BELTON — One of Central Texas’ best-kept musical secrets wove its ethereal spell for listeners Saturday evening at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The seven instrumentalists that make up the school’s Conservatory Flute Choir presented a concert that revealed the mesmerizing characteristics and the luxurious, compelling sonorities of the modern family of concert flutes.
Yes, they’re the ones you’re familiar with from marching bands: the most common version, the C flute and its pipsqueak, strident little brother, the piccolo. But the UMHB flute group also includes the lower-pitched alto flute, which you’ve likely heard in film scores by John Barry and Henry Mancini. And then there was the bass flute, a behemoth that sounds a full octave below the C flute — an instrument whose tubing is doubled back so that normal human arms can reach the keys.
The combination of this complete family, formally dubbed “transverse aerophones,” in arrangements of classical and popular works, or in the original compositions written expressly for flute ensemble, showcased a breadth of unexpected delights. Harmony and the inner voices of musical selections were rendered beautifully by the alto flute parts, and more than one listener remarked upon the uncanny resemblance of the bass flute to the noble sound of the French horn.
The UMHB Flute Choir is directed by Amy Smith, who also performed on several pieces with the ensemble, which includes “flute players age 16 to adult,” Smith said, “some high schoolers, folks from the community and UMHB students.” Her musical direction has worked obvious and audible results, and the musicians swapped instruments on nearly every selection, equally at home on any of the four flute variants.
Jonathan Gary, director of the UMHB Conservatory, was unqualified in his praise for the group. “They started a year and a half ago, built a reputation and have played for Scott & White functions, Belton Clinic and at the UMHB Christmas banquet.”
The high ceilings and superior acoustics of the Manning Chapel proved an outstanding venue for the group’s performance. Moments like the piccolo/bass flute duet on Bert Kaempfert’s 1962 hit “A Swingin’ Safari,” a delicate, wistful interpretation of Claude Debussy’s “Arabesque” and a clever, toe-tapping arrangement of Mancini’s “Pink Panther” score were easily heard in the all-acoustic, nonamplified concert. The Debussy was particularly notable; its undulating melodic lines passed effortlessly from player to player.
UMHB freshman Ashley Wallace, from Harlingen, joined the group on double bass for two numbers. “It’s a different experience, playing with a flute choir,” she said. “It’s interesting how they get to voice all the parts from classical to contemporary. I’m glad I get to play with them.”