As September comes to an end, so too does our look at women in the music education realm. What we learned this month is that a lot of them are not only professors but artists themselves, and Sara Andon is no different. A recording artist, orchestral musician, chamber musician, session musician and a flutist – Sara has her plate very full but it seems like she wouldn’t have it any other way. Teaching flute at the University of Redlands and Idyllwild Arts Academy is only one facet of her life, and now we’ll learn more about the busy bee.
Kendra: Was the flute always your instrument of choice?
Sara Andon: My dear Mom and Dad always felt strongly about having music as an important focus in their kids lives. I was fortunate they wanted to make sure that my sister, brother and I all had piano lessons starting at five. So piano was my first instrument that I still keep up to this day! I also started singing in the local church choir at eight and continued that through high school and also participated in my high school choir as well as college choirs. That was all a tremendous experience that gave me such great ear training as well as an overall, well-rounded musical training. That early involvement in piano and voice really helped me when I began flute at nine. Interestingly, I had almost chose drums though, over flute! When the high school band students came to demonstrate the instruments for us at our elementary school, the percussion really stood out to me as exciting and something that would be trail-blazing for me since not many women are professional percussionists! But, the gal who demonstrated the flute had such a glorious sound – it melted my heart and I was so drawn to that magical tone! She was my Pied Piper! And the extra-bonus of it was that is was much easier to carry – tipped the scales for me!
Kendra: Working as a recording artist and performer, do you think that helps you when it comes time to teach?
Sara: Indeed! Having real-world experience is always a plus in teaching students who either want to play for fun or want to pursue it professionally. No matter what the level any one is in their journey in music, the idea of music for me is about “connection.” It is one’s individual connection with the music that is critical so that it can translate to the connection with the listener. And “living” the music as I am blessed to get to do, brings a deeper dimension about the music and its ability to connect to the soul, the soul of my students and audience. And hopefully with time, they start understanding the profound power of this and how paramount it is to really tap into the magic of how to share the music and the passion about the music. And I believe, my professional experiences very much play into giving them examples of how to do that and what to strive for, starting from whatever ever level they are.
Kendra: You’ve worked on a number of film scores. When you’re approached to do so, are you given the music or do you get to compose it after a screening?
Sara: Both actually! 99% of the time, as studio musicians we come to work never seeing the music before we get there and we have to then execute it all with the utmost precision, technically and stylistically, as if we had it for days to practice. So the ability to sight-read comes from many years of diligent practice of scales, arpeggios and etudes, that is what allows us to be able to do this. This knowledge and skill and versatility of style is really crucial for the ultimate studio musician. And with that, the ability to be able to improvise on the spot is an added bonus. Not many classical musicians can do that, it just is not a part of the training. I am very fortunate with my piano background and being exposed to so many different styles of music growing up, I am comfortable with improvising, even though my formal training is classical. Some composers know I can do that, so there have been times where I have been ask to freely improvise based on what I am seeing on the screen to help evoke the action and emotion of the scene. That is truly exciting and so fun and quite unique!
Kendra: You also have gotten to play in Broadway orchestras. One of them being Beauty and the Beast, which is getting a live-action remake next year. With that, are there any Disney classics you think deserve to be revisited in live-action form that they haven’t done yet?
Sara: Interestingly, there is an opposite process happening right now for a very popular Disney Movie. I am currently involved with a project that is for the Disney Cruise Lines that is creating a live show based on the animated Disney film Frozen. That is becoming more and more common – the movie translating to live concerts or shows. But, I am sure the opposite will continue, as well. Everyone loves Disney!
Kendra: Back to the music, what made you want to become a music teacher?
Sara: I have always been in awe of my teachers from my piano instructor as a child, all the way through my flute teachers at CSUSB, USC and Yale School of Music as well as all my teachers in my other music classes as well as my teachers outside of music and beyond. I have been so enthralled with their tremendous skills and talents and their ability to inspire. I wanted to give back to the next generation what I was so blessed to receive from my great mentors. And the fact that music enhances and enriches everyone’s lives no matter what age or background, it is such an important part of a healthy community and culture, it seems to be the right thing to contribute positively to society in this way, as was given to me. It is great cycle to keep going! I hope my students will continue in this way as well. And it is known fact, that we learn so much by teaching.. It is truly a win-win on all levels.
Sara: Both places are amazing, of course! I am incredibly fortunate to be a part of the elite, world-class faculty at IAA and University of Redlands. The noticeable differences are the U of R has college age students and IAA has high school age students. At IAA there is quite a large number of international students and at University of Redlands has that as well, but much more of its student body are from northern and southern California and neighboring states. The curriculum is suited for the age range in each, and both have phenomenal academics and music and art-centered studies and opportunities. The vibe at both places is warm, friendly, inclusive, inspiring and highly goal-oriented atmospheres with stunning campuses. IAA is in the mountains and has a beautiful, rustic feel to it that has it own unique magic, and University of Redlands has the mountains as a glorious backdrop and has look of southern California for sure with the palm trees and constant sunshine and warmer temperatures, but some of the architecture and ivy growing on the side of the buildings, in some parts of the campus it has a the look of an ivy league school of the east coast, which is a wonderful mix. The faculty at both treat students with the utmost care and attention and it helps to create a wonderful family environment that enables optimal learning and growth. I am very honored to be a part of both of the IAA and University of Redlands “families.”
Kendra: Being up in Idyllwild must be quite the experience. Do you get any time to just sit and take in the nature that surrounds you?
Sara: Idyllwild is breathtaking! I was just up there for three days getting to be a part of the Alumni weekend playing in the orchestra for the dedication of the stunning new William M. Lowman Concert Hall. What an honor to witness and be a part of such an historic event! And I was able to take some time for enjoying the beauty of the natural surroundings, breathing in the intoxicatingly fresh pine air. The gorgeous trees and bluest sky along with the awe-inspiring night sky are truly magical. The stars look like thousands of different-shaped diamonds against deep, rich, black velvet. I can’t stop gazing at it all.
Kendra: Does all that nature ever inspire you to compose?
Sara: Yes, the mountains, trees, butterflies, the ocean, desert, flowers, sky, sun, moon, stars, rain, clouds, rainbows, all give me inspiration through gratitude – the beauty is truly beyond words, so music is way of expressing the wonder and amazement that observing nature gives me.
Kendra: What does inspire the music within you?
Sara: The fact that music has the power to change people’s lives for the better. From every walk of life, every age, race, creed and all backgrounds, every one’s existence is improved with music. We can all connect as one through music, it is truly the universal language and can even for a moment give joy at the most dire moment in one’s life. It has healing powers. and can inspire all kinds of achievements. That is why I stay in it. it is not an easy life, but it is because of the good it brings to this world, I have an undying passion for it to help share it with others. It is a great service and responsibility we have as artists.
Kendra: Musically, do you have any plans for the fall?
Sara: Yes, many plans! I am very fortunate to get to be a part of many musical organizations that have concerts planned for the fall, spring and summer. I will name some of them here and include their web sites to check out dates and locations of future concerts. Brightwork New Music, which is a modern music ensemble based in Los Angeles consisting of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion. We have several concerts this year starting at the end of October. premiering many new works by current composers. Another great group is Jacaranda Music Series. We have a concert on October 1 at Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, performing Steve Reich’s Eight Lines (Octet). In addition, we will also perform on October 29 in Santa Monica, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s,”Five Images after Sappho.”
I am also the Principal Flute of Redlands Symphony, and we now have a new Music Director/Conductor Ransom Wilson (who was also the Music Director at IAA for eight years!). The opening season concert is on October 8 performing a fantastic program that includes the joyous Dvorak Symphony No. 8. And on October 15, I will be performing Brahms First Symphony with the San Bernardino Symphony.
There is another amazing ensemble I am co-principal flute called Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra based in Los Angeles and we perform without a conductor. Repertoire includes world premieres of current composers as well as traditional orchestral literature with concerts in early November and after the new year. In addition to the unique approach of being self-governed with no conductor, one of the significant aspects of this world-class ensemble is that besides its regular season concerts, all the musicians volunteer, bringing their music to people in great need of some of the joy that music can bring to one’s soul, to adults and children in homeless shelters, hospitals and underprivileged schools.
I also have many film score sessions coming up I will be recording for at the major studios in Los Angeles, Warner Brothers, Sony, Fox and Capitol Records which is very exciting. These past couple years I got to record for movies such as the new Jungle Book, Ice Age 5, X-Men: Apocalypse, The Wolverine, Furious Seven, Straight Outta Compton, and for musical artists such as Barry Manilow, Daft Punk, Placido Domingo, Billy Childs, Snow Patrol, Kelly Clarkson, to name a few.
Sara: I do! I have some solo performances with orchestra planned that began a couple of years ago produced by Varese Sarabande Records, the largest film score label in the world. In addition to traditional classic flute concertos of Bach and Mozart, there are new concertos written for me by current composers, such as Bevan Manson’s California Concertino for Flute and Orchestra. You can listen to the fifth movement finale of my recording with the Hollywood Studio Symphony here.
Kendra: Working up in Idyllwild you’re so close to nature, with that – if you had to make a mixtape for a nice day out hiking there, what are some musical selections you would have to be on it?
Sara: Too many to choose, quite honestly! But I will mention some favorites here:
Debussy – “Prelude To the Afternoon of a Faun”
Prokofiev – “Romeo and Juliet”
Roger and Hammerstein’s song from the musical Carousel – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Michel Legrand – “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life”
Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin’”
Mozart – “Piano Concerto in No, 23, A Major, k. 488”
Elmer Bernstein’s film score to the movie To Kill A Mockingbird
Strauss – “Four Last Songs”
Strauss – “Death and Transfiguration”
Mahler – “Das Lied von der Erde“