Why I Became a Flutist

The imagination that conjures up a picture of a movie flutist is fascinating to many people. My career as a musician started very young. I lived in a mountain cabin/restaurant until I was 6 and then moved to Burbank, CA. which is the home to Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros. pictures, Disney Pictures, NBC and independent movie productions. Nearby were Universal
Pictures, RCA, Paramount Pictures (in Hollywood) and across town Fox, Hal Roach and MGM.

My father played clarinet, sax and some flute on many radio shows, movies, records and also was a symphony clarinetist.
He was lst Clarinet with the Kansas City Philharmonic and the WPA orchestra during the 30s. In the mid 40s he managed the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. My exposure to the movies started with singing in the Mitchell Boys Choir, at age 10, in “The Bishops Wife” with David Niven, Cary Grant and Loretta Young. I can be seen on camera in the choir with Loretta Young sitting in front of us. One of my junior high schools friend’s dad, Eddie Dew, was a producer and cowboy star in many western movies. He had me play “John the Baptist” as a boy (40 days in the wilderness). These examples are meant to show my familiarity with the movie industry, so it was only natural that I be drawn to the movies.

Sheridon Stokes at 10 Years Old

Hollywood Bowl 1945
L-R: Sheridon Stokes (10 years old), Franklyn Stokes (orchestra manager), Phillip Kahgan, Leopold
Stokowski
Gloria Vanderbilt took the picture

My early training started on viola at 5 which lasted only 6 months; my mother liked the sound of the instrument. During a recording session at MGM, one of the violists asked me why I gave up the viola. I thought for a moment and said as a joke “it was too easy”. To this day, the violist, Harry Shirinian, laughs when he sees me.

At 8, I started flute because of a long family tradition to study an instrument. My grandmother was an organist and choir director and all her 7 kids played an instrument. My father was the youngest and played clarinet. My lst teacher was Robert Bladet, a former member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and piccolo in the Warner Bros. orchestra. My next teacher was Roger Stevens, piccolo with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Prof. of Flute at USC. Years later we consulted each other when we wrote our flute books at about the same time; his, “The Artistic Flute” and mine “The Illustrated Method for Flute”. We had several disagreements as to the movement of embouchure, but in the end figured out we meant the same thing.
My last formal studies, were with Haakon Bergh (studio flutist and composer). He opened up my concept of flute playing and music; and was responsible for my becoming a successful musician. When I was 15 he said, “You have had enough lessons, I can’t teach you anything else”. I was startled and asked him if I could study composition with him. I had many enjoyable lessons and was introduced to the Schillinger system because of him. George Gershwin and many film composers studied with Schillinger.  His approach was very mathematical and dealt with the many ways notes could be combined.

After that I had the fortunate chance to have as my mentor and friend and in myopinion and many other musicians, the most amazing flutist the world has ever known. Stravinsky described him as the best musician he had ever heard. His name was Arthur Gleghorn. Arthur came to this country after a very successful career in London as lst flute with the Philharmonia, the London Symphony and a studio recording artist. Both Haakon and Arthur had great senses of humor and a very practical approach to music. Haakon always said take the mysteries out of music and analyze what you are doing. If you are on a job and something is too difficult, rewrite it if you have to. Haakon taught me vibrato, which was not taught on flute in that era.

At age 13, for six months I practiced only throat vibrato (I was very focused) and not only learned it but discovered that controlling the circular larynx muscle, opened up my throat and gave me a much bigger and open sound. I go into great detail in my flute book “The illustrated for Flute” (published by Mel Bay) about this muscle; it is very powerful and can make or break a flutist.

Haakon also taught me isometric exercises for the fingers as a part of building up muscles used in playing the flute. Arthur Gleghorn showed me many things (both verbal and non verbal) about flute playing. For example: brace the instrument with the arms, so the fingers can be free. He had the most amazing technique I ever heard. When I tried this approach, it was as if I had added a super lubricant to my fingers (like the old STP they put in car oil). He listened to every note and would play in tune with any instrument in the orchestra no matter how far away it was and how out of tune they were. His breath control was like that of violinist with a “super bow arm”.

 

One Response to Why I Became a Flutist

  1. Brian Ellory October 23, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

    Very interested to note your remarks concerning Arthur Gleghorn my late father Jack Ellory played with Arthur when he was in the Philamonia inthe late 1940′s .Both men had a fantastic powerful sound and that on wooden flutes.As Arthur left England in I think 1948 never returning to this country I would be very interested in any anecdotes that you have of Arthur.
    Hope to hear from you.

    Yours Sincerely
    Brian Ellory.

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