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Interview with Hannah Hammel

Flute Beginnings

When did you start playing the flute?  Why did you choose this instrument?

I began the flute when I was seven, which is pretty early, but there was an option to join band in the third grade at my elementary school and I wanted to be ready to join the band. The flute was an obvious choice to me because my mom played the flute. She was my first flute teacher.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?

In addition to being serious at the flute, I was also a very serious dancer at the Richmond Ballet. I was there seven days a week and was convinced I wanted to go to college for dance, not flute. My parents encouraged me to stay in youth orchestra and audition for All-State band through my junior year of high school, but we agreed that if I wanted to pursue dance professionally, I could quit the flute after my junior year. When that option was finally available to me, I decided that I actually didn’t want to quit the flute and I ended up applying to colleges for both dance and music, ultimately choosing the musical path.

Where did you attend college?

I attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music under the tutelage of Alexa Still. I loved my four years at Oberlin where the students and teachers are all incredibly smart, creative, passionate, and supportive. Then I attended Rice University for my master’s degree where I studied with Leone Buyse. The education at Rice was very focused on orchestral auditions which was vital to getting me ready for my career.

Practicing and Fundamentals

What are some of your favorite fundamental books?

Like most flutists, I always have my Taffanel and Gaubert and Moyse books within arm’s reach. Lately I’ve really been enjoying working out of Paul Edmond-Davies’ exercise book called The 28 Day Warm Up Book. I play Andersen etudes regularly, as well.

What’s your daily warm-up routine like?

Before I play a note, I do breathing exercises to make sure my body is ready for deep flute breathing. I also do some basic stretches and back/shoulder strengthening to prepare my body for holding the flute for hours. Having done my fair share of injury rehabilitation, I now spend time every day on injury prevention. I always warm up at home before going to the hall for rehearsal and I usually start with some long tones in the low register, harmonics, and chromatic scales. Scale routines such as T&G #4 are a regular part of my routine, as are the De La Sonorite long tones. The fundamentals I usually focus on in my daily practice are vibrato, articulation, control of dynamics in each register, facility of fingers, and general beauty of sound.

How do you efficiently prepare for all of the rep?

I’m very organized in knowing what repertoire I have to prepare, whether it is the current week or 2-3 weeks away. The first step is listening to the repertoire with the part and score. I look for the best possible recordings on Spotify and use the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. In addition to practicing the part, I play along with recordings using good headphones to practice knowing when to come in and to simulate playing in the orchestra.

Auditioning and Performing

What does your audition preparation look like?

When I’m preparing for an audition, I am extremely disciplined. I spend an extraordinary amount of time on fundamentals and divide my excerpts up into categories to make sure I spend an equal amount of time on all of them. I set timers to stay efficient, usually spending about 15 minutes on each excerpt. Playing mock auditions is extremely beneficial.

How many auditions have you taken?

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra audition was my eighteenth audition. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra audition was my eleventh. Sometimes you advance, sometimes you don’t. The three auditions after my KSO audition I didn’t advance, and then the very next one I made super-finals. There are many factors into whether or not you advance. Progress is absolutely not linear.

What were the biggest benefits from competing in NFA competitions?

Participating in the National Flute Association competitions was a huge part of my development as a flutist. I did the Masterclass Competition for two years, the Orchestral Excerpt Competition, and the Young Artist Competition. Preparing for these helped me stay very goal oriented and focused all year. To apply, you must record, which is an important part of being a musician. Learning how to use the recording equipment to produce acceptable recordings is challenging and takes practice. Also, listening back to recordings of yourself is one of the best tools to help you improve. Attending the convention is incredibly inspiring and I was glad to have reasons to attend through participating in the competitions.

Do you have a favorite excerpt?

I’d have to say my favorite excerpt is Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. I also really love Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis.

Do you have an especially memorable orchestral performance?

I have so many! Highlights include working with Herbert Blomstedt and Andris Nelsons at Tanglewood, playing in Carnegie Hall with the Rice Orchestra, and my first week with the DSO with the new music director, Jader Bignamini.

From Student to Professional

What is the most important thing you learned in your first year in a professional orchestra?

Rehearsal and concert cycles go by way faster in a professional orchestra than in school. At my schools, we rehearsed for several weeks for a single concert. In the professional world, there are typically four rehearsals for two to three concerts. It is imperative to be way ahead of schedule in your preparation. My goal is to be prepared for the first rehearsal like it’s a concert.

What was your first job?

My first job was as Principal Flute of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. The audition for this position was in September of 2017 and I graduated the previous May, so I was delighted to win a job and start my career. The KSO was an incredible first job. My colleagues were wonderful people and musicians and I got invaluable experience in the principal flute position. We performed all kinds of concerts – masterworks, chamber orchestra, woodwind quintet, opera, pops, ballet, and more. The experience was versatile and required the musicians to switch gears and play in many styles and settings.

What was the audition process for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra like and when did you join as Principal Flute?

                  The preliminary and semi-final rounds for the DSO Principal Flute audition that I took were in April 2019. I advanced to the finals which were in June. After the final round, I was invited to play a two week trial with the orchestra with Leonard Slatkin conducting. The trial was in November and included two weeks of rehearsals and concerts and an excerpt round where I played standard excerpts with the orchestra. At the end of the two weeks, I left Detroit and the personnel manager called me to tell me they were offering me the position. The time that elapsed between finishing the final concert and receiving the phone call was less than 24 hours but it felt like forever! I joined the orchestra in January 2020 and am so happy to be playing with this phenomenal group.

Speed Round to get to know Hannah away from the flute

What’s your favorite color?

  • My favorite colors right now are probably magenta, teal, and grey.

What’s your favorite place that you’ve been on vacation? 

  • My family and I went on an amazing cruise trip in the Caribbean for Christmas a couple years ago.

Travel destination that you’d like to visit, but haven’t yet?

  • The only places I’ve been to outside of the US are Mexico, Canada, and Japan (as a fellow at the Pacific Music Festival), so I’d love to go anywhere, especially Greece and Costa Rica.

Coffee or tea person?

  • Tea!

Book that you’re currently reading or have read recently?

  • I just finished Presence by Amy Cuddy and am currently reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, my boyfriend Ian’s favorite author.

                  What do you like to do when you’re not playing your flute?

  • I love hot yoga and going for walks by the Detroit River with my dog, an eight year old black Labradoodle named Evelyn.

About Hannah Hammel

Hannah Hammel is the recently appointed Principal Flute of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Before joining the DSO, she held the position of Principal Flute of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra from 2017-2019.

As an orchestral musician, Hannah has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Richmond Symphony, and New World Symphony. Hannah has spent summers performing at festivals including Tanglewood Music Center, Music Academy of the West, Pacific Music Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and Round Top Music Festival.

An active solo flutist, Hannah has won first place in the 2016 National Flute Association’s Young Artist Competition, 2016 Houston Flute Club Byron Hester Competition, the 2015 Atlanta Flute Association Young Artist Competition, the 2014 National Flute Association Orchestral Excerpt Competition, 2013 Central Ohio Flute Association Collegiate Division Competition and second place in the 2013 Mid-South Flute Society’s Young Artist Competition among others.

A native of Richmond, VA, Hannah began studying the flute with her mother, Alice Hammel. She holds a BM in flute performance and a minor in music theory from The Oberlin Conservatory (2015) where she studied with Alexa Still. She graduated with her MM in flute performance in 2017 from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music as a student of Leone Buyse.

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