“Music – Where We Hear Our Souls” – Interview with Katherine Borst Jones

I was fortunate to sit down with Katherine Borst Jones on a recent Saturday before heading down to the Ohio State University campus for a weekend of piccolo festivities. More than 70 current flute students and alumni, including me, performed “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on piccolo with The Ohio State University Marching Band at halftime during the Ohio State vs. Michigan State Football game. The reunion weekend included rehearsal and a banquet dinner on Friday and then rehearsal on Saturday followed by performances in St. John Arena for the the Skull Session as well as during the game. Click here (https://tbdbitl.osu.edu/news/hello-piccolo-more-70-piccolos-join-tbdbitl-saturday) to read the article on the TBDBITL website or here (https://www.dispatch.com/news/20191004/special-visitors-to-join-ohio-state-marching-band) to read the article in the Columbus Dispatch. Click here (https://news.osu.edu/video-ohio-state-marching-band-explores-the-space-race-at-halftime/) to watch the show – where else are you going to hear this many piccolos playing together? We’re the red blob that takes the field on the last tune.  Kathy has this this to add about the flute reunion: “I am so proud of both my current students and my alums from Ohio State, Capital, Oberlin and Emporia State for all they have achieved as musicians and people. It was extraordinarily humbling to read the bios provided by those who came back for this most recent event. Important things are being done by these people every day. Clearly music, the flute provides a backdrop, a springboard for students to make a difference in the world in so many arenas from the most obvious to the most obscure. All I can say is BRAVO! Keep up the great work making a difference in your own special way!”

As I was getting my iPad and recording device organized, KBJ asked me if I had seen the article in the Dispatch yet. I hadn’t yet seen it (it’s the article linked to up above) and it turns out that the author of the article was a former flute student of Kimberlee Goodman, (DMA, OSU flute alum) one of the piccolo players and one of the many people working behind the scenes to organize the entire event!

KBJ: I learned about visibility and marketing from my high school band director, Keith Brion. We put on a show every Saturday. We had concert band all year long, during the day. Every kid had to be in the marching band because that was what you do. I think he must have explained the importance of it, that it was the visibility for the whole music program. We had to do it well, but he was going to do it in a timely fashion and not overdo it. So we looked great and sounded great. We did clever shows. So when you’re an OSU flute professor, why wouldn’t you create Brutus the Flutist, arrange the school songs, play “Hang on Sloopy” https://www.facebook.com/osu/videos/10154167552383858/?v=10154167552383858 and so forth. –

KMW: You’ve been teaching at OSU since 1985. What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen with students coming into your studio??

KBJ: There has always been a diversity of students. There are very well prepared students who have had the privileges of a fine public school program, summer programs and a private teacher. Then you have your students of high potential sometimes who have not had those privileges. They have had a band directors who saw the level of interest in these students and did everything they could, but they weren’t flute players. I had somebody last week on practice audition day that fit that bill. He loves music and is committed to it and is doing everything he can but the closest private teacher is two hours away. Even Skype is hard. So that’s always been the case. OSU has changed its academic admissions program. In the old days, music students were the best academically prepared with ACT scores higher than the rest of the university. Now we’re equal with the rest of the university. The academic readiness of the students is better overall because the standards of the university have changed. OSU will not reject a student until after the audition. So if they play a super audition, but are not a great test taker (ACT isn’t so high), they still have a chance. It’s the audition that’s going to win the day. I’m going to look at the whole package because if a student truly has a problem academically and it’s not just that they have trouble with taking a test, then they probably wouldn’t be successful and it’s not in their best interest to come here. So, I try to look at the whole package and consider I want them not only because they are a fine flute players, but is Ohio State the right place for them?

The whole social media thing definitely needs to be managed. There are many more kids who are obviously depressed and anxious than in the past. They might have been before but it’s clearly visible now.  I think a lot of that is due to not trusting kids when they’re younger to take care of themselves.  We’re not allowing them to fail when  they are younger and supervised. If parents and teachers are always picking up the pieces, we’re doing a disservice to the kid. Then when they come to college and they’re on their own and really have to do it, they aren’t equipped because they haven’t had the practice.  This is one of my biggest frustrations with Flute Workshop (https://music.osu.edu/outreach/ysmp/flute-workshop). We have to watch them 24/7 and 2 months later they come to school here and they’re on their own. I know this is the way it is everywhere these days.  We are fearful and thus sometimes overprotective.  I give my parents lots of credit for how they trusted me and allowed me to prove to them that they could trust me, a little bit at a time. If I didn’t do well, then they would pull back the privileges.

KMW: What are the three most important things that you’re looking for in prospective undergrad/graduate students?  

KBJ: Potential, motivation, passion for music.  I’m not going to have them come in and be a performance major if they’re not far enough along. That doesn’t make sense. Certainly for music education, passion is a necessity. After all, what do music education students need to be able to do? They have to have that passion, to be able to share that passion with their students, to have the ability to teach as well as to be a fine musician. Perhaps the level of technique doesn’t need to be so high for them. Technique, in a way, is the least of it. That’s the easy part. Anyone can learn to do that if they put in the time. It’s the musicianship that’s the key thing because that’s the part where we hear our souls. So we don’t want to have teachers who are teaching kids how to type music on a computer. We want it to be from the heart. We want teachers to instill the love of music for a lifetime.

Graduate students have to play at a higher level. Fundamentals should  be in place. Again, they need passion, because this profession is not easy. I’ll look for what other skills they may have that can be developed so they can build a career. I really believe that each student has their own grab bag of skills beyond their flute playing. Whether it’s being able to write well, computer skills, flute repair, or something else. There are a hundred different things that could go on that list. In this day and age, if you’re going to try to be a flute professional, it’s the combination of things that is making it work. You need to have other tools. These will make you a better flute player as well as a happier person

KMW: There are too many good flute players running around…

KBJ: Right, and the audition process isn’t perfect. You could be the perfect person for the job but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. There might be 10 other people who are also perfect for it, unfortunately. There’s a supply and demand problem right now. It’s true across the country, and I can’t speak for the world, but we have so many qualified flute players who want to make a living with the flute. If you want to do it, then you’ve got to make yourself special in some way with your own set of skills.

Consider Maria Renzetti, who was in my very first class here. She makes her living as the manager for the city of Dublin. She uses all of her collaborative skills that she learned in music, social skills, discipline and all of those things. Those abilities inform that job that she’s doing and then she feeds her musical soul by playing principal flute in the New Albany symphony, which is a quite good orchestra that plays for a great audience in a great hall. How wonderful! What a great life! One has to be willing to…I wouldn’t call it settling, I’d call it being smart. You don’t want to be homeless on the street!

That’s why I believe in the Flute Workshop for high school students on all levels. What was cool last night [the reunion banquet dinner] was people knew their classmates from their individual class. They knew people in front of them for 3 years and in back of them for 3 years. And another group with 4 years and even another 8 years because they might have attended Flute Workshop, come to OSU, and then served Flute Workshop as a counselor/teacher. The relationships among those people are pretty remarkable!

KW: This result is on purpose, not by accident.

KBJ: Yes….

KW: When you come to school at OSU, you are part of this flute family, even if you don’t know it at the time. Your students know that they are learning to be better flute players, but they don’t necessarily know right away that they are also learning to be better teachers and organizers. This is on purpose – you are structuring the environment in order to produce this outcome.

KJB: Yes, it’s subliminal. Not only does Flute Workshop help with this, but so does the Central Ohio Flute Association (COFA) (http://org.osu.edu/cofa/) and the annual COFA festival in April. That’s a student organization. They learn all sorts of skills and the smartest of them become truly involved in the organization.  If they avoid that, then they are missing out. Some of them don’t work at Flute Workshop until their last year and then they realize, “Oh….Hmm, I’ve missed out on something.”

KW: Right, but you can’t force them.

KBJ: No, they have to come. They have to want the information, which is true for all of it.

KMW: This leads right into so many of your former students who are involved with NFA.

KBJ: The preparation through COFA and everything makes this a natural sequence. People saw the friendships and the networking that were provided me and by extension, you.

KMW: Yes, this!  I had no idea as a grad student how valuable this connection would be.

KBJ: So when you go to a convention as a student with me, you see the connections. Something else I’ve tried to do very consciously is to take Flute Troupe (https://music.osu.edu/flute/about/flute-troupe) to OMEA Conference every 3 or 4 years and NFA, when it’s close enough, so that we can swing the financial side of it.

KMW: When you’ve got a new student — what’s your priority in terms of flute-specific teaching? Where do you go first?

KBJ: Well, fundamentals. So I’m going to be noticing what they are doing with their body, how that works with their breathing and tone, how they are balancing the flute and how they practice to make the most of their time. Freshman year has a reasonable schedule,  but after that it gets really busy, especially for the music education students. So if they don’t know how to practice efficiently, they will not be prepared to make the necessary progress. Students might not always be aware of my goals for them. I always try to include pedagogy. Some of them hear it and pay attention more than others. Hopefully, they are learning how to teach, as well as how to play, so it’s not just information for their own playing. The larger goal is to teach students to teach themselves, since we want them to make music for their entire life.

KMW: Again, it has to be student-driven and they have to be receptive to the information.

KBJ: Exactly Last night at the reception, somebody said “Wow, what a legacy,” but I said, “You realize when I accept a student, I’m making a commitment to them and they are making a commitment to me and hopefully that commitment means openness and willingness to work.” If that commitment isn’t there, then both of us are going to lose out.  It has been my privilege to work with talented, hardworking students who have been committed to their own potential.

KMW: You take care in the process of selecting the students…

KBJ: Yes, and I would say that’s one of things that has changed over the years. It didn’t used to be that you gave lessons or had a lot of contact with the people that were auditioning, with the exception of Flute Workshop. It’s a little bit over the top now with everybody wanting a lesson. And then what’s the appropriate thing to do financially? Do you charge them or not charge them? If I’m doing too many of those lessons, then I’m taking time away from my current students. If they want lessons at NFA, then I’m taking time away from the other activities I should be doing at NFA. I think a student needs to make a little more commitment. They shouldn’t just be trying out as many teachers as they can. They should be looking into the programs and making some choices before they do that.  Study the websites, do research about the teachers, and then make your choices for followup lessons and visits.

When a high school senior is interested in the school and wants to have a lesson with a professor, the student should send the email, not the parent. I hear from the parents so often these days. The student should be doing it.  It’s a learning experience and they need to learn how to write an appropriate email. They need to send the follow up that says “Yes, I’m coming,” and the thank you note afterwards.

KMW: The single most important flute specific thing for a beginner is _______________?

KBJ: What’s most important and what you can get them to do might be two different things because clearly having their hands on the flute in an ergonomically good way and setting up their face in a good way is important, but it doesn’t always work.  So, you try, but it’s essential that they leave that first lesson with success of some kind, even if they’re not quite doing it right. In that first lesson, they’ve got to make a sound. What I would encourage if it works is to use just the head joint, although I would teach them to put it together because they’re going to anyway. I would actually encourage a little improvisation on that head joint, showing them how to put their finger in the tube and play tunes. How many different sounds can you make on the headjoint? That’s going to get them playing it because, from the very beginning, you’ve got to stimulate their interest. They may not be like you or me who knew we had to play the flute before the first lesson. We just knew that it was what we wanted to do and we were determined.

KMW: The benefits of participation in Flute Troupe (OSU Flute Choir) are _________________?

KBJ: Socialization, which goes with networking. Learning from each other —the freshmen come along much faster because they’re playing with graduate students and they want to be equal to them. Ensemble skills of all kinds, from blending, to intonation, to articulation, to style, to watching a conductor, to learning how to move together. Sight-reading, because we don’t have a large amount of rehearsal time so we learn music quickly. Learning to play low flutes and piccolo—the whole flute family—is also incredibly useful.

It’s important to learn to be competitive with yourself and not your colleagues. Some schools use competition against others as a motivating tool, like chairs in middle school and high school band. At OSU, we rotate chairs for ensembles and I trade people around in orchestra. My least favorite job is putting people in order. We decide on a pool of people who should have each opportunity and then we rotate among that pool. Students need to learn not to find their self-worth in what chair they are or what placement they’re in. Teachers can help with that in how they speak to their students.  It is essential to talk about competition in a healthy way because it is part of any business.

For conservatories who audition for orchestra for each concert set, it may be different. They are treating them like professionals and the professional world is different. No question about it. We have auditions each semester and students take them seriously. The list of repertoire will include Symphonic Metamorphosis because the orchestra is going to perform it at the end of the semester. Who’s going to play the solo? The person who played it best in the audition. This makes the audition relevant and the choice of who plays the part as fair as it can be.  When we’re in an educational setting, we have to consider the kind of school we are and the kind student we’re training and then build the experience around those things.  –

KMW: Does everyone rotate through all of those flutes? Do you assign?

KBJ: They usually volunteer. If I have a lot that want to do it, then we rotate. The hygiene part of that is tricky.  They have to sign the big flutes out of instrument room and then return them for each practice session. They can’t keep them overnight. We have 4 altos and 3 basses, which is pretty reasonable.  Sometimes people are assigned to play alto flute in a band and they haven’t played alto before in Flute Troupe. Luckily, they are smart enough to bring it into a lesson and then we work on it. Now there’s more repertoire for low flutes. I’ve had students really fall in love with the alto flute in particular and choose alto flute pieces for their recitals. That’s a new trend. It didn’t happen early on, partially because there wasn’t much good repertoire.

KMW:  What’s a topic that you’re currently very passionate about?

KBJ:  Advocacy.  Any college student and a lot of high school students are of the level that they can be sharing their music with the community at large.  It’s so easy to be negative about your own playing and think that you’re not good enough, and not realize that music will be appreciated.  Encouraging students to play in churches, for senior citizen homes, Kiwanis clubs, hospitals, any community group you can think of, including just playing in the park.  Alone, a duet, a trio, a quartet, a flute choir—whatever—because we need to build advocacy for music.  The flute does that so well.  People take music for granted in this day and age because they can get it for free and they’re listening through their earbuds. Music is everywhere.  If they realized what life would be like if music weren’t there, they might treat it a little differently. As teachers we must constantly be advocates for our public school programs and do everything in our power to support the public school teachers, including going to concerts to show our support.  Then we should be talking to parents and congratulating them for supporting the programs—whatever we can do for advocacy. I’m trying to figure out how to teach my students to be better advocates.  How can we prepare them so they are comfortable in all of these different kinds of venues and situations? Learning an elevator speech, for example—I happened to be holding Chamber Music Columbus brochures in my hand when I was coming down the parking garage elevator. I said hello to this man and started talking. Before the end of the conversation, he was saying ‘Oh, yeah, I might subscribe to CMColumbus.” It was the personal contact, and not being afraid to practice advocacy.

KMW: It’s a skill that we have to learn, just like everything else. As a new business owner, I’m not very good at this yet. I have to keep seeking out people who know more than I do. It takes time and effort.

KBJ: Right. We used to say “Don’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring.” So now, “Don’t sit around and wait for an email or text.” So you’ve got to go after it and we’ve got to teach that in a positive way. Sometimes we make the mistake of talking about entrepreneurship too soon …. don’t have a website if you’re not ready to do the work behind it. You don’t want to put yourself out there and then not have it be right. On the other hand, we need to learn those skills. That’s a tricky thing too. Some years it’s like pulling teeth to get somebody to do it when I ask my students, “Who wants to make a poster for our flute studio recital?” Other years, there is an immediate response. Sometimes students fear putting themselves out there. Some of them, I notice, even with their recitals, are better than others with taking care of the posters and inviting people. Should the success of the recital be based not only on how you play, but also on how you got people there? Did you think to say, “Bring socks to donate to the homeless,” or whatever clever marketing thing you come up with? Should that be part of the university experience? Well, probably. So that’s part of working with the whole person and thinking of the whole situation. I should be looking towards their future. They’re looking at it in one way and I’m looking at it with the fortunate or unfortunate wisdom of experience. One of the hardest things that I think a teacher has to do is the honesty factor. We can’t play God because we don’t know what’s inside somebody. Who knows who’s going to win that job with the NY Philharmonic, but on the other hand, if somebody’s practicing a half an hour and can’t play their major scales and wants to be principal flute of the NY Philharmonic, there’s a disconnect. So that’s the other thing – being strict enough and expecting enough and being friendly and encouraging at the same time. One of the most important things I learned from Robert Willoughby’s teaching, was how to use humor. He was very demanding and would not let you answer any question he asked of you quickly. He would stand there and wait for you to answer it. But if it got too intense, he knew how to use humor to cut through that tension. I saw him do it time and time again in masterclasses when somebody would start to get frustrated. He had way of dissipating the frustration. It’s a real skill. You witness it and if you recognize it, then you try to figure out how to do it.

Rapid Fire Questions

Coffee or tea? Oh, Coffee

Favorite color? Yellow. I love a pale yellow room. I have a yellow rain coat and a mustard yellow purse.

Favorites things to do that aren’t flute related? Reading, tennis, gardening, playing with cat, walking, hiking, kayaking.

Dog or cat person? Cat

Fun fact about you that most people don’t know? I do juggle and I carried a red and white flag in marching band at UNH back in the day.

Book that you read most recently? The Lost Carousel of Provence by Juliet Blackwell (https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Carousel-Provence-Juliet-Blackwell/dp/0451490630/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=lost+carousel&qid=1571251463&sr=8-1) and Art of possibility – Benjamin Zander (https://www.amazon.com/Art-Possibility-Transforming-Professional-Personal/dp/0142001104/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=art+of+possibility+zander&qid=1571251487&sr=8-1). It’s a yellow book!

Favorite quote:  “Living life skillfully is a high art, perhaps the highest art there is. Like the arts, the art of living is a creative act requiring the development of disciplined skills. And one of the greatest challenges of the art of living is to discover ways to face pain and misfortune.” ~ Michael Lerner, author of Choice in Healing:  Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer.

Place that you’d like to visit on vacation? I’d love to do go to the Nordic countries.

Favorite place that you have been on vacation and would like to go back: I have been to Netherlands and would love to go back to see the tulips. The good news is that here in Columbus is the Franklin Park Conservatory (https://www.columbusmakesart.com/organization/154-franklin-park-conservatory-and-botanical-gardens?) They plant  thousands and thousands of tulips. I’ve always wanted to see those tulips in the Netherlands. There’s a place in Michigan  (https://www.tuliptime.com/)you can go to see some tulips.

Save the Dates!

June 14-18, 2020 – Flute Workshop

April 4, 2020  – COFA Festival with guest artist, Trudy Kane

KBJ – bio link https://music.osu.edu/people/jones.6

About Katherine Borst Jones

Born and raised in New Jersey, Ms. Jones studied with Keith Brion, Robert Willoughby, Kyril Magg, Donald E. McGinnis, and Julius Baker. Her degrees are from the University of New Hampshire (BA), and The Ohio State University (MM).  She also attended the Congregation of the Arts Program at Dartmouth College, the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, Boxwood program in Nova Scotia and the Savvy Musician Program at the University of South Carolina. She has performed with symphonies, chamber groups and festivals around the world including the Columbus Bach Ensemble, American Chamber Winds and the American Wind Symphony. She is a frequent guest artist and clinician across the country and has recorded for CRI, d’Note and Summit recordings, including a flute and harp compact disc Paradise, with harpist, Jeanne Norton.  A highly acclaimed recording of COSMOS commissions on MSR Classics was released in 2017.

  1. Wonderful interview!!! Thank you, KBJ!

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