listeners find themselves captivated by the intricate mechanisms, delicate pads, and precise alignment of keys that breathe life into CAFE events. Our concerts become truly multi-sensory experiences that are quite unlike traditional, stuffy classical events of the past.
Sue: In short, we love what we do and are not hesitant to explore new ways to share our music with our community.
Intrigued? We invite you to learn more about us by visiting our website at www.cafeflutes.com and while there, please subscribe to our monthly newsletter!