Blog

Concerts in the Castle

Concerts in the Castle 150 150 Sheridon Stokes

“Concerts in the Castle” presents the Mozart Flute quartet and Roussel trio

Sunday Nov. 10th
3:30 p.m.
Glendale, Ca

 

The Ten Commandments…

The Ten Commandments… 539 634 Sheridon Stokes

This list was prepared one day at  CBS during an impromptu discussion to find ways for oboist, Alan Vogel, to become a recording musician.  The date was sometime in the early 1980’s.  After realizing what he must do to succeed as a recording artists, he seemed to lose interest…

The Ten Commandments for Certain Success as a Recording Musician

  1. You assume everyone is trying to take your job.
  2. You act mildly seductive to all composers and contractors.
  3. You demand to be the center of attention (questions, jokes, excessive noise, showing up one minute before the downbeat, etc.).
  4. You evaluate what everyone can do for you and rate their importance to you.
  5. You adopt a cunning, scheming, calculating attitude at all times, but never show it.
  6. You assume all jobs are yours and act very offended when you are not called.
  7. You pretend to be concerned about the welfare of your colleagues (on the same instrument of course) in order to expose their weaknesses.
  8. You laugh loudly at all contractors and composers’ jokes.
  9. You pretend you are desperately in need of every job even if you have a million dollars in the bank.
  10. You have no independent social life; all your friends are in the music business.
Sheridon Stokes and Lalo Schifrin on “Rush Hour 2”

Mission Impossible, Rush Hour, and the Red Dragon

Mission Impossible, Rush Hour, and the Red Dragon 687 625 Sheridon Stokes
Sheridon Stokes and Lalo Schifrin on 'Rush Hour 2' width=

Sheridon Stokes and Lalo Schifrin on “Rush Hour 2”

After the Hollywood Bowl concert, I met Lalo Schifrin and told him about my book on Special Effects for Flute. He started hiring me for his recording sessions which included “the Fox” and the original theme for “Mission Impossible”. One day at a recording session with Lalo, he asked me if I played shakuhachi. I said it didn’t matter because acoustically the flute is the same and I could imitate the shakuhachi. He seemed surprised but he was happy with my imitation.

Many years later, in about 2006, in the movie “Rush Hour 3”, the director wanted a Chinese flute for a three minute scene and Lalo said make up something. I used Chinese inflections and a pentatonic scale with no rehearsal; the director Brett Ratner and Lalo were pleased with the authenticity. A violinist in the orchestra from Beijing said it sounded authentic.

In 2002 I recorded the Scherzo from the Midsummer Nightʼs Dream for a movie called “the Red Dragon”. After the session, Brett Ratner, also the director on this movie asked me if I wanted to coach the musicians and then he said “Why don’t you be in the picture”. I said fine and was on screen. He had me look at the screen after we shot one scene where I was supposed to frown at the player next to me because he was playing badly. I looked at the playback and he said I was overacting. That was always good for a laugh.

Disney and the Hollywood Bowl

Disney and the Hollywood Bowl 641 536 Sheridon Stokes

In 1964 I became Ist flute with the Disney orchestra and played many movies and TV shows with them until it was disbanded as a regular orchestra about 10 years later. One of the reasons I got hired, was because in 1955 I did a spot with Carla Alberghetti (soprano) with the “Mickey Mouse Club” as a flute obbligatoist.

One of the composers at Disney, Frank Marks, remembered the show and recommended me. He later wrote a concert solo piece for flute and strings. Most of the composers only wrote film music. He seemed delighted when I asked him to write a solo piece for flute. Hollywood composers were very hesitant to write concert music, concert music, no matter how successful they were. It was not their medium. Frank Marks, composer at Disney Studios, said that for him it was easier to write when he had a film to write for. He also said you could write any difficult technical passage for the flute as opposed to other instruments.

hollywood bowlIn the mid 60s I was a soloist on “Explosante-Fixe” by Pierre Boulez at the Hollywood Bowl. There were 4 soloists, each on a platform in the audience. The work started with a 10 minute flute solo that filtered through a sound machine brought over from Germany. The solo bounced around in an altered fashion all over the Hollywood Bowl.

 

My Return from the Army and the Sound of Music…

My Return from the Army and the Sound of Music… 250 345 Sheridon Stokes

Being in LA was quite an adjustment after Europe and the army. I got used to the slower pace in Europe and it seemed like madness how fast everyone moved in LA and New York. It took a while to decide what to do. My father, being a practical man suggested I sell insurance, but that did not appeal to me in any way.

I took any job I could get, including playing clarinet in a Polka band at Disneyland and working with the Mills Bros. at the Anaheim bowl on baritone saxophone. It was there that I learned to breathe properly on the flute. After 2 weeks of playing baritone I picked up the flute and got a huge sound on the flute. I was utterly amazed. I had a lesson in breath control and support whether I liked it or not.

I slowly worked my way back into the studios and was featured in albums by Gordon Jenkins including “All Alone” with Frank Sinatra and “Soul of the People” (a wonderful arrangement of Jewish Folk songs by Jenkins). Sinatra had just come from Ernie Kovac’s funeral and was obviously very sad. His sadness added to the album. The album is not well known, but is beautifully recorded with Jenkins amazing arrangements.

Sound_of_music I also played lst flute on the movie “the Collector” because Arthur Gleghorn had a cold sore on this lip and could only play alto flute. The score was by Maurice Jarre whom I subsequently worked with for 35 years playing lst flute on such movies as “Grand Prix,” “Ghosts,” and “A Walk in the Clouds”. At Fox studios we recorded “The Sound of Music” and “Cleopatra” in the early 1960s. Julie Andrews was of course on stage as we recorded with her. We did “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and Burt Bacharach sang “Raindrops are Falling on my Head” with his unique voice.

 

Party at 20th Century Fox Studios, end of studio contracts, Lionel Newman drafting me into the Army L-R: Felix Statkin, Alfred Newman, Mickey (stage manager), Sheridon Stokes and Lionel Newman

Fox Studios and Getting Drafted…

Fox Studios and Getting Drafted… 900 656 Sheridon Stokes

The first movie I ever worked on was “The Last Command”, recorded at Republic Studios with a score by the famous Max Steiner. I was 6th flute and delighted to be there. In the summer of ’55 I did a show in Las Vegas for a month. We did the “William Tell Overture” and various songs with the Albergehetti family at the Royal Nevada Hotel. Coincidentally, Anna Maria Alberghetti had just starred in “the Last Command”.

When in Vegas, I flew during the day to LA many times to play at 20th Century Fox Studios to work on “the King and I”. They were auditioning for a piccolo player in the contract orchestra under the direction of Alfred Newman. The following Feb. (at age 20), I got the job and was under contract for 2 years until I was drafted in the army and by coincidence the studio contracts in all the studios ended.

During my two years under contract to Fox Studios, I worked on “The King and I” (Yul Brenner), “Anastasia”, “South Pacific” (Mitzii Gaynor and Rossano Brassi), “Boy On a Dolphin” (composed by Hugo Friedhoffer), the movie “Payton Place” (score by Franz Waxman), I was featured on piccolo in that score. In 1958, I was drafted into the army. Alfred Newman was kind enough to write a letter for me to make sure that I would be sent to Germany in the army to play in the 7th Army Symphony.

Party at 20th Century Fox Studios, end of studio contracts, Lionel Newman drafting me into the Army L-R: Felix Statkin, Alfred Newman, Mickey (stage manager), Sheridon Stokes and Lionel Newman

Party at 20th Century Fox Studios, end of studio contracts, Lionel Newman drafting me into the Army
L-R: Felix Statkin, Alfred Newman, Mickey (stage manager), Sheridon Stokes and Lionel Newman

I was transported there after six months at Fort Ord in California. After basic training I had a two week break which coincided with the Carmel Bach festival, so I played the festival (picking up 17 year old Paula Robeson in LA to play with me) and then went back to the band unit at Fort Ord.

When I got to Stuttgart, Germany, the orchestra didn’t need a flute immediately. My friend Sid Zeitlin (former lst flute of the Seattle and Minneapolis symphonies), told them I played clarinet and saxophone so I joined the orchestra as bass clarinet. When I was 15, I had played bass clarinet for a season with the Burbank Symphony, so I knew the instrument. I also played the saxophone solos in the orchestra. After 4 months, I moved into the flute section, when Felix Skowronek left the orchestra. Sid took over as lst flute and eventually I became lst.

The orchestra, when I was there, played 165 concerts in Germany, Italy and Denmark. After my army discharge, I spent an extra 6 months traveling in Europe before coming back to LA even though I was offered a position playing with Lucas Foss’s contemporary ensemble and appearing with them and Leonard Bernstein at New York Philharmonic.

Debbie Reynolds singing at Irvine Ranch in 1955

Debbie Reynolds and My Teenage Years

Debbie Reynolds and My Teenage Years 652 455 Sheridon Stokes
Debbie Reynolds singing at Irvine Ranch in 1955

Debbie Reynolds singing at Irvine Ranch in 1955

In the Burbank Youth Symphony Orchestra, Debbie Reynolds sat behind me in the French horn section. She was not yet a movie star, but shortly won a screening at Warner Bros. because she was queen at the “Burbank On Parade” Show. She and I also sat in the orchestra pit doing musicals for the Burbank Light Opera.

One day Meredith Wilson came to the Orchestra and looked at my flute and told me that playing an open tone flute was good for me because it kept my fingers in the right position. If you remember, he wrote “The Music Man” and was piccolo in the New York Philharmonic. He wrote the book “There I Stood With My Piccolo”. Many years later I heard someone clapping loudly at recital I played at UCLA. Much to my surprise it was Meredith Wilson, who had retired, and lived near the campus. My music schooling was all private because there were no music programs in the Burbank school system; although it was the 2nd best academic system in the state of California next to Beverly Hills. In high school I was studying engineering and was even interviewed to go to Cal Tech. because of my work in chemistry.

The best jobs for a musician were in the movie studios. The pay was good and the hours were far less than a symphony job. My dad’s friend, Harold Brown, bassist at Universal Studios, spent the summers at Catalina Island and flew back occasionally for a recording session, (needless, to say, this appealed to me).

Most musicians wanted to play in the studios and they usually used the LA Philharmonic as a stepping-stone to the studios. This angered Alfred Wallenstein, the music director. There were some devoted players that put classical orchestral music above the commercial film and TV work. Before the days of year-long symphony contracts, musicians in the Philharmonic did recording work as well as concerts. In those days the season for the orchestra was about 40 weeks. I always wanted to be a super sight-reader and at times I carried it to an extreme. I told one my rather musically serious violin colleagues that if were a good enough  sight-reader, I would never have to practice or learn any piece. I pushed the wrong button and got a long lecture about my bad attitude.

Sheridon Stokes at 10 Years Old

Why I Became a Flutist

Why I Became a Flutist 791 630 Sheridon Stokes

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”.