Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I was inspired to pursue a career in music thanks to the wonderful women I knew throughout my young school years. There wasn’t a grand reason as to why I started the flute (elementary school band), but I was positively influenced by each band director and flute teacher I worked with before heading off to college. In the eighth grade, I decided I wanted to become a conductor because of one of my band teachers, but eventually I decided to stick to flute playing.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
So far, one of the greatest challenges for me is the feeling of not belonging in the classical music world. I’ve realized it’s really all in my head, but it has felt so real for so long. Basically, I didn’t have the stereotypical experiences growing up as a musician. I had a fixed mindset, which meant I believed talent and intelligence were not things you could change or develop, and I believed that to have to put effort into something meant you weren’t good enough. Of course, none of that is true, but it was only in 2018 that I learned about the different mindsets thanks to Carol Dweck’s research. I say all this because throughout my flute playing life, I didn’t practice very much, even though I always loved it, and it was a huge wake-up call for me once I got to university. I never felt comfortable in university because my peers seemed so far ahead of me in many ways. I’ve also always had other passions and interests that are just as important to me as the flute, which I didn’t see in my peers. I’ve just always had to deal with this feeling of not belonging in this field, even though my passion for the flute has never wavered and I’m proud of myself as a musician and person. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about this and it has helped me process my feelings and start to overcome this really destructive challenge.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
here is one very special performance I’m currently most proud of, for many reasons. It took place in December 2018 and I played Taffanel’s Mignon Fantasy during a studio concert. I was happy to be at a new school, studying in a graduate diploma program, and I could feel my confidence growing week by week. By the time I played in this concert, I finally felt like a proper musician and soloist! I say “finally” because before then, I never felt like I could take up too much space onstage and in my life. I thought I had to be shy and safe and play what’s on the page but not make a big fuss about it. I’m happy to report I no longer feel this way! And that concert was the catalyst for a whole new me. During this performance, I remember feeling so happy and proud of what I was playing. I played with great musicality and confidence. Of course, I feel I have greatly improved as a player since then, but that night will always bring back fond memories for me. Here is that performance:
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
This is a great question. I believe I perform works for flute and piano by French composers best. It may seem like a broad category, but I have always loved the music produced for flutists by French composers, from Gaubert to Chaminade to Debussy to Varèse! I have always felt a strong musical connection to such music and I feel like I can shine when I play that repertoire.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
This may seem strange but what provides me the most inspiration offstage is actually watching TV shows! It’s one of my favourite pastimes but it’s more than that for me. When I watch great actors in great shows, I feel so many emotions and think so many thoughts, and it provides me with a lot to reflect on. Those moments allow me to be more creative when I play the flute because I’ve opened myself up to another art form to respect and admire. It allows me to have a deeper well of emotions and stories to pool from, and my imagination is broadened by this. I think as artists, it’s important to appreciate all kinds of art, not just the kind you participate in.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
At the moment, I make repertoire choices from month to month! I launched a new, live, virtual concert series back in August where I play repertoire alone, in my room, due to COVID. I mostly choose solo flute repertoire since I can’t play with any other musicians, but if I can find a backing track or recording of a piano part, I’ll also programme pieces for flute and piano. My main goals in terms of programming are to have a different theme each month, to feature one or more composers who are non-white and/or non-male each concert, and to explore repertoire I haven’t learned before. It’s a daunting task but it’s been so rewarding so far!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I have to admit that performing in my bedroom the last few months has actually been so nice for me! I’m someone who deals with performance anxiety, and while it’s very manageable nowadays, I still get quite anxious for live performances, so being able to stay in my room, which feels safe to me, is a huge help. In general, though, I absolutely love performing in churches! Those halls are so resonant and rich in sound quality, it just makes everything feel easier to play 🙂
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I think classical music events need to be more accessible to people, mostly meaning being live streamed. Of course, this is extremely common this year, but I hope it continues even when COVID is gone. The world really is online, and I think our field would only benefit from taking advantage of technology. Otherwise, I think that classical music concerts need to be more interactive, or at least contain more talking/explaining. What I mean by this is that it still seems very stiff and strange to have musicians walk onstage, play, and leave, usually without saying a word to the audience. I just don’t think it’s necessary and it doesn’t help people who don’t normally attend such concerts feel welcomed. I’m someone who is trying to make a career out of combining public speaking with playing music, so I may be a bit biased!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
My most memorable concert experience is when I played in Mahler’s Third Symphony with the Montreal Youth Symphony Orchestra in Montreal’s best hall, the Maison Symphonique. It was a huge event and one that I was looking forward to because it was my first time playing principal flute with the orchestra. I got very anxious right as we were backstage waiting to go on, the performance anxiety setting in, but once I got onstage, sat down, and began playing, I felt more at ease. The moment I’ll never forget from this concert is the last movement of this giant piece, when I had many bars of rest and could look over to the string sections and just enjoy the music being created. It was almost like an out-of-body experience, where I was observing the musicians from another plane of existence or something. I felt very in the moment, though, and so appreciative of this amazing opportunity. I ended up getting tears in my eyes while playing the very end of the piece. It was a really special event for me.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
As a musician, I define success as a feeling rather than anything else. This feeling of success is when you are spending your life doing what you’re passionate about and making connections with other people, whether with musicians, audiences, or students alike. You feel this deep inside your bones. You feel like this is exactly what you should be doing at this moment. It doesn’t have to be when you’ve been hired by an orchestra, it doesn’t have to be when you’ve become a famous soloist, nothing like that. No matter what it is you’re doing, you want to be searching for feelings of contentment, peace, joy, and fulfillment.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I want aspiring musicians to know that there is not one singular way to be a musician and that there is not one path to take to be a musician. You can create the career you want (credit to Nicole Riccardo for that concept)! And even if you don’t want music to be your career, you can still be a musician. In any case, I want to take off some of the pressure aspiring musicians feel regarding what the best career path is for them. In the classical music world, the prevailing idea is that playing in an orchestra is the #1 goal of any instrumentalist, and I want to say right now, it does not have to be. It’s definitely not my goal, and that’s not to say I’ll never audition or consider that path. But I know it’s not my main focus as a musician. I thrive from independent projects and work, and from chamber music most of all. So for me, my career path will look different from someone else’s, perhaps, but that’s okay! Figure out what sparks joy for you – not for your teacher, not for your parents, not for your musician role model. Follow the path you know you need to be on, and work towards making your dreams come true.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In ten years’ time, I’d like to still be living in Montreal but in my own townhouse. I’d like to have a large living room that I’d use as my music room, with lots of sunlight coming through during the day. I’ll have a cat named Marlowe and I’ll spend my days performing in recitals, teaching flute, and giving workshops and masterclasses anywhere in the world. Of course, this will all be balanced with my daily dose of reading and watching TV! When I think of this life, all I can feel is a sense of happiness, accomplishment, fulfillment, and joy
Caitlin Berger is a Canadian flautist and flute-player.