“Robert Dick, l’altra dimensione del flauto. Intervista a tutto campo all’autore di The Other Flute” - versione inglese (stralci)
di Renata Cataldi
To begin some questions about your formative experiences:
tell us something about your first social and domestic milieu
I grew up in a middle class housing project in Manhattan, called Stuyvesant Town. My mother was a piano teacher and my father sold industrial plastics. Growing up in the heart of New York City was a very strong influence: the decisiveness, the fast pace, the quest for excellence.
the musical stimuli you received in your infancy and childhood
Because of my mother, there was classical music in our home -- and classical music only. Neither of my parents listened to any other kind of music, and listening for them meant going to concerts, which we did often. They listened to very few recordings at home. At Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and other great concert halls, we heard pianists, violinists, chamber music, orchestras. And also, memorably, Rampal when age 10! (I was 10, not he.). I don't remember any particular musical stimuli in infancy. During my childhood, my mother started teaching the piano, so I heard lots of counting aloud. I'm afraid that it made me not want to learn the piano.
why and when did you decide to study music and the flute?
Besides classical music, the only time any other music got into our home was when we kids were sick and had to stay home from school. Given an AM radio to keep us entertained, we listened to early Rock 'in roll, Top 40 Radio. That's how I heard "Reckon Robin" in 1957 when I was seven. This tune had a piccolo solo instead of a saxophone solo and I was captivated. I began a campaign to get a flute and my mother called several teachers, all of whom said that I was too young and to try after I became eight. So one day after school in 1958, I was surprised with a flute teacher and a flute. I was in love with it from the first note. That sounds romanticized, perhaps, but its true.
about your teachers
My first teacher was Nat Hovel, a jazzer who played saxophones and some flute. A bit more than a year later, I was ready for a true flute teacher and studied with Henry Zloty for eight years. He was my main teacher. Zloty had played piccolo in the NBC Symphony with Toscanini and the Souse Band with John Philip Souse! I studied with James Papooses of the Boston Symphony at Tangle wood for two summers and also took a course with Tarried Anthony Dyer while at Tangle wood. At seventeen, I realized that I had to go to Julius Baker. The one year I studied intensively with him as a private student revolutionized my playing. There was a period of about three years, from age 19 - 22, when I took no flute lessons. I needed to be on my own. Then, while a composition student at the Yale School of Music, I decided to take some lessons with Thomas Nye's. We had a strange, uncomfortable relationship because he was very conservative and I was not, having already written my first book "The Other Flute: A Performance Manual of Contemporary Techniques". Even so, I learned an enormous amount from Nyfenger; he was a wonderful catalyst to get students to stop thinking and living like students and prepare for the professional world.
You describe yourself as „a musician with XXI century skills and XVIII century attitudes". Could you tell us about that?
In the 19th century there was a schism in the world of European music. Creativity and performance were separated from each other. In the 18th century, musicians were trained as MUSICIANS first and as players of several instruments secondly. Thus all players had creative skills and could compose and improvise. I am one of the many musicians worldwide who see the role of the musician in its 18th century terms. Its just that we are playing the music of our time -- composing, performing and improvising.
Your way to conceive instrument as always in progress, led you to make modified flutes, led you to imagine particular kinds of flute and led you to invent prototypes. Could you tell us about that?
Boehm's flute is an absolute work of genius -- if you want to pllay one note at a time and only the notes in the chromatic scale. That's why we are still using it! But if you want to play chords, glissandi, microtones, expand the color pallette, etc -- then Boehm's flute presents very many problems.
Boehm developed his flute because music had changed and the 8-key flute simply was not adequate to the needs of Romantic music. Music has changed again, and the Boehm flute needs evolution to meet the demands of the music of the present and future. The fundamental problem with the Boehm mechanism is that many combinations of open and closed holes, and the music they would play, are not possible. When the F-key (right hand forefinger) is down, two other keys close with it, and its impossible to have thoise keys open while the F-key is closed.
My conception of the flute is that every possible combination of open and closed holes must be possible, and that the instrument have a fingering system that is direct, logical, simple. Just adding a lot of keys to the Boehm flute does not get the job done. So I do think that a new fingering system is needed. This sounds scary, but just think of all the musicians who can play many instruments -- its not that hard to learn a new system. Lots of flutists already play both the traverso and the Boehm flute quite well.
Along with my work on pushing the boundaries of flute design, I also am concerned with the development of very good but not expensive instruments like the bass flute. My first design in commercial production is the Robert Dick Model bass flute made by Emerson in the USA. Its a regular closed-hole bass, but with my headjoint design, special handrest and details of key placements. I hope to design a student flute one day.
How do you imagine the flute of the future and how do you imagine flute music of Third Millennium?
I am hoping for a true integration between electronics and the flute. I'd lovethe opportunity to design a true electric flute. The concept is in my head -- the problem is always money and time. Hopefully there will be someone to sponser this project. Even I can't imagine music a thousand years from now, although I'm sure it will be beautiful. In the the next century the flute will fulfill its destiny to play any and every kind of music that flutists wish. That means in harmonic terms as well as melodic, in a vast range of colors that will compliment and deepen the meaning of the traditional flute sound.
The flute will take a center stage role in jazz and rock (at last!) and will be heard in all sorts of other styles. Its a great time to playing!
Would you like to tell us something else?
I hope that musicians from defined classical traditions, such the European or the North Indian, can free themselves of fear of the new. Of course there are many classical musicians who embrace new artistic developments, but not the majority. Understanding the past is vital. We caan not go anywhere new that has true meaning without understanding the past. But that understanding should enable us to fly, not hobble and limit us.
It is my deep belief that creativity is what made classical music vital when it was truly popular. Imagine hearing Quantz improvise! Or Mozart create a cadenza on the spot. We have these possibilities today and one does not have to be a Quantz or a Mozart to create. In a time when classical music is losing its audience we have to ask why and what we can do about it. I say a big part of the answer is for every musician to bring creativity to the stage. It can be in small ways or large, but it has to be there or the public will turn its ears away and seek creativity elsewhere.
I wish more flutists would seek to understand my work as the music it is, and not just in terms of flute technique.
What else would I like to say? Its been a long time since I've taught in Italy, and I live so close by in Switzerland -- I very much would like to return to Italy for courses.
Thank you for asking me for this interview.
Intervista a Robert Dickversione inglese (stralci)
  1. intervista rilasciata in inglese a giugno 2001